Getting Better by Not Trying Harder
APRIL 12, 2016
I’ve been reading a lot of stuff about New Testament ethics lately because of a new book I’m writing. Far from what a lot of highly worried religious folks think, we grace people do have a deep affinity toward ethics.
We just don’t lie down and take the petty, authoritarian, moralistic silliness some people try to say is integral to the Christian faith. (I’m looking at you, works righteousness.) And I don’t think you can have a decent discussion about Christ-like ethics without talking about sanctification—the process by which we become more like Christ.
Let’s take a gander at Romans 8:1-4, NASB-style:
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Once we are saved by Christ, anything about the Law or sin that could condemn us has been obliterated. Then we strap on our work boots and get to doing some good works, right? That’s not what Paul says in verse 4. It’s not our hard work that changes us, as if we were paying God back, it’s the Spirit of God within us, empowering us to do what God wills.
But… I Still Suck.
Yes. Yes, you do. Me too. Fret not. In Romans 7, Paul discusses the fact that we have a new nature, the Spirit of God within us, changing our desire from sin to righteousness, empowering us to both want and do God’s will (Phil 2:13), but there’s also another force at work. Our sinful flesh—the temptation of the way of the world—calls us like those fine, fine Sirens of mythology to do what we don’t want to do, to crash our moral desires on the shore of our selfish desires. But thank God for Jesus Christ, Paul almost shouts. He’s the deliverer from this mess.
2 Corinthians 3:18,
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”
As Christians, we are washed, justified, and sanctified (1 Cor 6:11), but, like I said, there’s a battle inside of us. Paul tells us to follow the Spirit, walk in His guidance, trusting Him to change you and I into God’s image. Yeah, we want that, but, often, we still choose the path of the flesh, because it either generally seems a lot more logical to us, or we just want that quick, fleshly fix; to satisfy our hungry, hungry egos and twisted desires. But, in choosing the way of the Spirit, by the power of the Spirit (double whammy!), we will be transformed, bit by bit, from glory to glory, into the likeness of God.
Knowing God from You
How do we know we’re heading in the right direction? Is it because we vote for the right party, lose our sense of humor and start beating people over the head with the bible, or wear nicer clothes and don’t cuss? First, we can see the direction God wants us to go because of the witness of Scripture. We can be sure that something is of the Spirit because we’re doing things that correlate with bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), and not the works of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21). No, we won’t do that perfectly, because of all that Romans 7 jazz, but surely. Because what God started, He will keep doing until Jesus comes back (Phillipians 1:6).