So we have examined a lot of chains in the past few days; chains from which Christ offers sweet release. We have examined:
- the chain of the Law
- the chain of legalism
- the chain of pride
- the chain of shame
- the chain of guilt
- the chain of fear
- the chain of worry
- the chain of selfish ambition
- the chain of idolatry
- the chain of our own unworthiness
We now come to the last chain, the chain of sin itself. And let’s be very careful to explain exactly what that means.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1). In this one verse, we see an interesting continuum regarding our sin.
On the one hand, the author tells us “to lay our sin aside”. Now that implies to me that “laying aside our sin” is possible or why would God instruct us to do so? Would God call us to do the impossible? I don’t think so.
At the same time, there is a clue in this verse that this “laying aside” is not just an easy once-and-done process. The author refers to our sin as “easily entangling us”. Somehow the sin we are to lay aside is also the sin that so easily entangles us. And there is the rub. You have the power – by the risen Christ living in you – to lay your sin aside. But the process of doing so often encounters a tangled mess.
Because I think most of us are comfortable with recognizing the tangled mess, let’s start with the power to lay sin aside. And this power is fully dependent on Christ living His life in you. Just hours before His death, Jesus gave us this promise, “The Father will give you a Helper (Gk. Paraclete, one called alongside to help), that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, who the world cannot receive because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you” (Jn 14:16-17).
Christ promised us the presence of God’s Holy Spirit inside. And based on this promise, we often limit the indwelling presence of God to the Spirit. But Jesus goes on in this passage to add, “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (Jn 14:20). Over 200 times in the New Testament, we see reference to either God in us, Christ in us, or the Spirit in us. They are undeniably interchangeable. The bottom line? The God of the universe – in every form available to Him – has miraculously come to live inside you when you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
So how does this relate to laying aside our sin? Think about it this way. Not only is Christ in you, but Christ … and His character are in you. By virtue of Christ in you, His qualities of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience live in you (Col 3:12). By virtue of the Spirit in you, His fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control live in you (Gal 5:22-23).
We often look at these lists as character qualities or character traits to aspire to. We lift them up as something Christians should strive for, usually through greater effort. We present them in a way that makes their attainment and practice look like a grueling task. But calling these character qualities or character traits to aspire to is really aiming way too low. They are so much more than that. They are literally manifestations of Christ. And when you live into them, they are literally manifestations of Christ being lived out in you.
Putting these “manifestations of Christ” into practice is like putting on the clothes in your closet. They are already in your closet, just waiting to be put on. So often, when we see admonitions in Scripture to lay aside the bad stuff and put on the good stuff, we don’t think we own or have access to the good stuff. These righteous traits are for the super saints, not for us regular folks. But Christ has made you full of Himself and you are just as empowered to follow where He leads as any other saint.
In a word picture that the apostle Paul uses over and over in the New Testament, you already have these clothes in your closet. You do not have to go out and buy them. They are not something you have to strive to acquire. They have already been purchased by the precious blood of the Lamb, done deal. And they are hanging in your spiritual closet. Our job is to simply get dressed; to simply put on the clothes of righteous actions that Christ has already purchased and supplied for us. He has supplied these clothes by filling us up with Himself!
Now this righteous action, while clearly available to us, is not as easy an experience as grabbing a polo shirt and putting it on in the morning. We still have that entangling sin to deal with. We still have the enemy within (the flesh) and the enemy without (Satan) tempting us to follow the old ways. And we will address that topic another time. But until then, remember, you have more righteous clothes in your closet then you probably recognize or honestly have been led to believe by teachers stuck in a law or Old Covenant mentality.
Go ahead. Put them on and shine in whatever path Christ has called you to today. “And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on the clothes of a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other…and beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:12-14). Christ is calling. Get up and get dressed!