Self-Correcting Grace – An Illustration

Last post, I addressed the issue of indulging in sin as a way to abuse God’s grace.  I explained Titus 2:11-14 and the concept that grace, properly understood and applied, actually teaches us to deny sin and live godly lives.  Grace has a way of self correcting.  Today, I would like expand on this idea.

Pastor Judah Smith of Seattle’s The City Church shared a useful illustration along these lines in a recent interview with the Christian Post.  In addressing a question about grace, Pastor Smith first talks about his relationship with his wife, Chelsea.

He summarizes, “Chelsea is just the most incredible, considerate, compassionate, loving, gracious spouse, she’s a lot like Jesus.  In the 13 and a half years of her loving me and serving me and being so kind and committed, faithful and loyal, I’ve never had the thought ‘because she’s loving, gracious, kind and faithful, I could cheat on her and get away with. In fact, I could do it multiple times.’ I’ve never planned to cheat on her, by the grace of God I haven’t at all. Because the exact opposite desire and emotion are conjured up due to her love and grace and faithfulness.”

“I think when grace is merely a principle and a biblical concept – if it’s just the favor of God, or the forgiveness of God, or the love of God, it’s easily abused. But when grace is a person, when he has beautiful eyes of love and compassion and mercy and we fall in love with this incredible savior and his grace and his mercy pours over our lives, the ultimate result is not ‘Gosh, I can get away with sin.’ … quite the opposite happens really.”

This is such a clear illustration of the draw of grace and has been my experience also; not just in my marriage, but in my obedience to Christ as well.  When I understand grace as a person – Jesus Christ – rather than a principle, I run to Jesus.  I desire a close relationship with Jesus.  I don’t want to sin more.  I want to sin less.  Why?  Because I do not want to do anything that would harm the relationship.  I don’t want to do anything that would break our connection.

Does this make sense to you?  Has this been your experience?  To many of us, this seems counter-intuitive.  We can think of a few grace abusers we know.  Or we may even secretly fall into temptation ourselves to take advantage of the grace of God.  But it should not be that way.  Instead, if we are in a love relationship with Christ – a relationship He secured at the cross – we should, based on that relationship, be running to Jesus.  We should be pleasing Jesus.  We should be embracing all that Jesus has for our lives.  And the last thing on our minds should be a desire to take advantage of His love.

The Sin Zombie

Last time, I emphatically stated that Jesus would not have commanded us to “take the log out of our own eye” if it were impossible to do so.  God would not implore us, over and over in the New Testament, to “put on the new self and lay aside the old self with its evil practices and deeds of darkness” if it were impossible to do so.  So why is there so much preaching that suggests believers, rather than experiencing victory over sin, are actually still living under sin’s power; that believers are still desperately wicked in our heart of hearts?  Could it be that we agree with this teaching because it actually describes our experience with sin’s rule in our lives?

How do we explain the tension between God’s promise of victory over sin and the tug of sin’s power that we still feel?  Let’s start with the promise.  God says in Romans 6 to “consider yourselves to be dead to sin.”  Why?  Because “our old self was crucified with Christ, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.  For sin shall not be your master.”  Remember the word consider (translated reckon in the King James) in Romans 6:11 is an accounting term telling us to remove our name from the “sinner by nature” column in the accounting ledger and place it into the “dead to sin” column.  This transformation is God’s fact, God’s promise.  But on the other side of the tension, why does it still feel like I am under sin’s power?

Let me explain it like this.  Your old nature is like a zombie in a cheap horror picture.  Your old nature died with Christ.  It was put to death.  But just like on the movie screen, the zombie somehow comes back from the dead.  But what we need to remember is that the zombie is just that:  a walking dead man and nothing more.  He has no teeth.  He has no muscle.  He has no power.  But we see him and we fear a return to his influence, a return to our sin inclinations.

Now Satan comes along, props up the zombie, and convinces us that we do indeed have something to fear.  But it is not true.  Satan, “the accuser of the brethren”, is challenging you based on your past actions or your current temptations, but he is lying.  You are not under the power of the zombie.  You are under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit living inside you and all the provisions of the new identity that He brings into you life.

The zombie – the walking dead man of our sin nature – is our enemy and we have gathered several posts focused on how to defeat this enemy here for your review.  In the meantime, can I encourage you?  Don’t fear the zombie and don’t listen to Satan’s accusations.  The zombie is powerless and Satan is a liar.  The gospel message, the New Testament message, the fact of God’s accounting ledger for believers is this:  you have been set free from sin’s power.  So lay aside the old self and put on the new man.  You can do it!

Doing the Right Thing – Motivated by Our New Identity

We come now to our last installment of how believers are motivated to righteous living; because this is who we are.  In our new identity as holy and beloved saints, righteous living is what is expected of us.  It is what should come natural to us.  It fits who we really are.

In Romans chapter 6, the apostle Paul answers the question, “If greater sin brings greater grace, should we continue in sin?” with an emphatic “No”.  And Paul’s “No” is based on our new identity in Christ.  The apostle takes the rest of chapter 6 to explain.  When you became a believer, you appropriated the fact – and it is a fact – that your old sin nature died with Christ on the cross.  Your sin nature is dead.  In its place, you have received a righteous new nature infused with the righteous nature of Christ Himself.  Therefore, consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to the righteousness of God through Christ Jesus.  Sin is no longer your master, and your members are no longer instruments of sin, but instruments of righteousness. (Rom 6:1-13).

Paul often uses the analogy of putting on new clothes to represent putting on the new nature.  “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh and its desires” (Rom 13:14).  When we “clothe” ourselves with the nature of Christ, there is no longer room in the closet for the “desires of the flesh”, those clothes that no longer fit.  “Make no provision” means don’t make any space in your closet for those old clothes of sin to still be hanging around.

Suppose you woke up tomorrow morning 20 pounds lighter than you were when you went to bed, and the clothes in your closet no longer fit you.  You would dash to the nearest premium outlet mall and scour the sale racks and come home with a completely new wardrobe.  What would you do with your old clothes?  You would give them away or throw them out, but in either case they would be gone.  Why?  Because they no longer fit.  Now you might be tempted to keep some things with the idea that if you gain the weight back you will need something to wear.  That is a fine thought in the natural world.  But in our analogy of the Christian life, you will never gain the weight back.  You will never need the old clothes.

You have been forever changed and the old sin clothes will never fit you again.  Do you see the picture?  Throw the old sin clothes out.  Cast aside those old habits, reactions, and thinking patterns.  They do not fit you now and they never will.  “Make no provision for the desires of the flesh” means do not keep those ill-fitting clothes around and by all means do not try to wear them.  You will look a fright.  They do not fit who you are.  And if you do try to wear them, you will feel the frustration, the tug and pull, of just how inappropriate they are.

We have now come to the gist of what this blog is all about.  Walking in your new identity, experiencing the provisions of the new covenant, empowered by God’s Spirit inside.  To learn more of what this looks like in practice, we have gathered our most specific posts on walking in your new identity in this archive.  May I encourage each of us?  Live into who you really are; a holy and beloved saint of the Lord.