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.

Lining a Canoe Upstream

Writing about the river’s flow in our last post reminded me of the idea of “lining a canoe”.  The basic principle is this:  when seeking to take your canoe upstream against the current, you tie a rope near the front of the canoe and, walking upstream along the shore, you provide the power by pulling the rope and the river’s current keeps the boat from running into the bank.  When I googled “lining a canoe” to learn more, I found this explanation on The Alaska Hunting Forum:

“I can tell you from personal experience that lining any boat upstream any appreciable distance comes down to one thing – HARD WORK.  There’s just no easy way around it.  The truth is that you will be in, on, and around that river for a considerable amount of time.”  The author goes on to explain the details of the process and ends with these encouraging words, “If you decide to do this during the spring or summer, be sure to pack a big lunch and bring the bug spray!  You’re gonna be there awhile.”

I used to think that living the Christian life was like “lining a canoe” upriver.  I was always going against the current.  I was always going upstream.  And it was always hard work.  I justified this feeling with the idea that we were counter-cultural, always swimming upstream against the world’s current.  Always going against the flow.  In a sense that is true.  We are going against the world’s current.

What I was unaware of was that there is another river flowing; the river of God’s rest for the new covenant believer.  In this river, we are very much going with the flow – the rushing current of God’s infinite grace, love, acceptance, forgiveness, mercy, and indwelling.  This river never slows down or runs dry and God’s desire is that you find your rest in it.

This is the rest Jesus Himself offered his followers in the gospel of Matthew.  “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My load is light” (Mt 11:28-30).  Jesus’ offer of rest is not just for the world-weary in need of salvation, but for walk-weary believers as well, striving to “keep up” the Christian life.

You see, in this journey called the Christian life, Christ is inviting us to join Him in the yoke.  He is yoked with us.  Have you ever wondered how Jesus could give such a serious call to discipleship in the gospels; counting the cost, the hardship, and the promise of suffering, and then turn around and say, “My yoke is easy and My load is light”?  How do we reconcile what seem like opposites?  The key is to recognize that it is Jesus in the yoke living the Christian life through us.  He is doing the heavy lifting.  Is there nothing for us to do or contribute?  Our role is to join Him in the yoke, in the work, and to release the rushing rivers He has already put inside us.

Can I encourage you?  If you are striving to “line the canoe” upstream in your Christian walk, take a minute to study the situation.  Am I experiencing the “never thirst” that Jesus promised?  Do I see the work of the Holy Spirit – that flowing river within me – in my daily experience?  Have I believed all that became new under the provisions of the new covenant at my salvation?  Thank your heavenly Father that there is a believer’s rest and a river’s flow for the children  of God.

The Tug of Sin’s Power

We have all heard the story of how baby elephants are trained.  A chain is placed around the baby elephant’s foot and attached to an iron stake driven into the ground.  The young elephant pulls at the chain but does not have the strength to dislodge the stake.  Eventually, the elephant gives up.  As the story goes, when the elephant is fully grown, he can be easily contained by a chain and a stake – something he could now easily uproot – because he is conditioned by his past experience to believe the chain is a sufficient constraint.  I have been unable to determine if this is a true method of elephant training or a story used by life coaches to identify the chains in your life that limit your potential.  But I do like the picture it brings regarding the tug of sin’s power.

When you received Christ at your new birth, a thousand new things happened to you.  One of these was your infusion of a new nature.  The old nature, the flesh, died with Christ (Rom 6:6), and you were given a new nature filled with Christ’s resurrection power (Rom 6:4).  However, even our dead flesh still carries some influence in our lives based on both the teaching of Scripture and our own experience with sin.  So that even though we are controlled by the new nature, we still feel the tug of sin’s power.

But the sheer beauty of the exchanged life – Christ’s resurrection life now living inside – is that sin’s power is only a tug.  Satan would have us to think that it is an irresistible force.  But the tug of sin’s power, the chain you feel around your foot is attached TO NOTHING!  Satan would have us believe it is attached to an immovable stake in the ground, tied to our past failures.

Christ would have us believe that it is attached to nothing.  It is a chain without power, a chain without the power to constrain.  Our past sins are forgiven; our present lives defined by Christ’s power, not by our failures.  Just like the adult elephant, unaware of his power over the chain, so many Christians are unaware of the resurrection power dwelling inside them, yearning to break free.

Can I encourage you?  Throw off your chain!  It is not attached to anything.  You have the power to sling it aside.  Sin shall not be your master.  “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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” (Heb 12:1-2).  Would the author of the letter to the Hebrews suggest we “lay aside the sin that entangles us” if it were impossible to do so?  He is asking us to throw aside our chain, we have been set free.  “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1).  Christ has set you free!