Last week, things got a little heady. I think it’s time to take things back down to earth. To do that, we’ll be talking about a few implications of the law of grace that we went over in TGR 10. Sit back and relax, folks; this is the fun Gospel Rant. The last one had me digging through commentaries written by folks dead for years—this one is all about the here and now. Best part? I think I might be able to keep this one under 800 words, which is my official limit for these blogs. (Never happened. Not once.)
As always, I accept your death threats and spam at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last week we studied Romans 6-7, focusing particularly on the Christian relationship between flesh and Spirit and the meaning of that relationship within the context of the Torah. Paul continues that discussion all the way until near the end of Chapter 8, when his tone becomes much broader and he begins to lay down wide, general doctrines for all of the practices of the Christian church. What I want to highlight first comes in this section.
In verses 31 through 39, Paul lays out the fundamentals of the law in terms opposite of those which Christ used. Whereas Christ said You shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart (Mark 12:30)… Paul, in closing his discussion of the law, writes For I am certain that neither death nor life…will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:39). So we see that Jesus shows us that we must love God to obey Him, and Paul shows us that we will never be separated from God’s love which He gave us; Jesus delineates our role, Paul delineates God’s role.
The change in paradigm here is because Paul is talking about the greater mechanics of our salvation from God’s perspective, whereas Jesus was teaching us how to obey. Paul is trying to demonstrate the single greatest motivating factor for God’s salvation, just as Jesus demonstrated the two greatest commandments, the ones which all else in the law hinged. So what did Paul find? What’s the point?
All Things in Love
Paul found victory, and Paul found love. Paul is reemphasizing the importance of God’s love in His dealings with us, thereby implicitly stating the importance of our love for God in our dealings with Him; Paul is also reemphasizing our victory over the law and our present possession of all things through the love of Christ, thereby encouraging us to embrace the strength and power of the Spirit that lives in us.
What does this mean for us, today? It means that the entire story of the law is one long metaphor God is telling us of His love for us. It also means that all of our Christian walk should be another metaphor, one which we tell to God to show Him our love for Jesus. It means that our works, our good deeds, our won awards, our sins, our evil deeds, and our failures have all been relegated to a second tier of importance, and our deepest feelings towards Him have been moved to the forefront.
It seems so strange to me when I catch myself doing something in order to make God pleased with me (unfortunately, these moments happen too often; I struggle with pride and work, as the chief of all sinners). In those moments, I’ve forgotten the love that God displayed for me—rather than building a castle of emotion in my heart towards God and making my treasure lie in Heaven in the person of Christ, I’ve built my castle out of my goodness and my success.
The irony of this sin is that when we reach the pearly gates, we won’t have our works with us. We may receive rewards from our life, but the old lady whom I helped across the street won’t be my focus. My friend who became a believer after God used me in his life won’t be my focus either. My focus will be Christ and Christ alone. Therefore, if I’ve done these things in order to receive a reward besides Christ, my reward in only of secondary importance. But if I did them to delve more deeply into the love of God, my reward and my love is fulfilled infinitely.
Bottom line, I believe the emphasis of our lives should not be on our actions, but our hearts. The danger of this teaching is that it seems to give free reign to Christians and decrease the importance of sin. That just ain’t Biblical, so to counteract it, let’s discuss sin a little more.
Two Ways to Fight Sin
The emphasis of our life should be on love and emotion, but we still have to work. So how do we work, while maintaining the aforementioned emphasis? I’ve found that prayer solves this problem easily. When I can go through my daily routine prayerfully, I don’t seem to worry about whether or not my works are good or bad or left or right; things just fall into place. With regard to sin, when I work prayerfully, sin’s temptation doesn’t seem as strong, and I go about resisting with greater wisdom and success.
But works are still very important—to sin is to do a work, so certainly part of our concentration has to center on works. In this matter, it’s how we concentrate that’s the key. The character of our faith stands out most clearly through problems, of course, so let’s go through a few contingency plans to discuss a few handy ways to fight sin when you’re being tempted.
The first is to offer your body as a living sacrifice to Christ, consciously and specifically. It tends to have the effect of re-clarifying the areas in me which sin has made fuzzy; to put that another way, the black-white division of flesh and Spirit is made grey when I am being tempted by lust, but after I offer my body to Christ, I can identify the black and white with more ease, and this helps me follow the Spirit. Satan’s number one weapon is to take truth and twist it while just barely lying himself—he lets you do the real lying to yourself. Therefore, when I can see the desires of my flesh and the desires of my Spirit stand in contradistinction, it’s easier for me to pick out what lie is leading me astray.
The second is to identify what the craving really is that’s tempting you to sin. To take lust as an example again, I lust because I desire physical pleasure; I have a sexual past, and memories of the pleasures of that time can make me believe that gratifying my lust will make all my problems go away. The real need, as you can see, is to find peace from stress or etcetera. It helps me to show myself that even when I gratify lust it doesn’t solve anything, and remind myself of how many problems Christ has solved finally and totally since I’ve become a Christian. Again, this helps give me clarity, and I can reorient myself more easily.
Both of these methods can help a believer fight sin in a way that isn’t works-based. Fighting sin through the desire for rewards in Heaven, the desire to be a better Christian than someone else, or the desire for approval from God both stem from deeper desires which don’t line up with Scripture; rather, sin is an enemy which only love defeats. (…love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Pet. 4:8) (“If you love Me, you will obey what I command.” John 14:15)
But also remember that God has given us victory over all things in the world, including our sin—for what can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? Beloved, pursue righteousness, and beg for the love of God from Christ. Place all of your works at God’s feet, and ask for Him to make them a fragrant offering to Him and to sanctify you through His grace. May your prayers be answered!
Father, please take my life! Please fill me full of Your Spirit, and please give me deep and holy love for You. May Your love keep me full and sanctified, and may You lead me far from temptation. I pray for my friends and family, that we might be a church which rises up in a mighty way for Your name, and that we may be filled with passion for You, sharpening each other every day. Above all things, give us Your presence, and give us grace to approach You in our times of need. In Jesus’ name,
(1,478 words. It really never happens.)