Sunday, February 3, 2008

Food Fight

The Apostle Paul discusses the quantity of grace given us by Christ:

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” -Romans 5:20-21

So if His grace is abundant to cover our sin, then what with all the Biblical exhortation to resist sin & do good? What’s the big deal if He covers all our trespasses anyway? Paul senses this response to copious grace with his next statement:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? -Romans 6:1-2

In other words- “How can those alive in Christ also be alive in sin?” They are mutually exclusive. To be dead to Christ’s voice is to be alive to sin’s voice & vise versa. Yet Romans 7 clearly shows both voices speak to our mind every day. Quoting Paul, but speaking for myself- “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am!”

What to make of this paradox? Am I wretched or justified in His sight? God has seen fit to leave the old fleshly nature in place as a contentious enemy for His new nature to struggle with & grow stronger as he does so. That old man’s perpetual fight against us is one form of the “suffering” (Rom 5:3-5) that produces the “endurance” & “character” that culminates with the confident “hope” given by seeing God’s glorious nature having the victory in the end. Like the emperor butterfly whose life-giving blood only starts to flow as he begins to fight against the cocoon that seems to be ensnaring him, the wretched sin nature spurs the new man onward to truly embrace Jesus Christ as his only hope. With the insight first presented in John 3:6- “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” & further expanded upon here in Romans we find both the wretched & the justified existing within our members. But this will not always be. For with the very next statement, Paul says:

Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” -Romans 7:24b-25

Indeed, thanks be to God that I will not always have to contend with that “wretched” sinful nature, for I believe this verse, as well as many others, associate the sinful nature with a body destined for death. So, yes, as long as this body is alive, I will have to continue to feed the new man while starving the old; but praise God, in Heaven that struggle will be no more. I say this because in previous years, lacking this understanding, I struggled towards sinlessness, for I thought “I must expunge sin from within me before entering Heaven’s gates, for as I struggle with it now- the same I will struggle with it then- & God will not allow any sin in His presence.” I don’t know how many others have thought this way, but I literally feared death every day thinking- “Sin is still way too strong within me; I’ve got to beat it down further to have any hope of remaining in Heaven.” Ah, thank God for the peace-giving revelation of His Word & Spirit.

Paul spends the majority of Romans discussing how the sinful man can become justified in God’s sight as this man enters His presence clothed in the righteousness of Christ. This is the justification granted by His dear Son, which is the only way we will be able to stand before the Father. In chapter 12, Paul shifts to discussing sanctification- the actual transformation of the man into some measure of the likeness of Christ. Sanctification is related to justification only to the degree that sanctification pours forth from justification. But the reverse is never true. Many Christians unknowingly assess their worthiness in God’s sight along the lines of their ability to obey His commands. We may rightly consider ourselves worthy to stand before the Father because of His Son’s cross, but then the old man, the fleshly nature, whispers to us that we are somehow “more” worthy as we beat back & gain victory over our personal sin. Likewise, when sin beats us back, that lying nature within tells us that we are “less” worthy. But when we doggedly hold to what we first believed, we defuse both lies & find our confidence in Christ’s work alone. God commands us to outwardly exude the new man He has created on the inside to show His unmistakable power to fashion & then re-fashion the most obstinate of His creation- the human soul.

The primary purpose of our sanctification, our call to holiness, is certainly not to supplant Christ’s holiness in our desire to gain the riches of Heaven; nor is sanctification’s primary purpose even to gain more riches in Heaven. No, its purpose is as plain as the nose on our face- right there in the opening verse of Paul’s plea in Romans 12:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12:1

Worship. I say again- it is worship. That is the reason God calls us to be sanctified- the outward expression of the marvelous & miraculous new birth within gives glory to the three Persons solely responsible- the Father, Son, & the Spirit. All three labored to birth this new creation, & they should be receiving praise & adoration for it. The light hidden under a basket gives no glory to anyone.

It is often said that people never change. Alcoholics Anonymous tells us that the addict will always be an addict & for the rest of his life all he can do is keep the bottle out of arm’s reach. The sexual predator must be kept as isolated as possible from those he has molested in the past. They can never change. The world does have substantial evidence to back these statements up. The percentage of recidivism for everything from weight loss diets to cocaine addictions is exceedingly high. Over the course of the last century, psychologists attempted to change those enflamed with homosexual desires to have heterosexual desires instead. They failed miserably, so they gave up & morphed their philosophy to one of condoning & comforting the homosexual. But God has real power to truly effect changes in those addicted to alcohol, drugs, food, sexual perversion, or any other area His Spirit desires to change us. And when God makes His power known to mankind through the evidence of a changed heart, we are called to show forth the evidence of His glory by the visible demonstration of a truly changed life. No one believed the Christ-hating Saul could become the Christ-loving Paul (Acts 9:21, 26), but Paul demonstrated God’s power by patiently but persistently exhibiting his new nature. To paraphrase his later statement- this was his spiritual act of worship, & it consequently caused untold numbers to believe in the power of God as well. We can only express the invisible justification dwelling within by the visible outer sanctification.

We rob praise from God when do not shine the light that He has placed within our soul.

In my last piece- entitled “Baptized at Birth?”- I discussed the Greek word for “baptize” & how it points directly to a conversion experience I refer to as the “spiritual” baptism. I gave as evidence the following insight by James Montgomery Boice:

“The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be 'dipped' (bapto) into boiling water and then 'baptized' (baptizo) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptizing the vegetable, produces a permanent change. When used in the New Testament, this word more often refers to our union and identification with Christ than to our water baptism. 'He that believes and is baptized shall be saved'- Christ is saying that mere intellectual assent is not enough. There must be a union with him, a real change, like the vegetable to the pickle!”

But understanding what Paul teaches in Romans- that both the old & new are at war within us- we see that God did not do away with the old “cucumber” as He labored to create the new “pickle” within. They dwell together for a time, but they cannot unite, for they are as different as night & day- or more literally- life & death. Thus the title of this piece was born, for as long as we live in this “body of death” as Paul calls it, something along the lines of a “Food Fight” will be waged.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

Thank you for this Steve.

It is good to be reminded that God does change us, even though the world wants us to believe otherwise, and so do our doubts. I sometimes feel stuck in certain situations like thats just how I am, and I might as well get used to it.

Thanks for reminding me that God has other plans for us than we could ever hope or think of.