If you’re a born-again believer, do you find yourself struggling to become the “Christian” you know you should be? Are you frustrated by your futile attempts to measure up? Are you discouraged because your temptation in some area is just as strong as it was ten years ago? If you are, you’ve got lots of company. Then there are verses like 1 John 3:6 which says that no one who abides in Jesus sins. Verses like this are enough to drive us to despair. Of course we sin, but this verse seems to say that if we’re really saved, we wouldn’t sin at all. That’s really frustrating.
Take heart. You’re not doomed to spend your entire Christian life like this. Yes, that glorious light at the end of the tunnel really does exist, and yes, I really have been where you are, and yes, I really know exactly how you feel. The purpose of this little book is to enable you to step into the life God has been waiting for you to discover. In the introduction I expressed my belief that most Christians have embraced only half of the gospel. Here’s what I meant. We get the “forgiven of our sins” part, but we have failed miserably to understand and live out the “united with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection” part. We thanked Jesus when He saved us, but we sealed our fate when we subconsciously thought I’ve got it from here. We knew salvation was a free gift, but becoming a good, righteous Christian would take time and serious effort. We were sure that if we studied our Bible, prayed, and got involved in some ministry we would eventually get there. Years later we rationalize our continuing struggle with the conviction that we’re a work in progress, but thankfully, Jesus is always there to help us. Right? Wrong? We don’t need Jesus’ help. We need His life.
Understanding Romans 7
Paul expressed the same frustration in Romans 7 where he recounts a time in his life when what he did never matched what he knew he should or shouldn’t do, and it was driving him crazy. As with us, his attempts to measure up were falling flat. Although he had been saved, the old temptations were still there, and he was still powerless against them. He understood that Christ had died for his sins, but he had not yet learned the rest of the gospel which he would later preach. Through heavenly revelations, God taught him that what Christ endured on the cross wasn’t just so that believers in Him could be forgiven of their sins. It was also about deliverance from the power of sin itself. Only after he had
act of righteousness at the cross is not only a cancellation of their guilt (forgiveness), but life in the Risen Christ! This is what is offered to all of us.
Through our identification with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, our old life died with Christ and was replaced by the life of Christ Himself via the Holy Spirit.
Paul calls this a “justification of life” (Rom. 5:18). The risen Christ now residing in us has become our “standing” before God. We are complete in Christ (Col. 2:10) and He has become our righteousness—our standing. Do you see it? We have exchanged our sin for God’s own righteousness in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). This “exchanged life” is where all the action is. This is the life in which we reign as kings in the tough times as well as the comfortable ones.
At the end of this book, you will grade your quiz. Your answers will indicate whether or not you have grasped what Paul calls a “justification of life.” Please don’t let your pride keep you from admitting (to yourself and to God) that you’re not where you thought you were. Take comfort in the knowledge that you’re not alone. Most of us have never been taught these life-changing principles. Everything in our culture feeds our flesh and assures us that we’re fine just as we are. It’s no wonder so few people have found the abundant life Jesus promised. The gate is small, and the way is narrow, and Jesus knew the few would find it (Mt. 7:14).
Returning to our “reigning as kings,” we see that throughout Romans, Paul keeps making the point that where sin abounded, grace overflowed in super abundance. God lavished these gifts on His children (true believers in Jesus Christ) so that just as sin reigned as king through death, grace would reign as king through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 5:21).
God’s goal was that where death once had a kingdom, grace would now have its kingdom.
We are, therefore, to reign as kings in this kingdom right now, dispensing to others the overflow of the grace which has been poured out on us. Our challenge is to move beyond understand to application. We must learn to reign in life as kings. It’s not
Our new identity is Christ’s righteousness.
Do you get it? Do you see the magnitude of this wonderful truth? You’re not becoming more righteous. You’re not a work in progress. Jesus, along with His righteousness, resides within you. When Jesus uttered the words “It is finished” just before He died, He meant more than we realize. He made us a finished work. There’s nothing in us to be fixed or improved. He meant that He had already blessed us with every blessing we could ever desire (Eph. 1:3). When we received Christ, we received everything we would ever need. It’s ours right now (2 Peter 1:3). We don’t need to ask God to bless us. He already has, more than we realize. When we stumble in our spiritual walk, it’s not because we’re insufficient in any way. Our problem is that we’re still learning to walk in light of the truth of who God has already made us to be. We’re still learning to drive our new Lamborghini.
To better understand the process we call “maturing,” picture a sculptor with a chainsaw, an ice pick, a file, and a hammer carving away at a huge block of ice. Thirty minutes later, the ice block has been transformed into a beautiful glistening eagle. Someone asks in amazement, “How do you do that?” The sculptor quips back, “I just chip away at everything that doesn’t look like an eagle.” Now picture yourself as the ice block with God as the sculptor. In this case, the goal isn’t an eagle. It’s Christ. God simply chips away at everything that doesn’t look like Christ. He has been there all along, but whatever had been obscuring Him had to be removed so that Christ could be formed in you (Gal. 4:19).
I am convinced that Christian maturity isn’t adding Christ-like qualities and knowledge as much as it is allowing God to chip away at us as we learn to walk in light of the finished product within us. Salvation, therefore, is a matter of believing the truth and allowing that truth to set us free. Christ has already set us free, but we have refused to believe it, so we hang on to the things that used to drag us down. We pray for deliverance when Christ has already delivered us. We pray for strength when Jesus has already given us His strength. We ask for power when Christ has already given us the same power that raised Him from the dead. We simply refuse to believe it. This is why so many people are turned off by what they see masquerading as new life. It’s nothing more than the old life with Jesus added to make them look better.