What Next?

Yesterday in Bible study we had a great discussion.  It’s a common theme I hear with new Christians – how do we make sense of the reality of sin and temptation remaining in our lives even though we have put our faith in Jesus Christ?  What is the proper way to deal with these two realities at war in us?

It’s a question St. Paul deals with in Chapter 7 of his letter to the Roman Christians roughly 2000 years ago.  Go and read Romans 7:13-25 right now.  Read all of Romans, for that matter, but this passage is relevant to yesterday’s discussion.  Paul addresses the issue and offers the solution, but it isn’t the popular solution.

It seems modern American Christianity, particularly the more evangelical elements, want to emphasize another solution, which is to focus on the Christian life as one of obedience to God.  Yes, we will sin, but we can and should sin less, and in order to do that you need to really have faith in Jesus!  You need to be totally sold out to Jesus!  You need to have stronger, firmer, more robust, better toned faith!  If you just had enough faith, you wouldn’t sin (so much, or in less-noticeable ways at least).  The dilemma that St. Paul and every other Christian struggles with, of the continued presence of sin in the lives of those redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, is resolved by your own personal dedication and effort.

Undoubtedly there are acknowledgements to greater or lesser degrees about the Holy Spirit as the strength and source for these changes in personal character and behavior.  But since it’s hard to quantify and qualify the work of the Holy Spirit in any given person, it ends up emphasizing personal will and choice.  Because if the Holy Spirit is in you, then your sin is your fault.  It’s not as though the Holy Spirit isn’t doing His work – you’re obviously the one who isn’t serious enough, resolved enough, faithful enough.  The Christian life becomes a new law, and if you aren’t living up to that law, then maybe you aren’t really a Christian.  Maybe you don’t really have faith.  Or your faith isn’t strong enough.  Suddenly the sin in my life is a reason for me to doubt my salvation, as though the blood of Christ wasn’t quite strong enough to bring me over from death to life.

I meet people all the time who are caught here.  They’re hearing their churches and pastors and mentors telling them to man up and live the Christian life, to reject sin and walk in grace and faith.  But any slip, any sin, is suddenly cause for doubting the whole enchilada.  You still struggling with lust?  Where’s your faith?  You still worrying about your estranged children?  Where’s your faith?

By these standards St. Paul is no saint.

But I think he is a saint, because his solution to the reality of sin and the sacred in one person’s life is different.  He doesn’t end his agonizing over his sinful behavior with a resolution to make tomorrow a better day.  He doesn’t end Chapter 7 by saying that he’s sorry for his struggle and he’s going to get out of the Holy Spirit’s way and live better now.  He doesn’t mention himself at all.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

 Paul’s solution to the conundrum of sinner and saint is to focus not on himself, not on the sinner in him or the saint in him.  Rather, he directs his attention – and ours – to Christ.  Paul can’t do it, which is precisely the reason Jesus has died for him.  Even with the gift of God the Holy Spirit within him, St. Paul can’t live a perfect, God-pleasing life.  By his own admission he struggles – and more than a little!  Sin remains very real and close at hand constantly.  He is not assured of victory over that sin in the immediate future.  But he knows that he is victorious over that sin in Christ.  The victory St. Paul can’t achieve, Jesus achieves for him.  The victory is already in place, despite the fact that St. Paul is still sinning.

This is to be our focus as Christians.  Not on ourselves, but on Christ.  If I focus on myself I will always see and know my failures, because they are abundant.  I will never have peace based on examining myself in thought, word, and deed.  My only source of peace is to acknowledge readily that I am sinful in thought, word, and deed, and that it is for these sins that Jesus has died.  He is my peace.

I believe that if we focus on Him, our lives will change.  If we focus not on what we’re trying to do but what He has perfectly accomplished already, our lives will show this more and more each day.  It’s not about you, it’s about Jesus.  It always has been.   It always will be.  And that’s a good thing.  A necessary thing.  A divine thing.

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