Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Double Benefit of Christ and the Struggling Christian

"After explaining how, 'as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life' (Rom. 5:18), Paul concluded his treatment of justification by saying, 'But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord' (20-21). Paul was well aware of likely objections to what some of his readers (then and now) could only regard as the most blatant form of antinomian preaching. In the very next verse he anticipates the reaction:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:1-4).

There are two approaches that the Apostle's logic here rules out. First, a Christian cannot actually be an antinomian-that is, someone who rejects the continuing validity of the law in the life of the believer and insists that genuine conversion can be present where there is no genuine repentance. 'Shall we sin that grace may abound?' is the right question, but 'No' is the right answer, Paul says. But it also means, second, that a Christian cannot be a legalist, since the basis for this freedom from sin's power is the same as the basis for freedom from sin's guilt: Christ's victory.

Paul does not say, as many of us have heard growing up in 'victorious Christian life' circles, 'You certainly don't have to live in defeat.' No, Paul puts it all in the indicative: 'How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?' This is not only indicative, it's past tense: this is something that has happened already. Christians are not, upon conversion, brought to a place where they can now choose to live 'Spirit-filled' lives 'in victory' or 'carnal' lives of defeat. Paul is not pleading with us, as if to say, 'How can you possibly live in sin after all that God has done for you?' He is saying something entirely different: 'How is it possible for you to live in sin after all that God has done for you?' In other words, it is not possible. 'Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?' This is not a victory to be achieved, but a victory to be received. Christ has already defeated sin and dethroned it as a reigning principle in our lives. He has done this! We do not 'put Jesus on the throne' or 'make Jesus Lord of our life.' He is on the throne and he is Lord of our life. This is why he can say, as he introduces the Ten Commandments, 'I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. [Therefore] you shall have no other gods beside me.' It is because he is Lord that he is able to save to the uttermost.

This is an essential point, because many of us are quite willing to allow that justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. But then we come to the question of the Christian life and move to a different basis. Some choose the high road, others the low road. But Paul is telling us that there is only one road and it flows naturally out of the one gospel that is God's power unto salvation for everyone who believes. To be baptized into Christ is to be forever free of the guilt and tyranny of sin. This is why, in 'Rock of Ages,' the hymn writer Augustus Toplady wrote, 'Be of sin the double-cure, free from sin's guilt and its power.' Christ in the gospel does not do away with sin's guilt only to leave it up to us whether we will gain victory over its power. He has crushed the serpent's head, rendered the law's condemnation null and void because of our substitute, taken death's sting away, and subdued our wills so that for the first time we now love the things of God, despite our continuing struggle to obey (Rom. 7).

You may be a closet pervert. Nobody knows what you think, what you savor, what you allow yourself to dwell upon but you-and God. The problem, of course, is that the one who does know your heart even better than you do is also the holiest being in existence and is your judge. But the good news is that Jesus Christ, who was tempted in all points as you are but without sin, kept his mind, heart, and body pure so that his obedience could count as yours and so that, in this marvelous exchange, you would be clothed in his righteousness. But it doesn't stop there: the gospel is the double-cure. It is sufficient not only for the sexually immoral; it is sufficient to break the grip of sexual immorality in the lives of believers.

The complexity of its continuing power is not undervalued, as Paul goes on to point out in Romans 7. The normal Christian life is a struggle-neither a surrender to sin nor a freedom from sin, but a constant battle. Repentance is never complete in this life, any more than is faith. We turn from our sins and then find ourselves repeating them. But we get back up and keep carrying our cross, knowing that it is not our cross that saves us but Christ's. This life, therefore, may not look like sterling victory, but it is nonetheless the daily outworking of that victory that has already been accomplished. Paul's argument, then, is this: Christ has saved you to the uttermost, from both sin's guilt and dominion. Therefore, why do you continue to live as if this were not the case? You are not a defeated slave of sin, so why do you act like it so often? Today, we are already as believers baptized into Christ's death and raised in the newness of his life. One day, we will finally be free from the very presence of sin. Only then will there no longer be struggle."

Dr. Michael S. Horton, Sin and Sins, Modern Reformation, Nov/Dec 2001.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails