April 27, 2013

Grace means death to sin as well as new life in Christ

David prayed, “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great” (Psalm 25:11). The great preacher, Jonathan Edwards rightly says that Christ will not refuse to save the greatest sinners who come to God for mercy and pardon, for this is His work.

Jesus did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Edwards says that the more sinful the person, the more the need of Christ, yet God does not grade sin. If you sin at all, you are a sinner. Piling it up may make me and other people more miserable, but in God’s mind, once I step over the line, I need Christ to save me.

Edwards also says that the ingenious plan of salvation is to glorify the grace of God. He adds that the greater the guilt of any sinner, the more glorious and wonderful is the grace shown in that sinner’s pardon. While Jesus did say that those who are forgiven much will love Him more than those who are forgiven little (Luke 7:47–48), this raises another question. Does the abounding grace of God mean that we can sin as much as we like? After all, He will forgive, and the more He forgives, the more His grace is glorified? Isn’t that what God wants?

Paul must have heard this question many times. I know I have. I’m glad that grace is abundant and free when it comes to confessing sin, but when it comes to committing sin, that abundance is not supposed to be a license. Paul explains why…

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? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:1–7)

The principle here is that genuine salvation involves identification with Christ. In Him, I died to sin. This was declared in baptism and demonstrated in a changed attitude toward sin. That is, I might be able to do anything I want to, but my want-to’s have changed. Jesus gave me a new life, a new nature that does not want to be enslaved to sin or defeated by it.

This does not mean I am never tempted or never fail. It does mean that sin does not have the same grip or influence. I can say no, whether temptation comes in great appeal or subtle suggestions. Salvation’s plan means victory is here, but also not yet fully here. That is, I can win the battle, but am still in the battle, a person thrown into the arena with that roaring lion who wishes to devour me. God equips me with spiritual weapons to win the war, but I must fight it. In the fighting, I learn to appreciate and rely on grace. I cannot win unless I do.

This has been a week in the lion’s den. As to spiritual warfare, I’ve learned more deeply that only by the grace of God can I battle the enemy’s lies and fiery accusations and temptations. Those outside would not see this battle unless I offered details, but it is real and just as dangerous as a war with guns and knives.
Fighting sin and Satan reveals and exalts God’s grace as much or even more than repeated forgiveness. Sinning is easy. Asking forgiveness is a sure thing. However, resisting sin is far more difficult and relying on grace rather than “I can handle this” is a deeper challenge.

Being a Christian is seldom a walk in the park. God gives peace and joy, but at the same time I am being stalked. My spiritual enemy appeals to my flesh and tries to convince me that sin is okay… after all, Christ died for it… trying to make me forget that I died to it also…

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Like salvation and forgiveness, living a crucified life is by grace also.

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