I just finished reading a book that was not good stuff to put in my head, but it had a powerful effect on my heart. It made me more deeply aware of the sinfulness of humanity and our powerless state to do anything about it. It also is making me consider the grace of God and the ridiculousness of human effort to be moral, godly people.
Paul knew it. While theologians grapple with what he wrote in Romans 7 and wonder if he was ‘in Christ’ at the time, it seems to me this is a man who realized the depth of his helplessness against sin. He also wrote that He had victory over sin in Christ but the emphasis is always in Christ, not in his own ability.
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For 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.” (Romans 7:18–23)
With Jesus, I am able to win the war against sin, but I cannot do this without Him. Every attempt, every effort, every ‘success’ is no more than spiritual self-righteousness and a mockery to the God who saves.
I cannot kid myself. It is possible for a Christian to live in a moral way but not in the power of the Holy Spirit, just as it is possible for those who are not Christian to do the same. Christians do not have a monopoly on walking in a noble way, even worshiping and appearing to love God. However, as Tozer writes, “The Holy Spirit is also a spiritual flame. He alone can raise our worship to true spiritual levels. For we might as well know once for all that morality and ethics, however lofty, are still not Christianity.”
There is a vast difference between the goodness of self-righteousness and faith in Christ. Faith raises my soul “to actual communion with God, to introduce into our religious experiences a supra-rational element as far above mere goodness as the heavens are above the earth.”
Tozer uses joy as an example. The joy of the first Christians was not a logic based on reason, “Christ is risen from the dead; therefore we ought to be glad.” Their gladness sprang from the miracle of the Creator taking residence in their lives — they could not help but be joyful!
Jesus, I cannot fully explore this subject today, but I can fully agree with it. Apart from You, I can do nothing. I realize how easily I can take credit for grace, which is robbing You of Your glory. Self-righteousness is a horrible thief.