Reach deep within your memory and think back to when you came to Christ. The time you accepted Jesus into your life and trusted him to be your Lord and savior. If you’re like me, it was a time of joy, relief and deep intimacy with God. You knew that life with Christ meant you would never be alone again. You would always have a father, friend, mentor and much more to guide you through the journey of life then later usher you into the next heavenly phase when this earthly one is over.
What you didn’t anticipate happening was the crushing anxiety, the panic attacks, and the mental torture that would quickly come from the quest for perfection. The hours of incessant bible reading, behavior modification, laps to the altar, knee bruising confessions and requests for forgiveness that would follow each sin. The nightmares of hell fire that would spring from a heated argument with a friend or the memory of a lie you recently told. The gnawing pressure to share your faith with every Tom, Dick and Harry that crossed your path or else! This life with Christ wasn’t feeling like life at all. In fact, the life that was had before, while problematic for sure, was at least filled with moments of happiness.
Something was amiss, this couldn’t be what Jesus meant when He said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30.)
Why wasn’t I experiencing rest? Hadn’t I come to him? I dug deeper and what I found has completely transformed my life and my perspective on what it means to be a Christ follower:
1) It’s not about what you can do for Jesus but what Jesus has done for you
Christ died on the cross and most importantly rose again so that we could have life. Prior to that incredible life-altering act, we were destined for spiritual death. Christ’s sacrifice solved our sin problem. Before the cross, sin was separating us from God after the cross there is no longer a separation. The bible says that as new covenant believers, we are dead to sin. It cannot reign in us --we are new creatures. We are slaves of righteousness and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ and nothing can snatch us out of his hands (Romans 8:35-39). I don’t know about you, but I believe the word of God. It says that I don’t have to strive for love, righteousness and acceptance from God. All those things are mine in Christ. I am qualified not because of how many hours I read my bible or how many Sundays I volunteer over in the Children’s Ministry. I am qualified because of who I put my trust in –Jesus. (Galatians 3:2)
2) Sin can never rule you
It also states that we no longer have a sin problem –Christ has solved that for us. So, when I screw up, I haven’t blown it. And If I choose wrong it doesn’t equate to me BEING wrong. My identity has shifted. I am no longer a slave to sin but righteousness. This means that I am not and can never be comfortable in my sin. I will always desire to be free from sin whether I currently am or not. That desire is important because it points to the spirit of God in me. What about Christians who are deep in a sinful lifestyle? Or Christians who are wrapped up in damaging addictions? …. If these people are truly Christians –meaning they have put their faith in Jesus, then they too are slaves of righteousness.
They are agonized by their various sins and addictions. They are not reveling in their sin and seeking out more nefarious sins to commit. They are in the struggle of their lives and in desperate need of help and hope not judgment and condemnation. Closely read Paul’s lament in Romans (edited for brevity; emphasis is mine):
For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.
So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:14-25)
Paul thanks Jesus at the end of his lament because Jesus offers us an escape from the flesh! He doesn’t impute the weaknesses of the flesh to us. He doesn’t connect our fleshly acts to our identity. He gives us His spirit and calls us His children. Therefore, as Christians, we are told to walk by the spirit and not by the flesh. The flesh is rife with sin whereas the spirit is rife with life –Christ’s life.
3) Mind renewal is key
So, when I behave in ways that mirror the righteousness that I now have, it is because I am acting out of a renewed mind. I’m following the leading of the spirit within me. It is not because I am fearful and unsure of my salvation. It is not because I am striving for acceptance from God. I act out of a deep knowing and assurance of God’s love and acceptance of me. It is wisdom and spiritual maturity that leads me to turn from sin. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:12: “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.
As Christians, our behavior will not and cannot separate us from God, but our behavior can have some serious earthly consequences. Behaving out of an unrenewed mind will cause us to make wrong decisions and deal with circumstances we’d rather forget. Because of this, God calls us to renew our minds: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
With love and reflection,