A Mirror, Not a Scrub-brush

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Last week I proposed to you that the two edges of the sword of the word of God—the law of God and the gospel of the grace of God—like the edges on any blade, grow dull with use. We as Christians live in an alien culture, and the world and our sinful flesh, both under the control of Satan, attack us constantly from every angle. The mighty, powerful sword of the word of God is our weapon to resist him, and it is more than adequate for the task. Nevertheless, the edges of the sword grow dull with time, just as do the knives in the Andrews’ cutlery drawer, and continual sharpening is necessary.

One example of such a sharpening is found in Matthew 4:1-10. Satan came after Jesus during His famous “temptation in the wilderness” as He began His public ministry, not unlike the way he will attack us. This scripture gives us insight into how Jesus used the sword of the word of God to defend Himself against Satan’s attacks, leaving us a clear pattern to follow when we, generally on a daily basis, also come under attack.  

Jesus began His defense against Satan by reciting several relevant Bible verses, but, surprisingly, not to Satan, as many believe. Careful analysis shows the verses He quoted applied, not to Satan, but to Himself. In a time of severe temptation as a man, He was first being sure His sword was sharp by consciously reminding Himself of two great truths revealed clearly in those verses.

Yes, you got it; these verses reminded Jesus, as a man, of the impenetrable power to protect Him of His two-edged sword. First, what the Bible had taught Him of His Father’s provision and protection (His grace), and, second, His Father’s sovereign plan as the one true God, who alone is worthy of worship (His law).

Then, His sword thus sharpened by having these truths firmly in mind, He wielded it by standing firmly against Satan’s attacks by applying them to Himself in each of the three aspects of Satan’s temptation. Beautifully and perfectly done!

Jesus was without sin, but He is showing us, sinful men though we be, how we too can keep our two-edged sword sharp. It is only by remembering the absolutes of God’s law and the fullness of God’s grace, and the dramatic distinction between the two. This is no other way to be ready when the enemy attacks.

Most Christians are fuzzy in their understanding of the distinctives between these two edges. Sharpening, or understanding more clearly, the law-edge of the sword of the Spirit is our current objective in this posting. Read on.

Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:8 that there are both lawful and unlawful (proper and improper, or effective and ineffective), ways for us to apply the law-edge of the word of God in our lives. In this verse he is introducing a crucial question. The answer to it affects us every day in the battle: How do we use the law of God lawfully in our lives? Last week we introduced the first legitimate use of the law—as a mirror to expose us as wicked sinners (Romans 3:10; James 1:23, 24).

At some point, God will begin to open the eyes of His children as to the true condition of their hearts, generally through hardship, conflict or suffering. With me, it was serious marital difficulties after about 15 years of marriage.

I had been in the ministry for some 20 years, eagerly evangelizing, preaching, teaching and doing my very best to serve the Lord. Then one day, through the vehicle of a struggling marriage, it was my turn to experience the Lord’s severe blessing. He decided to open my eyes and show me, this obedient, righteous, never-rebellious minister of the gospel, for the first time, that I am in actuality a real, live, down-and-dirty sinner in my daily life, not just a theological, theoretical one!

I saw, for the first time, that I was a part of the only club Jesus ever had harsh words for, the know-it-all, self-righteous, holier-than-thou Pharisees. I saw that I always believed that I knew best what those with whom I interacted should do, even though I might not tell them. My attitude was, “Watch me, and I will show you the right way to act, as a husband, father, you name it; I pretty much have it wired.” I realized that I saw myself as the answer man, just waiting with the answer to your question if you will just ask me, and I may tell you even if you don’t!

Suddenly all the laws in the Bible about not judging, letting each man answer to his own master, each of you esteeming others better than yourselves, etc. jumped off the page at me. I saw my arrogance for the first time, staring back at me in the mirror of the law-edge of the word of God. The law had done its internal work of exposing my sin.

Now, 30 years later, these same besetting sins continue to pop up. The Holy Spirit is still, even with an almost-octogenarian, busily at work on the unfinished task of conforming me to the image of Christ. In that process I am regularly faced with a crossroads in my thinking when I realize when I have sinned. My natural response, the way I came out of the womb programmed to respond, and the default way I naturally continue to think as a Christian, is always the same: I try my very best to obey God’s law, to shape up, and I am discouraged when I can’t, just as was Paul in Romans 7.

If I do that, I am, unconsciously and unknowingly, misusing the law. In the very act of trying to be a good, obedient Christian, I am using the law for a purpose for which it was never intended to be used, as Paul implies in 1 Timothy 1:8. It is never to be a scrub-brush to clean me up so I am a better Christian (Romans 9:30-32). No! The Bible even teaches that trying to obey the law rather than simply trusting Daddy by faith to change me is actually sin (Romans 14:23).

Its biblical, internal use is only as a mirror to expose me as a wicked sinner and to drive me to faith in Jesus at the cross, where I come face to face with the over-the-top, limitless, hyper-grace of God. There, at the cross, He gives me, as a perfectly free gift, no strings attached, no requirements whatsoever, the very righteousness of Jesus Christ. What more can He do?

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