After laying the first theological foundation stone for our Christian faith last week—the absolute sovereignty of God in everything—let’s reflect on why many of us have a difficult time accepting that premise.
The reason is that we are addicted—and we have been since birth—to the fruit of the forbidden tree that we ate in the Garden of Eden in Adam. We were seduced by Satan’s lie that we can “be like God,” having our own “free will” to decide, for ourselves, what is right and wrong, for ourselves, and, for ourselves, what we should or shouldn’t do.
Human history is the tragic story of our lack of success in making those decisions. Paul puts together a number of Old Testament passages to address our situation. Read these verses carefully, realizing that these verses describe us all in our hearts; who we really are:
“What then? Are we Jews (religious law-keepers) any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks (rebellious law-breakers), are under sin, as it is written:
‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouths are full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes’” (Romans 3:11-18).
These verses bring me face to face with who I really am: a wicked, depraved sinner, with no salvage value whatsoever, cornerstone #2 in our Christian, theological foundation. In them Paul strips off my facade established by the customs of the surrounding Christian culture in which I grew up, and describes my heart perfectly. I don’t understand God’s ways, and don’t want to. I don’t seek God, I lie, hate (which Jesus calls murder), am bitter, and do this with no fear of God. God’s words about mankind describe me perfectly: “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5)
“Wait just a minute,” you might say. “I am a new creature in Christ. My ‘old man,’ that terrible sinner Paul describes here in Romans 3, has been crucified with Christ, raised up from the dead with Him and is now seated with Him in Heaven. I am now holy, righteous and perfect. Paul tells me as much in Ephesians 2:4-7.”
And you would be gloriously correct. Your “old man” was indeed crucified with Christ and your “new man” is indeed resurrected, ascended and currently seated with Him, right now, at His Father’s right hand, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21).
However, the Bible teaches that while my justification is already secured at the cross as a past tense, accomplished fact, the other two aspects of my salvation are yet to be fully realized. My sanctification (the Holy Spirit’s exclusive job, currently in process in me in my daily experience), and glorification (receiving my new permanent, perfect, spiritual body) are eagerly anticipated future events.
In the meantime, I still live in this “body of death” (Romans 6:6; 7:24), what the Bible calls “the flesh.” After Adam’s fateful snack in the Garden, God’s decree of “You shall surely die” came in stages. He did not die physically for 930 years (Genesis 5:5), but as soon as he ate the forbidden fruit, he died spiritually and was as good as dead physically! In the same way, when Jesus’ last words were spoken on the cross, “It is finished,” what He came to do—save the world (John 3:17, Philippians 2:10)—was assured!
But I still live in my body of sin, “the flesh.” here on earth, while my “new man,” is, actually, in fact, apart from any mental gymnastics, seated in Heaven, ruling with Jesus! It is faith that makes what is actually true, true in my experience every day, wherever I go, whatever I do. I am, right now, ruling with Jesus!
This is what Paul calls, “living by faith,” or “ living in the Spirit.” Paul describes this experience perfectly in Galatians 2:20: “I (my ‘old man’) have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I (that ‘old man’) who live, but Christ (by His Holy Spirit) lives in me (my flesh); and the life which I now live in the flesh (in this physical body) I live by faith (believing that He is actually living through me right now) in the Son of God (that He is doing what He says He is doing), who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Seeing and believing that what Paul tells me about myself in Romans 3 is actually true, then embracing that fact, and repenting for these sins when I see them in my heart, is the only entry into a life of faith. That is the only path that will place me in Heaven ruling over the earth, right now, in whatever I may do, in my experience. No amount of convincing myself that I am holy and righteous in Jesus and already ruling with Him will make it true in my experience without first embracing my sin!
God did it this way because it is His way to live—the way that He is diligently, tirelessly and faithfully teaching me—life only comes from death (to my own better ideas, ambitions, plans, etc – John 12:24).
But I cannot decide now to begin to live this way. It is not a lever to pull or a button I can push. That is I, exercising my own free will again to “do it right,” this time by faith. No! Instead,I will find myself, naturally, spontaneously and unconsciously seeing my sin, embracing it, repenting and then believing He is ruling through me. I can relax and wait for that to happen, knowing I am right on schedule!
So, we have two “truths in tension,” both wonderfully true. We are wicked, depraved sinners who have been gloriously saved and now possess the very righteousness of Jesus Christ Himself, imputed to us by God Himself! Luther called this great truth, “simul justus et peccator”—”at the same time, just and sinner.”
We hold firmly to both truths, leading with our sin, never hedging, excusing or escaping, but eagerly embracing, and then followed immediately by the life-giving knowledge that we are already completely, gloriously forgiven for all that sin. That is the topic next week, Theology Cornerstone #3 – How Does God Relate to Me?