A few years back, I sat in a congregation and listened to a preacher delivering a message on forgiveness. He shook his fist in dramatic fashion and proclaimed, “We are forgiven of our sins: past, present, and future. That means that you will never be held accountable for anything you do, for sin has no affect on the Christian’s life.”
I have heard and read many messages that make similar claims, but this simply is not true. A popular writer made the statement that if we teach grace the way we should, it will sound like a license to sin. This is true if we teach only forgiveness, but grace is more than the promise that my sins are forgiven. Grace also holds the promise that this forgiveness transforms my life. I am a new creation who has been freed from the bondage of sin in my flesh. We must teach the whole message of grace – not just that we have been rescued from sin. Look at Romans 5:20 – 6:4
20 Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more,
21 so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?
2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?
3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
So we can see the message of deliverance from sin, not merely forgiveness of sin. There must be a walk in the newness of life. The apostles recognized the danger of overlooking the entire message. God’s grace is such an amazing gift, that where sin abounds in abundance, grace abounds more. The message is not to wallow in the mire. The message is, regardless of how defiled a man or woman has become, God’s grace is more than sufficient to reach to the bottom of any pit. No one can say, “God could never forgive the things I have done.” Grace indeed forgives, and that is half the promise. Not only will God forgive, but the past is buried with Christ, and the sinner is raised as a new creation – forgiven, redeemed, and set free. Not free to dive back into the mire, but free to live by an eternal standard that is impossible before we have God’s spirit of grace.
The message is not that we will never be held accountable; therefore, we can sin at will. This fallacious way of thinking makes it appear that sin is a gift from God. The message is that we have died to our old life. Since we have been crucified with Christ, his sacrifice satisfied the penalty of sin; therefore, we are free from judgment, and empowered to live in his presence as we reach toward perfection. Grace is not only, “I’m forgiven”, but grace is also, “I can walk in newness of life.” We can’t separate one from the other.
Scripture does not say that the Christian is not accountable, and it is not true to claim that the world will be held accountable for their sins, but the Christian no longer has a standard to live by. In the remainder of this study, we’ll first look at the scriptures that show our accountability, and then we’ll look at the victorious path God has provided for the Christian. When all things conclude, the Christian stands by the promises in Revelation that begin with, “To him that overcomes, I will give…” There are not only promises, but consequences. We also know the words of Jesus, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The Yoke of the Lord
Jesus’ promise of an easy yoke is a great place to begin looking at our Christian walk toward holiness. Matthew 11:28-30
28 “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
30 “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
This is a wonderful passage, but must be understood. It’s a paradox. A yoke is a wooden beam designed to go around the neck and bind a pair of oxen together. It is intended to keep both oxen side by side so they can work in unison. The great paradox is that Jesus begins by calling those who are straining under the heavy burden of labor, and find rest by taking on his yoke – which binds us together with Christ as we labor for the kingdom. How can we find rest by uniting with Christ in a yoke which calls us to labor with him?
Unlike the labors we take upon ourselves, the work of Christ is not dependent upon man or the strength of mankind. It’s intended to be a paradox because it shows to situations that would normally seem contradictory, but are not because of something unique God is doing. God does not allow man to build his kingdom, but God also does not allow people to sit idly and take his kingdom for granted. Remember the words of Jesus, “I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus never said, “You will build my church.” I already have a study on labor and works, so I won’t spend much time on this topic here, but keep in mind that our burden is light because he bears the burden. He also bears us up when we grow weary. He is our strength, not we his strength.
The same principle applies when we strive to overcome. How does one overcome? When habits and cravings of the flesh rise up and try to draw us away from fellowship with the Lord, how do we overcome? If my efforts to change my life before Christ failed to make a lasting change, how can I expect my human efforts to change my life after knowing Christ? The words of Paul ring true in our daily lives, “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”
The truth is that God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness, and I am completely dependent upon the Lord to give me strength. This is why Ephesians 6 tells us to be strong in the Lord and the power of his might. It is not our strength or power, it is the Lord’s strength and the Lord’s power. The Bible says that God is able to make us stand.
It is when we press against the yoke or slip out of it that we become weary and discouraged. When I try to carry the burden, I may appear to succeed for a while, but frustration is in my future. I’ll be frustrated from my own fatigue because I haven’t rested in the Lord, and because I am not being led, I can’t maintain the straight rows God is laying through the joint work with Christ. When God is not leading where I think I should go, I’m tempted to slip out of the yoke and go my own way. This might be a desire to reach for temptation, or a misguided belief that I must do something God has not ordained.
It isn’t my labor; it is the labor of Christ. It is not my righteousness; it is the righteousness of Christ. It isn’t my works; it is the workmanship of Christ, prepared beforehand that I should walk in it. I can only walk as I am led, otherwise I am not on the path God has called me to follow.
So the burden of living the Christian life does not fall upon my shoulders, it falls on Christ. This is why the Bible constantly stresses the necessity of abiding in Christ and having his word abide in us. Without abiding, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Doing nothing means we can do nothing of eternal significance. So even if I accomplish something that looks grand in my eyes, it means nothing, for Jesus made it clear that the flesh cannot produce anything of spiritual value (John 6:63).
Is the Christian accountable?
There are so many scriptures that address this question, it is difficult to know what to begin with and what to leave out. There is a reason why the Bible calls us to fear the Lord. The fear of the Lord is not to be afraid of God, but it is also not merely a reverence for him as many often teach. The fear of the Lord is to understand he is the creator of all things, and has the right to determine our acceptable standard of behavior. Like a loving father who tries to guide his children into good character, our heavenly father does the same for us. He corrects, rebukes, and chastises. While it is true that God’s desire is to comfort and bless, he will not neglect discipline when his children do not respond to his rebuke. Nor will he bless in a way that distracts us from the path he calls us to follow.
God is more concerned with your eternal character than your temporal comfort. Through Jesus, God has shown us the image we are called to conform to. This is the character God will bless and reward; therefore, he will indeed chastise the wayward soul in an effort to prevent us from walking down the road leading to destruction, and toward the narrow road leading to life.
There is a day of accountability. And yes, it applies to the Christian. In Revelation 20:11-15, there is a Great White Throne judgment where the entire world will stand accountable. According to the Bible, the Book of Life will be searched, and any soul not found there will be judged according to their works. These works cannot merit salvation, for after the works are examined, judgment is declared because their name was not written in the book of life. In fact, when the disciples asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” he said, “With men it is impossible. But with God all things are possible.”
According to Christ, it is impossible for any man to save himself without God’s intervention. And that is exactly what was done on the cross. That’s why Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.”
For those who have entered through Jesus Christ, their judgment is not found in Revelation 20. We know that the believer has already been judged prior to this judgment, because the Christians have already received their reward. At the beginning of Revelation, the faithful are casting their crowns at his feet. The Bible also says that when Jesus returns, his reward is with him. Another clear distinction is that the Bible teaches there are two resurrections. One when Jesus fulfills his promise that the righteous will inherit the earth, and the other after the millennial reign. To understand this, look at Revelation 20:4-6
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
5 But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. This is the Christian. We do not fear the final judgment for we will have already been judged and rewarded as priests and kings who will reign with Christ. After this, the second resurrection is for those who will stand to be judged for their sins and dead works. A dead work is anything accomplished through the flesh – or human effort.
I say all of this to make sure we understand that there is more than one judgment. Though the Christian will not fear the second judgment, we must fear the Lord now, knowing we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Look at 2 Corinthians 5:10-11
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
11 Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.
Why would there be terror for which the apostles felt the need to persuade men? We’ll take a look at this answer shortly, but stop for a moment and consider this passage. It is written to the Christian. This was a letter to the Corinthian church and is an instruction to those who believe in Jesus. The instruction is not to warn the lost of judgment, but to warn the Christian of judgment. How can men stand up and shout, “We will never be held accountable for our sins,” when this passage specifically warns that you and I will be called into account for every thing done in our body – good and bad?
Jesus gives us a glimpse into this day of reckoning when he teaches his disciples in Luke 12. First, he gives the desired result – blessings and honor. Jesus promises that he will return during the time when the church is not expecting. Therefore, it is warned that few will be ready, but we should always be on watch. We watch by doing his will and living as a disciple – someone who learns and practices what God teaches in the word. Those who are found watching have some interesting promises. Jesus said that he will make them to sit down, and Jesus himself will serve them. We, who should be serving our Savior, will have him serve us. He then promises that he will make those disciples ruler over all he has.
That is the good news – the promise which God desires to give us. But the bad news is that few will be found watching. Jesus then gives a warning in Luke 12:47-48
47 “And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
48 “But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.
According to the words of Jesus, are their consequences for sin in the life of the Christian? Jesus warns that believers caught unaware of his return will inherit the same reward as hypocrites, and they will be weeping and gnashing their teeth (Matthew 24:51). The picture is someone lamenting over what they have lost. It is to mourn with such heartache, they grind their teeth.
Along with those who are found unworthy, are those who teach disciples to wink at sin. Look at Matthew 5:19
Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus didn’t say these teachers would be sent to hell; he said they would be called least in the kingdom. They are those who sacrificed everything eternal for a false gospel that invested everything in this life alone. Those who will one day weep over their loss will do so because they ignored warnings, such as passages like Hebrews 12:15-16
15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;
16 lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.
Hopefully you see that God does not want any of his children to miss out on the promise. Esau is given as an analogy for the Christian. As the firstborn son, Esau should have been the heir of what was passed down from Abraham. There was wealth, but the honor of carrying the blessings of God was the greater reward. He should have led the family, which would one day lead to Jesus, our Messiah. He should have been the one God blessed that no one could curse. He should have been the prophet that Jacob became, and should have been led by God’s loving hand. But he forfeited it all to feed his flesh. He couldn’t wait for his needs to be met, so he gave up everything for a meal. He despised his birthright. In the end, he wept on his knees begging to be blessed, but the time of repentance was gone and the consequences were upon him.
You also have a birthright. It isn’t something you must earn, for it is by promise, not merit. According to scripture, we are joint heirs with Christ when we are born again by the Holy Spirit. It is a gift no one can earn, but it is something we can willingly give away. Colossians 2:8 says:
8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.
It is already yours in Christ – but you can be cheated out of it. This is reiterated in Revelation 3:11
“Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.
The reward is to those who remain in Christ. The reward is not to those who earn salvation, nor to those who try to earn rewards. The reward is part of your birthright, and will remain yours unless you despise it as did Esau. To despise our birthright is to trade it willingly for a moment of pleasure. It is to exchange the promise to gratify the flesh. It is claiming our reward in this life because we don’t have faith in the promise to come. Many false teachers claim to be of God, but mix worldly philosophies into their doctrine and lead others into the deception that has captured their hearts. These are those the scriptures warn are false teachers deceiving and have been deceived. This is what causes men to proclaim that we can live as we please without being concerned with consequences.
When someone buys into the doctrines of the flesh, they will not only seek to justify themselves, but they will persuade others in the hope of being comforted in their rebellion. It is for you to discern the truth by knowing the scriptures. To follow these philosophies and empty deceits, rooted in the principles of the world, is to allow yourself to be cheated. Allowing ourselves to be persuaded to follow the flesh is how someone takes our crown. They have given it away, and there is a desire to persuade you to forfeit as well. Surrounding the principles of the world with religious terms doesn’t change the fact it is of the flesh. The Lord has given you the promise, hold fast to what you have already been given.
Living in the promise
As I stated earlier, we cannot merit anything of the Spirit. You may have heard people say, “I’m going to make my light shine,” but this is a misconception. We don’t have the light; we are the light. We can’t shine the light; we can only let it shine, or hide it. Look at Matthew 5:14-16
14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.
15 “Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.
16 “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
If you have the Spirit of God within you, you are the light of the world. Jesus didn’t command you to shine, he commanded you to let it shine and not hide it under a basket. Why does your light and good works glorify God? It is because your light and work is a gift of God. Good works don’t point to your efforts, they point to your heavenly Father who placed his light in your heart and completed his good works through you. Your works are the evidence of God’s hand. Any works that point to our own goodness is a false work with no eternal benefit or significance. A good example of this can be seen in Jesus’ interaction with the rich young ruler. Look at Matthew 19:16-22
16 Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”
17 So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
18 He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, ” ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’
19 ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “
20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”
21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
The first thing we should note is that this rich man was looking solely at the flesh as the source of goodness. He began his question to Jesus by calling him Good Master, or as the NKJV translates it, Teacher. In that culture, teachers were considered masters of knowledge. Many rabbis had disciples and they called them master as both a sign of respect, and an acknowledgement of their special knowledge. This is why Jesus warned his disciples to not allow anyone to call them teacher / master. He isn’t warning that we can’t be identified as teachers, but that we do not put ourselves in the position to be looked upon as being above the people. Though we have different callings and gifts, we are not permitted to be on a higher level than other believers. Jesus said not to let anyone call you master, father, or rabbi (or spiritual guide), for only Christ has that exaltation, and “you are all brethren.” (Matthew 23).
This is what Jesus is rebuking when he rebuffed the ruler for calling him good master. The rich man was looking at Jesus as an earthly rabbi, and placing undo honor on humanity. When Jesus pointed to himself as the Messiah of Israel, he calls himself good (John 10:11-14), but when this man pointed to his role as a master / teacher, Jesus refused to allow people to think of this role with undo honor. It wasn’t his role as a teacher that made him good, it was his role as the Son of God, Emmanuel, God with us. Many rabbis were in Israel, but none had the right to be called good.
Serious problems arise when we try to apply good to any works of human effort. The rich man wanted to know what good work he could do to merit eternal life. Jesus set him up to see the futility of the question by pointing to the law, which is impossible for man to fulfill in the flesh. The man proclaimed that he has kept these things through his whole life. To show the fallacy of this claim, Jesus included the command to love your neighbor as yourself. Then Jesus called him to sell everything and give it to the poor. If the man truly loved his neighbor as himself, sacrificing his possessions for the poor would not have been a barrier to obedience.
Even selling his possessions would not give eternal life. The command was to sell all and follow Jesus. It was to cast off his efforts to make himself good, remove his love for things, and become a new creation in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 13 makes it clear that even if I give all my goods to the poor, and sacrifice my body as an offering, if I don’t have love (agape), it profits me nothing. Agape is the love poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The intent should be clear. If it isn’t the work of God, flowing through us, it is meaningless.
The truth is, we will always place ourselves first if we are standing upon our own works. Place a morsel of food in front of two starving men, and see who puts their neighbor first. It is the power of Christ that enables us to walk by faith, keep the commandments, and experience what it means to live on the rock of Christ. Jesus taught, “You are the salt of the world.” We do not become salt through something we do, we are salt because of Christ. Jesus also warned that the salt can lose its savor and become good for nothing. The salt can lose its impact, the light can be hidden, and the Christian can lose sight of their faith. Instead of being the salt and light of the world, they can become like the world and ineffective in their calling.
Striving to live a life of holiness is not our efforts to become more spiritual, or to gain more faith; our effort is to keep the things of the world out of our life. We remove the things that hide our light and avoid the things that remove the savor of Christ by replacing the gift of God with worthless treasures. Look at James 1:27
27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
Also, add to this Jude 1:20-21
20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,
21 keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
Notice what is being taught. We keep ourselves unspotted from the world. We build our lives upon the most holy faith God has given us. We don’t build faith, we build ourselves upon the holy faith given to us. We don’t make ourselves love God, we keep ourselves in the love of God. These are gifts of grace. God has given us a new life, and the ability to walk in the Spirit. The works of the Christian are not to do something for God, but to walk in God’s works and hold on to the spiritual mercies given to us.
We often approach Christianity from the wrong perspective. Most people think they have to muster up faith, make themselves holy, force themselves to love God, and purify their own souls. The truth is, these things are the work of Christ. Jesus said, “It’s the Spirit that gives life, the flesh profits nothing,” and “with man, [salvation] is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” We come to Christ, trusting in his completed work, and then keep ourselves in the love of God. James 1:4 tells us that we are tempted when we are drawn by our own desires and enticed. Temptation is the desire to leave the things of the Spirit, and pursue the things of the flesh. That can be blatant sins, or the lure of human achievement where we try to produce the work of God through human effort.
Let’s look at how sin applies to the Christian life. It is not temptation overcoming us, but the Christian being lured away from Christ and into sin. The Christian walking in the spirit cannot sin. This does not mean the Christian cannot sin, it means there must be a change in our minds. We must step away from our walk with the Lord in order to commit sin. Let’s examine some scriptures to understand this. Look now at Galatians 5:16-18
16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
This passage goes along with Romans 8:5-6
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
The scriptures are showing a difference in focus. Those who walk in the spirit set their minds on the things above – on eternal things. We must intentionally set our minds on the word of God, and consciously keep ourselves from being drawn by the flesh. The Christian who keeps their minds on the word, and lives according to the truth they have been given will walk in the Spirit, and the drawing of the flesh has no power over their lives. But when we love the world and live only from the perspective of here and now, our minds will be on the flesh and seeking gratification of our desires. We must take care not to be those Jesus said hear the word, and are choked by the cares of the world, never becoming fruitful as Christians. It is a fact that we cannot live in both worlds.
Though I must live in the world, my focus must not be to live for the world. My job is a gift from God, as is my abilities to perform it. My trust is not in my job, or the money I make. I provide for my family, but I should not serve money. Am I living for pleasure, or to glorify God? Am I so determined to fill my life with possessions that I can’t afford to serve God? Jesus made it clear that no one can serve God and wealth, and we must choose which to serve. The sad reality is that most are choosing to serve a passing world at the expense of our faith. This is exacerbated by those who teach that blessings are equal to wealth and that godliness is a means of gain. Neither of which are true.
The desire for things is only part of the human condition that turns our heart from the Lord. The works of the flesh are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, and revelries. Every person struggles with these things to varying degrees, but we are able to overcome through the word. It is a battle between the new creation we have become when we were born as a new person, and the flesh which still desires the life we have abandoned. Look at Romans 7:22-23
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.
19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.
20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.
22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.
23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
Even a spiritually minded man or woman will find themselves being drawn toward the flesh. The battle is fought in the mind. To overcome, we must realize the difference between the flesh and the new man, the new person we have become in Christ. According to the above scripture, the new man is not the origin of sin, but the origin of godly living. It is for us to turn from flesh and not to obey its lust. This agrees with 1 John 3:9
Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.
The new man cannot sin, for it is born of God, yet, daily we wrestle with sin. The seed of God, the Holy Spirit, remains in us and calls us to live according to the inner man. This is why we are commanded to be perfect just as our heavenly Father is perfect. Even so, we know we will sin and the same book that tells us we cannot sin also says that when we sin, we have an advocate through Christ and repentance. Look at 1 John 2:1-6
1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.
3 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.
4 He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.
6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.
John is giving us another paradox. We are battling among two worlds. The flesh and the spirit cannot agree and are at war with one another. In the end, the flesh will be destroyed along with everything invested in the flesh. That includes not only sin, but even positive deeds accomplished by human effort. When we sin, we have stepped into the flesh and turned from the commandments of God. At the end of 1 John 1, we are given the promise that if we confess our sins and forsake them, we will have mercy. Repentance is turning from the flesh and to the Spirit. We are confessing our ways, and again putting our trust in Christ to deliver us from our flesh and cleanse us from our sin. Then, we walk again in the new life, according to the new man, and sin has no power in our lives. Temptation will arise again, but it can have no power unless we agree with the flesh and willfully choose to step into the flesh again.
The Christian has the power to live in perfection, and at times we will experience that perfection. However, the perfection is not in you, but in Christ. Any who walk in the light will experience a life of victory. As we draw closer to Christ, his light reveals areas in our life that are still rooted in the flesh. As we surrender these areas to him, dead works are purged and more of Christ is revealed in our life. It is a process that continues as we strive toward our final perfection.
We know this process will never be fully completed until our final redemption when our flesh will be transformed at the day of resurrection. Until then, our life must be focused on keeping his commandments so we can obtain the promise, and run without hindrance. At times, we will fail. The Apostle Paul said, “The things I do not want to do, I do, and the things I know I should do, this I don’t do.” We too, will have times when our flesh gets the best of us. Instead of throwing our hands up, we repent, he sets us back on the right way, and we strive again toward perfection. Our goal as believers is to remove anything which comes between us and our Lord. Hebrews 12:1-2 explains:
1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
We run with endurance by keeping Jesus Christ in the center of our life while we cast out anything that hinders us. When we stumble in the flesh, we turn from our sin, confess, forsake, and draw toward Jesus so we can walk in the light. As we do so, we are laying hold of the promise, “To him that overcomes, I will give…” Overcoming the flesh and the world removes the things which prevent us from inheriting the promises of God. It isn’t easy because it goes against human nature. The Lord knows it isn’t easy, and this is why the greatest promises in scripture are to those who overcome. The only path to overcoming is following the word, and this requires keeping Jesus at the center of our life and focus. A compartmentalized life can’t live the faith as God has called us to do.
In closing, let me reiterate the principle of righteousness in the Christian’s life. Your righteousness means nothing to God, nor does mine. The Bible tells us that all of our righteous acts are filthy rags in God’s sight, or as Jesus said, the flesh profits nothing. You can’t produce spiritual fruit through human efforts. Every time righteousness is revealed in scripture, it is God’s righteousness given to us. We are not called to become righteous, we are made righteous through faith in Christ. This doesn’t only apply to becoming a Christian; the principles of living the Christian life don’t change after we obtain salvation. My life cannot produce righteousness. I can only walk in God’s righteousness. As Galatians states when rebuking the church, “Are you so foolish to think having begun in the Spirit, you are now made perfect by the flesh?”
The truth is that you and I can never produce the righteousness of God. When we are born as a new creation, we are given the righteousness of Christ. We don’t strive to become more righteous, for we already have the righteousness of God. This is explained in 2 Corinthians 5:21
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
How can you add to the righteousness of God? Why would we think that something was needed in order to make ourselves more righteous than the completed work of Christ? The truth is that we can’t. It is a completed work, and anything added to the work of Christ is a corruption. Jesus and the righteousness he has given is fully complete. This is explained in Romans 10:3-4
3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.
4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Christ is the end of the law of righteousness. What comes after the end? Nothing. It is the end because the work has been completed. Anything added to perfection becomes corruption. This goes back to Jesus’ teaching about us being the light of the world. We are not told to make the light brighter. We aren’t told to stoke the flames and make the light shine. Our only command is to let it shine. Let it shine, not make it shine. Remove the basket that is blocking the light shining in our hearts. We do this by removing the flesh. It is the gospel message of the Old Testament where Gideon was commanded to take a torch hidden in a clay pot, walk down the path God sent him, and shout with victory as he and his men shattered the clay pots to reveal the light. Then God defeated the enemy and completed the work before the eyes of Gideon. It wasn’t his effort, it was God’s work.
Our work is not to create righteousness, do good works, or build our faith. Our command is to remove the things that hinder the work of God in our lives. It is to break the flesh, submit ourselves to the Lord, and allow his righteousness to work unhindered in our lives. You can do nothing to make yourselves more righteous. You have the gift of righteousness in your heart IF you are born again by the Spirit by faith in Christ. Our calling is simple to understand, but hard to live by. We are called to walk by faith as explained in Romans 1:17
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
Notice that God’s righteousness is revealed in us by faith. Our calling is to live by faith and walk in faith. Do a search on righteousness in the New Testament. In fact, do a search for ‘our righteousness in the Old Testament. You will discover some interesting phrases’. Below are a few:
The Lord Our Righteousness
The righteousness of God is revealed
God demonstrated his righteousness to the one who has faith in Christ
His righteousness is accounted to Abraham by faith
God imputes righteousness apart from works
That righteousness my be imputed to us also by faith
We receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness through Jesus Christ
Awake to righteousness and do not sin
We might become the righteousness of God
His righteousness endures for ever
Put on the breastplate of righteousness
The message is clear. If your righteousness is not the righteousness of Christ, you are falling under the same condemnation as those warned of in Romans 10:3, “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.”
The religious leaders who sought to make themselves righteous, never pleased God, never escaped from condemnation, and never found freedom in Christ. Our call is to walk in obedience by faith. Faith is putting your trust in the completed work of Christ. It is also believing the promises of God. Faith equals trust and drives us to action. That action is not our own efforts for God, but our obedience to God. It calls us to walk in the path God created for us before the foundation of the world, and removing anything in our lives that hinders us from walking in that path and being the light of the world.