Tag Archives: Righteousness by faith series

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What will I become?

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A Righteousness by Faith #40: What will I become?

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. Romans 8:29 (NIV)

You are of inestimable value to God. No matter how many hard names and what shaming has been tossed at you over the years by people—or how savage you have been to yourself—your worth is always based on God’s glory. And for this reason, God has decided beforehand that He is going to change you into the image of His Son. Or maybe it is more clarifying to say that He is restoring you to what you were created to be.

It took me some years to get what Paul was talking about in this verse. I first had to understand that Romans was not about the slice of the gospel called justification by faith, but about living by faith during the whole spectrum of the gospel. Paul was not reforming the church. He was informing it of the gospel—the vastness of the gospel that had changed him from a self-deluded Pharisee to “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God . . .” (Romans 1:1 NIV)

This verse is the gospel at its core. God will change us to be like Jesus. Not god-like. Paul is not promoting some future godhood illusion that has plagued us since Satan used it as a pick-up line with Eve at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. No, what Paul is referring to here is becoming like Jesus who is fully human. Jesus as the last Adam. Jesus as Adam would have been if he had never rebelled against God’s reign over him. It is into this Jesus we are being changed. So Paul’s word choice of “image” is not accidental. It goes to the heart of our transformation. We are being restored to the ‘image of God’ which was marred in all humans in the Fall.

As I bring this blog series to a close, what does being conformed to the image of Jesus have to do with righteousness by faith? Because of space, I limit myself to three observations whose truth you need to live out empowered by the Spirit.

  1. Being conformed to Jesus means you now are able to be intimate with God in the same way that Adam and Eve experienced. There are no barriers left, no conditions to be met between you and the Father who reconciled you to Himself. All that has kept you from being changed by His love for you has disappeared. You may not realize how God delights in you even now because you still put more stock in the lie of Satan than the truth of God. But as you grow in grace, you will find the greatest change in you is your ability to understand this love “that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19 NIV)

 

  1. Jesus was tempted in every way you are without resorting to sin as a response. Being conformed to Jesus means that you will stop wanting to use sin as a means to comfort your pain and guide your life decisions. I am not claiming that you will never choose sin again. I am saying that in conforming you to the image of Jesus, God is shaping you by His grace to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions.

Why should you believe this is true? Here is where intimacy with God bears its fruit. By being in Jesus, God’s “divine power has given [you] everything [you] need for a godly life through [your] knowledge of him who called [you] by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3 NIV)

  1. Being conformed to Jesus means you will be restored to emotional wholeness. I teach people that living in a world full of people affected by the Fall causes damage to our emotions. Damaged emotions color our world and make us see others and God all wrong. But Jesus displayed the healthy emotions that were present at the Creation. He showed deep empathy to broken or hurting or sin-sick people he met. He displayed righteous anger for justice and mercy towards a world system that crushed some and exalted others. He felt appropriate sadness for those whose hard hearts rejected the Father. At all times, he was fully loving like the Father—not a sloppy, close-my-eyes-to-reality kind of love, but one that embraced each person he encountered with the promise of a different kind of life if they would receive him.

This is the meaning of “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.” (Philippians 3:9) You no longer work at being good for God. You get to be remade into who Jesus is and live free and whole.

-Steve Smith

 


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Everything happens to move you forward.

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A Righteousness by Faith #39: Everything happens to move you forward.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. Romans 8:28-29 (NIV)

There are some verses that just seem to be begging us to take them out of context. Romans 8:28 is one of them. Someone you know is going through a hard time, so what do you say? Some version of, “Trust God because He is going to bring good out of this.” While this sentiment is certainly supportive, Paul is not offering us a platitude for times of trouble. He is speaking of our whole life.

This is really the conclusion Paul has been driving towards since “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” at the beginning of his letter. How does the gospel make our lives different? Especially when we see behaviors and attitudes in our lives that do not line up with the character of Jesus? Or when we realize that life is not easier just because we follow Jesus?

I recently chatted with someone who was troubled by this. She felt some despair over an apparent lack of support from God. And I took her to Romans 8:28 to make sense of her situation.

She needed to see that what was happening in her life was included in the ‘all things.’ Everything we experience in life—the good, the bad and the ugly—is part of the ‘all things.’ God, who has the right to reign over us, is aware of everything that is happening in our lives. But his goal is not to make us happy, or promise us that things will get better as we go along. Instead, all of our ‘all things’ are being used to move us towards the purpose God has for each of us—to conform us to the likeness of Jesus.

God uses everything that has happened to you to draw you to Himself. All things are meant by God to catch your attention so you will surrender to His transformational work. The triumphs and happy days that make up some of the ‘all things’ remind you that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of heavenly lights (James 1:17). And the bad days, the sorrow and hurt from living in a world affected by the Fall are the part of the ‘all things’ that should remind you that only God is your protector, healer and the one who makes all things new.

So why this is true? God’s salvation is more than a trip to heaven someday. It is the power to live out righteousness in this life. We need this power to be at work in us. The struggle that we face is being truly convinced that only God knows how to shift us from arrogant self-sufficiency to the humility of knowing we have no power of our own. This is like Paul’s thorn-in-the-flesh eye opener. After praying three times to be freed from it, God essentially said “No.” That had to be staggering to Paul after all he had sacrificed for the sake of the gospel. Yet God went on to say that His grace was sufficient for Paul—and then Paul realized he wanted that grace most.

If you were to ask anyone what they wanted to avoid most in life, most would say suffering and pain. Yet, if you asked the same people what had brought them to experience the greatest change in their lives, again they would say suffering and pain. Whether we like it or not, suffering is more likely to teach how much we need God to save us, define us, comfort us, and help us to keep our balance in a world where everyone is affected by the Fall.

So, yes, God is going to bring good out of this. But it does not mean He is going to restore your health or ease the pain of loss or bring vengeance at this moment on your behalf. Neither is He planning to rob you of the joy of a new baby or satisfaction of completing a difficult task. He is using ‘all things’ to confront us with our deepest need for intimacy with Him.

The ‘good’ is God’s powerful salvation at work in you and me, continually beckoning us to Himself and remaking the ‘broken us’ into something gloriously like Jesus.

-Steve Smith


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Why do you fear rejection?

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A Righteousness by Faith #38: Why do you fear rejection?

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15 (NIV)

I have a dear friend going through a ruinous time in life, much of his own making. As he processed what has happened to him, in despair he confided, “I am going to Hell.” Because of his wandering from the experiencing of God’s love, he is wallowing in fear.

Wandering is not what having a righteousness by faith is all about. But when this friend—or even you, if you are wandering—decides to return and surrender to God’s reign afresh, he and you will be glad that God did not make this new covenant based on good or bad behavior. God does not accept you conditionally or reject you when you discover how unable you are to remain constant without the Spirit’s power. His new covenant with the ‘prodigal you’ always invites you to come home, because the adoption process is completed. You have no reason to fear that you will be beaten or rejected because you are now a child of the house.

Being adopted into God’s family should give you a different perspective about this relationship you have with God. In Paul’s day, if you were not born into a family, there were only two ways you could come to belong. The first was to be brought in as a slave. Slavery was the cultural backbone of the times, with anywhere from 30-40% of the population living under bondage. You could be a menial servant, a teacher or even a doctor of medicine and still be a slave. Strict rules governed your freedom. Punishment could be harsh. Running away could mean a death sentence. You existed to please your master and do his bidding.

To enter into God’s family as a slave does not hold out much hope for joy. So it makes sense for Paul to use this analogy to his mixed audience of Jewish and Gentile believers. Those who grew up as Gentiles would grasp this right away. God is not adding to His family more slaves. The Master’s relationship with slaves is based on obedience and fear. Slaves were compelled to mind their P’s and Q’s or suffer His wrath, which leads to constantly look over your shoulder in fear of Him catching you out!

But to the Jewish believers, there was a richer history to which Paul alludes. They suffered as slaves in Egypt for over 400 years, crying out for deliverance. God heard them and gave them Moses to lead them out. What a joyful day that was when they finally knew they were safe in God’s care—you can read this in the song of celebration they sung in Exodus 15. They knew what being a fear-filled slave meant at a deep cultural level.

Why does this matter? Paul reminds them that neither they nor their fellow believers have come into God’s family as slaves. The former covenant that defined their lives for centuries has been replaced by a new covenant. Instead of keeping the Law as a slave, both the Jewish and Gentile believers are now, through the Spirit, adopted as children with full rights. This is no probationary relationship. They—and we—are now heirs of the house and God is now our true Father, our intimate Abba.

Take it to heart that adoption as a full member of the family is how God decided to define the relationship. This is not something we dreamed up. Paul declares this as a matter of fact here in Romans just as he did to the Galatian believers: “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:6)

So on your worst days, when you awake to your failure to keep up your end of the covenant, remember that God will always be faithful. He will not suddenly change His mind, come to the end of His patience and forgiveness and send you to Hell. Your picture is in His wallet. Your name is engraved on His hand. ‘Messy you’ are an heir. So don’t fear. Draw near instead. And call Him Abba. This is how a righteousness by faith is lived.

-Steve


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Kill what’s Killing You

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A Righteousness by Faith #37: Kill what’s killing you

Therefore, siblings, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. Romans 8:12-14 (NIV)

I read the laundry list again. While researching on the subject of righteousness by faith—and this verse in particular—I came across one of those articles that explain how to kill sin in your life biblically. It includes recognizing sin in yourself, having a heart set on God, meditating on biblical truth, prayer, and obedience.

I check all of them off as good things. Self-awareness of how I am prone to wander? Check. And who couldn’t use more prayer? Check. And Jesus himself said man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word out of God’s mouth. Check.

But I noticed that this teacher never mentioned the Spirit. I am not saying he did this deliberately, but I wonder what Paul would have said to the list. The writer said nothing with which the former Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, would not have agreed. I am pretty sure that these five things could have been the practices that Saul had depended on to live a righteous life—as far as he was able. His resume claimed he was blameless (Philippians 3:6). His flesh could do them in his sleep.

But Saul, who was by now known to his friends as Paul, wants what he saw in Jesus—a righteousness by faith. Not because Jesus had a higher degree of righteousness. Paul was not drawn to Jesus like a Tae Kwon Do 1st Dan Black Belt wishing he could follow in the steps of a 9th Dan Black Belt holder. Jesus’ righteousness was not of a different degree, but a different quality. Jesus did not achieve a higher rank of righteousness. He reflected the genuine character of the Father. Jesus was righteous in a way that was empowered by the Spirit. His whole life exuded the work of the Spirit.

Where can you find this? In John 3, John the Baptizer explains to his disciples how Jesus was the bridegroom. Jesus had to become greater and John had to become less. Jesus was sent from God to share the truth about God with the world… Then John says, “For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.”

Did you catch that? Jesus was totally empowered by the Spirit. This was the human aspect of Jesus being in the world. He did not operate like Superman, faking that he was a human when really he was just God hiding behind a pair of glasses. What Jesus displayed in ministry—and in righteousness—is what any of us who follow him could become when empowered by the Spirit. Because this is what the new covenant is all about—restoring us by conforming us into the likeness of Jesus.

So how do you kill the misdeeds of the body by the Spirit? —Simply surrender to his work. This is not a fancy or complex answer, but it is the answer. You have no power to overcome your addictive sin. You have no power to heal the deep wounds in your heart. You have no power to become righteous. So you need to say out loud to the Spirit, “I give up. I cannot fix myself. I surrender to whatever you will do.” You can say this out of desperation or with deep humility—it doesn’t matter which. When you come to the point of knowing your best efforts will not kill sin in you, you will find grace, which is the empowering work of the Spirit within you.

You and I need to do this every day. As John Owen said in the 17th century, “Do you mortify (i.e. kill); do you make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

And even if you struggle at doing this, remember that God, out of his glorious riches, will strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” (Ephesians 3:16-17a)

What I am telling you probably differs with what you’ve heard from other Bible teachers. While I admire many of them, I find they miss Paul’s underlying theme contrasting the two covenants. They wrongly hold to the idea that Paul’s use of the word ‘flesh’ is about the failure of believers to live out their faith instead of actually referring to unbelievers. This faulty thinking comes up over and over again in a lot of teachings on Romans.

I also am concerned that you understand the central nature of the power of the Spirit. No one lives out a righteousness by faith without him, which is why Paul makes him the personal representative of the new covenant in this passage. Take this in, for it will change not only how you read Romans, but how you see God transform your life.

-Steve Smith


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What happens when your mind is right?

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A Righteousness by Faith #36: What happens when your mind is right?

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:6

One group of characters in C. S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the Dufflepuds. These invisible one-legged dwarfs have an endearing quality. Their conversation is peppered with the obvious. They say things like “Ah, you’ve come over the water. Powerful wet stuff, ain’t it?” and “You don’t see us. And why not? Because we’re invisible.”

So is Paul just being a Dufflepud here? I mean, is he just simply reminding us who believe that lost people’s lives are all about death, but we insiders obviously get to live out life and peace? That would just be a repeat of what he said earlier in this letter.

We can miss his point because we tend to apply this verse without checking the context. To get why Paul said this, think about what the Roman church at that time heard him saying.

Paul is explaining to his readers that it is the Spirit— not keeping the Law— that will transform the Gentiles minds so that they live righteous lives.  And this is also true for their Jewish fellow believers. Pursuing another way of being transformed—keeping rules—may sound right in the ears of some believers. But people are only going to become what God intended for them to be by His powerful work in transforming their minds. It’s also inevitable because it is what He has committed himself to do. So instead of pointing to the law, they need to remind each other who—and whose—they are.

Remember, Paul is already deep into his letter. He has rejoiced that the gospel is for everyone because everyone has sinned, both the Jews and Gentiles. By chapter five, he has switched from explaining how all are saved by faith in Jesus to explaining how to live out the life of Jesus by means of the Spirit. It gets a little rocky in chapter seven because the Jewish believers in Rome think the Gentile believers need to get their Christian righteousness act together by keeping the law. Paul crushes this idea by putting his own struggle as a Jew under the law on display. The best the Old Covenant can do is to make you miserable about your inability to be good for God.

Chapter eight introduces the New Covenant way of righteousness. It is the Spirit working within believers. Every good substitute for his work brings death. And here is Paul’s point—if you worry that the Gentile believers are not going to be able to become righteous without keeping all the rules, rest easy. Since the Spirit governs their—and our—minds, they will live out life and peace. They will get it. We will get it. We will be led to it and we will not want to resist the life changes the Spirit brings because he is in charge of our thinking.

This is about being conformed into the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29). Life and peace is about restoration, about wholeness. Since you want to be whole, this is a reminder that you have the Spirit in you and you want to surrender to his control. You want your mind renewed. You want your mindset to be about the things of God and his glory. This is where the Spirit leads you so that your behavior is transformed all by itself.

Which brings me to the issue of being judgmental. We need to gear back on looking down on believers who are not where they should already be in the faith journey. Unwittingly, like the Jewish believers in Rome, we can set people up for long-term failure in their pursuit of God. We do this by encouraging them to clean up their act, expressing unending disappointment about their lives, and pointing them to external standards (rules that we set up) that have no power to change their minds.

If anything, we need to encourage believers to remain in Jesus and keep on being filled with the Spirit. And to love them no matter what, because we need their love too.

One of my heroes of the faith is Bob Childress. A Virginia mountaineer who followed the call of God to prepare for ministry by going to seminary, even though he had never finished high school, he went back to the mountains to bring light into a really dark place. Starting in 1926, he impacted the lives of a whole region with spiritual truth for 30 years. What fascinated me about him was the way he loved people who often messed up after they came to faith. In The Man Who Moved a Mountain, the story of his life, one person who attended one of the 16 churches Childress started and pastored stated that instead of condemning, Bob laughed at them when they fought among themselves like they were children that needed to grow up some more. Kindness and generosity were hallmarks of his ministry.

The result was that in a generation, people who had killed others for vengeance, who sold moonshine and lived in various states of drunkenness, who were plagued by depression and hopelessness, were changed. Not by Bob, but by the Spirit who now governed their minds.

At Bob Childress’ funeral in 1956, two grizzled mountaineers lingered by his gravesite, reluctant to leave. One was heard to say, “Now that Bob Childress is gone, you won’t have another Bob Childress. There just won’t be another.” To which his friend responded, “There won’t never need to be.” This is what happens when the Spirit governs the mind. There is life and peace.

-Steve Smith


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Who’s Minding Your Mind?

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A Righteousness by Faith #35: Who’s minding your mind?

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:6

Something has happened to you because of righteousness by faith. You think differently. Your mind has begun—and will continue—to line up with what God wants for you, which is life and peace.

It is so tempting to read serenity into this statement about the mind. So many people are looking for peace of mind in their harried and harassed world. Ideas like safe places, positive thoughts or mind vacations express our longing to escape the twin demons of anxiety and fear so we can relax and breathe.

But this word picture in Romans goes much deeper than just a temporary reduction of your personal angst. It tells you that what controls your mind has changed: that you are being guided toward life and peace by the Spirit. That no matter what your world throws at you, you will be progressively becoming whole. And you will see this because the Spirit has been given to you.

The word ‘flesh’ depicts what it means to be outside of the new covenant God offers people through Jesus. It includes both those who had no religion and those that did. Both the Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome at one time lived under the governance of the flesh. So whatever their minds had guided them to do—whether to live in strict adherence to the holy law or revel in a hedonistic life—they had been living out death.

This is what Paul means by “the mind governed by the flesh is death.” It’s not about thinking about death all day, picturing tombstones and caskets in your mind. The mind controlled by the flesh means that a person is trying to live out his or her life on their own terms, believing that what they choose to do gives them significance. They are playing out the godhood myth of the Fall: “We can reign over our own lives. We can make the decisions that will shape our world and make our mark in it!”

The lie of this slogan wears thin in time. All that people gain from doing their own thing this side of the grave is temporary honors, fleeting satisfaction, but nothing that smacks of eternal glory. Everything that people pursue to give their lives meaning is, in the words of The Preacher in Ecclesiastes, ‘vanity.’ You think getting what the flesh has put into your mind is going to make your life worth it all—like that once in a lifetime vacation or seeing a statue built in your honor. But when you have it, it does nothing eternal for you. It has filled a little of your earthly journey’s time, but when you are gone, you leave it all behind.

Listen to how the Preacher of Ecclesiastes ends his book on this note—‘seek the Lord while you are young, before the days of troubles come.’ Like Paul, he learned that security and finding wholeness in life is rooted in living with God in charge of your choices and life direction.

But unlike the Preacher, Paul—and you—live on the other side of the resurrection. You have the Spirit, which is God’s empowering presence within you. When you were in the flesh, you were convinced in your mind that you could make a difference. Now you know the truth. The goodness of life and peace are had by those whose minds are under God’s reign, who now live in the relationship that all humans were made for. Your significance is not found in the things you do, the things you produce, or even the exemplary life you live. By the Spirit, you now are able to live out the image of God in which you were created. When you go to work, you bring God’s reign with you. When you gather with your family, His reign shapes your home life and fills it with His love. When you are tempted by the lies of the enemy, your mind can say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and live a self-controlled, upright and godly life in this present age because your mind is governed by the Spirit.

-Steve Smith


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Here’s why ‘no condemnation’ matters to me.

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A Righteousness by Faith #34: Here’s why ‘no condemnation’ matters to me.

For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4

If you have put your faith in Jesus, God has set you free from the power of sin and death. We would all agree that this is good news. I heard this truth over and over again as I grew up in church, went off to Bible college and studied theology in seminary. But though I came to faith as a young child, I had a very vague understanding of what Paul meant when he talks about this in Romans 8:1-2.

And that is what makes faith journeys so difficult. Many of us were taught Paul meant by “according to the flesh” and “according to the Spirit” that there were two kinds of Christians—one spiritual, the other ‘carnal.’ ‘Carnal’ was the Christianese word for ‘flesh’ and was aimed at believers who still had not gotten their act together. Romans 8 was to be understood as Paul is speaking of these two kinds of Christian—those who lived in the Spirit and those who lived in the flesh.

The people who taught me this believed what Paul meant was that spiritual people get ‘no condemnation,’ but believers who live carnal lives—in the flesh—are still under God’s condemnation. I have actually had people in my training events interrupt me to affirm that this is the true meaning of the passage

Except that it isn’t. Paul is contrasting the way of the two covenants. Those in the flesh are of the old covenant. Those in the spirit belong to the new. His argument here is that God made Jesus the bridge between the covenants—a sin offering so that all of the righteous requirements of the law may be completely fulfilled in each believer. Not just the requirements to get us into His family, but also the ones that carry us through to the end of our salvation process (Romans 8:30). In verse 9 he makes it clear that those who do not walk in the Spirit but in the flesh aren’t even believers.

Here’s why this matters to me. I did not enter into a deliberate transformational journey with God until I was thirty. I had been trying to be good for God, but failing—and I was miserable. I expected condemnation. And I wasn’t waiting for God to supply it. I was pretty good at beating myself up, calling myself names and groveling before God as the worm I felt I was. Then one day I asked God to take charge of my life and let me experience Jesus’ life being lived through me.

That day, my world changed, although I had no idea what was going to happen to me. I had read some excellent books on the subject of transformation, but my practical knowledge was nil.

I began to experience changes God was bringing into my life. Addictive sins lost their grip on me. I felt free and easier in my relationship with the Father. I stopped beating myself up. Joy began to seep into my everyday walk with God.

However, I had no idea how damaged I was. I was blind to numerous symptoms of inner distress, of the presence of obvious brokenness and huge areas where I was not submissive to the Father. God saw them all, but I conveniently blipped over them, satisfied that I was making plenty of progress. This attitude allowed me to say ‘No’ to things the Spirit revealed I needed to surrender.

It was ten years into this journey that God zeroed in on the fact that I was a lifelong angry man. It would be another six years before God confronted me with my frantic workaholic lifestyle, in which I depended on Steve’s ability more than the Spirit. Nine years later I was confronted with my controlling tendencies. Somehow I had resisted listening when He had brought these up multiple times before! Did you notice that I was content to live with the deadly sins of anger, appetite, and pride many years after I entered into this transformational journey with God?

If there is condemnation for being in the flesh, I certainly should have gotten it. I look back in thankfulness that God made the commitment to me and all who believe that through Jesus, the righteous requirements of the law are fully completed for us by the Spirit.

No matter how long I live, I know that God will continue to show me more to surrender to Him. But I fear no condemnation because He gave me the Spirit to do in me what I cannot do for myself!

-Steve Smith


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The reason is ‘Because’!

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A Righteousness by Faith #33: The reason is ‘Because’!

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2

I looked back to the first blog of this series and I find we are back to where we started. It was about the picture of the t-shirt which declares: “I am righteous! Even if I . . .” 1) habitually lie; 2) get drunk regularly; 3) cuss like a sailor; 4) sleep around with any willing partner—you get the drift.

Does God’s ‘no condemnation’ mean it doesn’t matter how we live? Is this a get-out-of-jail-free card? A free pass to engage in whatever behavior we-know-we-shouldn’t-but-do-anyway without any consequences?

This very belief was verbalized by a woman who came to me to explain why she was abandoning her marriage. She had found someone who she felt cared more deeply about her and her emotional needs. As I pointed to the damage her decision would bring to her personally and to her relationship with God, she admitted that I was right. But, she added, though they were doing wrong, they would get married after her divorce was final and then come back to church, because God was supposed to forgive them.

What she so boldly expressed is the false belief in the passivity of God. That He spends His days waiting around to forgive us again with a kind of a sorrowful expression on his face, wishing that we would take righteousness seriously. And because God is trapped by His promise to forgive us—it’s in the contract!—we can count on this ongoing ‘no condemnation’ clause to allow us freedom to live any way we want, as long as we tack on an “I’m sorry,” when we are done sinning.

‘No condemnation’ goes much deeper than that. And it is wrapped up in the “because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

If you have been fuzzy in your thinking about ‘no condemnation’, here are three realities you need:

  1. God is active. He is not waiting for us to repent, to see the error of our ways, all the while wringing His hands. He has made a new covenant with us, writing His law on our hearts and minds. Not stopping there, He gave us His Spirit to set us free.

Know this. At any moment, God is either orchestrating your transformation through His Spirit or actively pushing you towards the pit so you will look up and acknowledge His right to reign over you. He is never a passive bystander in your life. You are going to be transformed because. You can go willingly or kicking and screaming, but you will go—because you belong to Him.

  1. No one is righteous. Everyone has to be rescued from the law of sin and death. No one is capable of becoming righteous in their own strength. Our flesh wants us to give in and wallow all over again in stuff that messes up our lives. So finger pointing and a judgmental attitude is not just a waste of time, it is counterproductive. As people bitten by the same bug, we should restore others with the compassion born of, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

In Romans 7, Paul shows us that even the props we use to stave off sin reveal us as frauds. The Jewish members of the Roman church thought they were making a stand for righteousness by expecting everyone to keep the Law. What Paul exposed through his own miserable run at this was that the law they were really living out was the law of sin and death. To become the righteous people they wanted to be would be by the same ‘because’ as their Gentile co-believers.

  1. God is taking the long view of our transformation by giving us the Spirit. Not one of us has surrendered everything in a day, a week or even in a year. Righteousness by faith is a life-long journey, during which we are led by the Spirit to uncover the hidden secrets of our souls and to find how hard it is to give them up to God, even though He already knew about them all along.

But here is the good news. The ‘no condemnation’ of the ‘because’ actually means we will never be lost again. God placed us in Christ Jesus, making covenant with us all the while knowing that we will regularly fail to surrender; will turn to sin for comfort; will wander. Giving us the Spirit means that God committed Himself to make us righteous because of our inability to be righteous no matter how hard we try. And when He is done with us, we will find ourselves conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29).

-Steve Smith


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Expecting condemnation?

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A Righteousness by Faith #32: Expecting condemnation?

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus . . . Romans 8:1

No other verse of Scripture, apart from John 3:16, has changed my life as much as this one. I was still in the early days of my transformational journey with God when Romans 8 began to become meaningful to me. Already in ministry for two years, I had been on a rollercoaster ride of trying hard to be good for God and sliding back down into the pit of despair as I failed again. I knew little to nothing about the empowering work of the Spirit. And even had I known it, I was unsure about God. Still expectant of His righteous judgment, knowing that I deserved it. Afraid that I would be publicly exposed as the failure I was.

All the false things I thought about God not only influenced how I pastored people, they kept me from becoming free. Those thoughts were like virtual reality glasses, making me think that life defined by the enemy was real.

Then one day I realized that I could not go on living a double life ‘spiritual’ on the outside and dark on the inside. In my first moment of honest humility, I prayed, “Lord, unless you take charge of my life, nothing eternal is going to come out of it.” Although I did not know where that prayer would lead me, God understood its meaning better than I. I have been on that journey now for 33 years, some of which has been very painful as God stripped away and pruned stuff out of my life that I was content to live with. At all times, God has guided me with His infinite kindness.

I found as I started on this journey I had a lot to learn about how much I needed the Spirit to empower my obedience. I was like the parachutist who kept insisting he could jump out at 3000 feet without a chute and land safely. I would jump out to do something for God or resist sin or grapple in spiritual warfare, only to crash and burn over and over again. And then I would be embarrassed.

This brings me to Romans 8:1. I would say to God, “I’m sorry. I failed again to be good for you.” And the Father would reply, “I knew you’d never succeed without my power. You’re forgiven. Go forward by trusting the Spirit.” And it was through this all too frequent conversation with God that I began to learn what Paul meant in saying that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. You see, I was raised in the church and had seen plenty of condemnation. Shame and guilt were the tools used for keeping believers on the straight and narrow. Only they didn’t work.

Study Jesus’ life. You’ll see him actively forgiving and restoring people. “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more,” to the woman caught in adultery. “Peter, do you love me more than these. Feed my sheep,” to an insider who had denied him at a crucial moment. “Father forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing,” about those nailing him to the cross.

‘No condemnation’ is about forgiveness. About how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ’s love for me. About how forgiving is the Father towards me and those who belong to Him. Consider Jesus’ exchange with Peter in Matthew 18. “How many times should I forgive someone? A (generous) seven times?” to which Jesus countered, “Not seven but seventy times seven times!” meaning every time someone asked for forgiveness, give it. Now where did Jesus come up with such a standard? —From his Father. Jesus could not have upped the ante so high if God did not practice it Himself.

We know God does practice this because we see it in Jesus while he lived as God among us. Since Jesus told us that when we see him, we see the Father, I began to get an inkling of how deep this God’s ‘no condemnation’ ran.

And it ran deeper than I thought.

More to come…

-Steve Smith


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What are ya thinkin ?

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Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Romans 6:8-11

What our minds focus on matters in our faith journey. When God drew us to Jesus, our minds were not healthy places. Like all people who have been affected by the Fall, we all accumulated a pack of lies that we called ‘truth.’ Some of these lies came from our futile beliefs that we could reign over our own lives better than the Father who created us. Some of them came from the enemy, who continually misrepresents God to us. Our whole belief system had to be shattered by God—just to bring us to faith.

Yet lies die a long death. All of us still harbor thoughts that need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. And one of those lies is about our freedom from sin. Satan would have us continue to believe we are merely forgiven—which is good news in itself—but still doomed to live out a miserable life, sinning as regularly as those who do not believe. I have met believers who obsess over this. They are overwhelmed with this lie. They talk desperately about wanting to stop sinning, about how much they are either disappointing God or how expectant of His judgment they are.

But there is no disappointment. There is no judgment. Paul earlier in Romans tells us that because we are in Christ, we have not only died with Christ, we get to live with him as well. He not only lives in us—we also get to live his life. —The life of the person who was tempted in every way we are, yet never gave in to sin (Hebrews 4:15). —Our example, in whose steps we should follow (1 Peter 2:21).

Going forward, we need to ‘reckon’ ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. I grew up with the word ‘reckon,’ which in this version is translated ‘consider.’ But the older word, used in earlier translations, makes a better point. ‘Reckon’ was used in the financial world, where you reckoned up the books. In other words, you gave an account of what you had received. So when Paul says ‘reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus,” he speaks of what is real, true. You have received this from God by faith. You can count on it to be true for you, no matter how convincing the lie of the enemy seems.

Paul builds on this truth. In verse 12, he urges us to refuse to let sin control our choices. You might be wondering how this works. This is possible because the Spirit is leading us. He empowers our minds to realize that we do not need to sin.

Instead, we are to ‘offer’, which is another word for surrender, every part of ourselves to God. I know this sounds to some as a simplistic solution for resisting sin, but I find that it is the only thing that works for me. I tried resisting sin and it beat me every time. I would find myself crushed by my lack of control and embarrassed that others would find out. But then I finally humbled myself and started surrendering whenever temptation was putting pressure on me. I would say “God, I can’t beat this. Help! Take charge!” I have to admit some of my prayers were very weak. But I leaned into Him and God rescued me every time.

This is what reckoning yourself dead to sin is all about. You have received grace from God into your account’s plus column. Sin has been removed as your master. It no longer has power over you. If you believe it still does, you are believing a lie. Begin to think this way and you will live out the freedom you already have. Don’t make it complex. It’s all a matter of trust which focuses on God and not on yourself.

 


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