Romans chapter six reminds us that something supernatural happens when a person puts his or her faith in Christ. We die with Jesus, and we also are resurrected with him. There is a mystical, spiritual transformation that takes place within the believer. Water baptism illustrates it, but the reality goes far beyond the illustration. One dies to sin, and is free to be a slave to God. Then, is Romans seven, Paul states that believers have not only died to sin, they have also died to the law, and are now united in Christ. Jesus, a person, takes the place of a list of rules and regulations. Not only are we initially saved by faith in Jesus, we are also being continually set right and cleaned up. This process is commonly referred to as sanctification. My life gradually reflects my inward identity more and more. This is possible by faith in Jesus also. Following the law kills.
A new covenant is at work here. God’s law is written on my heart. It is something internal, not external. I desire communion with God through Christ, an inward longing that is motivated by the presence of His spirit. My obedience is not motivated by guilt, shame or adherence to an external code of morals or ethics. Indeed, when I think that way, the ever-present sin in me wakes up, and condemns me. Paul goes on to say in Romans 8 that the mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. (Rom. 7:7).
It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship. A trite phrase, but quite true (repeat that sentence 5 times quickly). My life changes because I care about a friendship. I personally and intimately know the best and brightest man in history, and He has given me riches beyond compare, nearly beyond belief. I have been given access to glory, and been made privy to a transcendental purpose. Christ in us, the hope of glory. Suddenly, John Piper’s insistence on Christian hedonism, as he calls it, makes sense. I am fully satisfied, fully alive, only as I find that fulfillment in the person of Jesus. I am less alive outside of that reality.
But oh, the temptation to make it less than inside-out, less than something real and full of life! I was reminded of a Eugene Peterson quote as I wrote these words, and finally found it, in his book, Under the Unpredictable Plant. In referring to the organic, sometimes messy nature of the gospel as it works itself out in real lives, he states… “It is to be expected in these situation that with some frequency certain persons will come forward with designs to improve matters. They want to purify the church. They propose to make the church into something that will advertise to the world the attractiveness of the kingdom. With few exceptions these people are, or soon become, heretics, taking on only as much of the gospel as they can manage and apply to the people around them, attempting to construct a version of church that is so well behaved and efficiently organized that there will be no need for God.” (24-25). The gospel is more than anyone can “manage.” It is explosively good news for a sin-bent world. The gospel is also a sanctifying power to those of us who have the Spirit, but still fight with the flesh.