3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:7–9 (NASB95)
7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
In my previous blog, I talked about the fact that our human nature is not sinful, but it is weak. This is such an important distinction in understanding the great truths expressed in Romans 6-8. As those who are no longer slaves to sin, we no longer have to do sin’s bidding, but we are also too weak in our humanness to produce anything truly good or righteous. Then what’s the answer? When I first tackled these issues, it felt the same as the first time I saw a Rubik’s cube: utterly at a loss and ready to give up before I even begin. In fact, that is still how I feel every time I look at a Rubik’s cube! But it is no longer how I feel when looking at our human weakness. The answer is simple: if we are too weak to produce anything good in ourselves, tap into the power that we need: the Holy Spirit.
Why is this a ridiculous scenario? Because my car was not made for me to push it where it needs to go. My car was made for me to get behind the wheel, turn over the ignition and allow the power of the engine to propel my car to Los Angeles. While the helpers driving by might have had the best of intentions, their suggestions did not address the real problem. They suggested real solutions to how to push my car better, but my car was not meant to be pushed. In fact, the only time I have ever pushed my car in real life is when the engine was for one reason or the other not providing the power I needed. Why else would I?
Unfortunately, many of us take a similarly ineffective approach to living the Christian life. We put all of our efforts into living out the life that God has called us to within our own power, “the flesh”. What we find is that we become frustrated and get nowhere because our best efforts are not even capable of pleasing God. Well-intentioned authors, pastors, teachers, and friends try to give us better ways to use our limited power to live righteously. They encourage us to spend more time in scripture and practicing spiritual disciplines (prayer, fasting, etc.). We attend conferences on better spiritual habits, read books on living purposefully and thankfully, and watch Christian movies about how signing spiritual contracts and making deeper commitments gave individuals and families their happy-ever-after. We see temporary benefits by pursuing these things, but when we are honest, we are confronted with a life characterized more by failure than success. Is this what God intended for His children?
The quick answer is “no”. God never intended for us to be limited by our own efforts for Him. Instead, He gave us His own power to live lives that bring honor and glory to Himself. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3 NIV). The mark of the Christian walk is not pursuing God with our best efforts but reliance upon God to live His righteousness through us. It is much less about trying and much more about trusting. When I began to pursue dependence, I saw less and less of Nate and more and more of Christ in my life. My responses to situations and people were not like me…in a good way. Love began to become the “natural” response, rather than my typical self-serving, self-made righteousness. Growth in my Christian life has shown up more in my deeper and deeper levels of trust (faith) in His Spirit and less in my attempts to be and do better. I still fail, but those failures are there to reveal my independence and my need to trust Him with that situation.
May we choose to put away our own efforts and live more and more “in the Spirit” and not “in the flesh”.