Truths that Seem Like Riddles

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This is an email exchange with someone who wrote to me on my site. It’s good food for thought and heart if you’ve got a few minutes. I’ve been told this is a little bit like “Who’s on first?” but there’s a lot of light that can be generated by thinking about this idea.

His question: “I have a fair grip on the concept that independent self is a lie, but notice that Norman Grubb and others maintain that I/we must choose to believe either the lie or that we’ve been made perfect, etc. Question: Who is this “I” that chooses? If Christ, I would never be deceived. If false self , I will always be deceived. Looks like insofar as choosing, there is some independence there. Any thoughts?”

Answer:
I do believe in a inner chooser. But an independent “I” that must try to be good or that can do evil in and of itself, no. I’m the manifestation of what I choose to rely on; “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

So there is a self, a human spirit, a chooser. But it’s not an independent self that can act autonomously; it can only manifest the life of another.

This takes us from being intrinsically good or bad and makes us neutral in and of our human selves, not evil except as the manifestation of Satan’s evil; Jesus said, “You are of your father the Devil, and his works ye shall do.” The Pharisees didn’t perform their own works; they did the Devil’s. Satan was reproducing himself through them, his quality of life. On the other side, Jesus said, “I can do nothing of Myself,” meaning His humanity was a neutral vessel, incapable of doing good or evil. And He went on to say, “The Father in Me does the works.” Likewise, for us, Paul says, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling (sounding like it all depends on us), for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good pleasure” (recognizing that it all really comes from Him).

We make these faith-choices daily. For instance, with my family: Am I going to trust that Christ lives in me, that He will Father my children, that He will Husband my wife through me? If I am harsh with them, the reason is not that I’m bad or evil; the reason is that I am not trusting Him, relying on Him, and instead think that I have to control the situation with “my own” thinking, reasoning, emotions. But really that independent “I” is a lie – there is no “my own.” It’s Satan or God; if I am going to trust “myself” I’m really falling for Satan’s lie of independent “I” that can choose to be an originator of good or evil.

This faith-choice is our only real action. It is an inner choice that then manifests itself in our outer actions. We connect either to Christ within ourselves (believers) or to Satan shoving his thoughts into our heads. We follow Christ, trust, rely, and so manifest His life – or we do it “my way” which is really Satan’s way.

This cuts a lot of bull out of “the Christian life” and brings it down to brass tacks: Trust God, every moment, rely on Him – and if you choose against that, you’re trusting not ‘you’ but Satan. Because there is no independent ‘you’ that is capable of goodness – or evil – in and of your human self.

Like a lamp that can plug into Light Power or into Dark Power – it has to plug in in order to have power. But it chooses which power. Jesus in Matthew 6, after giving what is known as “The Lord’s Prayer” contrasts the two different ways of seeing, one satanic, the other godly. When you fast, don’t fast like the hypocrites, letting everyone know what you’re doing (the satanic self-righteousness, wanting to appear good); instead, fast in secret, and the Father shall reward thee openly. Don’t lay up treasures on earth (the satanic desire to have security in an idol, something other than God); instead, lay it up in heaven; Paul said in Colossians 3,, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” Wherever your treasure is (in Christ, or in Satan’s way of thinking), there your heart will be also. And so we make Christ our treasure – by choice, by faith, by reliance.

And then Jesus says this: “If the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness.” C.S. Lewis wrote in The Silver Chair that “you are most under the power of an enchantment when you do not think you are enchanted at all.” We can be operating totally under fleshly effort, the satanic mindset, and have no idea that we are doing so. The light of the body is the perception; that’s why we’ve to “renew our minds” (Rom 12:2), because in seeing things God’s way we are transformed from glory to glory. Jesus in Matthew 6 is telling us to use God’s way of thinking and allow no other.

That’s choice – faith-choice. And when we make that choice, to one side or the other, God – or Satan – flows.

Why is all this important to know? Call me crazy, but if more Christians knew this there’d be a lot less sin. It’s not as fun when we realize that we are giving our minds, souls, bodies over to Satan temporarily when we sin, and that it’s really him doing the sin through us. Not possession, but puppetry. And when we express righteousness – love for God and others – we are manifesting the nature of our indwelling Husband, our Captain, our King – and our Father, so spiritual pride that Satan attempts to shove into our minds after doing something good becomes a non-issue.

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he’s not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin’ on audiences around the world, he’s taking care of his donkey named “Trash” and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


59 Comments

  1. josh

    Interesting stuff Ron.

    I’ve never thought of myself as being “neutral”. I’ve always considered myself inclined toward sin by my very nature. It’s always been my understanding that Christ brings me to life out of my sin and becomes my righteousness and makes me a new creation. Though sometimes the old man resurfaces to spread his venom from time to time because i have not yet been perfected, just fixed. I guess in short, i’ve never understood people to be neutral and able to choose good or evil. I’ve always understood us to be sinful, but by Christ acting in our lives we’re given the capacity to choose good in spite of being sinful.

    But i’m very intrigued by your thoughts. I’ll have to read all that a couple more times before I can really make heads or tails of it. Good stuff.

  2. Michael Anthony Curan

    Neutral because man alone without the force of good and evil is static.

    God said our nature is sinful. It is there since birth and it is there because of the fall which is caused by Adam’s free will to ignore God’s warning and followed the serpent instead.

    Before the fall, man’s nature isn’t sinful but righteous yet because of God’s love for us, He gave us free will which makes the man neutral either to obey God or Satan…

  3. Michael Anthony Curan

    And so later on Jesus came to restore us from our sinful nature to righteousness

  4. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Josh,

    To make sure I’m clear, our choice really, as believers, is between reliance on the Holy Spirit which indwells us, or reliance on the constant stream of satanic thought that assails us from the outside. For instance, the satanic stream says that we are accepted when we perform well – that is, when we behave, we are acceptable. But God says He has “made us accepted in the Beloved.” Well, those are two contradictory statements, and we’ve got to rely on one or the other. If we rely on the satanic stream (which is put into our minds from the outside, as believers), we will be continually trying to perform well in order to gain acceptance. Contrariwise, if we trust in God’s Word, that we are “accepted in the Beloved” we will live more and more from that acceptance, His acceptance, and our actions will spring forth not from a desire to be accepted, but from the trust that we are already accepted in the Beloved. Thus our doing comes from be-ing, rather than be-ing from doing.

    That’s just one example. It’s really countless, the ways in which we can choose to trust God or trust the satanic/world thought-stream. Satan tried his tricks on Jesus in the wilderness – “If you are the Son of God, prove it by A, B, and C.” Well, if you know you’re a good doctor, or CPA, you don’t have to go around proving it – you just have to go on being it. So Jesus knew He was the Son of God, and didn’t have to prove it to anyone (even His brothers tried to talk Him into that).

    The old man – Rom 6:6 in the NKJV says, “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” Thayer’s Lexicon says “The death of Christ upon the cross has wrought the extinction of our former corruption.” That’s because our former corruption was to be a vessel of wrath – that is, a cup filled with the spirit of Eph 2:2, “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” (apeithia, literally, “the unconvinced”). When He died on the Cross, Romans 6 says, we died with Him; He was “made sin for us” because the spirit that inhabited and indwelt us was, through us, put in Him, so that He might die to it for us; when He died, we were in Him, and we died – that old, false union. When Jesus’ dead body was reactivated by the Holy Spirit, raised from the dead, we were reanimated by the Holy Spirit and raised from the dead. God “has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (2Cor 5:21)

    In either instance (the Adamic man of Eph 2:2 or the new creation man of Rom 6) the cup is the same. It’s just cleaned out by the Blood and then the real Landlord comes in, instead of the usurper.

    After conversion it’s a matter of, through reliance on the Holy Spirit, clearing out sinful habits learned under the old landlord. That’s why we’re to “put off the old man” and “put on the new man.” Because, as Col 3:3 says, “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds..” He’s just got finished saying, “Since you were raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” Paul is echoing Romans 6 here. We “put off the old man” and “put on the new” by faith in the fact that the old man is dead and cannot revive; we put on the new man by believing” if any man is in Christ he is a new creation; old things have passed away.”

    That’s how righteousness is by faith – we rely on God that the thing is, because God said so; that reliance connects us to Christ’s power within us, and God expresses His righteousness through our daily lives (think of grapes or olives being squeezed to express the wine or oil). But we’ve got to stop believing we have to achieve a righteous state of be-ing by performance.

  5. Brad Griffith

    Ron, all of this is interesting. I am wondering, though, how we can be held responsible for our sin if we are truly neutral. I realize that Paul says that it is not he who sins, but that it is sin living in him. But if I choose to let sin live in me, which I sometimes do, then am I not responsible for what sin does through me? And if I am responsible, doesn’t that make me sinful and not neutral?

  6. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Brad,

    That would be the case if our identity was determined by our performance. As such, it’s like my son. If he refuses to trust me (and so disobey me) that does not make him any the less my son, and he can return to faith at any time (to my joy and total acceptance). While he is not trusting me, and so being disobedient, I still love and accept him as my son (his identity remains intact), though his actions are not acceptable to me. That’s how Paul can say, “When I sin it is no longer I.” Paul’s real identity is this new union with Christ, this new creation identity in which the old is gone and the new has come. This is the rock-solid basis of Paul’s life; he knew this because he was taught it by the Lord Himself.

    That said (identity not determined by performance), then who is responsible when I sin? I am. I make the choice to believe and live from a satanic construct – or trust God’s Facts and God’s character and God’s Person and God’s Holy Spirit in me. In fact, knowing I am neutral makes me a heck of a lot more responsible now than when I used to believe I was inherently bad. “Well, I sinned, Lord. But, I’m just such a sinner, that’s what I do. Thanks for your forgiveness.” And so on, right back into striving and trying to be good rather than reliant faith in the one in me.

    In the Biblical construct, I rely on my real identity in Christ, know that His life is in me and He will live through me, and so I step out on that faith. This inner faith-action produces outer actions which are in accordance with His Spirit; it will look like the behavioral statements Paul makes (usually in the later parts of his letters, after discussing identity). I’ll be kind and hospitable. I’ll love my wife as Christ loved the church. I won’t be harsh with my children, lest they be dis-couraged. I will, in other words, love God and love my neighbor, because as John says in 1John, when we love one another it’s really God loving through us. – 1Jo 4:12, “…If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.” The Living Bible says, “…if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love has been brought to full expression through us.” It’s really His love in us, not our own, because we’re just cups, vessels, branches.

    But in the satanic construct the Devil wants me to live not from the tree of life (Christ) but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thus, I am to see good, choose it and try to be good, and avoid evil; it’s to see myself, my own effort, my own resources, as my own source. That, for the believer, is the Romans 7 treadmill, “the law of sin and death.” All it produces is constant software crashes until finally the hard drive fails and the human has an epiphany whereby he realizes he cannot be good as God is good; “There is only one who is good – that is God.” And he realizes, with Jesus, that “I can do nothing of Myself,” and as Jesus told the disciples, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” (Take note that He didn’t say, “Apart from my help you can do nothing.”)

    We learn of a union, a unity of His life fused into our humanity by which He becomes our Source – our Source of everything. Love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, humility, faith – all these things come from Him, because they are who He is.

    So – I’m responsible when I sin, and in a much deeper way now that I know who I am in Christ. The Devil doesn’t usually just have me right off the bat; I usually recognize his thoughts coming in as “not me.” But what he’ll do now is induce a flood of thoughts at times that continues unabated until I either give in or stand up, armor on, and whack his head off with the Sword (which is simply to speak out that Jesus has already crushed his head, his power).

    What Satan is trying to do in a believer’s life is to create a phantom “Old Man” by getting us to believe against God’s Word. While we believe this construct (and we usually do because we carry our pre-Christian way of thinking right into our Christian lives – identity by performance) he gets his puppet-strings into us much easier than later, when we know who we are and begin to really stand up in Christ as grown up believers.

  7. Tony Heringer

    Ron,

    Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit to over come our sin nature and its allies the influence of the World and the Devil (which is what I think Paul is after in Ephesians). Here’s a good summation of that point and another way of looking at Romans 6:
    http://www.perimeterfamily.com/elizabeth/walking_in_the_spirit.mp3

    We can go back and forth with our proof texts as it relates to sin nature or our flesh, but I think it is a real part of who I am. “The Devil made me do it” was a funny Flip Wilson line, but I don’t think Satan is the principal driver when I sin. I sin because I’m choosing to embrace another lover and not the Lover of my soul.

    I’m motivated to do anything based on my love or lack thereof for Christ. I am declared righteous not because of what I do, but I demonstrate that righteousness by appropriating it through the power of the Spirit who abides within me. I have a choice and it’s my choice. You are right, I’m not going to merit His favor or lose His favor by what I do. The father/child analogy is an excellent one to point out the Father’s love for us. That’s not the point here.

    Jesus said John 14 “If you love Me, you will obey what I command.” Our works don’t save us, but they do show how much we understand our salvation. Jesus said in Luke 7: “He who has been forgiven little, loves little.” Our works are evidence of our salvation. The most troubling place to be is thinking one is saved when there is no evidence given to that fact. That’s James point that hung up Martin Luther so much – showing faith by works.

    Jason Gray wrote a great song that fits this topic called “Grace.” In it, he personifies God’s grace as a woman. The chorus goes “I’ll never be good enough for Grace, but she takes me anyway.” The whole song is a great picture of the Christian life. Jesus loves me? Really? I know me…how can He love me? That kind of love is amazing as we begin to fixate on it and not our sinful hearts. But we do have the choice in that process it is not a passive or nuetral process but a very active one…a war in fact.

  8. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony,

    I’m not sure but I think you’ve misunderstood me.

    I don’t think Satan is the one responsible when I sin, which I made clear.

    I do believe he is the puppet-master, and what he wants to do is use us for his hate-purposes, just as God wants to use us (in a much more fulfilling way, because it’s what we are made for) for His love-purposes.

    If we think it’s our love for Christ that motivates us or not, rather than His love in us as the power source, no wonder we fail.

    If you think the sin nature is part of you, which to my mind goes against Romans 7, I’m not going to try to convince you any differently. But I would advise to put your focus on Christ’s power within you, and recognize that He is much more powerful than any remaining sin nature. I went with a consciousness for years that saw Christ as a little deposit of divine life in me and sin as this great big ogre within me that I just couldn’t overcome.

    I also think you may misunderstand me about the action that results from faith. If we trust God, we will of necessity obey Him. If I tell my son he’s going to get run over by a Mack truck if he runs into the street, he has a choice. He can trust me, and if he does, he’ll stay out of the street. If he doesn’t, he will likely run into the street. But the action of running into the street only happens because he chose to not trust me.

    Obedience was a hard word for me for years, until I learned that obedience is just the outer appearance of inner faith. If God tells me I am a king, a priest, and holy, that he will provide for my needs, what need do I have to steal, or cheat on my taxes? With reliant trust, sin becomes a no-brainer. If God says I am the righteousness of God in Christ, and that is defined as love-for-God-and-others, when I see a brother in need I am just going to be myself – that real self in Christ – and I’m going to give, or help, or do whatever necessary. But the be-ing part of it (what God has made me), and reliant trust, precedes the doing, and in fact fuels the doing.

    To obey from a legal standpoint, “God said to do A, B, and C, therefore I have to do it or I’m bad” cuts me off from my Source.

    And I agree that what we do shows what we really believe. But there are many who “cast out demons in Your name, and did this and that other thing” that will be told, “Depart from Me – I never knew you.” We can do works from a fear perspective, or even from a “I want to show God how much I appreciate being saved by doing a lot of works.”

    But really, at least in my own life, God wants me to just be myself – that new self that He created.

    So I think you misunderstand, thinking I’m saying, “Just believe this and believe that and don’t worry about what you do – sin away! (I’m exaggerating on purpose to make the point). But what I’m really saying is that what we are relying on will determine what sort of works we do – the kind that will last eternally, because it’s really Christ living through us, or the kind that will be burned up like so much wood, hay, stubble, like 1Cor 3 talks about. We’ve got to build the building of our new life with the same material as the foundation – Christ. Because it’ll be tested by fire, and on that day it will become clear what we built with.

  9. Tony Heringer

    Ron,

    First off, thanks for your posts to this sight. You are an encouraging brother and even if we don’t understand or agree know that I love you man.

    Perhaps I did misundertand you. These one way talks are just not the same as you and I sitting in the real Rabbit Room.

    I think that we agree that we are motivated to works by the love of Christ. I’m not doing because I need to do, I’m doing because I want to do and I have the “want to want to” because of Jesus work on the cross only. Christ alone…Sola gratia…however you wish to frame it. I came to Christ in my mid-twenties almost 20 years ago, I know the me before Christ is not the me in Christ. That guy is dead as I am now united with Christ.

    I figured we’d get to proof texting but that tends to be like playing tennis on a site like this one. I may be discounting Romans 7 — I don’t think I am because of verses 24 and 25. But, let’s hold off on that for a moment. Let’s focus on this statement:

    “I went with a consciousness for years that saw Christ as a little deposit of divine life in me and sin as this great big ogre within me that I just couldn’t overcome.”

    But what about now? Do you see Christ as greater than your sin or that the righteousness of Christ completely replaces your sin? I would assume the former as the latter would make you sinless, but I don’t want to misunderstand. Because of Jesus I’m declared righteous because of His work on my behalf. The effect of that declaration of independence — the freedom we have in Christ — is demonstrative righteousness. My faith produces works motivated by the love of Christ. However…

    I see myself as a sinner in this life, I’ll always be a sinner until I reach glory. I think we are all addicted to sin. But Christ keeps us sober — only Christ. “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”

    I think this is the great comfort to those who are seeking Christ. They can’t look at me and say “what a great guy.” They can say “If Jesus will save him, surely He’ll take me 🙂 I’m being silly here, but the point is our sin nature reminds us to be dependent.

    No amount of will power on my part can keep me from sinning. I have to appropriate the Spirit of God in order to live for Christ. Paul says he labors in the energy of Christ. That’s the picture, Paul’s doing for Christ because of the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit — our Helper who is always with us.

    Now, we may just be talking around each other here — other than our dispostion as it relates to our sin nature. It seems like we are on the same page — maybe singing another verse or maybe I’m out of tune. 🙂

    I may have just muddled this even further. If so, I am sorry. I’ll leave the follow up with you. We’d probably have to talk on the phone or over a cup of coffee to dig in any further. You can’t bring your banjo case though 🙂

  10. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony,

    I’m always glad, as with the discussion on Calvinism on the Naked Statues thread, when we can discuss things without having our identity invested in “my view.” It makes things go so much smoother, and everyone learns from the experience (rather than, as in the Screwtape letter, all of us eventually yelling, “Well then we won’t have TEA TOGETHER AT ALL, THEN!!”). I feel that I learn from these discussions, about God and also about how to communicate properly, as much or more than anyone.

    This might seem semantical but follow it through with me.

    Regarding first what I find most people disregard, the spirit that works in the sons of disobedience (literally, “the unconvinced”) of Eph 2:2, I know I am totally and completely freed of his indwelling presence. He was kicked out on his butt, this cup named Ron was washed out with blood, and Jesus Christ, and His Father, through the Holy Spirit, have taken up residency. All because Jesus died on the Cross, and I died with Him, and that old false lord, because he was in me, was put in Jesus. When Jesus died, I died, and the old spirit had to go. Three days later Jesus was resurrected – and so was I; the Holy Spirit reanimated His dead body – and mine in Him.

    That’s from taking Eph 2:2, and Romans 6, literally, not “positionally,” as many do.

    So there’s that – I’m dead to sin, that old sin-spirit who ruled me.

    Now what?

    Well, for years and years I was indwelt by that spirit; he caused me to act in all kinds of ways which are not in accordance with God’s ways – not in accordance with the Father’s loving ways. So – here I am, a new creation, but I’ve got unholy ways and means of coping with life encoded in my soul/body. These ruts are where the water always goes to. These ruts, this indwelling sin, is the focus of Romans 7. “I can’t get control of myself! I’m driving myself nuts! I keep doing what I hate! But wait – I love God’s Law and want to be good. So who is this “me” that loves God’s ways? That’s the real me. So when I sin, it is no longer “I” that sins, but sin which dwells in me!” and then of course he goes on to say, “What a wretched man that I am!” and describes his only hope is in Christ. The next step of this process is learning that “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” and then he goes on to distinguish what “in the flesh” means (“not indwelt by Christ”) and what “walking according to the flesh” means (acting as though I am just an ordinary flesh person, which I’m not – I’m a Christ-empowered person, a new creation). This process is part of the “believing unto the saving of the soul” that the Hebrews writer talks about.

    So here’s the deal. For some people this may be semantical. But here’s how I view myself (most of the time, unless I trip up on a constant spinning of spider webs), after crashing internally in the mid 1990s on worldly sources of self worth and acceptance:

    I’m a new creation. Christ Himself indwells me. He is my only Source of “well-doing.” He is my living Bread and my well of living Water. He’s all I’ve got.

    I have some remaining ruts in my soul/body (flesh) from childhood and from all the years I was “trusting myself” to make my life work (really trusting the satanic construct, which caused sin to be manifested through me). These ruts get fewer with the passing years as the Spirit reveals them; then He and I deal with them – I renounce “hidden ways of dishonesty” and ask the Lord to fill those ruts with faith. I find verses which contradict my soulish feelings, which go against those ruts, and when the Devil tempts me to use those old ways and means of coping I stand on God’s Word. Eventually what happens is that we get reprogrammed; this is what Paul talks about in Romans 12 where he says we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices, and be transformed by mind renewal. We renew our minds to who God is, what He has done, and who He has made us. We renew our thinking to His power in us, His love through us, and the amazing ability He has to sink His love way down into our deepest, most hidden fears, and then that ground gets broken up. We finally see the fears for what they are. We renounce them, and put faith there. And then we go on to the next process of faith.

    Ok – so don’t get stuck on wording. Some people take this next bit as extreme, but listen to the meaning behind the words. Some people call these ruts a sin nature. But to me, a “nature” is the deepest drives and loves of a being. It’s in my human nature to play music. I love doing it. I look for more creative and better ways to do it. If I had a “sin nature” in the sense most people mean it, then I’d love sinning all the time. I’d do my best to find new and creative ways of sinning, and then go thanking God for forgiveness so I could just get right back to sinning again.

    But what did I find in the mid nineties? I found I was a guy crying out to God, “You know, if You don’t change my life, if You don’t get rid of these besetting sins in me, then stop forgiving me. I don’t want Your forgiveness in that case. Send me to Hell, because I’m already there.” I hated that person, that thing that sinned. I was Paul in Romans 7. And through Romans 7 I found out it wasn’t really me, not the real me, “mine own self me.” There was a me in there that loved righteousness, loved goodness, was totally attracted to Christ. And yet the chains of this “old man” me kept me bound.

    So, “it is no longer I that sins, but sin which dwelleth in me.” Not a nature, which was dealt with at initial salvation. But habits, ways, means of coping, that were burned into my psyche, into my thinking, into my flesh (soul/body). Those old ways have to be killed off and the mind renewed to the new reality – the reality of Galatians 2:20. Those old ruts are always attractive to the Devil and he’s always doing his best to shove us back into them. But we won’t be shoved, if we trust; that’s because the Devil has no real shoving power – his only power is the lie that we are still old creation.

    I’d been a Christian for years before this, but the main prayer that started me, 17 years ago, was Tozer’s prayer – “Lord, work Your will in my life, no matter what the cost.” And throughout my life, most of the time, I maintain that attitude (even if I wince sometimes as I pray it).

    I believe in holiness – in the outraying of God’s glory through the vessel of the human. I believe it more than ever. And not the staunch, tight-lipped, stiff-necked kind of holiness. The kind of holiness that has joy. Laughter. Compassion. Peace. Love. Purity. Gentleness. Humility. Faith. I believe in it, and see it manifested in my life when I rely on Christ. And I see the opposite manifested when I put the pressure on this human self to perform good.

    We’re fooled into thinking “I’m such a rotten sinner” is humility. But it isn’t. It’s turning God’s New Testament on its ear and saying He doesn’t know reality.

    Jesus was humble – and His humility consisted of this: “I can do nothing of Myself” and “the Father in Me does the works.”

    That’s humility – knowing ourselves as cups. That unless God lives through us, and changes us, we cannot really change any of those ruts. And if we open ourselves up in reliant trust to His righteous-nature within us, we will become what we are meant to be – not in some sweet by-and-by, but here and now as we mature in Christ. There is a “not yet” and that involves these bodies which decay. But we are to believe “unto the saving of the soul.” The psuche. Psyche. As a pastor of mine has said, “We’ve got to change our stinkin’ thinkin’!”

  11. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    (By the way, sorry it’s so LONG. If I let out how I’m feeling as I look at it I’d sound like the Dad in The Christmas Story when he was down trying to fix the furnace).

  12. mike

    Ron, I’m blown away by the similarities of our journeys. I’m just entering the door and you’re halfway down the hall. Would you say that to the level we understand we are loved, we trust, and to the level we trust we do. The problem is that we don’t realize we are loved. We say it but we believe that there are conditions to being loved. Realizing that I am loved unconditionally not based on performance has caused or allowed me to look at others and see the conditions that I have placed on them for being loved and sometimes putting conditions on them for loving me. I listened to the preacher last night who said that if he could get people to be God lovers then the leaders the church needed would be produced. I sat there and thought if we taught people that they were loved then you would have the lovers you seek. Christ in me is the hope of His manifestation here on earth. The problem isn’t that people are not “God lovers”, the problem is that people are not “God Knowers.” To know Him truly is to love Him. Paul told the Ephesians in chapter three that to know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge, is to be filled with all the fullness of God. If we know Him we will love Him. We love because we were first loved.

  13. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Mike,

    Definitely, great thoughts – we think there are conditions. As long as we have conditions for ourselves with God’s love, we’ve got conditions with other people with our love (again, we become like the God we worship). If we just recognize as Fact the things the Word says about us, and rely on them (and of course, the Giver of those Facts), those ultimate realities will be manifested in our daily lives.

    I know in my own life that I am a radically different person since I had my sense of self-worth, security, etc, crash from about 1993-1995. That was the plowing up of the soil, and then the sowing came. Before that I was not comfortable in a group without an instrument in my hands; I was always the first on the bus after the show; I didn’t know myself at all back then. After the sowing, that mind renewal, my introvertedness changed to an extroverted introvert. I still like being alone, thinking, writing, playing music, etc. But I love people now, and would much more often rather spend time talking and visiting with people than doing all my alone-things. Plus, previous to my crash, I had very little to say. I’d sit there to study my Bible and try to write some kind of commentary but it was something just above squeezing blood from a turnip. Now, insights are continually whacking me on the head and I can’t write it down fast enough.

    I see it largely as an opening of a dam. The blockage is all that false belief, self-belief, trying to believe – all of which is really unbelief.

  14. Brad Griffith

    Ron, thanks for answering my post. I think I am mostly with you. God has actually been teaching me something lately that I think is very close to what you are saying. To paraphrase Romans 6:13, we are not to offer the parts of our bodies to sin as instruments of wickedness, but we are to offer the parts of our bodies to God as instruments of righteousness. It is interesting that Paul speaks not in terms of fighting sin, but of offering ourselves to God instead of sin. God has been showing me more and more that there is nothing I can do to fix myself. Instead, what He calls me to do is present myself to Him as an offering and allow Him to do His work in me from the inside out. Anyway, thanks for the encouragement.

  15. Stacy Grubb

    I have a tendency to over-analyze things. Interestingly enough, I always start out by trying to break things down to their simplest forms, but before I know it, conclusions and correlations are running every which a way. In one train of thought, everything connects; in another…well, that train just keeps chugging on down the line.

    Truths that seem like riddles: you got that right. I’ll elaborate on that as soon as I figure out a way.

    Ron, I’m particularly interested in how you say that you’ve gone from running from people to enjoying them. I’m the crabbiest crab I know. My son’s birthday is next month and already I’m so completely dreading the party that I could almost vomit. If we could confine it to family, I’d be okay with that. But of course, Elijah deserves to have some of his church friends over, which means that I have to mingle with the other parents and then I’m obligated to go to their kids’ parties. Ack. Will the insanity never end? I despise it all. Plus, I’m just downright awkward. It’s not that I hate people. I hate the anxiety I feel around them and I really hate that I make a boob of myself every time I’m in mixed company (you know, your average dropping of green beans down your shirt; panicking when someone asks your name). I’ve got about 2 or 3 close friends and I like socializing with them. Outside of that, I’d just as soon stay home. I’ve been told that my attitude isn’t “Christian-like” because I do often avoid any type of “bonding” with people from the church. I’ve just always identified myself as a socially awkward loner who enjoys her privacy, but I know that if it were as simple as that, I wouldn’t get frustrated with myself so often. My point that I’m getting at (as slowly and with as many unnecessary words as possible) is that I’ve been encouraged for years to open up more and I’ve never understood how one just up and does such a thing. I’ve always kind of agreed that I wasn’t living up to the full potential that God would want for me as I made a beeline for the door when the room got too full, but I didn’t know how I was supposed to change my desire (and to some extent my necessity) to do that. Maybe, just maybe, it’s a side effect thing that would rectify itself once the main culprit was laid to rest. Something to make me go hmmmm, at least.

    Stacy

  16. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Brad,

    I absolutely love to hear that God is working in that way in your life. You are right on – it isn’t a matter of “fighting sin” or even “fighting the Devil.” All we do is offer our bodies as living sacrifices, and be transformed by the renewing of our minds. As regarding the Devil and his lies, what we do is put on our armor, take up the sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God) and the shield of faith, and, having done all, we stand. Israel’s lesson was always that the Lord fought their battles; whenever they were presumptuous they got their butts kicked. It doesn’t mean they didn’t do anything, but when they did, they were to go by faith. Our attention is to be on Christ, our Captain, who He is, what He has done for us, and what He is inside us. That’s the focus of Paul in nearly all his letters – “God has done this and done that for us in Christ, and has made us this and that” and only after several chapters of this sort of thing does he get into “Now, since you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above.” In other words, be-ing comes before do-ing. Behavior is a by-product of what we’re trusting in.

  17. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Stacy,

    I was exactly like that – socially awkward – or at least I felt like it. I never “just up and did such a thing” either – it was a plowing and resowing of my heart that did it. When I came up out of that mind renewal I had people say, “It’s like you’re a whole different person.” But what it is really is that I’m now the person I was always meant to be. I’m still not extroverted in the classic sense. But I sure will talk with people in a crowded room. And as Tozer said, what God has done for one person He’ll do for any other. I still sometimes feel that awkwardness, self-consciousness. But now it is the exception, not the norm, because I recognize it as Satan’s desire to keep me from talking freely and spontaneously with people.

    So – I would suspect that trying to change yourself, trying to be “more Christian-like,” won’t work. But offering your body as a living sacrifice, and renewing your mind to the truth of who you are, will change you. As I said to Brad, be-ing comes before do-ing. Behavior changes as we change the object of our trust.

    Every change I’ve experienced has come through asking God for it. When I look back at my prayers (I often write them down) I’m often amazed at how He has answered them – quite often in ways that are completely unexpected and unlooked for (and sometimes uncalled for!).

  18. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    As an added point to the novel-like nature of my posts, those ruts I mentioned, our weaknesses, become the contact point for God’s power. They are very often the places of our future ministry where we can “comfort others with the comfort we have received from God.” We’re often wounded, scored, and scarred in the very places we are meant to excel, because the Devil would keep us from being powerful expressions of Christ, and then God turns around and uses the very wounds of the Devil for our greatest good. Satan, in his desire to keep us from power, ends up doing the very thing that leads us to true power.

  19. Brance

    I may be a little late getting into this, but the discussion of obedience in relation to faith/love is an interesting one. I’ve only just recently come to a conclusion on the topic. For years I was going along with the mindset of trying to prove my love for God by obedience. Recently though I’ve come to see that love is a result of hope (Colossians 1:4-5), and hope is itself a result of faith (Romans 5:1-5).

    So yes, if I love God I will obey him. Jesus said so. But the only way I’ll love God is if I’m living by faith. So rather than trying to love, I’m just faithing. And remembering that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word, I’m spending a lot of time letting the Word remind me of the Gospel.

    You can read a full treatment on this idea in this lesson I taught the youth a while back from Colossians 1.

  20. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Brance,

    You’re late, but right on the money.

    Without spending time in the Word, we often “try to have faith.” But faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. If we let the Word of God “dwell in us richly” it will bear fruit.

    Gotta go up to Nashville, I’ll be back on later.

  21. Tony Heringer

    Ron,

    For the most part I think this is semantics. I haven’t the bandwidth to go any further ( loved the Christmas Story reference). I’m heading off to a Men’s Retreat down at Calloway Gardens. Pat Morley (Man In The Mirror) is the speaker. Thanks again for the posts.

    Have a great week-end!

  22. Ben

    A few thoughts:

    I think a great deal of confusion comes from the word “faith”. The word is used so often and is so important to the New Testament that I actually think Satan has spent a great deal of time and energy twisting it as much he conceivably can. Secondly, I think that the role of the Spirit is often mischaracterized or misunderstood when it comes to personal holiness.

    When we choose God or Satan, we enter into two very different kinds of relationships. Satan controls through addiction. God doesn’t. One of the great enigmas to me is the fact that righteousness is entirely non-addictive. You would think it would be addictive, but it isn’t. Of course, Christ’s aim is freedom, not enslavement. Sure you get a positive sense of well-being from acting out of love, but there is no pressure or compulsion to act the same way the second time around. Sin tries to coerce you. The Spirit persuades you.

    I find in my own life that living by faith does not begin with a mental position. I don’t decide to believe and then the thing becomes real. I come to the realization that the reality is different than I was perceiving it to be. It’s like the dwarves in the Last Battle: their hell is a refusal to see the reality of the love God has for them. I was always wrong; the reality never changed.

    I, through the Spirit’s revelation, come to the understanding that one way of behavior leads to death, and another leads to life. When I KNOW that through the Spirit’s revelation (not just
    “believe” it), I will choose the way of life. Jesus did not give His commands, turn around and snicker when no one was looking and say, “Ha ha, no one can really do what I’m telling them to.” That’s a ludicrous position, and yet many I meet and hear speak about these issues act as if that was Jesus’ actual mindset.

    How many times have I heard, “Oh, Jesus said, “Be ye perfect” because he wanted us to realize how impossible that was.” Jesus gave us an example and then set us free so that we could follow Him. Under Adamic rule, of course we can’t stop sinning. But the objective reality post-Christ is simple: now we can. That’s what Paul means when he says we are “under no obligation to sin” in Romans 6. Sin has no hold. The Devil’s greatest lie is to say we are incapable of thwarting his purposes.

    If we don’t stop sinning, it’s because we really believe that that form of behavior is acceptable. Paul, I find, more often than not assumes that believers have, like Him, come to an understanding that living a certain way will lead to death. If you don’t leave that way behind, your faith was just self convincing, not Spirit revelation. I find that the sins I commit most often spring from a hidden mindset that thinks they are normal or acceptable on some level. But if I believe they are normal than I’m not believing the Spirit that says living that way will lead to death. We have to allow the Spirit to persuade us, expand our understanding of the sin, and see it for what it is. When we know why we should obey, we will.

  23. Jennifer

    “I find in my own life that living by faith does not begin with a mental position. I don’t decide to believe and then the thing becomes real. I come to the realization that the reality is different than I was perceiving it to be.”

    That’s the way it always seems in my life too.
    I think that this happens after we’ve made the decision, in that particular situation, to trust God, rather than ourself or Satan.

    In my personal walk, I have two really big issues that I need to deal with. I feel like I have dealt w/the situation, totally given it over to the Lord, only to see it fester up again somewhere down the road.
    I always wonder, WHY, What am *I* doing wrong?
    I have tried to pray and give it all over to the Lord only to find that I relied on my own understanding and my own ways of dealing w/the situation and slid back into the old hamster wheel analogy….

    I feel the Lord keeps bringing me back to the same point w/my same “issues” to say, “Give it to me, trust in me…”
    I want that more than anything and hope that w/all these wonderful discussions, scriptures and w/my daily devotions, and prayers,, that I can do just that and have him fill my heart w/the joy, peace and love that only he can.

    Thanks Ron, for all the time you spend on here, it truly inspires and blesses me.

  24. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Ben,

    I don’t think in anyone’s life that faith starts with taking a mental position. There is always the awakening that reality is not as we had perceived. Take the unbeliever becoming a believer. There is the shakeup of conviction that brings him to the state that he cannot justify his sins, that he needs a Savior. Only then can he see his need.

    That’s exactly what happened to me in the mid-nineties, and throughout until now. I hit a roadblock, cannot overcome it, and find I cannot shake my “ruts.” As an unbeliever we find we need a Covering, a Savior, that we have not done what we ought to have done; as believers we find we need indwelling Power, that apart from Christ we cannot do the good that we want to do.

    And that’s where faith starts – it starts with the total shakeup of presumption. Faith, at this point, begins to take God at His Word, just as a teenager often begins to listen to his parents only when his paradigm of self-sufficiency is shaken up by getting in serious trouble.

    Jennifer – it is always this “taking back” that requires a new shakeup. And then we hand it over again. The Devil is pleased to play this game – his thoughts thrown at us at constant lightspeed eventually can suck us back into a self-effort mindset in a particular area. Then we’ve got to take the faith stand (the mind renewal) to see our lives transformed again.

  25. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Ben,

    “Be ye perfect” to me has a double meaning depending on our perception. . To the Adamic man it is an impossibility; thus it was designed to shake up the Pharisees from complacent self-righteousness to discover that “being good” was never going to be good enough. And for the believer, it is at first a challenge in which we think, “I’m going to be like Jesus and be a promise keeper and go to church Sunday and Wednesday and study the Bible and love my wife like Christ loved the church and not cheat on my taxes and…” etcetera. And then that perfectionistic paradigm huffs and puffs and blows our house down, because it presumes a human being can “be like the Most High.” After that, “Be ye perfect” is not a command but a statement of fact; that perfection is exactly what God hands us in Christ, that by one sacrifice He has perfected us forever, and now we are in process of walking out that inner Perfection by faith.

    And sin – well, we sin first of all because we don’t really believe we’re righteous. And we sin because we rationalize that whatever form of sin is justifiable or “not so bad” or “I’m better than Joe Smith at church,” or the usual one, “Jesus died to pay my sin debt.” We believe sin is “normal” or acceptable on some level because we continually feed ourselves on “Well, I’m a sinner.” And what do sinners do? They sin. “I’m a banjo player.” What do banjo players do? They play the banjo (which some people used to consider sin).

  26. Ben

    Ron,

    I understand what you’re saying about the “huffing and puffing” that eventually leads to a place of humility. Lewis had a great example of this in Dawn Treader when Eustace fails to take off his dragon skin and must have Christ do it for him.

    But this whole discussion raises a few key questions that I would like to know how you answer:

    Sequentially, the Spirit convicts us of sin, we turn to the Cross, we partake of the Lord’s body and blood and are reborn through baptism into his life just as we were born into Adam’s life, and from that point on we are new creations. At this point, from my perspective, it’s not just a question of belief. I have, through the process of communion, baptism, and indwelling of the Spirit, had an encounter with God that has redefined my spiritual DNA.

    Post-salvation I try to live as Christ lives and fail on a regular basis. I also begin to live victoriously (but that’s something most people don’t talk about. Failure, strangely enough, can be just as proud as success.). But at a certain point, I come to the realization that effort alone won’t get me anywhere. I must depend on Christ.

    But it is at this point that I begin to lose track of what is occurring. Effort is still a requirement as New Testament nouns such as Perseverance and Devotion attest to. But if I’m trying to psyche myself into believing that I’m okay (speaking presently, not eternally) then it won’t work because I know better than that. God sees me as I really am.

    The question is, who am I really? I look at my life, what I’ve experienced, what God has revealed to me and shown me and I can say without a doubt that I am an heir with Christ, a brother to him. But what kind of a brother am I? A person can be a son or a brother or a daughter and not be a very good one, and at a certain level, without a certain relationship being present, God will say “I never knew you”. The guest at the wedding feast was rejected because he wasn’t dressed correctly. New Testament speaking, clothing is a symbol of righteousness, righteousness that we must “put on” as Paul writes.

    In order to do this, we have to develop the relationship with Christ to the point that we can follow Him in every way possible. So I guess what I’m getting at is this: effort is not intrinsically bad. Christ’s faith was no walk in the park. He struggled, he suffered, he strove, and he conquered. Paul speaks of his faith being a race that he may or may not end. “I do not consider myself as having attained it”, he writes. His hope is that Christ will see him to the end.

    So I agree with you about “being” leading to “doing”, but being cannot just be a mind set. Being has to be Being.

  27. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Ben,

    Good stuff.

    Redefined spiritual DNA – I love that. New creation me.

    Then – reprogramming my mind to accept the new reality. A growing appropriation of who I really am in Him.

    Think of faith this way for a moment. If I am trusting the promises of Matthew 6 regarding God providing food, shelter, clothing, I seek God first. I look for Him. I seek (look for) His righteousness and all this (food, shelter, clothing) shall be added. In addition to Matthew 6 I also leaned on Malachi 3, where if I bring the tithe into the storehouse God will “open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing so big you cannot contain it.”

    Now, if I say I believe this, and then sit on my couch every day and watch TV, saying, “The Lord will provide,” it’s likely I’m going to miss the opportunities He will be sending. The Israelite priests, when passing through the flooding Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant, had to put feet to their faith. They had to walk into the flooding Jordan, because it would not recede until they fulfilled the condition of having the faith (and…er..courage…I was going to use another word there) to walk into what seemed certain drowning.

    So we cannot relegate Biblical faith to the realm of mere intellectual believing – passive assent to ideas about God. That sort of “faith” is not faith at all. We have to put feet to our faith, and that means stepping out in faith.

    We don’t try to psyche ourselves into believing we are ok. We simply know we are. Let me give you an example. One morning, on an AKUS tour, I woke up on the bus. I was anxious. I prayed through identity verses. I praised God. I cast my cares on Him. And after quite a few minutes of this the Spirit said this, plain as day:

    You’re just trying to change how you feel.

    I laughed, said (quietly), “You’re right,” and got out of bed and went about my day. I made the choice to know, based on the Word, that I was fine, regardless of feeling. The feelings dissipated after an hour or so.

    So faith is not psyching ourselves up to believe something that isn’t true. It isn’t an intellectual exercise. It is a hanging of the body, soul, spirit, on the fact that what God says is true, and no matter what circumstance, feeling, other people, or my actions in the last five minutes say, I am indwelt by Christ, a son, accepted in the Beloved, a king, and all that. My DNA doesn’t change.

    So I make no “effort” to change how I feel. I simply affirm who I am and say what God says.

    This takes effort, especially in the whirlwind of feeling, circumstance, Devil-thoughts. It takes courage, going against the grain of how we feel. This is the labor of faith, where we labor to enter His rest.

    To “put on Christ” is simply to recognize that we “have put off the old man, with his deeds” and have put on Christ. It’s to see Him in the mirror, that the old man was crucified with Christ. Col 3:9 says, “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds.” In other words, do, because you are. Do from your real be-ing.

    That’s where the abiding life starts. Christ in me. Me faith-ing in that, not as an intellectual exercise, but as a stepping out in faith. All those old sin-habits are to be broken over our knees just like so many dead sticks.

    Now, some people go too far and say, “Well, now that I’m a new creation, everything I do is Christ living through me.” And it leads them into serious error.

    But I don’t think we’re fooled that easily. A key word here is “honesty.” One look at the standard, or if we’ve read the Bible enough we don’t need to read the standard. We know well enough when we’ve been harsh with our wives or children; we know when we’ve done wrong.

    And it’s that point that I get back on the track. I repent from wrong thinking – Law-thinking. And I go back to Christ-thinking. I am a new man. I do not have to become a new man. I already am that. So now I just be it.

    1Cor 3, which I’ve talked about elsewhere, is the perfect example of what I’m talking about. We build with the same material as the foundation. Christ is the foundation laid in us. We build with that material – gold, silver, precious stones. And how did we receive Him? By surrender and receptivity (both of which are fueled by faith, by relying on the Word as Fact). How do we walk in Him, build the rest of the building of our life? The same way – surrender and – not receptivity, since we have been given completeness in Christ. We surrender daily – die daily to the false idea that I’m a separate self that can make my life work – and we recognize daily that He is our indwelling Life.

    That means in traffic, when I’m frustrated, that He is my patience. I thank Him for it, praise Him for being my patience, and soon patience is flowing through me.

    This takes all pressure off of me to perform. My only job is to affirm that what God says is true, and speak it out. With the heart man believeth unto salvation, and with the mouth proclamation is made. I faithe it, speak it out, and expect Him to “will and to act” through me. I step out on that faith in action.

    Jesus, in the Garden, had striving. He strove, sweating like drops of blood. He was tempted there to believe His will was separate from the Father’s will. But in the end He said, “Not my will, but Thine, be done.” He rejected the flesh desires for safety, comfort, etc., faithed in his heart, and spoke out, affirming that His real will, deep down, was to will the Father’s will. “I and My Father are one.”

    That’s what we have, deep down at the most basic level in us. We have that Spirit. Every one of us wants to live in that kind of courageous freedom to dare to will the Father’s will, and to act with His actions.

    So, Ben (I haven’t looked yet, but I know this is dreadfully long), I’m with you on be-ing not just being a mindset. That’s just intellectual wrangling. If the inner choice of faith doesn’t ever show in our outer lives, we’d better check what we’re really relying on.

    But that’s just the thing. If my faith-ing doesn’t seem to be manifesting itself, I don’t get busy trying to do things. I look, deep down, at what I’m faithing in. And always, there is something askew that needs to be put right.

    This isn’t about believing this and that doctrine about God. It’s about trusting, relying on, abiding in Christ Himself, and having Him abide in us.

  28. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    I woke up thinking about this.

    When I practice banjo or guitar, it’s a lot more effort to do it with no musical food. When I watch an instructional or concert video while on the treadmill in the morning, it makes my musical day go a lot easier. Watching someone play really well makes my brain think, “That is possible.” And so I practice from sense of sufficiency, enjoyment, expectation, rather than doing it because “I ought to practice” and having little or no sufficiency (“I must become” rather than “I am”), little enjoyment (because “ought to” takes the joy out of everything), no expectation (because of no sufficiency).

    So musical food, and seeing a great player in action, prompts something in me – desire. And, the idea that what he knows is possible for me to learn and implement into my own playing – faith. Musical food awakens my love of music – my musical nature – and brings faith in what is possible.

    And there I go, practicing. Desire, love, mixed with faith, turns the human mechanism to “on.” And it goes from feeling like practicing is dragging just a train uphill to a joy in the moment, fascination, expectation, unveiling of mystery, wonder; in fact, it turns it from work into play.

    The Christian life is meant to be nearly exactly the same thing. We’re meant to feed on the Word, which awakens love and faith if we take the Word in like little children. Little children take it as Fact – they take it literally. If I read with a child-mind, then in reading that I’m dead to Law (that trying-striving sort of human effort to become) and dead to sin, and that now I have “everything I need for life and godliness in Christ” within me, that changes the “rules of the game,” pretty much sets it on its ear (which is one reason why Paul was always in trouble – and other people were often in trouble with Paul – the two worlds of striving self-effort and the power of grace through faith don’t mix; a little leaven of Law, of effort, works through the whole batch of dough). Spiritual food awakens my real nature – as Brance mentioned, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” That’s one reason daily Bible reading is crucial to this walk of faith.

    I’m going through a phase now in my playing where I’m releasing all the effort, all the strain from my hands, playing from a new relaxed place of sufficiency, letting go of all the “you’re not good enough” false beliefs that have brought tension there.

    Because that’s what a lack of sufficiency does. We start with “I’m such a sinner.” And then, “I’ve got to try to be like Jesus (with God’s help).” And so we start our Christian lives with “One, two, three, TENSE UP! Because I’m not sufficient for the job!” But it doesn’t have to stay that way. We can operate from a sense of sufficiency, a place of “be not afraid” and “be of good courage.” Norman Grubb characterized it as going to the store and having to buy $100 worth of groceries with only $10 in our pocket. In that case we buy from strain; we don’t have sufficient resources to do what we need to do. But if we go to buy $100 worth of groceries with $1000, then we buy from rest. We have sufficiency, power, and we don’t strive in effort to try to do what we’re supposed to do; we simply do it from that $1000 sufficiency.

    “Whom the Lord calls, He enables.” That’s sufficiency, and living from His rest rather than strain. We enter His rest by the “labor of faith” the Hebrews writer talks about, which is nothing other than the “being transformed by the renewing of your mind” spoken of by Paul. It creates a new state of mind which reflects and is energized by the new creation reality in Christ.

  29. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony,

    I do understand that it looks like semantics. But in thinking this way, several serious good results follow for me:

    I’m actually believing Romans 7 –
    “When I sin it is no longer I that sins, but sin which dwelleth in me,” rather than “I sinned because I’m a sinner.” “I’m a sinner” continues the treadmill of sinner-me trying to become like Christ, rather than turning, tuning our inner mirror to simply reflect His light. In my own experience, making a sinner try to become like Christ is like trying to force a Black Angus heifer to behave like a mountain lion.

    And since it is no longer I that sins, I can look at it objectively, rather than self-justifying or rug-sweeping. And that makes me a lot faster at turning from the sin, and which eventually makes me able to stand in the face of temptation by His power.

    Knowing who I am in Christ fuels the manifestation of this new creation reality. The old paradigm of me as a sinner trying to become like Him is gone. Law ought-tos – I’m dead to them. Sin, I’m dead to that. God – I’m alive to Him, a slave to Him, a branch in the Vine. And now I can live from sufficiency (a new creation, Christ indwelt person reflecting His glory) rather than from strain (a sinner ‘trying to be like Jesus with God’s help’).

    Most of us live for years from the sense that we’re spiritual paupers, even though God has told us we have an unlimited checking account and can write an unlimited amount of checks. We’re spiritual billionaires and we’re living in spiritual cracker box trailers (I lived in one as a kid). We look at what we ought to be (“Christ-like”), we look at we have to become by working all these ought-tos and shoulds and should-nots (“I’m a sinner that’s got to become like Christ”) and we sigh in a sense of “this ain’t ever gonna happen” and talk about “living between the now and the not yet” and ignore and “positionalize” hundreds of verses about what we’ve got right here and now. It’s all smoke and mirrors; the Devil laughs, because then we’re not writing as many faith-checks, not affecting the world as much as we could for – and in, and through – Christ.

  30. Ben

    Ron,

    Thanks so much for your replies. I especially love your musician’s analogy. Being a cellist, I understand what you’re saying. One of the elements of the New Testament that I find is rarely discussed, but very important to your points is the reality of the Heavenly Reward. When Jesus spoke to John in Revelation with his final words (biblically recorded) of exhortation to the Churches, he emphasized personal and communal holiness and love. And he ended each letter with a promise. I recently took those promises and kind’ve smashed them all together. The imagery still takes my breath away:

    Those who are victorious, I myself will feed from the Tree of Life in the heart of the paradise of God. I will give them a crown of life and the second death will do them no violence. I will give them the hidden manna to eat and a dazzling white stone, and in that stone will be engraved a new name that no man will know but the one who holds it. Those who are victorious, and treasure my works to the very end, I will give the same authority over the nations as my Father has given me. Such a man shall rule them with a iron scepter and break them to pieces like pottery. I will give him the Morning Star. He shall be clothed in brilliant white raiment, his name never to be blotted from the Book of Life. I will acknowledge him before my Father and the angelic hosts, and he will stand as a pillar of the Temple of God in the New Jerusalem, never to leave again. Upon him will be inscribed the name of my God, the name of His Heavenly City, and my own new name. Even as I was victorious and took my seat beside my Father in His throne, he who is victorious will take his seat beside me in my throne.

    He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
    -Jesus the Christ, Revelations 2-3

  31. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Ben,

    Beautiful, and breathtaking.

    We’re to treasure His works – not “my works.” “Didn’t we do this and do that in your Name?” “Depart from Me; I never knew you.” Because it’s His works through us, and those works are what will withstand the burning of 1Cor 3.

    As the song, and the Apostle John says, “Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.”

    Those “I wills” of Jesus are the direct answer to the “I wills” of Lucifer in Isaiah 14. The one is of dependence on Christ and His promises; the other is of independence, self-will, and presumption. These two “I will” streams are analogous to all the twos in Scripture: the two trees (life and of knowledge of good and evil), the two kinds of vessels (mercy and wrath), the two Covenants, and the twos of people: Abel and Cain, David and Saul, Paul and Judas, (for Paul was really the replacement 12th Apostle to replace Judas, chosen by God Himself, not by shooting craps), the two women in Galatians (Sarah and Hagar), the two sons (Isaac and Ishmael, one the son of promise and the other the son of human effort).

    Beautiful to see those promises all put together, Ben.

  32. Ben

    Ron,

    The imagery of the two trees really came home to me recently in reading the book, Christus Victor. In that book, Gustaf Aulen juxtaposes the two primary viewpoints of the Atonement, the Ransom Theory of the Early Church and the Satisfaction Theory of the Medieval Church. In the first, he writes, God’s redemptive act is purification-centric as opposed to Law-centric. Jesus comes to subvert the condemnation of the Law system the Devil hijacked, and to place us beyond the reach of the Accuser. So there is a divine continuity (The Father and the Son operating together against Satan who is the primary crucifier of Christ), and a legal discontinuity (the Law is an enemy that must be overridden).

    With the Middle Ages came the second theory, first espoused by Anselm of Canterbury. In this theory, he stated that the primary purpose of the Atonement was Law-Centric (Christ came to live a life of perfect penance for the sins of man according to the Law). In this viewpoint, there is a divine discontinuity (the Father punishes the Son instead of man) and a legal continuity (otherwise Justice won’t be fulfilled). In the first, God’s forgiveness of sins is communicated, not by a payment to the Law or Justice, but by the intrinsic act of freeing us from the bondage of condemnation. In other words, its freely given. In the second, God’s forgiveness can only be enacted once payment has been made to “make up” for all the wrong done to Him.

    Aulen explains that the Medieval view arose from the penance system of the Catholic Church, and it’s primary idea is that a Man (in this case, God in disguise) must make up for Man’s sins. Otherwise, forgiveness is impossible. The Early Church, on the other hand, saw Christ’s incarnation not as a legal requirement, but as the ultimate act of saying “I’m with you, not with the Law system” and then purifying the intrinsic sin Adam had placed in mankind.

    After reading that book, I came to the conclusion that, regardless of which side was right, the Medieval view had introduced a law-centricity that we still deal with in our “positional” pseudo speak as if guilt and not sin was Christ’s primary concern in his Coming.

    The Law, good as it was in what it commanded, can never be a part of Eden. It will always be the outsider to the Tree freely offered, the Tree of Life.

  33. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Ben,

    MacDonald spoke of that same Law-centricity. He said we shouldn’t see God the Father as wanting to make us pay for our sins, and then Jesus, God the Son, standing up and saying, “I’ll pay,” as if Jesus is grace and Father is punitive and legal. That makes God a cosmic policeman, and Jesus the good guy who gets us off the hook. But Jesus said, “He that has seen Me has seen the Father.” The Son is the express image of God the Father. If we want to know what God the Father is like, we look at Jesus.

    The gospel is that Jesus came to “save His people from their sins.” It doesn’t say, “He will save His people from the punishment due their sins.” It says He will save them from the sins themselves – that is, from being a sin-kind-of-people. Throughout the New Testament, believers who habitually sin are usually spoken of with shock by the writers of the Epistles. People always want to quote John, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,” and “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,” but this same person wrote, “I write these things to you that you may not sin.” Sin is to be the exception rather than the rule – and if a person reads that statement with a Law-consciousness I’m sure they are sighing right now. But read with an awareness of the power of Christ within us we read it with satisfaction – He will have His way in and through us.

    So if we see Jesus as coming not to fulfill some sort of legal, judiciary, positional righteousness on our behalf, but as a living, actual death and resurrection by which we died and were resurrected in Him – that’s totally different, and the two streams of thought will manifest in our lives differently. In one we see God as punitive, exacting, although loving in a certain way (as if there is any punishment that can make up for sin other than the sinner ceasing to do it). In the other, we see a God who wants to have His Spirit in us so that we live as He lives, with His very own righteousness at the helm of our lives, because that is the thing that will truly fulfill us. In seeing us fulfilled in that way God receives a sort of satisfaction, pleasure, fulfillment.

  34. Mike

    I’m loving this conversation so thanks to all of you. If I could summarize my experience it would be: When I thought God was a taskmaster I acted like a slave but when I realizes God was my Abba Father I began to act like a son. As Ron said earlier ( I think) we become the God we worship. I now see sin as a disease to be cured as opposed to a crime to be punished.

  35. Stacy Grubb

    This reminds me of a direct quote from Jesus that I asked about a few months ago under this discussion here. http://www.rabbitroom.com/?p=677#comments

    I am just going to copy and paste my post from that discussion here in this one because, in my mind, it applies.

    “Ron,

    Thanks for that very insightful reply. I spent the day mulling some of the things you said around in my head yesterday and I was particularly drawn to what you said about whoever is born of God not being a sinner. Several months ago in Wednesday night Bible study, we were discussing the story of the woman accused of adultery in John 8 and one of the guys at church asked what Jesus meant in verse 11 when He said to the woman to “Go, and sin no more.” To be honest, I don’t believe a clear answer was given because the person who brought it up was asking because of an earlier conversation he’d had with a man who believed that the woman literally went and never sinned again for the rest of her life and I think the response in the study focused mainly on that belief. But I’ve thought about it a lot since then, wondering what exactly *was* meant by that statement. So, when you referenced that passage in 1 John, I immediately thought of, “Go, and sin no more,” and wondered if that was the answer I’d been looking for. Am I off-base or out of context with that?

    Thanks, Ron.
    Stacy”

    I think this post elaborates more on the idea of being sinless and gives me a little bit more clarity on what Jesus meant by telling someone to go and sin no more. At the time that the question was raised in church, I was still humbled by my sin-awareness and that passage has bugged me ever since.

    Stacy

    PS…Ron, you give me hope that I may one day learn to be conversational. I’ve always been defined by my shyness as it makes me very much the black sheep of my family. In school, it was mistaken for snottiness and that’s never a good thing.

  36. Jennifer

    I too Stacy was defined by my shyness and can identify w/the highschool thing of being stuck up..which I wasn’t, I was just shy.
    My son, Evan, has brought out a new side to me.
    He’s had a lot of health issues since his birth and I’ve learned to be his #1 advocate, b/c as a Mommy you have to be.
    He’s taught me about selflessness, about trust, about love. Above all, he’s my hero. He endured more in his 3 years here, than one should ever have to, and has done it with grace and a smile on his face.
    I think this is relevant b/c to me there is a correlation b/t how I was shy, didn’t stand up for myself before, would stew w/emotion when something happened to me…but after my daughter and esp. since Evan was born, circumstances did change me, but it was really Christ slowly revelaing to me that if I just turn it all over to him, trust him completley, as Evan did me, he will be my #1 advocate.
    Blessings,
    Jenny

  37. Jennifer

    After proofreading..I want to clarify my last sentence…Christ is revealing these things to me, so I can surrender to him, allow him to live w/in me, be my love, my peace, my happiness and is, in turn, my #1 advocate.

  38. Benjamin Wolaver

    One of my favorite Apostolic traditions is the story of John’s refusal to stay under the same roof as the heretic, Cerinthus, because he believed that God might destroy the building as judgment. If someone said something along those lines about certain figures today (some of them very prominent “Christian” leaders), they would be laughed at.

    I think that’s a good example of the cynicism that underlies many of the people who insist that sin is an unalterable aspect of human life. The great dynamic of the New Testament is the idea that sin can now be defeated (indeed is already defeated).

    For myself, I can never get over this basic logical sequence: 1. Jesus lived a sinless life, 2. Jesus had no advantage that I don’t possess in Him, 3. Jesus expected his followers to love as he loved and to live as he lived. If someone says the sinless life is impossible, they are essentially saying that Jesus had some kind of advantage in overcoming sin and that we can’t be judged for our sin. After all, who can be judged for something that can’t be helped? But of course, no one doesn’t look back at sin in their life and know that they could have reacted differently.

    So while the sinless life is not a probability, it is a possibility, however remote, one that we should all aspire to.

    I love what Dallas Willard says about this. He points out that if someone came up to their family members and spiritual leaders and said, “I’ve decided to quit sinning” they would be considered as being spiritually weak or in need of counseling. How sad that we’ve bought into a spirit of doubt and unbelief that actually believes that God is not powerful enough to transform us!

    Of course, there is an aspect of “not yet” to our place in Christ; the understanding that one day we will be perfected by His power. But who wants to stay in the City of Destruction (at their own eternal risk) when they can head toward the Celestial City… and maybe make it there. What do you think happened to Elijah and Enoch?

  39. Jen

    Just want to say Thanks, Ron. I read this earlier in the week and shared thoughts with others.
    Today, I visited a 78 year old man in the hospital. He was troubled. He said that Satan was giving him “bad thoughts” and he said that he just “wants to be what God would have him be.” He has been overheard repeating to himself “I never got rid of sin, I’ve got to get rid of sin” He seems tormented by the thought.
    I have known the man for more than thirty years. He has always held the belief that if you do not live perfectly, then you are not a “son of God”
    One of his favorite quotes, “as many as are led my the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” How true that is, only his interpretation is flawed. How ironic, that anyone who knows the man, also knows that he is far from anyone’s definition of perfect.
    Today, thanks to my Lord who led me to read this which caused me to re-evaluate my judgement of the man- I saw him not as a hypocrit, but as a child of God who is sadly confused. Someone who has a desire to serve God, but has never learned the secret is in trusting and resting. He is still trying to earn favor and acceptance with God, when God has already adopted him as His own son.
    Instead of telling him to repent and call on God’s mercy (as I have told him on several occasions) – I spoke faith.
    I said, ” Don’t you know that God loves you? He has you in his hands. You are His child. Let His Spirit in you do all the work. Just rest in Him. ” The man began to cry and say, “thank you, thank you”
    Please, pray that he will truly accept God’s peace and will rest in Christ’s goodness!!!

    My thought on the discussion: If our focus is “sin” and “not committing sin” we most certainly will!
    But if we keep our eyes on Christ we will live triuphantly over all things including sin.

    Jen

  40. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Stacy, Jennifer,

    I have a good friend, a singer who when he first met me after an AKUS concert in the early nineties thought I was arrogant and stuck up. I probably was, for all I know, but it’s more likely I was self-absorbed and self-conscious. I’m sure I have often given that impression, even since then, when I’ve been caught in the Devil’s web occasionally and not been myself, self-conscious, self-aware. But isn’t it a good reminder not to judge others by the outsides, by their behavior, and to realize that everyone is not so far from being like us? I always liked this saying: When I was 20 I cared what people thought about me. When I was thirty I didn’t care anymore what people thought about me. When I was forty I realized they were never really thinking about me at all. Most people are too busy being self-conscious to be other-conscious.

    Benjamin,

    Thank you! To go around wallowing in mere forgiveness and never stepping into reliance on Christ is to stay in the foyer of the Great Mansion of salvation. It’s to live as a pauper. Faith is the turning point for sanctification. While the NT writers speak of needing forgiveness, they also speak of the need for holiness, the necessity of heading toward completion, maturity – perfection. I’ve had people think I am very nearly heretical for saying so, for saying “When I sin it is no longer I,” and especially that we are dead to the Law (not just the ceremonial Law, but the moral Law Paul quotes in Romans 7, “Thou shalt not covet.” He said that the Law gives sin an occasion over us, and that sin shall have no dominion over us because we’re not under the Law, but under grace. We’re dead to the Law, and alive to Christ; He became sin for us, that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us (not by us, but in us); His Spirit being the fulfilling power through us. But I digress – this is a different, though not entirely different, subject.

    The point that Jesus had no advantage that I don’t possess in Him – most of us are so tied up in thinking, “Oh, well, He was God, the second Person of the Trinity!” But we miss the point in Philippians that He set aside His omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence to be a human cup indwelt by the Father, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and operating only by faith. He came in the form of a servant – a pattern-shower and of course much more than just “our example.” But most people want to “imitate Jesus” by trying to do the works He did, by being good (or their interpretation of ‘good’), always somehow missing that Jesus said, “I can do nothing of Myself” and “The Father in Me does the works” and also, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.”

    That infinitely powerful engine that was in Jesus is in us, available to us by the same means it was available to Him – by faith. The Holy Spirit is an engine, and at the same time the driver, who wants to have us in willing cooperation with His purposes of love in this world.

  41. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jen,

    Beautiful stuff – that’s speaking the truth in love. The relief that comes to us when we find we are not under bondage to Law, and that we already are sons, kings, priests, holy, etc., is like no other feeling. Pressure and weight comes off us.

    And yes, a focus on the negative keeps us in the negative. “Gotta-not-sin-gotta-not-sin..” is a mantra for sinning. It creates a whirlpool in our consciousness that sucks us down into sin – and as I’ve said before, the Devil laughs when he can get us thinking “I’ve got to try harder to be holy” because then he’s got us under the power of sin, in that whirlpool of self-activity which, since it is not of faith, is sin.

  42. Benjamin Wolaver

    Ron,

    I would love to know what your exegetical reasoning is for interpreting Romans 7 like you do. I’ve always been divided myself about whether Paul is speaking of the pre-Christ reality of enslavement to the Law, or the post-Christ reality of our struggle for holiness. I’ve heard both interpretations: the first by Dallas Willard who adamantly maintained in his book, Spirit of the Disciplines, that Paul’s own walk with the Lord was not what he was describing in Rom. 7, and the second by a few pastors I’ve met on the road who obviously took it as the humble confession of a struggling Apostle.

    Reading Romans again, I find myself leaning in Willard’s direction, simply because there is a strong pattern of Paul explaining the Law system and then explaining the Faith system, and going back and forth between the two.

    For instance in Romans 2 and the first part of 3, he emphasizes the futility of Law-keeping until verse 21 where he turns around and expounds the Gospel all the way through Romans 4 up until Romans 5:12 where he returns to the Law through Adam to draw a comparison between the first and second Adams. He then expounds the new life of freedom through Romans 6 but changes course in Romans 7 to showing why the Law could not work, revisiting what he established in Romans 2 and 3. Then, of course, he expounds in Romans 8 about what the true life of the believer is and should be, as opposed to the enslavement he described in chapter 7.

    Do you think this is correct, or do you read it differently?

  43. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Benjamin,

    Romans is one long thought, and yes, going back and forth from Old Covenant to New.

    I don’t believe it is either Paul describing his pre-Christ days or a humble confession of his present struggles with sin (i.e., the common belief these days in a dual nature). There are too many places in the New Testament that shout, “Sinning should not be the norm!” And for him to jump to his pre-Christ days is too much of a jump for the thought he is presenting – again, all one long thought from beginning to end.

    First, Paul is writing to believers, and telling them, “You are no longer in the flesh” – no longer a “you” that has to exert flesh effort to be good, no longer controlled by the flesh – “but in the Spirit, if so be the Spirit dwells in you.” Romans 8 is Paul reasoning why we no longer have to live in 7 – because we have the Spirit, and we are dead to the Law. We don’t have to live in that Law/human effort consciousness anymore, because now we are to live according to the Spirit – the Holy Spirit inside us, the Spirit from which nothing can ever separate us.

    He is building a case for the new life, and showing a complete cut-off from the mixing of grace and Law. He makes a clear cut line between the two, grace through faith, and Law, throughout the entire Roman letter. This mixing has been a temptation for the church since Pentecost. Paul fought the heresy continually in his letters, and the entire Hebrews letter, though not necessarily written by Paul, is another showing (like Romans) of the total superiority of Christ to all past revelation, ritual, rules, and ceremony.

    He’s also delineating the differences between the two ways of life – one by Law, and one by faith in Christ. In 7, he digs deeper into the Law, and what is really going on. He foreshadows 7 while still in 6 when he says, “Sin shall not have power over you, for you are not under the law, but under grace,” a statement he inverts to show the flip side throughout 7: “Sin shall have power over you if you put yourself under the Law.”

    If he is referring back to his pre-Christ life, I wonder how he can say he “delights in the Law of God after the inner man”? If he is speaking of his unregenerate self – the Saul-self that was a murderer and delighted in his murder, thinking he was pleasing God – then he is referring back to an Eph 2:2 state, with “the spirit that works in the children of disobedience” as his indwelling lord. And that spirit doesn’t delight in the Law of God.

    What he’s showing earlier is that the Law can’t justify us before God (in 2 and 3), and then in 7 he’s emphasizing that the Law cannot sanctify us – that we cannot manifest God’s character as believers by striving in our human effort. He describes the struggle of the believer to be holy by his own effort. But then, through the Law, he becomes (in experience) dead to the Law, that he might live unto God.

    The natural progression of 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 is the natural progression of my own life as well (not that that proves anything). Saved by grace through faith, bang, I learned that in the early eighties. Wow! Saved by grace through faith. And then, slowly but surely, I began thinking that I had to live up to something, that I had to read-more-pray-more-give-more, etc, in order to be holy. Even though I was already dead to sin and Law (6), I didn’t really believe it, and so set about to establish, through my own will to be good, holiness in my life. But sin, taking occasion by my self-effort attitude, slew me. I found myself wretched, and loathed myself because I kept doing the things I hated and didn’t do the good I deeply desired to do.

    But then God revealed to me that the self I was hating was “not I, but sin.” The self that I really was was that inner man who loved righteousness. And so God set about showing me the way that is better than Law, a way that is rooted in Christ and founded in my new creation identity in Him. We’re to be rooted in Christ and also built up in Him; the Romans 7 experience is part of the schooling.

    I live mostly in Romans 8 and 9 now, but Romans 7 is a place I still fall back into at times – at whatever place in my life that I think “I’ve got to keep this together,” whether it’s parenting my kids, being a husband, playing the banjo, or writing a song. Whenever I am not releasing, resting, trusting, and walking in that faith attitude, I crash and burn in the Romans 7 hell by trying to make it all work “on my own.” Thankfully as I learn to be “wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove” those times of presumption and pride are fewer and fewer, and a far cry from the days I lived consistently in Romans 7 with brief excursions to 8.

  44. kelli

    Ron, (and all those who have posted on this topic)…I just want to say thank you! This is beautiful and mind-boggling, yet simple and true. But, how hard it is to make this shift, and yet shouldn’t it be a simple, natural transition?

    Hmmm…why does it seem so hard? Partially, I think, b/c there’s not as much to grab onto, to “do” on my part. Yet, it is so much more freeing, so natural to reflect that Image , that is already there, than to strive to become like that Image.

    I have nothing to add at this point…just trying to enter into to all that’s been discussed and shape it in my mind. And…I wanted to thank you all for your willingness to struggle through this! It’s a shift (thanks to Ron and George MacDonald) that I’ve been making in my life for a few years now, and boy…it’s hard when you’re “reprogramming” your mind. But, isn’t that what grace is? Like Ben said, the “redefined spiritual DNA.” So, really, it’s just the Holy Spirit allowing me to see the truth as I’m ready for it.

    Anyway…enough of the rambling!

    Enjoying this journey with you all…kelli

  45. Benjamin Wolaver

    Kelli,

    I understand what you mean about there not being as much to “grab onto” or “do”. But is that really the case?

    As I read Romans 8 again today, this entire paragraph leapt out at me:

    ‘The unspiritual are interested only in what is unspiritual, but the spiritual are interested in spiritual things. It is death to limit oneself to what is unspiritual; life and peace can only come with concern for the spiritual. That is because to limit oneself to what is unspiritual is to be at enmity with God: such a limitation never could and never does submit to God’s law. People who are interested only in unspiritual things can never be pleasing to God. Your interests , however, are not in the unspiritual, but in the spiritual, since the Spirit of God has made his home in you. In fact, unless you possessed the Spirit of Christ you would not belong to him. Though your body may be dead it is because of sin, but if Christ is in you then your spirit is life itself because you have been justified; and if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.

    So then, my brothers, there is no necessity for us to obey our unspiritual selves or to live unspiritual lives. If you do live in that way, you are doomed to die; but if by the Spirit you put and end to the misdeeds of the body you will live.’

    In the past, I’ve had trouble with that last sentence because I wondered to myself, “Well how do I use the Spirit to put to death the misdeeds of the body?” But reading it again (and in the marvelously more clear Jerusalem translation) it comes home: if we fill our lives with spiritual things, the Spirit will clean us out.

    In one way, reading the Bible, prayer, fasting, etc… can be death if we use them as point-getters in the Christian walk. Lewis’ outlines this beautifully in his book, An Experiment in Criticism, when he compares the man who reads a great book to “better himself” and the man who reads it for sheer pleasure. The first man never really read the book. His “betterment” led only to a form of self-deception. The second man, on the other hand, read the book for the explicit purpose of receiving the author’s vision in its totality and so experienced something the other man never dreamed existed.

    If we read the Bible to “better ourselves” it will kill us and we’ll miss the point every time, but if we read it in order to read it (novel idea, that) then the true vision God has placed inside its pages will conquer our hearts.

    That same principle applies to everything. In faith, the world is transformed into a place of possibilities and liberty. In law, everything is one more cog in the great clockwork wheel of human occupation…

  46. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Kelli,

    Yes, in the sense of human occupation, as Benjamin put it, there is nothing to “do.” I love his last paragraph. Faith opens us up to God’s ways and means, to adventure, spontaneity, wonder; fear keeps us in our comfort zone – “We should have stayed in Egypt!” – and closes down possibilities. Faith, of course, is in itself a doing; it involves an inner choice to take God at His Word no matter what comes, a stepping-out in faith (like the marching of Israel around Jericho day after day, or the priests holding the Ark stepping into the flooding Jordan), and enduring confidence in that God of the Word.

    Benjamin, I loved your Lewis thoughts from Experiment – we can’t evaluate something unless we first receive it uncritically, which is one of the reasons I love George MacDonald’s invitation to “Read your New Testament like you’ve never read it before.”

    I was reading through Romans this morning. The first time the Law is introduced he shows how no one, pagan nor Jew, has kept the Law, for by the Law is the knowledge of sin – we learn what sin is through the Law, learn to recognize it. That’s what the Law does for sinners; it brings conviction.

    In the first Law-talk, in 2 and 3, after emphasizing paganism in 1, he turns to the Jews; “You’re a Jew, and you think you’re better than the pagans?” And then proceeds to show Jews don’t keep the Law either. By the law is the knowledge of sin. Then he moves into Abraham, the Father of faith, and justification. Then, “having been justified by faith” in 5, we move on to sanctification in 6, and then again the moving back to the opposite, sanctification by Law-effort (7), and then in 8 it’s back to our real source of power. In 7, for believers, the focus is not on the Law giving us the knowledge of sin, but the fact that the Law is what gives sin its power over us. In 6 he inserts that little statement that sin shall not have power, dominion over us, because we’re not under the Law but under grace – a statement he echoes in 1Cor 15:56, “…the power of sin is the Law.”

    Paul gives the same jump between justification and sanctification in Galatians when he says, “…Did you receive the Spirit (justification) by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect (sanctification) by the flesh?” His point being that fleshly effort didn’t justify us before God; faith did. And in the same way, fleshly effort doesn’t sanctify us before God; faith does.

    This jumping back and forth between the right way and the wrong way in Romans is the same thing an evangelist does when he preaches the Law to sinners (for the Law was not made for the righteous man, but for sinners). The evangelist gives the dark side – sin, Law, the Great White Throne judgment, wages of sin is death, and all those dark truths. And then, as conviction settles in – really faith that comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God – the preacher preaches Christ as Savior and Lord. We can walk up to people on the street all we want to and say “Jesus loves you and died for your sins” but until the natural man is brought to a state of conviction over his sins it’s not going to mean much to him. Finney would sometimes preach Law one night and then leave the pulpit as sinners wallowed around in conviction for days; finally Finney would come back and preach the gospel. This deep plowing up of the human heart and consciousness allows for the seeds of the gospel to go way down and take deep root.

    Likewise, the truths of my real identity in Christ, of being dead to sin, dead to Law, etc, were not precious to me until I saw that “my own” idea of my identity wasn’t cutting the mustard. When I crashed on my own effort and experienced Romans 7 for a good long while, I was ready to appreciate the totality and completeness of what Jesus has accomplished at the Cross.

    That’s why Paul uses the principle of jumping between dark and light. The dark gives a solid background for the light of Christ to shine. A good long Romans 7 period in the life of the believer is one of the best ways to get us into the rest of the Good News – not just forgiveness, but identity, security, worth, purpose, and power.

  47. Tony Heringer

    Ron,

    I was on a retreat dude and so much as happenned since I was away :-).

    Here’s my comment on your post to me–its still semantics. Trust me, I ain’t walking around with a figurative whip flagellating myself. I know who I belong to. I’m a son of the King, not a slave. I feed on Christ. He sustains me completely.

    The words I’ve given you marry up with and are drawn from meditation on the Word and work out in my life quite well. No need to post any further on my account as I understand your position even if I can’t seem to explain mine. 🙂

    P.S. I ordered a copy of “DoorWay” on Friday. Look forward to hearing your music.

  48. kelli

    Whew! I’m so thankful for this dialogue…though it’s definitely stretching my mind, yet again! But, I think His Spirit is moving me back out of my comfort zone and guiding me to deeper understandings.

    I, too, have read over Romans 7 & 8 quite a bit in the last few days. I was just reading it out loud, in fact. It is such a good thing to read aloud God’s word…it helps to slow down and hear each word sometimes.

    Anyway…Ben, I came across the same passage you quoted above …
    “…but if by the Spirit you put and end to the misdeeds of the body you will live.” And I ,too, stopped, and again asked the same question. “But how do I let the Spirit do that?1: And then I realized, well by reading these words is one good way! By filling my life with the things of the Spirit – the pure, holy, true, excellent, and I loved how you said these things, of the Spirit, will clean us out!!

    Ron, I loved hearing again GMD”s invitation “to read the NT like you’ve never read it before.”About 10 years ago, I had to put my Bible aside for a few years…everything seemed so tainted. About 5 years ago, I started devouring George Macdonald’s writing, and read that invitation over and over again. It was time…now I feel like every time I read it I’m reading it as never before! I hope that never ceases.

    I loved the mental image of the cog in the clockwork wheel. How droning. When I, as a woman created in the image of my Father, think of His love, His freedom, His shaping me, His indwelling me…I picture Him encompassing a field,surrounded by flowing green, grassy hills, sprinkled with flowers of blue, pink, purple, white, yellow…every color imaginable. And me…in a long, flowing, simple white dress spinning with my arms reaching as far apart as they can, my hair flowing and being taunted by the gently kissing breeze, laughing, enjoying, worshipping, resting, at peace, at home, free in my Father…who is enjoying the beauty of the daughter He created. Nothing else matters.

  49. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Kelli,

    Nothing else matters but that love of God delighting in His new creations. We get all twisted up in the sheets of the world and forget that so easily.

    Through my late teens and twenties I devoured everything CS Lewis wrote (except maybe “Word Studies” and “Studies in Medieval and Ren. Lit). That’s when I began to dig into MacDonald. At first, since I had come from such a legalistic framework (read that “prison”), and had only recently come out of it, MacDonald’s talk of obedience and doing what Jesus said made me literally sick to my stomach. But as I persevered I realized that GM’s prompt to obedience was to bring us to the place where we recognized our need for a greater Strength – the uncreated strength of God.

    About ten years ago I bought the entire Johannesen set of hard bound George MacDonald works – 46 works in 44 volumes. I recommend it highly. I’ve not read even a third of them (I keep reading Lilith, Phantastes, Donal Grant, Thomas Wingfold, Robert Falconer, Unspoken Sermons, the Hope of the Gospel, and others over and over!) but, God willing, I’ve still got a few years left in my life.

    MacDonald has helped lead me to a deeper, richer understanding of God than I’ve ever had – chiefly through his ideas on reading the Bible “like you’ve never read it before” (which fits well with Lewis’s idea of “receiving the work” in Experiment) and his prompts to obedience. I’ve lately been reading Donal Grant (my son’s middle name is Donal, after Mr. Grant) and there is some really wonderful dialogue where Donal says free will is the ability to do what we ought to do but don’t necessarily want to. GM also says in various places that faith and obedience are really the same thing. If my son trusts me, he’ll do as I say; his obedience will be the outer manifestation of his inner trust.

  50. kelli

    Ron…

    I only own 2 of the Johannesen books…Gibbie and What’s Mine’s Mine. The rest that I have are either Phillips or Hamilton editions, for which I am thankful for! They were my first introductions to GM. However, nothing can replace the original. I can’t wait to add more to my library!

    I loved the last thing you said about faith and obedience being the same. GM touches on this so often, and I loved how you broke it down.
    “…his obedience will be the outer manifestation of his inner trust”…beautiful.

  51. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony – thanks, I really appreciate that.

    Kelli – to read Donal Grant (and many of GM’s other novels) is to see that inner trust manifested in a person’s life. He’s always looking to do what is right because he always has God in mind – God’s love-purposes – often going against his own human desires. GM’s faith in the deepest in the believer – where Christ is the Source-life – comes out as a desire for us to learn obedience that springs from faith, and not just mentally assent to certain ideas about God and assume we’re fine by doing that. GM leads us to a living, active faith in a living, active Lord who is the wellspring of our being wanting to spring up through us into life everlasting for others.

    I started reading MacDonald via the Phillips versions. They are easier to read, and suited for “the modern, average reader,”and I’m glad they exist to promote GM, which they do quite well, but I find the originals much more enchanting. I’ve long realized I don’t want to be a modern, average reader, because that cuts me off from nearly all other centuries and writing styles. An Experiment in Criticism really has helped me in that regard in the last ten years.

    In any case, I am a lifelong GM fan. I’ve not read a writer who stirs me up more, who bids me not only to be stirred to thought but to faith and action.

  52. kelli

    Has anyone read “The Shack” by William Young? It was recently given to us, and I read a portion tonight that reminded me of parts of this thread. I thought I’d type it out.

    (Mackenzie is a man who is at the shack having a conversation with Papa [the Father], but Papa is a female, so she’ll be referred to as her and she.)

    “”When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations that this entailed. Even though we have always been present in this created universe, we now became flesh and blood. It would be like this bird, whose nature is to fly, choosing to walk and remain grounded. He doesn’t stop being the bird, but it does alter his experience of life significantly.

    She paused to make sure Mack was still tracking. While there was a definite cramp forming in his brain, he voiced an “Okay…?” inviting her to continue.

    “Although by nature he is fully God, Jesus is fully human and lives as such. While never losing the innate ability to fly, he chooses moment-by-moment to remain grounded. That is why his name is Immanuel, God with us, or God with you, to be more precise.”

    “But what about all the miracles? The healings? Raising people from the dead? Doesn’t that prove that Jesus was God–you know, more than human?”

    “No, it proves that Jesus is truly human.”

    “What?”

    “Mackenzie, I can fly, but humans can’t. Jesus is fully human. Although he is also fully God, he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything. He has only lived out of his relationship with me, living in the very same manner that I desire to be in relationship with every human being. He is just the first to do it to the uttermost–the first to absolutely trust my life withihn him, the first to believe in my love and my goodness without regard for appearance or consequence.”

    “So when he helped the blind?”

    “He did so as a dependent, limited human being trusting in my life and power to be at work within him and through him. Jesus, as a human being, hand no power within himself to heal anyone.”

    That came as a shock to Mack’s religious system.

    “Only as he rested in his relationship with me, and in our communion–our co-union–could he express my heart and will into any given circumstance. So, when you look at Jesus and it appears that he’s flying, he really is…flying. But what you are actually seeing me; my life in him. That’s how he lives and acts as a true human, how every human is designed to live–out of my life.

    “A bird’s not defined by being grounded but by his ability to fly. Remember this, humans are not defined by their limitations, but by everything it means to be created in my image.”

  53. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Kelli,

    Yes, Jesus chose to limit Himself. He set aside His omnipresence and localized Himself in one body. He set aside His omniscience; there were things He didn’t know. And He laid down His omnipotence, because “He could not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.”

    Instead, Jesus operated totally as a man depending on the Father within Him by the Spirit. Thus, of His humanity He could say without reservation, “I can do nothing of Myself,” and state with conviction, “The Father in Me does the works” and “I and the Father are one.” He had to lay down his body daily as a living sacrifice and be a conduit of the Eternal God. None of this means Jesus wasn’t God the Son; it just means He didn’t make any use of that office, that power, and operated only as a God-dependent vessel, a channel of the living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

    The reason for this was “for the joy set before Him.” God wanted to birth a vast family of sons and daughters who operate the same way as Jesus. That is our inheritance. If we “read the New Testament like we’ve never read it before” (GM) we’ll see a continual thread of this new creation life we’ve been given, and what that life looks like in operation. Ephesians is a good example. Three chapters of what God has done, what Jesus has done, and who we are in Christ. Then comes chapter four – “therefore”, because of all this, do these things. Colossians is the same.Verses galore on the amazing feats of Christ, who He is, and that we are in Him and He is in us, and then comes chapter 3: “Since, then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above…” etc. In other words, echoing Ephesians, “For you were once darkness; now you are light in the Lord. Live, then, as children of light.” In other words, we are accepted, holy, blameless, secure, loved, indwelt by the Creator of the universe, and empowered by Him. So we are to step out in faith in the God who proclaims these Facts, and be who we really are.

    And as for Mack’s religious system – and ours: God doesn’t give a rip about our various theologies. He knows there are distortions in them, and also, usually, much truth, because without truth a lie has nothing to latch onto. But what He wants is for us to come to the Word as a child and receive it humbly, rather than reading verse after verse and having our theological framework say, “This means this and that means that” and have all our pat answers to all of life’s questions.

    The real test of a person’s theology is whether or not Christ is being expressed on a continual basis through that person’s life. If not – if sin is the byword, if trying, sinning, and repenting are the endless wheel we are on, we’d better start checking our theology (our “God-words”) to make sure it’s in line with the Bible. And again, that takes reception – humble receiving of the Word, rather than coming to it thinking we know what the passage means already. The Word is infinitely layered and goes as deep as we are willing to go.

  54. Tony Heringer

    Ron,

    I appreciate your point on Jesus and agree fully. Something hit me while out running today and it is related here and to the other thread (which seems to have finally ended). It seems you’ve passed something from the Incarnation on to the Father. While I agree in His humanity Jesus chooses to limit Himself, I don’t think this applies to the Father.

    I don’t want to open up that can of worms again, but I’d not heard this position so clearly articulated as you have in that other thread and seem to be pointing back to here. I have many dear brothers and sisters on both sides and in between on the matter of election. Since it seems to be so bothersome and divisive, my exhortation in these matters echoes yours. Let us come to the Scriptures each time looking to deepen our understanding of God; knowing that we will always be lacking.

    That is what keeps me coming back for more. As the writer of Proverbs says about seeking wisdom, let’s seek after it like we are looking for buried treasure. Or maybe like hitting the buffet at Ryan’s, “come hungry and leave full.” 🙂

  55. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony,

    I love your attitude toward disagreement – it’s what all believers need to have.

    I suppose I would sum up by saying it isn’t that God isn’t sovereign – it’s that He chooses to use His sovereignty to weave our choices into a greater and better picture. I say “weave” even though in the Father’s sight those choices are seen by Him from the foundation of the world. So He takes the choices we make and fashions all the circumstances to create a greater good than would have existed if Adam and Eve had not fallen – because in the end what He will possess is a huge family of sons and daughters who are truly grown-up, in the right way.

    I say He “fashions” but that is a time-word, as if He waits for us to choose and then changes circumstances based on our choosing. But He sees all moments in His Now, and always has. That’s one of the reasons the paradoxes are so hard to grasp. He’s outside of Time. We are not.

    In the end, His people will know good, know evil, and know the consequences of each. We’ll know that to trust God to the very core of our being, and be fountains of living water, is the deepest and best, and even the only, purpose of our being. Like you, I don’t want to go around on it endlessly, but that’s the way I’ve come to see free will and God’s sovereignty – as two things that end up working together (because God works it all together) for good to them that love God, who are the called according to His purpose.

    But really it’s a side issue – the main thing is “As you received Christ, so walk in Him,” as living expressions of the Holy Spirit.

    Again, I love your attitude about discussing these things – it’s important to not have our identity invested in “my theology” or labels like “Calvinist” or “Baptist” etc. Christ in you, Christ in me, is our unity.

  56. Tony Heringer

    Ron,

    Amen bro! United we stand. I may muddle about here, but I’m glad that came through. Unity is what Christ prayed for us and I echo that prayer for our wonderful and varied Body. Take care my brother!

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