|A121 : by Tony Garland |
As glorious and relevant as the message of the cross is to Christianity, it is primarily a message to be preached to unbelievers. It is all-important in propitiating the wrath of God and paving the way, through the substitutionary atonement of Christ, for those who exercise faith to be reconciled to God. The cross dealt with the legal requirements of our sin once-for-all: past, present, and future.
And we do, of course, identify with Christ’s work on the cross in that we have been “baptized into His death” (Rom. 6:3).
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be [in the likeness] of [His] resurrection, 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. (Ro 6:5-6)
When we are born again, we move from the domain of Satan, where we were slaves to sin, into the kingdom of God where we have the power of the permanently indwelling Holy Spirit to overcome sin. We move from a position of helplessness (especially in regard to flawed, sinful motives) to empowerment with the potential to live in victory over sin.
When we look at the Scriptures, we see that we are to reckon ourselves as being dead to sin—which identifies with the cross as a pattern—but the dominant instruction we see for overcoming sin is not to “take it to the cross” (which has almost a mystical feel to it and could be interpreted in any manner of ways), but to renew and wash our minds.
In the passages which follow, notice the connection with renewing our mind (our understanding) and freedom and victory to living in a way which pleases God. Thus, our rational understanding is being renewed in an ongoing way by God’s Word—not by some mystical response to the cross.
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (Joh 8:31-32)
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those [who live] according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded [is] death, but to be spiritually minded [is] life and peace. (Ro 8:5-6)
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, [which is] your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what [is] that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Ro 12:1-2)
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:25-27)
What is lacking is a spiritual perspective and renewal in our ongoing walk of sanctification. While many aspects of the Christian life play a part (e.g., worship, fellowship, prayer, the Word), primary place is given to an understanding of what Scripture really teaches about who we are in Christ and how God sees sin.
Too many believers in our day think that overcoming sin involves a semi-mystical experience and are continually “rededicating” themselves in various ways. Their lives are characterized by inconsistency and frustration. Each “mountain top” emotional semi-mystical experience is followed by yet another fall into patterns of sin.
To this we can only ask, “Is God’s Word in error? Or is it our understanding and practice of it which is flawed?” Obviously, it must be the latter.
Unfortunately, we live in an age where the application of intelligence in a dedicated study of God’s Word to understand its teaching (doctrine) is seen as unnecessary or, worse yet, even an impediment to deep spiritual work by God. But the Scriptures know nothing of any sort of mystical approach to victory over sin.
One of the key manifestations of the Spirit working in the life of a believer in regard to victory over sin is self control (Gal. 5:22). Although the cross bought our freedom legally, it is the Spirit Who leads us in the way of righteous living and He primarily does that through a knowledge and obedience to God’s Word.
And those [who are] Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Ga 5:24-25)