Catching the updraft of grace
Have you ever fallen off the wagon with a particular besetting sin or weakness – for the hundredth time? Done something really stupid that you knew not to do? Felt like you were making no progress and there couldn’t possibly be any hope left for you? And then did you go into self-hatred and condemnation?
It’s like getting caught in a whirlpool dragging you down to the bottom, with your best efforts against it being helpless. Your thoughts are your own worst enemy, and you get the depressing feeling that it’s not going to be a good day – or life, for that matter.
I know because I’ve been there – many times. And I’d bet that most of us have. Yet if we’re Christians, enjoying perfect, eternal covenant with almighty God, shouldn’t there be a way to overcome this common trap that magnifies our failings against us?
After a long time being Saved I’ve finally learned, by experience rather than mere head knowledge, the New Testament way to cope with this problem. It’s rooted in grace and it makes the critical difference between victory and defeat.
The Law’s Dilemma
Paul the apostle had this same difficulty in mind when he wrote his letter to the believers in Rome. In chapter six he had exhorted them to consider themselves dead to sin. Now, that’s great advice that we all should take, but old habits sometimes die hard. So what’s a Christian to do?
Paul was sympathetic to our dilemma, and he went on to describe the same frustrations himself. Listen to his lament in chapter seven:
For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.
For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,
but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? – Ro 7:15, 22-24
We have a serious problem, and it goes right to the root of our inability to approach God on our own merits. God equipped us with consciences so we could discern between good and evil. But man didn’t do such a good job following his conscience, so God gave us further light, encapsulated in the two tablets of the Mosaic law. The historical record is clear that despite these elevated oracles of God, the Jewish nation went astray and ultimately fell into judgment. The commandments indeed had shone further light on good and evil, but the deeper issue still had gone untouched: man in his corrupted state ultimately cannot keep a set of rules and regulations, even if it’s to save his life!
While law inspires and guides us to do right, at the same time it arouses perverse passions within us that lead us to break that very same law (Rm 7.8). And so the promise of the law goes unfulfilled, and we fall into the miserable dilemma of wanting to keep the law but being unable.
We would do well if our failings were not counted against us. If we could just pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start again without condemnation, knowing we were forgiven and loved, then we wouldn’t get knocked back down each time we failed. In other words, we what we need is a covenant of love and grace rather than law.
And that is exactly what we have in the new covenant in Christ Jesus!
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,
so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Ro 8:1-4
Jesus took the penalty of our sin upon Himself. Consequently, there is now no condemnation for us. When we fail we don’t have to bear the guilt and shame ourselves. God has a better way:
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 Jn 1:9
God can now forgive our sins without violating His own principles of righteousness, because Jesus was the sacrifice of infinite value offered in our place. So what He always wanted to do – forgive us and reconcile ourselves to Him – He now can do without violating His perfect justice.
Watchman Nee points out in his book Spiritual Authority that by the one act of obedience on the Cross, Jesus redeemed all of Creation from total moral and spiritual chaos. God now has the legal grounds He needs to bring all things back under His authority and institute the rule of love that was His first intention. And we, as we partake of the New Covenant writ in Jesus’ blood, are His Kingdom’s first beneficiaries.
Walking in the spirit?
Such was the depth of my self-condemnation that for a long time I read the last phrase of Romans 8.4, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit, as condemnation! I thought, “well, I’m still having problems with getting the victory, so I’m not walking very well in the spirit. I guess I don’t make the grade here; all this talk about the law of the Spirit of life lifting us up is great for the next guy, but I’m still under condemnation.”
See how ingrained old thought patterns can be! I thought the grace of Christ wasn’t for me! That is nothing but the old law and condemnation dressed up in New Testament robes!
Beloved, let me make it very clear: if you are a Christian, meaning you have professed sincere and earnest belief that Jesus is the Son of God who died to satisfy your sin debt, then you are not under condemnation! You can fail all day long, but if you have godly sorrow and confess your sin, you are forgiven and you are, in fact, walking in the Spirit – regardless of how you might be feeling about it.
Jesus did not pay such a extreme price in order to place us back under a doomed covenant of works! Instead He joins with us in an unbreakable one-flesh marriage bond, making it impossible for us to fall. When we fall, He picks us back up, over and over again until we have the victory. And if necessary, He would rather call us back to Himself than lose us for eternity. That is how eternally safe we are in Him. But make no mistake, He wants us to have the victory here: Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. God wants us to press through the condemnation, to victory!
And that is how, instead of the downward spiral of law and condemnation, we now experience the updraft of Christ’s grace, upholding us and carrying us to new heights of holiness and power. Because our failings no longer have the power to remove us from our exalted position in Christ, we stand fast and hold our ground. And as God’s grace continues to work on us (because even though our imperfections are covered, God does not want us to stay in the same place, but wants us to progress) we grow in godly stature and, with endurance, will overcome our enemy and gain the victory.
It is vital to see this, because if we don’t we will spend needless time turned inward on our miserable selves, as described in Romans seven, rather than exercising our right to boldly enter the Throne of grace for help in time of need, as in chapter eight. Let nothing separate you from God’s grace, not even self-imposed setbacks. God knows full well that we cannot fight the spiritual war in our own strength, it must be in His. He doesn’t want us to spend a second in self-condemnation any longer. Simply run to Him and confess, and then spread your wings of faith and catch the updraft of grace.
That updraft will keep you from falling. Persevere in that same grace, and you will see the victory. His power is made perfect in weakness.
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