Killing What Is Dead

Just over three weeks ago we had our last snowfall (so far!) of the winter. It was a heavy wet snow that looked beautiful, only lasted a few days, and did a little damage. It knocked a fairly large branch down out of a tree in the backyard. No big deal as the branch didn’t hit anything other than the lawn and it’s a tree I would be just as willing to cut down all together. As you can see I haven’t gotten it cleaned up yet, but soon.

Yesterday as I was doing some yard work I saw that this branch that had fallen three weeks ago and that is completely detached from the tree is now starting to bud and blossom. I’ve seen this before. A few years ago I did some pruning of trees in the late fall. I took the cut branches and placed them in the compost pile, but the next spring those once dormant branches bore leaves and blossoms as if they were still attached to the tree they had been removed from four or five months before. It is an interesting phenomenon to observe how something — that by every definition of the word — is dead, yet it still continues to show forth life.

Yet isn’t this a picture of what sin is like in the life of a believer of Jesus Christ? That when we enter into a personal relationship with Christ and proclaim him as our Lord and Savior that our sin has become cut off from us. However, just like this dead branch our sin, which has been removed,  continues to blossom and put forth new growth in our lives. Often times the same sins over and over again reenter our daily walk and, if we are honest, we feel as if though the sin which should be dead in us is in reality very much alive. After all, Paul tells us that, “We know that our old self was crucified with him (Jesus) in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.“(Romans 6:6 ESV emphasis mine) If this is true, and it is, that I am no longer enslaved to sin then why is sin so very apparent in my life on an hourly if not moment by moment basis if I’m being honest?

Sinclair Ferguson in his excellent sermon titled, Union With Christ, speaks to this issue as he explains Paul’s writings in Colossians chapters two and three, “You’re struggling a little bit in your Christian life, aren’t you? You’ve discovered that there’s still sin in your life. And you struggle and you’re puzzled. It’s because you don’t have the fullness. Now here is the way to the fullness . . . what you need to know is that all fullness is found in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ferguson continues on to explain that our importance of who we are as Christians is who we are in, not who we are. That our identity is not rooted in being followers of Christ, but rather that our identity is rooted in Christ! Colossians has this repeating theme of being found “in Christ” or “in Jesus“. Nine times from verses 6-15 of chapter 2 we find the phrase “in him” or “with him“. Ferguson explains that Paul’s favorite way to refer to himself is as “a man in Christ” and that we, like Paul, should find the fullness of our identity as believers in Christ.

Yet too often we I find myself fighting my sin and trying to do what I can’t to rid myself of it. See there is a default in my thinking and it’s a bad default. A faulty default if you would. I confess and recognize that my salvation is completely and totally of Jesus Christ. I bring nothing with me but my sin and the only reason I can now claim to be a child of God is that I have been adopted through the blood of Jesus by his lavish grace and mercy alone. Faith alone and grace alone that Christ alone provides. Yet, and this is my faulty thinking, when I struggle with sin in my life now — as a professing believer — I attempt to take care of it on my own. While I clearly confess that my salvation is of Christ alone, my actions show that I believe that my sanctification or my becoming like Christ requires some effort from me. In other words, my salvation is of Jesus alone, but my becoming like Jesus is a little bit of Jesus and a whole lot of me. And that is simply wrong.

Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) in his sermons series and subsequent book titled Jesus + Nothing = Everything is very helpful in explaining how to get past this wrong pattern of thinking. Over and over again he uses the phrase, “Become who you are.” What does he mean by that? In Colossians 3:1-3 Paul says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (emphasis mine) Pastor Tchividjian goes on to explain that what we need to remind ourselves of daily is the Gospel. That any effort on our own after our salvation to maintain our salvation is just as fruitless as it was prior to our salvation to earn it. Colossians tells us that when Christ died on the cross he cancelled the debt of our sins that were held against us. That means all sins. Sins of our past, present, and future. That by his grace alone he took our old sinful man and nailed it to the cross with him and that in doing so he gave us a brand new identity in Jesus Christ. Pastor Tchividjian continues to explain that our failure to live out our identity in Christ comes when we succumb to temptation and fall into sin. In that moment, he says, “(We) disbelieve the Gospel.” That in those moments we believe that whatever the particular sin we are tempted by becomes better than the Gospel.

So when I look at my own life like I looked at the fallen branch in our yard and see blossoms and buds of sin sprouting out, what I actually need to see is areas where I have believed something else to be more powerful or more important than the Gospel. The antidote for all sin is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So when I struggle with sin the way to “get past” that sin is not to try harder or will myself into a better person or to attempt to draw up within myself more self control. No, the way I get past sin is to run back to the Gospel truth that Jesus Christ has redeemed me through his death, burial, and resurrection. That my life truly is hidden in him and that he has promised that nothing can wrench me out of his hand.

Finally, there is no promise of achieving sinless perfection here on earth. I will always battle against my sinful human nature while here on earth. So much like the branch laying on my yard, my sin will continue to sprout and bud and evidence itself in my life. Yet the best part is this. Because Jesus Christ has cancelled the sin debt against my life and my life is hidden in him,  I am exactly like that branch in another way. I have been cut off forever from the tree root of my sin and I can never be grafted back into my old man. My sin root has been severed by Calvary forever. That is the good news of the Gospel.

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