What I heard as a church-going youth was what Christians can’t do. If you were serious about being a Christ-follower, there were things you had to stop doing or never even try. For an example, at my church, we couldn’t smoke, drink, dance, watch R-rated movies, do drugs, be sexually active, gamble or curse, for a start.
My focus was not on what Christians can do. But that is where the good news lies.
Sharing in Jesus’ Life
There are some things that those who share in Christ’s life can do that others can’t.
Personally encountering the Spirit who raised Jesus from the grave enables such believers to act in concert with God’s order, displaying his unique grace. They can obey his commands out of a heart of love rather than fear. In fact, they can see that each of his commands is an invitation to express the life they now share with him. Commands become opportunities to experience the supernatural nature of eternal life in daily interactions.
Some would have us believe that Christians have no greater grace to deny sinful passions and unconditionally love their neighbor than unbelievers. Such a belief will inevitably lead to a disappointing effort to practice a holy life, and it offers an excuse for slip-shod ethics on the part of the believer. It places too much hope in human virtue apart from the special grace of regeneration.
Only those born of the Spirit can see the kingdom of heaven. (John 3:3) Only Jesus has lived the human life as it was designed. Only as we share his life now by the Spirit can we hope to imitate him.
We Needed a Champion
Human life was deeply flawed by the sin of Adam. Out of the disorder of that condition comes all sorts of chaos and destruction. We cannot rely on the virtues of a race of people characterized by enmity with God and ignorant of his ways.
Humans cannot win the battle against evil in their own strength. We are continually being confronted by an enemy who already has the scalps of innocent Adam and chosen Israel hanging from his belt. There had to be a champion who could represent Adam’s race and Israel’s nation.
He was tempted like Adam in the garden and Israel in the wilderness, but faced down the devil’s whole arsenal of temptations. He then defeated the devil personally by fulfilling justice, erasing sin’s penalty, killing sin’s tyranny, mocking death’s threat, and ascending to the place of original human stewardship.
The devil is not a rival to God’s authority nor that of his agents. He is an imposter claiming power that he has lost and seeking to intimidate the children of God.
Let’s Do What We Can
Because we are his agents on earth, we shall be tempted by the cosmic enemy, but we do not identify ourselves by our temptations, not matter how insistent they are. We will be fed lies about our identity, our victimization and our value, but we have exchanged our personal story for his.
We have died, been raised, and established as God’s human agents of mercy. Our identity comes from his story, not ours. We can admit our vulnerabilities, confess our sins, forsake our patterns of unbelief. We can forgive another from the heart. We can love as God loves. We can fulfill the law of Christ by bearing the burdens of others. We can rejoice at all times. We can give thanks in all things. We can prefer others above ourselves. We can please our Father as we humbly walk by faith.
Christians can. Let’s do what we can do.