Usually Christians hardly feel like saints. But as in other areas of life, it is sometimes necessary to take responsibility and play the part.
It is easy to put off all the work of gospel living to God alone. While it is true that we must depend upon God for the fruit, it is absolutely wrong to just wait passively for the fruit to come. How do we get the life of Christ to manifest on the outside, without falling into legalism and works?
Almost two decades ago, I walked into a classroom for the first time to teach. I was early, and seeing the students’ empty seats, my first reaction was to go and sit down and wait for the teacher! Instead, I moved behind the big desk at the front. It felt awkward wearing a suit and tie, standing up front and looking formal. But that was playing the part.
Eventually the students began to enter in and take their seats. As they came in, I knew they were sizing me up, and wondering what kind of teacher I would turn out to be. So I shuffled some papers and tried to look like I knew what I was doing. After a while, most of the students were there and the starting bell rang!
And there I was, standing before a group of college students who were for the most part not much younger than myself. Two or three of them were well older than me. And they were all staring directly at me, waiting for words of wisdom and inspiration to flow from my mouth! I had to speak authoritatively as a teacher, as their teacher. But I sure didn’t feel like a teacher!
Nonetheless, I chose to play the part. I decided to become an actor, and act like a teacher. I knew what teachers were supposed to be like, and since I didn’t feel like one, I decided to put on the act. This doesn’t mean that I became a hypocrite. I gave no false impressions about myself. I just started to act like a teacher acts, in spite of how unnatural it felt. And it worked! Before the class was over, they were addressing me as “Professor Bell!”
It was not long before my act became more natural. In other words, what at first did not seem like “me” eventually became “me.” But the truth is that I was really and truly a teacher from the beginning, by right of the school’s hiring me to do the job. I was their teacher, whether I felt like it or not. When I assumed the responsibility to act out my true part, I began to adjust and the role became more natural over time.
This is what can be done when we “reckon ourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom.6:11). Whether it feels natural or not, believers need to assume responsibility and act on this truth. Just as I was assigned a classroom by the school, each believer has been assigned their own sphere of influence by the Lord. Before a watching world, they’re called to conduct themselves “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phip.1:27). If it takes some work at first, it will become more natural over time.
You’ve Got to Choose
We’ve heard it again and again, “You can’t change yourself,” or, “You can’t do anything apart from Christ.” And so we just go about our business, bearing little fruit, and wondering why it is taking so long for Christ to do His work in our lives.
It is true, Jesus said, “Without me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). But this does not mean, “Do nothing!” It does not mean to wait and take no other action. It simply means to depend upon Him to bring forth the fruit. It is God that causes the garden to grow, but if you just sit and wait without working in it, you will never reap a crop. Do something! Start living as one dead to sin and alive to God, and discover that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you (Philp.4:13).
How is such living done, practically speaking? It is not done accidentally, but deliberately.
Imagine, someone waking up in the morning and walking right by his dresser or wardrobe, and on out the door! He is still in his nightclothes and he heads off to the outside world. Sooner or later he is going to realize that he is not dressed appropriately for the day! The scenario is somewhat ridiculous, but this happens quite often spiritually.
Just as consciously as changing clothes in the morning, Paul says, “let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Rom.13:12). It is right to pray to the Lord to take away sin and temptation, but it is wrong to leave it simply at that. The works of darkness must be cast off. This means that a choice and effort is made, as much as choosing to remove one’s nightclothes.
Many Christians fail to act upon this. They have been taught that darkness just remains with them, and that failure is always around the corner, as it is interpreted in Paul’s cry in Romans 7: “For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (vs.15). But this is how it is when living according to the law, and not the Gospel. Romans 7 details the power of the law and our inability to satisfy it. It describes a conflict that many Christians still engage in because they haven’t moved on to the answer in Romans 8. See Romans 7 is Not the Norm.
Paul moved on to Romans 8, proclaiming that, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). Now he is on Gospel turf! “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (vs.2). FREE! No more guilt. Regardless of his performance, he does not have to say, “woe is me!” He did not remain a slave to sin, but found out that, “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (vs.4). Paul knew that in his flesh dwelt no good thing (Rom.7:18), and so it is with us. But we have a choice. We can walk in the flesh and struggle with the law, or we can walk in the spirit of no condemnation, trusting all to the finished work of Christ on the cross. We may mess up, but it is a mess up, not “the way we are,” if we are walking in the spirit of the Gospel. No condemnation!
The Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made us FREE. It is time to cast off the works of darkness. The law of sin and death is no longer a straitjacket. We are free to change our clothes! It is indeed possible, although it may not always be easy.
More about this to come…