Simplifying the Christian Life, Part 1

Accepting God's Way

By Grant Hawley

"For the Scripture says, 'Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.' "

(Romans 10:11)

Have you ever wondered what it was about the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil that was so bad? Was it just some arbitrary rule, or was there a reason it was forbidden? Today in America you can plead insanity in court if you can demonstrate that at the time the crime was committed you didn't know the difference between right and wrong. Did God want Adam and Eve to be insane?

To understand what purpose God had to forbid the "forbidden fruit" we need to understand what Adam and Eve had before they had the knowledge of good and evil. So what did they have? They had God. They had dependence on, intimacy with, and guidance from God. In that dependence they had freedom from shame. They walked around naked all the time and had no idea. I remember having a nightmare the night before my first day in middle school that I showed up to school naked. It was horrible. That night it was hard to relate to the idea of having no feeling of shame. But Adam and Eve chose independence. They believed the lies of the serpent and chose the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil instead of the Tree of Life. They chose independence rather than dependence upon an all-knowing, all-loving God. In that separation from God, they found shame.

Moses illustrates this for us in Genesis 3:1-8:

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?"

And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'"

Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

As soon as they believed the serpent's lie and chose independence from God, they saw that they were naked and realized their inadequacy. God was no longer someone to walk with, to talk with, and to simply enjoy. He was a reminder of their shame. God, who had always been a source of comfort, was suddenly someone to hide from. The fig-leaf coverings that they made for themselves didn't help. They still felt the need to hide from God.

Have you realized yet that sewing fig leaves together will never free you from the shame of nakedness? Of course, I'm speaking figuratively here; what I mean to ask is, have you yet realized that you can't make your own way? I hear this truth expressed all the time in grace-centered churches and among believers in general when it comes to our receiving the free gift of eternal life. We need to understand our guilt and our utter inability to meet God's standard of righteousness in order to really comprehend grace. This is why nearly every class on evangelism I've been to teaches new evangelists to use Romans 3:23 "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."

We can't make it on our own. Through Christ's shed blood, God did all the work to bring us into right standing before him. All that is left for us to do is believe in Jesus. This is elementary truth for Christians. So why then are we as Christians so reluctant to apply this truth to our Christian walk? God makes tunics of animal skin for us, we say "Thank you" and spend the rest of the day sewing fig leaves together.

Part of the problem is that we just like to build things. There's a sense of accomplishment that we get when we look at a completed project and remember what it was like before. It's the same feeling as when we finish mowing the lawn and take a minute to enjoy the lawn while it still has the track lines from the mower. It just feels good to accomplish something. That's not necessarily a good thing when it comes to our Christian lives. We have a tough time letting go because we want that feeling of accomplishment. We don't realize that in retaining control and seeking to make ourselves more holy, rather than depending on Him to do so, we are saying that Christ was wrong when He said, "apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5b). What's worse is that we are seeking to take credit for something that God alone can do. Even more to the point is that we are destined to fall right on our face over and over again in the battle with sin as long as we are trying to do it ourselves.

When we make an honest assessment of all of our attempts at self-willed progress, we have to admit that they haven't turned out all that well. In fact, the harder we try to control the sin problem, the more we fail. The Apostle Paul illustrates his personal struggle with this truth in Romans 7:15-25a. In it he says:

For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God-through Jesus Christ our Lord!

To put this simply, Paul is saying that the desire of his inner man is to do good, but no matter how hard he tries, sin overpowers his efforts. His own flesh is against him and his desire to do good. He is left at the end of the chapter asking for someone to deliver him and thanking God for Jesus Christ, the very savior he was pleading for. In the drama of the Book of Romans, this helpless cry sets up one of the most victorious chapters in the entire Bible, Romans 8.

To experience the victorious joy of Romans 8, we need to accept Paul's self-assessment as our own, and ask with Paul, "Who will deliver me?"

The Bible tells us what our flesh is like, and it isn't a very pretty picture. Rom 3:10-18 says:

As it is written:
"There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one."
"Their throat is an open tomb;
With their tongues they have practiced deceit";
"The poison of asps is under their lips";
"Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness."
"Their feet are swift to shed blood;
Destruction and misery are in their ways;
And the way of peace they have not known."
"There is no fear of God before their eyes."

God doesn't tell us this to make us feel bad, He tells us this to make us free. John 8:31-32 shows us God's motive in revealing truth to us; "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.' " God tells us the hard truths because He loves us and He wants us to be free.

So how does knowing how rotten we are apart from God set us free? If we fully accept this truth, we are set free from the endless uphill battle of fighting against our nature. Is it not liberating to know that God understands just how rotten we are apart from Him and doesn't have any expectation that we would be anything different?1 The answer for our struggles isn't more effort, more discipline, or more dedication. The answer is Jesus.

Galatians 2:20 is one of those key verses on the Christian life, it says: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." The part of this verse I want to focus on for now is where Paul says, "it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." This introduces a great principle of the way God works in the believer. Our natural self is too bad to save, it needs to die so that Christ can come alive in us. In other words, rather than seeking to make us better, God seeks to replace us with His Son Jesus Christ through a lifestyle of faith.

We may try to hide our weakness from our friends, family, and neighbors, but God isn't fooled. God has a full, unobstructed view of our weakness. That's why God intends not only to supply our need for justification (being declared righteous before God), but to supply our every need for sanctification (the process of being made holy in our daily walk) as well. We can't make it on our own, but as we depend on Jesus Christ, He will carry us through. In accepting both sides of this coin, that we are utterly incapable of pleasing God on our own, and that Jesus Christ will be in us what we cannot be, we can find freedom.

We have to let go of any attempts at self-willed, self-empowered growth. We have to stop all of our efforts to be something we aren't on our own. Those efforts haven't worked anyway. They can't work because they are contrary to our nature. God's way alone has a right accounting of our inability and still gives us opportunity to live a life that is far better than the life of ordinary men and women. Paul said to the Corinthian church;

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1-5)

The direct application of what he is saying is that division is indicative of being carnal (fleshy), but the implication is that a spiritual person's life is not the life of a mere man. Spiritual living is superhuman; but the basis of this superhuman living is accepting our very human limitations when we are on our own and instead depending on Christ to be powerful in us.

It's OK to be exactly who you are. The fig-leaf clothing of your own righteousness wasn't going to hide the flabbiness and the stretch marks, but there's no reason to feel shame about what you look like naked when you're wearing the spiffy leather garb that God has provided for you. If all of us independent of God are truly as corrupt as God says in Rom 3:10-18 (and He is never wrong), then we don't need to be ashamed at that fact because we are all on the same footing. And when we can let go of our desire to improve our flesh and stop feeling shame at our lack of progress, then we can truly look to Christ to be our righteousness in a practical way. That's when progress?real growth in holiness and love?takes place. "Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame" (Rom 10:11b).

We can put away the complicated checklists and lists of dos and don'ts, and rest in the simplicity of knowing that Christ is alive and living in us. The Christian life can really be summed up in two short verses, John 15:5: "Apart from me you can do nothing" and Phil 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." How this plays out in various circumstances will take some time to discover, but if you set down your heavy burden and take on this easy yoke, things will already stop feeling so complicated.

Part 2 here.

1 This isn't to say that God does not want us to live a holy life, but that He doesn't expect us to do it. He wants to be holy in us. "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:57).