Not What I Used to Be

As Christians, the longer we are saved the greater the recognition of the desperate plight of our old nature and the utter futility of any attempt at holy living in our own strength. I was reminded of this recently in teaching a group of senior saints – many of whom have been saved for decades. In a discussion of Peter’s admonition in 1 Pet 2:12 to “to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul,” more than a few of these veteran believers lamented regarding their ongoing struggles and the all too familiar experience of needing to repent and seek forgiveness for recurring sins.

This same sentiment is conveyed in the puritan prayer “Confession and Petition” from The Valley of Vision.  The following excerpt is typical:

Holy LORD,

I have sinned times without number, and been guilty of pride and unbelief, of failure to find thy mind in thy Word, of neglect to seek thee in my daily life.

My transgressions and short-comings present me with a list of accusations.

Yet, for believers in Jesus Christ, this is not the final word. Rather, our daily struggles are to be lived in light of two important truths – the first of which is expressed in the next line of this same Puritan prayer:

But I bless thee that they [my transgressions and short-comings] will not stand against me, for all have been laid on Christ.

For those of us who know Christ as Savior, the glorious and amazing truth is that every sin we will ever commit has been laid on Him.  They have been nailed to His cross (Col 2:14; 1 Pet 2:24; 1 John 2:2) and paid for by His precious blood (1 Pet 1:18-19; Col 1:14, 22).  Moreover, this amazing transaction serves not as a license to sin (Rom 6:1, 2), but as a powerful motivation for holy living. The deeper one’s understanding of and embracing of the atonement—that is, the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross—the greater one’s appreciation and motivation to live a life that pleases Him. For the true child of God, the cross is not simply the starting point, as if it’s something we’re to grow beyond – it is the focus or culmination of the entire biblical storyline.  Even in the climatic final book of the New Testament, the cross takes center stage as it is only the slain Lamb who is worthy to take the scroll and begin to enact the horrific judgments of the Apocalypse (Rev 5:1-10).  As J. I. Packer rightly asserts, “The traveler through the Bible landscape misses his way as soon as he loses sight of the hill called Calvary,” or as declared by J. Knox Chamblin, “The Spirit does not take his pupils beyond the cross, but ever more deeply into it.”

It is a preoccupation, yea, an obsession with the cross and all that it signifies that will keep us from falling victim to the allurements of the world or to the desires of the flesh.  It is the flame of the cross that fuels the fire of our love for Christ.  For the Christian, the cross not only removes the penalty for sin (placing it upon our sinless substitute) but it empowers us to live above sin’s dominion and enslavement. It is in the shadow of the cross, with its abiding echo of “It is finished,” where Satan trembles – as he is powerless to touch any who abide therein.

The second critical truth to embrace in our ongoing struggle with sin is that, with the new birth and the indwelling of His Spirit, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Pet 1:3).  That is, the power to live morally upright lives does not come from within us, but from God. As believers, we are to appropriate that power in the ongoing daily struggles with the world, the flesh, and the devil (James 3:15; Gal 5:16-17; Eph 6:10-13). While perfect sinlessness will never be achieved this side of glory (1 John 1:8), progressive sanctification, as evidenced by the believer’s sinning less, can and should be (1 John 2:3-6; ).  The well-known testimony of John Newton speaks for itself:

I am not what I ought to be—ah, how imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be—I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be—soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection. Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”

May the Lord encourage your heart today through the grand and glorious truths of the cross and the sacrifice of His Son! May there be a renewed sense of wonder and awe at the power of the gospel and of its transforming power in the lives of those who embrace it.

About Al Huss
I am a professor of New Testament at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA

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