Eleven Chapters. Eleven chapters of deep, 'down in the weeds' theology, the answers to questions, problems and even accusations neatly laid out. The reason for our hope explained. The brilliant narrative of Christ's resurrection and God Eternal's consequential and irrevocable testimony that Jesus the Christ is His one and only son (Romans 1:4)! The message of God's amazing grace extended to sinful, undeserving man, culminating in this paralyzingly wonderful declaration:
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
Forgiveness from sin, freedom from bondage and eternal life. Dare we ask anything else?
Paul anticipates the question, the obvious question, if you think about it: "now what do I do? Knowing that I have become God's child through no effort of my own, how do I respond? Can I even respond? Can I please Him?"
Yes! The answer is, wonderfully, yes!
And so the great hinge of this wonderful book turns, and Paul takes us to and through the second act, the great THEREFORE, instructions for God's undeserving but blessed and empowered children. We emulate Christ's sacrifice by becoming living sacrifices in turn; we become bond-servants of gratitude, making our best effort for the Kingdom we serve (Romans 12:1).
How do we do that? The answer, almost eerily, brings us back to the teachings of our Lord Himself, words He uttered before He went to the cross, words about internal righteousness that made the external requirements of the law seem almost easy by comparison:
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
If we're expecting a 'to-do list' - either from Paul or from Jesus - we are going to be sorely disappointed. Because why? Because external gestures of piety aren't going to cut it. Because hatred and contempt are murder in God's eyes. Because a lewd glance constitutes adultery (Matthew 5:28). Because a person who gives even his body to be burned, but doesn't have love, is nothing (1 Corinthians 13:3). Because God is determined not only to free us from the consequences of sin, but from the tyranny of sin.
Does the caterpillar become the butterfly by following a 10-step self-improvement program? No. Holiness, real holiness - the kind of holiness that can only come from God Himself - is something that will never be achieved from the outside in; only from the inside out:
Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also!
It can never be attained by our own efforts, even (perhaps especially) after we have received the free gift of God's grace. Don't you dare try! I assure you, that way leads only to madness and frustration, it leads to despicable self-righteousness and religious cruelty. Don't do it!
Rather? We are to be transformed by the continuous renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). We are to submit ourselves to God's word, revealed plainly in the miracle that is scripture. We are to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, submitting to Him in humility, thankfulness, praise, warmth, peace and understanding, because those who walk by the Spirit will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). We are to emulate Christ's example of humility and service, esteeming others over our own selves (Philippians 2:3).
It begins not with what we do, but with what we think. We must change our minds. And we can, with His help!
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me!
Special thanks to @jesusislord858, @SolaScriptura99 and @sisterdawnmarie for providing your insights on Twitter, helping to make today's post happen!
Colin McComb lives in Edson, Alberta with his wife, Gail, and their three lovely children.