Substance (8) - In Step with the Spirit
Last week I wrote about how God not only saves us from sin, death, and damnation but for righteousness. Titus 2:11-12 shows this: the first verse talks about how God has saved us from damnation and the second about the righteousness God has saved us for. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” The next few messages will give some practical steps about how we can pursue living this type of life.
Just as the compulsions of the flesh drove our lives before conversion, now the leading of the Spirit fills our minds and drives our desires. But shouldn’t we limit this in some way? Isn’t there a danger in being “too religious”? According to Pastor Gibson, the desire to avoid being “too religious” is often a sign of idolatry. If we limit how much of our life welcomes God’s complete rule, then we are merely using God to manage part of our lives. We are trying to put God in the service of or idols. And when we strive to please our flesh we’ll produce a shallow character that is capable of enjoying only shallow pleasures.
What is more, we will find ourselves ultimately frustrated! When we strive for self-justification, we will fall short even of our meager and small goals. This will lead to pride (we will measure ourselves against others to justify ourselves), hypocrisy (we will lie to ourselves and others about how bad we really are), or self-hatred (we’ll see ourselves in our sin, but fail to see how God sees us in Christ).
The principle by which we can do all the things Christ is calling us to do is to walk and live by the Spirit. But what does this mean? Spiritual things are not just visions and miracles, something spiritual is that which is done by the grace of God through his Spirit, even if the thing done is normal or mundane.
The Spirit does not only empower us to do what is good and right, He reorders our desires so that we want to do things that please God. Our longings are one of the most revealing things about us. As Augustine wrote, “In order to discover the character of any people, we have only to observe what they love.” The righteous long for righteousness. The Spirit will lead us toward love, service, forgiveness, and everything else that fits the character and mind of Christ.
God wants us to be like proficient jazz musicians. He wants us to be people that not only have mastered the needed technical skills, but are also able to improvise and adapt in the moment alongside companions that are contributing their own improvisations. We need to know not just the notes of music (the words, acts, and attitudes that please God), but also the feel of it (how to live them out in the concrete moments we find ourselves in—e.g. when to comfort and when to rebuke; when to listen and when to speak). The more we obey, the easier it will get, but because growth in godliness always involves the death of our flesh, it nearly always feels like dying.
This is because our flesh doesn’t want to know what God plainly reveals! The Bible says that the acts of the flesh are obvious. Yet our fallen minds are constantly obsessed with making sin more complicated or less violent than it is. If we can’t make evil sound good, we try to cover it in a fog of confusion or accuse others of judging us and claim that they are guilty of the greater offense. But because we are made in God’s image there are certain things we cannot not know. If we don’t see them it’s not an understandable limitation; it’s a moral deficiency. It’s a vigorous rebellion against reality.
Pursuing God requires us to kill the flesh. Listening to the voice of our flesh isn’t an act of authenticity. The flesh is the counterfeit us. Though it promises life, it is leading us down to death. As John Owen wrote: You have to kill sin before sin kills you. Pastor Gibson relies heavily on John Owen in this chapter as he argues that killing the flesh is not something we have to do in order to be acceptable to Christ, but it is part of what it means for Christ to save us. Part of the promise of what it means to be saved is to be saved from the slavery of indwelling sin. Salvation is isn’t a buffet where you can take what you like. Sin is the object of God’s wrath and is the very thing from which He delivers us. We cannot trust Him to save us from the guilt of our sins while simultaneously attempting to hold onto our sin and sinfulness. We must accept the execution of our sin and flesh, and be its executioners. And this is one of the things His Spirit empowers us to do.