One of the things to understand about me is that I’m working through the idea that maybe, in Christ, we are really totally and absolutely forgiven and accepted. It is real. The single condition is belief in His favor and forgiveness, in the sufficiency of His blood. If that is true, what does the Christian life look like? I began by asking, what is then the engine our our virtue? Shall we sin all the more? If our understanding of what we think “the gospel” is doesn’t raise this question we may not be thinking about what “the gospel” is in the right way. This is why I think the term “gospel imperatives” is so off-base; it seeks to remove this question. Paul’s answers seemed so cryptic in Romans 6 and 7. I’ve come around to thinking that we place far too much emphasis on personal virtue. The idea that we measure our success in Christ by the degree of moral change we display is perhaps a tempting but misplaced standard. I posit from Romans that the question itself places us under law.
We see this in Romans 8 and many many places in Paul’s epistles:
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8, NASB).
First, notice that there is no imperative here. Romans 3-8 – few if any imperatives. Paul thinks our identity is primarily important as Christians, and the practical application only comes after a lot of teaching about this. Calvinists should understand this more than anyone I would think. I don’t really understand the Calvinist world though.
Second, notice that when Paul says “the flesh” he does not mean you should stop obsessing about sinful desires. What he means is, you stop thinking about being virtuous by non-supernatural means. You stop dwelling on the battle described in Romans 7. You stop measuring yourself by standards of obligation. We begin to constantly expect manifestations of grace from the Spirit: revelations, joy, insight, promptings, and supernatural giftings to do this or that. Outwardly this will end up looking like virtue, but the target has ceased to be virtue – it is relationship with Jesus via the mind set on the Spirit.
We see clues to this elsewhere, as here:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God. All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:9-12, NASB).
Isn’t this strange? All things are lawful, under grace! In Christ, you can tell if someone is setting their minds on the things of the Spirit, walking with Christ, from the arc of their desire. To the saved, to the grace-driven, fornication isn’t UNLAWFUL, more importantly it is UNPROFITABLE! We have moved on to a greater profit, because through Christ, by the Spirit, we love things that count as holy. Not because we went out with our gun hunting down holiness. Because the sweet fragrance of holiness, the butterfly of virtue, has landed on our shoulder. The moving of the Holy Spirit has all the gravitas now, because we are under grace. We have developed new tastes, God is talking to us, God is blessing us, people are getting touched and changed and healed through us as they come to believe that they are God’s pearl which He sold all to get, because He has such joy over us. Fornication just seems gross now, and it is the furthest thing from my mind. When I sneak a peak at some Victoria’s Secret ad, it makes me feel dirty and gross. It is unprofitable, the Spirit of Christ in me gives me no joy in it now. It no longer masters me, I hate it in my heart. A new love governs me.