Puppy Love and the Empowerment for Behavioral Righteousness

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Romans 6:10

What does it mean to consider yourself dead to sin? It means, to reckon it as true, to think of yourself that way. But what is death to sin?

First, let’s consider that we are under grace, not under law:

14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:14

If we want to consider ourselves as dead to sin, we first have to understand that the dominion that sin has over us is due to our subservience to the law. If we consider the simple raw truth to be really true, that Jesus has justified us through His death, we are no longer under the law. Why? Because the entire threat of punishment that the law demands for our transgressions has been more than abundantly satisfied. If you don’t believe that the entire threat of punishment for all of your transgressions has been satisfied by His death, then you don’t believe in salvation by faith in Christ. You are still under the law, since you secretly believe that it is your own goodness and adherence to principles of good behavior that justify you, and so you are yet under the dominion of sin.

Let’s put this more plainly. If the chief end of your ministry is to see people’s lives transformed, then you are going to start seeing people come in trying to display behavioral transformation. They will sense it if you don’t say it, and they will be all about finding your definition of transformation so they can look like that. They are not dead to the law, because there is a law that the measure of success is to appear to be transformed. If they have incidents of failure, it is in their interest to cover these over and keep them secret, because the important thing isn’t to be justified by Christ, it is to be transformed. If we set the standard as believing that Christ’s death is sufficient to justify us, and Christ only, we no longer let the standard of transformation have dominion over us. Under the law, the demand to prove that we are at least in the process of transformation, means that the main question we are dealing with is not Christ’s love for us, but what the exact definition of transformation is, and whether we are at least travelling sufficiently down that road.

So, there must be a true death to sin, a true leaving behind of the law. Not in the sense that we don’t sin any more, no New Testament writer argues that point.

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1John 1:8

15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. Romans 7:15-16

The sense is, we don’t view life from the standpoint of whether it is good or evil. We die to the law:

4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law ithrough the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

So in Christ, we have no compunction under the law. There is absolutely no pressure to transform. We must CONSIDER this to be so. The worry about whether or not we can be righteous under such a dynamic comes from those who still judge the world from under the dominion of the law, and there is no reason for those of us under grace to worry ourselves with their judgements. We have died to their concerns. Because someone else wants to judge our progress in transformation, doesn’t mean we have to submit to their scorekeeping.

Ironically, if we want to see genuine heart-level Holy Spirit born transformation, we must stop worshiping at the altar of behavioral change and start worshiping Christ. Only when we leave off obsessing over transformation will we actually have the space and power to transform. Only when we stop trying to fulfill behavioral edicts in the flesh and set our mind on the things of the Spirit can the Holy Spirit grant behavioral unction to us.

Think of it like this. If a young guy and a girl fall in love, we’re talking deep puppy love, someone may come along and give them relationship advice. “If you are going to carry on a serious relationship, you have to call and talk to her at least 15 minutes a day.” They would likely say, “are you kidding? We talk every chance we can get! We talk for HOURS every day, even when we don’t have much to discuss. That’s easy!”

Spirit led living is like this. Under the law, you are basically saying, “I have to talk to this wretch for 15 minutes a day? Blech. But, you have to do what you have to do.” When you are not doing what you do because of the pressure of law, you do it from love and desire. This is the only kind of deed that has any substance anyway.

I think a lot of people who are trying to believe, think that death to sin and the resurrection to righteous living means that the Holy Spirit somehow empowers you to soldier on under the law better. The standard for behavioral transformation still hovers over you like a cloud, but the Holy Spirit enables you to do the hellish thing you hate, and do it a little more faithfully. I really don’t think this is how it works, and I don’t think this is the meaning of dying to sin and being raised with Christ to newness of life. I think it means that like sleeping beauty you have been in a death sleep, and true love’s kiss has woken you up to a fantastic romance, and you gladly do ten times the things the law says because you do it all from love. The magic that drives Christian virtue isn’t the behavior, it is the love and desire. Love is what is empowered into us. The law looks for behavior, but grace looks for love.

20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. Gen 29:20

17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

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  1. Hi Jim. I love that He writes His law on our hearts. It no longer on the outside, a list of rules that we have to think about following to be “acceptable”. It is something we instinctively do as His love flows through us. And as He does it in us, we have no room for boasting. It’s really great when Christian’s look and act just like Jesus without even being aware that they do. It is just part of their nature when His law is written on their hearts.

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