Over the last ten weeks I’ve studied and written about the Ten Commandments. I learned a lot. I also realized I’m too spiritually weak to obey them all. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20-21). Thus I’m a genuine outlaw. Furthermore, I will be held accountable for my disobedience. Because I read it every day I know all too well what the Bible says about sin and my flimsy “good intentions” won’t be acceptable excuses. When I stand before my Heavenly Father one day I will literally be “at His mercy.” I’m extremely thankful the very same Bible assures me He’s an extraordinarily merciful God.
One of the many things I learned is that the Lord didn’t give us the Ten Commandments to save us. They’re not our “stairway to heaven.” No, His Laws were intended to direct a bright light onto our sins, define what they are, drag them from the shadowy corners of our hearts/minds and expose them to God’s cleansing sunshine. They also teach us these sins are serious offenses because they’re crimes against our Creator. Nothing positive can come from breaking a single one. Our failure to uphold them proves how rebellious we are and how intensely we resent God’s authority. If not for the miracle of divine intervention our eternal souls would forever remain hopelessly lost, subject to the wrath of God that “…is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18). Now, we mustn’t equate “the wrath of God” with reckless, emotion-fueled human animosity. Jerry Bridges wrote that God’s wrath “is not the mere petulance of an offended deity because his commands are not obeyed. It’s rather the necessary response of God to uphold His moral authority in the universe.” In other words, God is consistently “anti-sin.” Sin’s not allowed inside His kingdom. Therefore, “Arrogant people cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who behave wickedly” (Psalm 5:5) and “God is a just judge; he is angry throughout the day” (Psalm 7:11). I take that to mean God’s not at all pleased with the enormous amount of sin earthlings keep on indulging in. Yet His patience with and love for us is unfathomable. Alistair Begg wrote, “The gravity of our condition is brought home to us not simply by realizing the extent of our predicament but by pondering the length to which God went to in order to rescue us. Only in the death of the Lord Jesus on behalf of sinners could God’s justice be served and God’s love conveyed.”
Let that profound statement sink in for a moment. Truth be known we’re childish ingrates who regularly stick out our tongues at God and deserve nothing less than to be written off and permanently annihilated. We are, by nature, incapable of obeying God’s Laws. We’re basically deplorable creatures. So what are we to do? Paul, inspired by God, gave us the answer. He first expanded on the “bad news” and then delivered the “awesomely fantastic news” in Romans 3:21-22, “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Hallelujah! What’s absolutely impossible for us to achieve on our own, God has achieved for us! Those of us who place our faith in Jesus are judged “innocent” because of His unblemished righteousness. During His time on terra firma Christ stayed 100% obedient to all God’s commandments and then, through His death, paid the penalty we all deserved for breaking them. Because of what our Savior accomplished on the cross, our despicable sins have been dealt with and God’s inerrant justice has been satisfied forevermore. Does this mean everybody goes to heaven when they die? Nope. In fact, that’s one of Satan’s favorite lies. Paul made it crystal clear that salvation is “…for all who believe.” God made a way for us to be justified, not several ways. A person must surrender their life and become a conscientious follower of Jesus in order to become a beneficiary of His sacrifice. “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). God’s part in this supernatural transaction? He took all our sins, charged them to Christ and then took all of His righteousness and credited it to us. Our part? To simply believe it.
To be a Christian is to believe it. Paul wrote, “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory” (Romans 5:1-2). The peace and grace Paul refers to will never be taken away from those who belong to the Lord. Our glorious future has been sealed by the indwelling Holy Spirit. God’s love for us won’t fade. Diligent avoidance of sin and doing charitable acts of “good works” are admirable but neither do anything to make ourselves more acceptable in God’s sight. Begg wrote, “Every day we are dependent on the perfect righteousness of Christ.” B. B. Warfield took it further. He opined, “There is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot be accepted at all. This is not true of us only when we believe. It’s just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relationship to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in behavior may be. It is always on His ‘blood and righteousness’ alone that we can rest.” Christ is, indeed, the immovable foundation of our life.
All that being said, though, I still want to focus on the theme of this essay. God gave us Ten Commandments that are impossible for a human being to keep. I can go weeks and sometimes months without breaking the first nine but daily I break the tenth one (“Thou shalt not covet”) and usually before breakfast. I have yet to meet a man or woman who, in the course of a day, doesn’t desire something they don’t currently have. So is God asking too much? Recall that Jesus told us, “So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). He certainly couldn’t have set the bar higher. It’s because He knew if perfection isn’t our ultimate goal we’ll always settle for less. He also sent us all the help and guidance we need to attain perfection in the person of the Holy Spirit. Bridges wrote, “The Holy Spirit’s work in transforming us more and more into the likeness of Christ is called sanctification. Our involvement and cooperation with Him in His work is what I call the pursuit of holiness.” Hebrews 12:14 reads, “Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, for without it no one will see the Lord.” There’s one trait more vital than any other that “sinners-saved-by-grace” need to cultivate to help the Holy Spirit do His job. It’s also the hardest trait to establish and maintain as part of our character as well as being the one we loathe working on the most – discipline. It’s a challenge we can’t possibly meet if we’re motivated by guilt or a misguided sense of obligation. Our impetus must be dependent on and fueled solely by our love for Jesus Christ.
A disciple can’t get around being a disciplined person. And discipline don’t come easy. As a matter of fact, in my case it’s the most difficult task I’ve ever taken on. As a born-again Christian I’m continually confounded by the question of whether I’m a saint or a sinner. The hard-to-swallow answer is I’m both. I have no doubt I’m a new creation in Christ. An authentic, top-to-bottom change has taken place throughout my whole being and I’m no longer a slave to sin. However, I still sin. Yep. Every dadgum day. Therefore it’s imperative, not to mention logical, that I view myself not only in terms of what I am in Christ (a saint) but what I am in myself (a sinner). It’s what’s called reality. The Ten Commandments are still in effect for a reason; in the thousands of years since they were given to Moses nothing has rendered them passé. They’ve proven to be the irreplaceable bedrock of any stable society. History shows that without them chaos and anarchy inevitably ensue. But, as Paul taught, following God’s Law to the tee won’t make us righteous. We can’t do it, anyway. The Bible confirms it: “For the one who obeys the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10). What it comes down to is this: Jesus is the only hope we have of becoming holy and the Gospel that tells us all we need know about Him and what He did for us is our only reliable guide through this embryonic phase of our eternal existence. Our certainty must be based on what Romans 4:7-8 tells us. “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord will never count sin.” What a relief it is to know I’ve been rescued from damnation by the incredibly forgiving grace of God. Nonetheless, I have to strive minute by minute to stay in a disciplined frame of mind. It’s an ongoing battle.
One of the most noticeable differences the Holy Spirit has made in me is in my attitude towards sin. Instead of being a pleasure that delights me I now view it as a horrible disease that afflicts me. That alone indicates I’m a new creation in Christ, a person no longer chained to my sinful nature. I’m a free man and I should act that way. I find John Murray’s illustration appropriate. He wrote, “To say to the slave who has not been emancipated, ‘Do not behave as a slave’ is to mock his enslavement. But to say the same to the slave who’s been set free is the necessary appeal to put into effect the privileges and rights of his liberation.” The Bible says, “…consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). We Christians mustn’t treat a verse as deep as that like it’s merely a coolly religious thing to say. We must believe it with all our heart. Our faith in the Word of God must be so sturdily embedded that we accept our death to the reign of sin and our aliveness as a child of God as non-debatable facts. I’ve found if I don’t accept those facts wholeheartedly I’ll end up trying to be righteous via my own willpower instead of depending on God for the stamina to resist temptation. And believe me; I’m defenseless without the power of Christ. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12). The Bible teaches we should steadfastly aim to obey the Ten Commandments to the best of our ability. But it also stresses it’s God’s grace – His unmerited favor – that actually does the heavy labor required for us to become disciplined disciples.
One question that often gets asked goes something like this: “If Satan and his demons have been defeated why do I have to keep fighting them off tooth and nail?” Bridges explained it as well as I’ve ever heard. He wrote, “Sin is like a defeated army in a civil war that, instead of surrendering and laying down its arms, simply fades into the countryside, from which it continues to wage a guerrilla war of harassment and sabotage against the government forces. Sin as a reigning power is defeated in the life of the believer, but it’ll never surrender. It’ll continue to harass us and seek to sabotage our Christian lives as long as we live.” The civil war analogy is spot on. The Confederate States were vanquished by the Union in 1865. It was over and done. However, the subsequent lingering resentments resulted in discriminatory “Jim Crow” laws being enacted that severely limited the rights of millions of former slaves. The rebels were “officially” defeated but they continued to do everything they could to interfere with progress being made. One only has to acknowledge the race relation problems that still exist in our country 166 years down the line to understand how the devil’s evil forces, though defeated, continue to instigate and encourage sinful behavior in men and women. So am I to give up on holiness simply because I regularly succumb to sin? Not at all. God won’t give up on me regardless of my weakness. I’ll keep on resisting the urge to sin because I desperately want to align my life with God’s perfect will. Bridges wrote, “A person who struggles with some persistent sin but does so out of love for God is more pleasing to Him than the person who has no such struggle but is proud of his or her self-control.” A humble, repentant heart goes a long way toward pleasing God.
At Celebrate Recovery we openly talk about our relapses whether they’re major or minor. We don’t conceal our human shortcomings from each other. We confess we’ve slipped as we reach up to grab Christ’s outstretched hand. He always pulls us to our feet again. Each person has a sponsor and/or a group of accountability partners who’ll then encourage them to keep moving forward. But without unceasingly disciplining ourselves we’ll continue to stumble and fall frequently. Most importantly, we must develop the discipline of prayer. It’s what confirms our utter dependence on God to transform us day by day into the image of His Son. If we’re not praying we’re not growing. Then there’s the discipline of commitment. There’s no more dynamic call to commitment found in the Bible than Romans 12:1; “Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service.” A proclaimed commitment to anything is hollow if we’re not willing to sacrifice everything in order to faithfully pursue it. There’s also the discipline of convictions. There are two truths we can opt to follow; God’s truth or the world’s truth. There’s no third option. God’s truth is accessible 24/7 in the pages of His Word – The Bible. It doesn’t change. The world’s idea of truth is so flexible it can be bent to point in any direction an unbeliever wants it to. Christians must be convicted by and about the validity of the Scriptures.
Next is the discipline of choices. The Bible doesn’t just increase our knowledge; it’s our personal guide to righteous conduct. Look, sin’s not going to leave us alone. But, by relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, when sin comes charging at us we can decide to confront it, thus depriving it of its momentum and weakening it to where it’s no longer a threat to our dedication. Satan’s a coward who’ll retreat when rebuffed. “…Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). There’s the discipline of watchfulness, as well. Remember that our greatest source of temptation is our own wicked, coveting heart. Lastly, there’s the discipline of adversity. At every CR meeting we recite the serenity prayer that includes the phrase, “…accepting hardship as a pathway to peace.” What that means is we acknowledge the tough stretches God allows us to go through can strengthen us. They’re instructional and correctional lessons, not cruel punishments. Bridges wrote, “There’s no such thing as pain without a purpose in the life of a believer.” No, God isn’t asking too much of us. We already asked too much of Him when He consented to send His Son to the cross to save us from ourselves.