The Burden/The Blessing
Study Guide, October 4, 2015 – Pastor Clay Olsen
One of the reasons we look forward to our devotional communion service is because it’s a time when we slow down and reflect upon the wonder of our Great Savior and our great salvation. And at once we are reminded of the uniqueness of it all. The Biblical way of salvation is unique. And since it is, for one thing, that means that people can’t rely on their own understanding about it. In our membership orientation we review some of the natural ways people think about salvation that are wholly apart from Biblical revelation about it. In the notes Rick Warren outlined some of these ways. One way is Salvation through heritage. That’s where people just assume that since their parents called themselves ‘Christians’ then they must be a Christian, too.
Or another way is Salvation by sincerity, like as long as you are sincere about your beliefs, you’re probably fine. Well, a person can sincerely believe a bridge ahead is still there, but if that bridge is out, and they ignore the sign, then they are sincerely in a heap of trouble. Or there is Salvation by subtraction, like “Well, I don’t do this and I don’t do that…I don’t drink or cuss or chew and I don’t go around with girls that do.” And on the other hand, there’s Salvation by Addition, as in, “If I just add some religion and some religious works to my life, I’ll be okay on the scales of good deeds over bad deeds.” The thing is, God doesn’t measure our salvation by our works on a set of scales. He measures it by what we did about Christ’s works throughout His life and His sacrifice on the Cross of Calvary. And then one more is Salvation by association. They think that as long as they have some church affiliation, they must be a Christian. Years ago in his concerts Keith Green used to say, “Going to church doesn’t make you anymore of a Christian than going to McDonalds makes you a hamburger.”
The point is; Biblical Salvation is unique. You cannot reason it out; rather it comes to us through revelation. Listen how the Apostle Paul describes it: Rom 8:1-4- “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” NASU
Here’s an amazing way to describe our salvation:’What we could not do, Jesus did. And what should have been done to us was done to Christ for us.’ Remember, the Law demanded obedience to God in all things; words, thoughts, and deeds. And as James reminds us, James 2:10- “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” NASU In other words; “Uh…Oh!” For that describes everyone, for all have sinned and have fallen short of the righteous standard of God, or fallen short of keeping the whole Law.” That means that all have sinned. And the wages of sin is what? Rom 6:23- “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” NASU
Note that two things are contrasted here: ‘the wages of sin’, which is eternal death, and ‘the free gift of God’, which is eternal life.’ So how does anyone get out from under this bondage of this eternal death penalty and into this freedom of this gift of eternal life?
“Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
‘In Christ’ was a favorite phrase of the Apostle Paul’s. Notice some of the statements he made about being ‘in Christ’:
1 Cor 1:30- “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”
2 Cor 5:17- “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
Gal 2:16- “…nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.
Gal 3:26- “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” NASU
You see, the Apostle makes it very clear that there are only two ways to try to have a relationship with God; two paths of salvation: One is by the ‘works of the Law’ and the other is ‘by faith in Christ Jesus’. And there is not a third, like a mixture of works and faith, for as Paul said, (and we’ll state it in three different versions for clarification)
Rom 11:6- “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” NASU
Rom 11:6- “And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is—free and undeserved.” NLT
Rom 11:6- “But if it is by grace (His unmerited favor and graciousness), it is no longer conditioned on works or anything men have done. Otherwise, grace would no longer be grace [it would be meaningless].” AMP
Pretty clear: We come to God through faith in Christ and His works for us. It’s the merits of Christ’s life in which we trust, not in the merits of our our own life, for Christ’s merits are without sin and ours are stained with sin. And in trusting in the merits of Christ’s life to fulfill the Law for us and trusting in the sacrifice of His death to pardon our sins we receive His free gift of eternal life which we don’t deserve in place of the eternal death which we do deserve. For as the Apostle stated: “The wages of sin is eternal death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!”
That’s why we call Him ‘Savior’. He saved us not by the works of our hands, but through the reach of our hand of faith because of His great love and grace freely given to us. ‘By grace’ is God’s hand reaching down to us, and ‘through faith’ is our hand reaching up to Him.
One of the things which troubles conscientious Christians, of which we all are to be, goes back to what Paul said in Romans 8 – “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did…” What troubles conscientious Christians is not the part about being condemned by God, since we know that Christ is our Savior from final condemnation. Praise God! No, what troubles conscientious Christians is more of a ‘self condemnation’, knowing that even in our walk of faith we still fall short of being all we should be and of doing all we should be doing. And it’s this ‘self condemnation’ that becomes a heavy burden that steals our joy instead of enjoying the blessing of being free in Christ and living with the sense of that freedom.
Maybe we can see where we’re going here by listening to some commentary by Dr. John Walvoord on Romans 8. He writes, “The question naturally arises, ‘Must a believer spend his whole life on earth frustrated by ongoing defeats to indwelling sin? Is there no power provided to achieve victory?’ The answer to the first question is no and to the second, yes. In chapter 8, Paul described the ministry of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God who is the source of divine power for sanctification and the secret for spiritual victory in daily living. But first Paul reminded his readers that therefore – since deliverance is “through Jesus Christ our Lord” – no condemnation awaits those who are in Christ Jesus, as a result of their faith and identification with Him. They are justified, declared righteous, and therefore stand in His grace and not under His wrath, and possess eternal life. Christ is the sphere of safety for all who are identified with Him by faith.”1
What a wonderful answer to that question of “Must a believer spend his whole life on earth frustrated by ongoing defeats to indwelling sin?” And here is a wonderful release from that burden that conscientious Christians often carry in relation to their frustration over the presence of sin in their lives. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is in Acts 15 where the Apostle Peter is clearing up some confusion about mixing Law thinking with Grace thinking. And he says this: Acts 15:7-11- “At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” NLT
Note this very carefully: God is not looking for perfection from you in your fellowship and service and works for Him. For that has already been accomplished for you by your Savior. Jesus was perfect in all things of the Law for you. Jesus performed all of the requirements of the Law for you. Remember, it is in His righteousness that you are now declared ‘Righteous’. That is your standing, your position, your identity before God.
Remember what Paul said about that? Phil 3:9- “…and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith…” NASU Your standing with God is secure since you are clothed in Christ’s righteousness for you. So now it is your walk with God that you are to focus on. But in your walk, even as you conscientiously seek to walk steadily with your Lord, there will be times that you will stumble. And hopefully not severely, but stumble in some word, thought, or deed, in what you did do or what you didn’t do. And how you respond to this stumble will determine if your continued walk with God will be a burden for you or a blessing to you. Here’s the key: it depends upon in whom you believe. Remember this: ‘To be disappointed in yourself is to have believed in yourself. To be disappointed in yourself is to have depended on yourself.’ As those who have been redeemed by the works and the power of Jesus Christ for our salvation we are to continue to believe in and depend upon the works and the power of Jesus Christ for our sanctification; for our ongoing development as a follower of Jesus Christ.
Remember, the Law revealed that no one could perfectly keep the Law, except for the Perfect One, Jesus Christ. That’s why we are called to believe in Him and not in ourselves. For as Peter said, “So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?” Peter is reminded them and us that no one could ever perfectly perform the righteous requirements of the Law. Again, that’s why we needed a Savior. And that is also why we need to know that God is now not looking for perfection in you, rather, He is only looking for perseverance in you. And by the grace of God, we can do that. We can persevere for God.
Conscientious Christians are unnecessarily burdened when they expect the wrong thing of themselves. When you expect perfection in yourself in your walk with God you will only find the burden of frustration. But if you expect perseverance in yourself in your walk with God you will enjoy the blessing of freedom in your service and works for your Savior. And as you confess your stumbling to God and accept His forgiveness you will sense Him lifting you up again to walk further with Him as you persevere in your worship and service for Him. He will change your burden of your falling into the blessing of your getting up again and walking with Him further, offering your works for Jesus, but rejoicing most in Jesus’ works for you.
The Heidelburg Catechism: “Against any perfectionism we are warned: Even the best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin, rendering all obedience imperfect at best.”
Thank God for His grace, accept it, and enjoy the freedom of living in God’s pleasure over your perseverance for Him.
- From Bible Knowledge Commentary/New Testament Copyright © 1983, 2000 Cook Communications Ministries