I was pretty much pounding my head against a wall trying to live a perfect life in Christ. I kept failing to reach perfection.
I needed an accurate understanding of what my faith in Christ should look like. And of necessity, to discover just how “good” a redeemed soul could possibly be by “walking in the Spirit”. What level of purity is possible for a person? Yet, a paradox hindered my comprehension.
Paul’s letter to the Romans offered stellar hope in the 7th chapter, in that, he too found it to be quite difficult to live up to the perfection of character, which believers hope to achieve. Expounding the remaining influences of the flesh even after salvation, Paul tells how the good that he wants to accomplish is weakened by what the flesh wants. When he tries to do what’s good, he ends up doing what’s not good. But wait, I thought that in Christ we’ve been freed from the bondage of sin. Shouldn’t I now be capable of perfectly obeying the command of Matthew 5:48?
(“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”)
The 25th verse of Romans 7 proclaims the available victory in Christ.
Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. NIV
Personally, I don’t understand the division of the 7th & 8th chapters here. I think that 25th verse and the first verse of chapter 8 should be together, as it completes the thought quite nicely.
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Scholarly Paul never seems to take a breath, with lengthy sentences and statements which connect so vitally from one truth to another and another. Here, though not completely expounded, he delineates the answer, from the problem of the flesh, in which the soul is still housed, through the victory of having Jesus’ righteousness imputed unto the believer by faith. Then, in the same sentence offers the power by which we live the kind of life that pleases God. Through His Spirit. Walking in the Spirit, obeying the Spirit or following the Spirit, which are all one and the same.
Perhaps my lack of comprehending the structure of the original Greek is what handicaps me with the dividing of verses and chapters.
Never-the-less, there was a proviso there in that first verse of chapter 8. For it is not only faith, but faith expressing itself through works (as James points out in his epistle) that brings the type of victory I was seeking: To be perfect. It says there is no condemnation for those who follow the Spirit rather than the flesh. I am freed from that bondage to sin—free to choose which I’ll follow: Flesh or Spirit.
So, can I live a perfect life in Christ? That begs another question. Am I able to walk in the Spirit at all times and able to always follow Christ’s commands? If I could do so, I’d no longer need a Savior. I’d no longer need the righteousness of Christ imputed unto me, because I’d have my own righteousness. The Spirit empowers me to obey Christ, but my flesh makes it impossible to do so perfectly. My works don’t save me, yet, my desire for righteousness must be there or I don’t have saving faith. Is obedience a work? I can’t really say, because I don’t know. What I do know is that Jesus said:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33
We are to set our affections upon God and upon righteousness and holiness. Paul’s affections were in the right place. Remember? In Romans 7:15 & 16, Paul writes about what he wanted or what he desired, and that was to do what is right. And he hated doing what is wrong. His heart and mind were set on “things above”. That is salvation my friend: A new heart which longs for righteousness, no matter how far short one may come of achieving it on their own. It is Jesus’ righteousness which fits me for eternal life and not my own.
Here would be a great place for Romans 6: 1-2: What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
When God looks at a believer He sees the righteousness of His Son. No matter how well I do in obedience and following the Spirit, it will never be good enough by God’s standards. But I am to continue the good fight of faith and grow in obedience, because that’s what I want more than anything else. I want to please my Lord. We love Him!
In finding the answer to the paradox, my love for my redeemer continues to grow stronger and more intense. I love righteousness. My heart and mind are set on heaven and on God. I will continue to strive with every fiber of my being to be obedient to Christ at all times. Even though I am aware that I cannot do so perfectly. But one day, when Jesus returns, He will perfect me. He will relieve me of this troublesome flesh and give me a new spiritual body like his. He will do so, because of not only my faith in Him, but also my love for Him and my intense yearning to be holy and righteous. And because I am constantly working towards that goal.
Knowing I cannot achieve it on my own, the Lord becomes more and more precious to me each time I blunder and fail. What a glorious and forgiving Father we have! What an all-sufficient Savior!
Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!