(Friends: the bulk of today's message was actually written in 2011, when I addressed the theme we've been considering in a similar series of messages. It's a bit longer than usual, but I think it provides a practical illustration that may prove helpful. Thanks, Glen).
It is very easy to live as who we were before Christ, as opposed to who we now are in Christ.
"Who is Christ?" This is by far the most important issue of our lives. God calls us to "walk even as He walked," that is, to live in accordance with the character, nature, and way of our Savior (I John 2:6). In order to accomplish this highest of all callings, we must know His character, nature, and way. We must know Him. Moreover, we must know that the Holy Spirit dwells within our new and redeemed selves for the purpose of revealing Christ in us and by us. Thus, "Who is Christ?" supplies the present and eternal occupation of the redeemed. "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent" (John 17:3).
The New Testament, however, also addresses the matter of the believer's identity. Who are we in Christ? Are we nothing more than sinners saved by grace? Or are we saints, spiritually changed and enabled by grace, but still possessing fleshly members subject to the temptations of the world and the devil? Our answer to this question greatly impacts our walk of faith and faithfulness. Knowing that we "live in the Spirit" (regardless of contrary appearance, sensation, or experience) goes far in enabling us to more consistently "walk in the Spirit" (Romans 8:9; Galatians 5:25).
Consider the ugly duckling who became a swan. He didn't act accordingly until He saw his reflection in the mirrored surface of the lake and realized the change that had taken place in him. This precisely reflects Paul's teaching in II Corinthians 3:18:
"Beholding as in a glass (Greek: "mirror") the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."
The more we see and affirm who Christ is, as well as who we are in Him, the more we will live as swans rather than ugly ducklings. Christians must believe and affirm with the Apostle Paul that the "delight" of our innermost being involves love for God, His will, and the blessing of others (Romans 7:22). We do not disregard or discount the lust of our flesh, of course, but we do direct our focus, as did Paul, to who we most deeply are. Thereby we find a greater enabling to overcome the lusts of the flesh through the power of the Holy Spirit. And thereby we live far more as who we are, rather than as who we were.
I frequently illustrate this truth by my personal experience with those who follow too closely on the roads, namely, tailgaters. Throughout my lifetime, these folks have tempted me with irritation at the very least, to road rage at the very worst ("Hmm, I wonder how much it would cost to have a .50 caliber gun mounted on the trunk of my car?"). The Word of God and the Spirit of God, of course, counter such notions with the commands to "love your enemies" and to "bless them that curse you" rather than follow my fleshly inclinations (I John 2:6; Matthew 5:44).
The problem in such times is that I don't usually "feel" the love of Christ for tailgaters, nor do my thoughts immediately flow in the direction of blessing them. Often it seems that nothing exists within me but the aforementioned irritation, anger, and itchy trigger finger. I seem to desire only that which my flesh indicates. But is this true? Am I nothing more than flesh? Is the Spirit of Christ in me dormant? Is the Holy Spirit not working in me "both to will and to do of His good pleasure?" (Philippians 2:13). Such questions are not merely rhetorical. They rather comprise the crux of the matter as to how I will relate to that troubling tailgater. Will I believe the Word of God in the face of all contradictory evidence, including the emotional, mental and physical sensibility that seems to be all that I am?
Many years ago, I began to respond to the Biblical truth that the delight of my spirit, as united to the Spirit of Christ, is to love the tailgater whose face looms so close in my rearview mirror (Romans 7:22). Feelings, thoughts, and trigger finger (!) notwithstanding, the person I am most deeply am in Christ is perpetually subject to the infusion of His delight for obedience to our Heavenly Father. As a gift of the most marvelous and transformative grace, He freely grants to me the blessing of being a "partaker of the Divine nature" (II Peter 1:4). The character and inclination of Christ resides in my redeemed "new man, created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24). His delight is my delight, including the desire to bestow grace rather than wrath upon the tailgater.
Accordingly, in times of temptation, an opportunity for faith presents itself. The contrary feelings and thoughts of my flesh provide opportunity to believe in the Lord Jesus, that is, to trust He is so present and active within me that I really do desire to love, forgive and pray for the tailgater rather than being swallowed up by anger and resentment. I reckon myself to "be alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:11). I seek to believe the Word of God rather than the tempting influence of the world, the devil and the flesh.
This led to the conviction that God allows tailgaters to come my way for the purpose of granting to me an altar of prayer for them (indeed, who needs prayer more than tailgaters?! :) ). I cannot recount the the times of joy I have experienced when walking this path of faith in the knowledge of how present and dynamic the Lord Jesus is in our trusting spirits. I often still feel the feelings and sense the contrary thoughts and even physical sensations. More and more, however, the conviction grows that our Savior is indeed a great and glorious Savior - even in traffic!
I suggest this perspective not as a mere method for seeking to walk with God, nor does it provide a spiritual panacea that guarantees we will always trust and obey the Lord. Choices of faith and submission to God must still be made, and we remain free to either trust or distrust Him. However, the truth we consider does have great impact regarding challenge in our lives. It provides opportunity to know the Lord Jesus in very personal and vibrant terms as we recognize that His grace impacts us far more dynamically than we often consider. Not only has He forgiven us. Not only has He promised us Heaven. Not only has He made God a Father to us, and birthed us into "the whole family in Heaven and earth" (Ephesians 3:15). As blessed as these gifts are, we must press on further, much further. Through Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit, our Heavenly Father changed the very essence of who we most deeply are when we believed. He made His delight our delight. He calls us to believe in "so great salvation," and then to be amazed by the grace of our Lord as He increasingly works in us and walks in us to foster the same quality of life He lived. We are swans, and our Father would have us to know it. Or as the Apostle Paul humbly, but confidently declared...
"By the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me."
(I Corinthians 15:10)
Weekly Memory Verse
Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.