A New Suit of Clothes
Every so often, when you read the Bible, you stumble across a text which seems to carry the world upon its shoulders. The 14th verse of Romans 13 is just such a Scripture. It captures the essence of the Christian Life: becoming more and more like Jesus and less and less like ourselves (at least the way we used to be before we met the Savior).
This is the problem sanctification addresses: there is just too much of "me, myself, and I" in my life. I have captured the center, and by grace Jesus is determined to take it back again. He is resolved to turn me upside down and back to front, which spiritually speaking of course is the right way up! Our text shows us how I get to work with Him in this gracious renovation of the human soul.
It all begins with putting off myself and putting on Jesus Christ. Growing in grace, you might say, is like going to a spiritual tailor and being measured up for a new suit of clothes. There is, however, a catch. This new suit is actually cut to fit another person, Jesus Christ. We have much growing to do if ever we are going to fit into it. God is the tailor, and rather than cutting the suit to fit us, He's cutting us down and growing us up to fit the suit.
What will this mean for me as I face the future?
In the first place, it means I have to learn new habits of thought, emotion, feeling, and of willing. As a Christian, I no longer belong to myself and can no longer afford to be driven by how I like to think, the feelings and emotions I like to indulge, or the choices I like to make. I have a new rule, a new pattern, and it is Christ. How would Christ think about this issue? What would Christ be feeling in the face of this problem, situation, or opportunity? What would Christ want to do now? How would Christ have lived my day differently, loved my spouse better, responded to my children more effectively, etc?
Second, Paul says it will mean starving our lusts (illicit, forbidden desires) of every crumb of food they desire. You see, lust works with the logic of a baby wild animal: first you feed them, then they eat you! Take a Lion cub for example. How adorably cute they look as they playfully frolic in the African Savanna. Just looking at them would be enough to make one bundle them up, carry them away, and care for them forever. This would be a mistake. Each cube of steak you give the cub serves only to bring the day of decision closer. The day when he looks at the food, then at you, and thinks the feeder is the better part of the meal.
Paul is ruthless in his application here. He allows no exceptions. "Make NO provision for the flesh in regard to its desires." You and I must be similarly earnest. We must not rationalize his words away, saying things like: "He doesn't mean me, here. I'm an exception. He doesn't mean every sinful lust, he only means the really serious ones." Facts, however, are stubborn things. Paul means what he says and says what he means. "Make no provision" means exactly that!
I am convinced that if you and I do not take these words seriously, we will make little progress in the Christian life. What's more, if we chose to walk in the darkness, sooner or later we must surely begin to wonder whether or not we have ever become children of the Light at all in the first place(1John 1:5-10). Note Bene: walking in the light cannot mean that we never slip into the darkness. John's words about confessing our sins and receiving forgiveness from them makes this abundantly clear. It does, however mean that when we slip into the darkness, we will resolve not to stay there, but move constantly and consistently back to the light.
What difference must this make in your life and in mine? First, we must take a long hard look at ourselves. Begin with the day at hand. Where have you been feeding your lust habit? Where have you been indulging forbidden desires? Where are you living as if you had not been bought with a price, did not belong to Jesus, and were you own master, free to live as you please? Remember: don't feed the lions!
We must bring this to God in confession (1John 1:9), bring your failure into the light. (I know it's painful, but its the kind of pain that's good for the soul. Trust me on this), And we must pray for God to bring His unfailing, uncompromising, inescapable grace to bear upon our prone to wander, prone to rationalize, prone to compromise heart. He must heal it where it is broken.
We must also surely take action. Remember James words (James 1:22-25). We must fill our mind with Scripture. This is where we find the mind of Christ. We must learn to subdue un-Christlike thoughts, feelings, emotions, and desires. We must ask Grace to teach us a better way (Titus 2:11-14). And we must take action today. Carpe diem.
This may leave you feeling overwhelmed. Like me, perhaps you see so many areas of overgrown fleshly ascendancy in your life? What can be done? Treat your soul the way you would treat an overgrown yard: Begin with the end in mind. You begin the pruning work dreaming of how the yard will look when it is finished. So it is with your soul. Visualize the day you just lived as if Christ were you and you were Him (Do not lose heart, one day God will make this vision a reality). What would have been different? Think about your relationships, the way you would have responded to difficult people or to distressing situations, to unexpected blessings, to temptations, to opportunities of service. What would have been different about your day?
Next, find the worst area of spiritual chaos. Just like with the unruly yard, where do begin? You begin with the places where a little work will make the biggest difference. And you let each victory strengthen your resolve to press on and lay hold of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Finally, when you fail, and fail you will, run back to Christ, reminding yourself that His love for you doesn't never flows to the goodness He sees in your life; it always flows down from the goodness that resides in His heart. His love and faithfulness towards us never increase in proportion to our love and faithfulness towards Him. Before we ever entertained one kind thought towards the Savior, the King of Heaven loved us forever with an always and forever love; He loved you with all the love He had to give. It was this love that brought Him down to the depths of hell in order to redeem you to the height of heaven. Such a love needs no encouragement from your little victories and can know no discouragement from your many failures. It is this love that ever reminds us: we were made for better things than to merely be like ourselves,indulging the naturally dark desires of our hearts.
This is the daily goal of grace in your life: "Put on the person you are to become!" May God help us, I know that He will.