“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1)
There are two major streams of thought on the question of the warfare of a believer overcoming sin and those saying it all depends on God. One holds that there is an encounter with God at a time subsequent to salvation that lifts a person beyond all struggle and failure, sort of an instant rocket shot to the summit of perfection. So people spend a lifetime seeking to be in the right place at the right time to experience the launching, or to cling to the illusory summit! An alternative view is what I call the spectator role. A special encounter with God doesn’t lift a person beyond all possibility of failure, but rather to the grandstands to watch the Spirit (or, more likely, the indwelling Christ) live out his life through you. “Let go and let God,” we’re instructed. You can never do anything good anyway, so get out of the way and trust Jesus to speak, to act, yes, even to think in your stead. Those are two very different views, but they have this in common: God does it all.
As we might expect, Scripture refuses to be pushed to one extreme or the other, something we’re forever trying to do to it! According to Paul and other Bible authors, God must do the transforming, or it won’t be done. At the same time we must participate or it won’t be done. But let’s be reminded that the goal is likeness to Jesus, by little and by little, and the means, as in our initial salvation, is the activity of the Spirit. But we must participate fully with his activity.
But not all Christians are spiraling up; in fact not all seem to be running a race at all. Paul asks this question, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1).
What’s the problem? What can be done about it? The New Testament often addresses the problem of substandard performance, but nowhere does it point failed Christians to some new, advanced experience. The Bible consistently points the failing Christian back to the original transaction — don’t you know who you are? Don’t you know who lives in you? Don’t you know to whom you belong? And notice another thing — I mentioned plateauing as a self-description of many stalled Christians, but the truth is that’s impossible. Either we’re spiraling up, even if ever so slowly, or we’re spiraling down, further and further from our goal. Oh, we will never spiral down to final destruction, but we’ll certainly spiral down, further and further from intimate companionship with God, less and less like him. And that’s very destructive. “He who is not with me is against me” (Mt. 12:30), said Jesus and so it is.
Let’s go back to the re-connect. What was that “original contract” the Bible points back to? Well, salvation on God’s part. He promised to save us from the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and, one day, the very presence of sin. It’s the “power” we’re concerned about today. And our part of the transaction? The same as in the salvation contract: faith! Does that mean the failing Christian, the one who isn’t surging forward on the upward spiral, lacks faith? Indeed, it’s as simple as that. But remember, there are two poles to faith, whether for salvation or sanctification. To connect with God we must repent (negative pole of faith) and believe (positive pole of faith). And so for the re-connection when there’s a power outage. Yield (negative pole) and trust (positive pole). In fact, you might say it’s “by faith from start to finish!”
To reconnect, for the power to surge, we must yield unconditionally to the will of God. No fine print in the contract, no reserve clauses — unconditional yield. To do that may be cataclysmic if a person has resisted long and hard, it can be a matter-of-fact transaction of turning everything over to the Master: past, present, future, successes, failures, relationships — everything. Are you stalled out, slipping back maybe, in your spiral with Jesus? Then you need to go back to the initial transaction, you need a crisis of turning. If that is your present condition and heart-longing, why not identify all the things you need to and yield these up to your Sovereign Lord? Don’t hesitate, don’t delay. But never again need there be the crisis of “who’s boss?”