Changing by Grace, Not Law

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4) . . .

Do you want to change? Forsake your own moral potential. Forsake leveraging yourself by law. Stop it. It will only make you sicker. Do you want to change? God gives the Holy Spirit. Open your heart, and God will replace the virtues of your flesh with the powers of his Holy Spirit. If you belong to Jesus, you are no longer merely “the flesh.” You have been supernaturalized. God has replaced the best that we can do – walking according to the flesh – with the best that he can do – walking according to the Spirit. Christianity is not an improved version of human morality and religion. It is miracle through and through. Do not think, “I have the Holy Spirit, but I still have problems. What good does grace do?” Think, “I have problems, but I also have the Holy Spirit. So, okay. Let’s get going!”

Here’s our part in the miracle. The word “walk” tells us it’s practical, moment-by-moment, like walking step by step. The words “according to” tell us there is a Guide to follow. The words “the Spirit” remind us that there is Someone who helps us best when we are weakest. Let me apply it to one sin men sometimes commit and another sin women sometimes commit.

Some men look at pornography. That’s a sin. How does the Holy Spirit change a man who looks at pornography? How does a pornography-prone man walk according to the Spirit? Step one: honesty. The flesh will lie to you and tell you it’s no big deal. It is a big deal. Pornography hollows a man out and makes him incapable of a real relationship. Step one in walking according to the Spirit is agreeing with the Spirit against the flesh that it’s sin. Step two is hope in acceptance. Step two is believing the gospel: “There is no condemnation in Christ.” Not hope for acceptance – that’s law – but hope in acceptance – that’s grace. In your shame and self-hatred and weariness, fall into the arms of God. He will comfort you, the pornographer. Step three, repent. Go by faith to the cross, where your lust was paid for, and look again. Look at his flesh cut and torn open. Look at the blood oozing out of his wounds. Look at the sweat and the flies, inhale the stench, hear the mockery, look into his eyes and see that your secret pleasures did that to him, and he does not scorn you but loves you. When by faith you go to the cross, your lust will start dying and your holiness will start living. God will accomplish it, as you hand yourself over to his grace in Christ. That’s how you walk according to the Spirit.

Some women are jealous. That’s a sin too. Women are jealous of other women who have a husband or don’t have a husband, who have children, who have money and a nice home, who have beauty and looks, who have abilities and connections and opportunities and recognition. What does it mean for a jealous woman to walk according to the Spirit? Step one: honesty. Admit the rage in your heart. Step two is hope in acceptance. God wants you to hear the good news: “There is no condemnation in Christ.” He wants to comfort you and pour his love into your heart so that you’re happy rather than brooding. Fall into his arms. He longs to receive you. Step three, repent. Go by faith back to the cross where your jealousy was paid for and look again at your crucified Savior, who loves you. When by faith you go to his love, your jealousy will start dying and your joy will appear as if out of nowhere. God will give it to you, as you walk according to the Spirit.

May God help us all to abandon the flesh and take new steps according to the Holy Spirit. We will change in ways that surprise us.

– From the excellent sermon by Ray Ortlund, Jr entitled, “Law-living Versus Grace-living.” Read the whole thing here.

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