For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Romans 10:4
Last Sunday, we made the point that the law has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He accomplished what we could never do. He obeyed the law perfectly. And yet, he ended up dying as a law-breaker. He did this so that he could satisfy the law’s demands of obedience and the law’s demands of disobedience. He experienced the blessings and curses of the law to the fullest degree. And now, we as Christians do not have to obey the law to be found righteous before God. As our fighter verse declares, we are declared righteous through faith in the finished work of Christ. This is good news!
The nagging question we still wrestle with is how we are to grow as Christians. We are not to grow by trying to obey the law. We know this because the law exposes our sin. It is a mirror that reveals the wickedness of our hearts.
So, how do we grow? As we said earlier this week, Christians grow by grace. But, what does that mean? It doesn’t mean growth is passive. Growth does not happen without effort. In fact, the New Testament often commands our “effort” and “striving.”
· Luke 13:24. “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”
· 1 Corinthians 14:12. “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.”
· Hebrews 12:14. “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
· 2 Peter 1:5-7. “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”
So how do we do this without falling back under a law mentality? We exert effort and strive to obey God by grace. Meaning, we rely on (i.e. believe) the gospel of Jesus to give us our security and identity as a sheer gift. And out of that freedom, we strive for self-control, godliness, holiness, love, etc. We exert as much energy and focus as we can to obeying God. But, we don’t do this out of guilt, manipulation, or a sense of earning God’s approval.
And here’s the amazing thing about our spiritual growth. Even when we exert our grace-driven effort to obey, the ability to actually obey doesn’t come from us but from God. Paul tells us, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12). On the one hand, we are commanded to work out our salvation through obedience. But, on the other hand, Paul says it is God who works in us to do produce the motivation and act of obedience.
This is a gloriously freeing truth for a Christian. Not only is our salvation a miraculous gift, but so is our sanctification. God gives both out of grace. So, yes, Christian, strive to obey God. Every command in the New Testament is meant to be taken seriously and applied personally. But, remember, any measure of obedience in your life is ultimately God working in and through you. This is why Paul says we are to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling.” Be in awe that God is directly working in you to produce what the law demands but could not empower in you. The more you behold Jesus and believe his promises, the more his grace will shape you into his image. And be in awe that no matter how much you obey or fail to obey, Jesus has already declared you righteous based on his obedience. This is how we grow.