Veneer is a handy thing. You overlay a thin layer of an expensive wood over cheap wood and it looks good. Nobody suspects that the underlying wood is just particle board. No one that is, until you try to put a load on the shelf and it breaks.
It can be the same with people.
Recently I had the opportunity to spend time with someone I hadn’t seen for a while. Others had told me how much this person had changed and how much they had grown in Christ. I was excited to see it; I always like to see what God does in a person.
At first it seemed that it was true. The person acted the part of a Christian; the vocabulary was Evangelical, God was part of the discussion. But, then came a time of pressure. Pop! The shelf cracked and the particle board of old, unredeemed self shown through.
Does it have to be that way? Do we have to go through life play-acting? Recent events raise this question even more starkly. Is Christianity just a sop thrown to give us hope after death, while we struggle and fail here on earth? Is there no victory over sin? Does the enemy of our souls have the upper hand?
Scripture says, “No!” Emphatically. Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, was able to say, “I have overcome the world!” Note the tense, not I will, not I am, but I have (perfect, active, indicative in the Greek). Paul was able to say, in Romans 8, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (present active indicative in the Greek). John, in I John says, “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.”
So, why the disconnect? Why don’t people seem to be experiencing this in their daily lives?
Well, there can be any number of reasons, but I submit that the main one is that most christians have never really died to self. Evangelical christianity is big on justification, but short on sanctification. We want big numbers, and frankly, death isn’t a good calling card if you are looking for a large following: “Hi, Jesus loves you and wants to put you to death!” But, that is exactly what Jesus calls us to, “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16.24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, 14.27 (RSV)
Paul develops the theme even more in Romans 6. According to Paul, we died with Christ in baptism and now we are alive in Christ. But, it is in Christ, not in self. As long as we function in self, we function in sin. As long as we seek what we want, when we want it, we are dead to Christ and alive to the world. As long as we live in Christ, we are dead to self and the world. It’s too simple—maybe that’s the problem. We want to make it harder; we want to do it.
The reformation happened almost 500 hundred years ago. Its basic truth was sola gratia, all God and not man. Why is it that we are now trying to do it ourselves? Sola Gratia means just that, by grace alone, or does Galatians 3 not ring true anymore?
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so many things in vain? —if it really is in vain. Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?