Working our way (Or alternatively titled "The post in which I use the word nay")
I belong to a gym that's part of a local church. I don't know if you would classify this church as a "mega-church," but it's pretty darn big (well...big enough to have a gym on their grounds). It's a really great environment in which to work out. The people there are friendly, the equipment does what it's supposed to do, the classes are fun and tough (oh Zumba, how I miss you!), the locker rooms are generally clean (except when they're not...), the price is not too high, and it's not noisy and packed like many gyms around here seem to be.
But those things are not what I like best about it. My favorite part of exercising at this particular gym is the colored 8 1/2" by 11" pieces of paper that are scattered throughout the workout areas, the halls, and the locker rooms. These pieces of paper (well, the ones to which I'm referring) are not random bits of information. Nay. They all say the same thing, and they are changed every week or so. Each one of them quotes the same verse or verses of scripture for that time period, and then the verse is changed. For me, this is a wonderful addition to my workout. I get to take care of the body I've been given while feeding my soul with the promises of God's Word. Having the same verse scattered throughout the building for days in a row is an excellent way of helping those of us who have poor memory skills really look at the words and allow God to write them on our hearts.
Each time, something in the verses the staff members choose captures my attention. More often than not, they apply to something that's going on in my life right at that moment in time.
This week's verse caught me off guard. I've read the book of Romans several times, and for some reason those words never fully grabbed me like they did yesterday. I ran (not literally...I don't even do that at the gym!) right home and found it in the NIV since that's the version they took it from. There it was: Romans 6:6-7 staring back at me. The words were simple: no $5 words that had to be looked up (or found at dictionary.com...), no concepts too deep to comprehend, no references to past Biblical characters that had to be researched in previous books of the Bible or ancient texts (or Googled......). And although the message was clear and direct, I still had to read over it several times. I had to pull it apart, think it aloud, really delve into its meaning. Finally, I decided I needed more context. More meat. More info. So I read on.
"For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." Romans 6:6-11 (NIV)
So, I admit. I was still a teensy bit befuddled. The concept in general is easy enough to understand even if you only know a small amount of theology. But...I still wanted more. I wanted to claim it as my own. So I read the one in The Message.
"Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin's every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ's sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That's what Jesus did." Romans 6:6-11 (The Message)
That's what Jesus did. He died:
(on a cross,
pierced by nails,
mocked and scorned
by those who didn't understand)
--sacrificially gave His life for our sin.
Our lies. Our justifications. Our addictions. Our hard hearts.
Because, you see, there had to be a payment. We, on our own, could never-ever work our way into heaven.
Imagine, if you will, a particularly dirty and disgustingly-stained towel sitting in a pile on the floor. Now, what if someone took this filthy towel and simply moved it to a different spot in the house (say the kitchen table). Would the towel now be clean because it was shifted to a new position? Just like something spoiled or unclean can't be made pure just by changing locations, we--because of our wicked, immoral, corrupt natures--could NEVER enter heaven, or be made clean, simply by trying hard enough..."working" our way there. The simple truth is that where God is, sin cannot be.
Sin spoils us.
Makes us unclean.
That's not a pretty picture, and many people turn away from that depiction. I mean, really, who wants to dwell on the thought of their own depravity? Our sin-nature is an ugly thing that we like to push away.
The great news is, though, that by trusting Christ, accepting His sacrifice as the amazing gift that it is, we are forgiven, made clean, and made holy; no longer do we have to be "slaves to sin." That old self is cast off because it was nailed to the cross with Jesus. We get to let it die and start to live life anew in the knowledge that sin has no hold on us anymore. We are free to live lives that are full of the grace of God.
We get to live lives full of integrity and honesty.
We get to let Christ be our sole justification.
We get to throw off addictions that haunt us.
We get to choose kindness in the face of incredible cruelty.
We get to draw breath daily knowing that the Holy Spirit gives us the means to be more like Christ if only we would ask. So, dear ones, let's petition for love. Let's appeal for joy. And request peace, patience, and kindness. Goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness. And make a plea for self-control.