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Overcoming Legalistic Worldliness

Overcoming Legalistic Worldliness

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Victory over sin has been a fearsome challenge and wearisome burden to misinformed saints throughout Christian history. The word “saint,” for example, was bestowed by the medieval church upon a select few who were supposed to be supremely Christ-like and Spirit-filled. That dogma endures today—not only in the Church of Rome but many Protestant denominations. But in the New Testament, “saint” simply signifies those who have set themselves apart from Adam’s old humanity to embrace and live out their new identity in Christ.

This insight empowers us to overcome our addictions and dysfunctions, along with whatever else partakes of Adam’s old humanity. “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21).

So, having died in Christ’s death and risen in His resurrection, “put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:4,5). No longer need we escape our pain in addictions, for Jesus bore our sorrows to the cross and now by grace we reign with Him. All this is possible when we identify ourselves with Christ’s historic death and resurrection.

In setting us free from of the power of sin within ourselves, our position in Christ also releases us from vulnerability to letting other people control our faith. Every church seems to have well-intentioned, strong-opinionated members who feel called to be a spiritual “Dr. Phil,” the TV advice guru. They canonize their convictions on issues of diet and lifestyle, telling everyone what to do, sometimes even seizing control of a cowardly congregation and getting rid of uncooperative pastors.

This was going on in Paul’s day. His advice?

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’… according to human precepts and teachings?” (Colossians 2:20-22).

Paul is saying: Remember that you are risen with Christ, so your life is not in this world. Then don’t let the principles of the world control you. Worldliness is not only fooling around with sin; it’s also at the other extreme—legalism, which is coercive rather than liberating. People who control your conscience are of this world. “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23).

Taliban religion comes on strong, but its strictures are useless in changing the heart. Terrorists of the testimonies may cast guilt and shame on bad health habits, but that doesn’t help people lose weight. They can scold us, but they can’t transport us to heaven’s sanctuary, the only place for grace to help in time of need. Human rules and self-help programs are a poor substitute for the power of Christ’s resurrection, which is ours only when we embrace our victorious new humanity in Christ.

Goodbye to the old man

God’s formula for victory over sin is so basic that we tend to overlook it: Put off the old humanity, and put on the new. Such “truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:21-24, NKJ).

Adam’s old humanity is a dirty old man who makes us lust for sin. As one exasperated person put it: “Everything I want to do is either illegal, immoral or fattening!” God’s solution is not to argue with the old man of sin but to replace him with our new man—literally, our new humanity in Christ.

Most adult Americans and Canadians dearly want to lose some weight. Many shame themselves, trying to resolve their food addiction and shape up. This may help with a manic-style crash diet, but it works against a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle—which is the only sure way to solve weight problem, and many other maladies. Part of healthy living is hopeful thinking. And this we have in Christ alone: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13, NIV).

Did you notice that the power of God’s Holy Spirit is associated with hope, joy and peace? There’s so much talk about the Holy Spirit, but where is His power? Nowhere to be seen in our good intentions, fierce diets and strict promises.

As pardon for sin comes through the historic death of Jesus, so power over sin comes through the historic event of His resurrection.

As pardon for sin comes through the historic death of Jesus, so power over sin comes through the historic event of His resurrection. This is the basis on which we receive the Holy Spirit—not our feverish attempts to follow the right formulas or even claim the right promises. We can fast all day and scold ourselves in prayer all night, but which of us by taking anxious thought can add anything to our spiritual stature? “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

There’s no substitute for the real deal. When we struggle with sin—whether overeating, a pornography habit, an addiction to gossip or timidity, and everything else—the solution is not trash talking ourselves but reminding ourselves who we really are.

We are sons and daughters of God through our new humanity in Jesus. This is the truth. It’s even how we overcome lying:

“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him. … Christ is all and in all” (Col 3:9-11, NKJ).

Living in Adam’s old humanity is living a lie, because Jesus is all in all as our new Adam. So let us “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14).

Excerpted from Martin Weber’s book, God Was There: True Stories of a Police Chaplain (Pacific Press, 2009).

Note: This article has been republished with permission from outlookmag.org.

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mw_feb2011Martin Weber, DMin, served as pastor, editor, author, evangelist and police chaplain across North America and taught pastors on five continents with the General Conference Ministerial Association. He is currently the Seventh-day Adventist product manager for Faithlife/Logos Research Systems in Bellingham, Washington. Visit his website in defense of fundamental Adventist beliefs: www.SDA4me.com.

Nelson Fernandez

Nelson is married to the love of his life, Sarah, and together have a son named Isaac. He serves as Associate Pastor at Miami Temple SDA, a multilingual, multiethnic, and multicultural church in South Florida. He loves ministry, Marvel movies, video games, Naruto, and serving the local church. He also runs his own blog about leadership, evangelism, and practical Christianity at www.nelsonsblog.com. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @nelsonblogs.

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