The Power for Transformation - Part 1: The law of aerodynamics sets us free from the law of gravity. In the same way, the power of God’s life-giving Spirit enables us to live in victory over the power of sin.
Over the years, I’ve seen some remarkably lifelike replicas of flowers, trees, and other plants. Some of these were so convincingly real that I was surprised to discover upon closer inspection that they were fake. As beautiful as some fake flowers can be and as useful as artificial plants can be for decoration, the reality is that fake plants have no life. They can look good and for some purposes may even be preferable to real plants, but they do not grow, do not emit fragrant aromas, and do not reproduce. They are synthetic likenesses of the real thing, but they are void of life.
God’s goal is not to make a bunch of moralists who look good on the outside and are spiritually, psychologically, and morally dead on the inside. Had He wanted that, He could have made a world of robots who did His every bidding and always behaved in accordance with His will. Yet God felt that creating man with free will was worth the risk of man’s disobedience. In his book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis contrasts the meaninglessness of a world without free will and the relational value of God creating “His higher creatures” with free will.
God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can't. If a thing is free to be good, it's also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they've got to be free.
Our Heavenly Father wants a family that truly knows Him, loves Him, reflects His character, and lives in alignment with His will. In other words, who are conformed to the image of His Son, for these are descriptors of Jesus, who knew the Father, loved Him, represented Him, and delighted to do the Father’s will. A pull string doll that repeats “I love you” every time the string is pulled in no way compares to someone who freely chooses out of a lifetime of experiences together to say, “I love you.”
Not only is God not interested in a world of automata, He is also not interested in a world of forced compliance. The external conformity of free will humans can be gained through behavioral means. Promise of reward or threat of punishment can work in an employer-employee relationship or in a master-slave relationship, but this is not God’s heart. Reward or punishment may gain compliance, but they will not secure loyalty of the heart. To think that God’s promise of heaven and His threat of hell is a means for God to coerce us to obey and worship Him is a misunderstanding of God’s character and of the Gospel. The Gospel is God’s loving rescue plan for a world that is separated from Him by sin and already heading to hell.
If morality was all God wanted, Paul would have arrived, for his religious pedigree, zeal for God, and moral performance were stellar:
Philippians 3:5-6 (NIV)
5 “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;
6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless”
Pharisees were known for scrupulously keeping the law to the minutest detail. Paul was not only a Pharisee, he was also the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6), meaning that even from childhood he grew up learning the law and keeping it. He even describes his moral performance based on the law as “faultless,” not something most can claim. Yet even with his “faultless” keeping of the law, we know from Romans 7 that Paul struggled with the inward principle of sin. The same moral law that he faultlessly followed, exposed the covetousness of his own heart. Though his moral performance was stellar, Paul saw the power of “indwelling sin” working in his own life and he came to a place of despair over this inner conflict.
Romans 7:22–24 (NIV)
22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;
23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.
24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
Thankfully, Paul met Christ on the Damascus Road and discovered the answer to his conflicted condition of “indwelling sin.” After encountering Christ, Paul’s deep despair gave rise to a paean of praise as he declared, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25 NIV).
In Romans 8, Paul then explains how Christ’s death and the power of God’s Spirit sets us free from the condemnation of the moral law and from the power of sin and death. To understand what Paul is saying in Romans 7 and 8, we must realize that he is speaking of three different laws:
God’s law – consisting of the 10 Commandments and the other moral laws in the Old Testament
The law of sin and death – the principle or power of indwelling sin that enslaves us.
The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus – the power of God's life-giving Spirit that indwells the believer, freeing him from the power of indwelling sin.
The moral law has ability to show us our sin and condemn us for it, but it does not have the power to free us from sin. It functions much like a medical diagnostic. A biopsy can tell us we have cancer and that we will die because of it, but it doesn't have the power to cure that cancer. The law can show us God’s standard, show us how we have fallen short of God’s standard, and condemn us for our failure to keep that standard, but it doesn’t empower us to keep it. So, the law can show us how God wants us to live, but it doesn’t have the power to change our hearts and enable us to obey. Overcoming cancer needs medical intervention by trained professionals. In the same way, overcoming sin requires intervention by God.
Good news! What the moral law could not do, God in His amazing grace did (Romans 8:3-4). By giving His Son to take our penalty for sin (Romans 5:6-10, 8:3-4) and by sending His Holy Spirit to indwell us and empower us to overcome sin (Romans 8:5-14; Galatians 5:16-25), he cures our cancer of sin. So, by the atoning death of Christ we are freed from God’s judgment, and by the power of the indwelling Spirit we are freed from the law of sin and death.
Overcoming sin is not a matter of picking ourselves up by our own bootstraps; rather it is a result of God’s amazing grace. Grace forgives us. Grace removes the curse and penalty of sin’s cancer. Grace breaks sin’s dominion. Grace joins us to Christ and God. Grace fills us with spiritual power to walk in victory over sin. “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Much like the law of aerodynamics sets us free from the law of gravity, Paul tells us that “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2 NIV). The law of gravity describes how particles and bodies of mass are attracted to each other. The force of their attraction can be determined based on various factors such as size and density and motion, allowing scientists to calculate gravitation with known mathematical formulas. Because the earth is such a large mass, everything on the earth is attracted to its center. It is this law that causes everything and everyone to stay grounded and not float away regardless of the earth’s rotation. It is this law that causes a plumb line to hang perfectly vertical to the earth’s core no matter where it is used on the earth. It is this law that causes a water level to work or a large body of water to conform to the curve of the earth. Gravity is an important law.
But the law of gravity can be overcome by the law of aerodynamics. There are several principles that work together for aerodynamics to operate. In short, when there is proper thrust, the shape of a plane’s wing causes a certain airflow that results in lift. According to Bernoulli’s Principle, where the airflow velocity is high, the pressure is low and where the airflow velocity is low, the pressure is high. Because air flows faster over the top of the wing than the bottom due to its shape, it creates a low pressure above the wing and a high pressure below the wing, which causes a plane to lift.
The law of gravity is a force that pulls us to earth, but the law of aerodynamics enables us to rise above the law of gravity. Similarly, the power of God’s life-giving Spirit enables us to live in victory over the power of sin - often referred to by the apostle Paul as “the flesh.”
Romans 8:12–13 (NIV)
12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it.
13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
Galatians 5:16 (NIV)
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
Unlike special military aircraft that can be refueled in flight, most planes need to land for refueling. But the Christian need never be grounded by sin if he walks in continuous reliance on the Holy Spirit. God’s supply never runs dry, but it does require us to walk under the control of the Spirit to overcome sinful desires, and by the power of the Spirit to put to death those fleshly desires that would seek to be carried out in thought, word, or deed.
Romans 6:12–13 (NIV)
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.
13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.
Paul’s encounter with the resurrected Christ and His experience of the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:1-19) dramatically changed his life and caused Him to re-evaluate his religious attainments. After his conversion, he described his religious ancestry, his fervor for God, and his faultless moral performance as boasting in “the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). Apparently, “the flesh” doesn’t always manifest in overt sins, but sometimes in religious achievements that serve “fleshly” motivations for personal glory. Certainly, this was true of the hypocrites that Jesus described as “practicing righteousness” -- praying, fasting, and giving – with the motive “that they may be seen by men” (Matthew 6:1-5, 16-18).
After encountering Christ, Paul devalued all his religious attainments and placed His boast in Christ (Philippians 3:4-14). In fact, in view of knowing Christ and the righteousness which he had by faith in Christ, Paul counted his religious pedigree, his unguided zeal for God, and his “faultless” adherence to the law as worthless. It’s as if Paul stacked all of his religious attainments on one side of a balance scale and Christ on the other side. The value of knowing Christ so exceeded the value of his religious attainments that Paul discarded them as rubbish. Paul crescendos his conclusion by his repeated use of “I consider loss” (NIV) or “I count as loss” (NASB).
At first Paul considers his “gains … as loss” for “the sake of Christ.” He is basically saying, what I once considered valuable is no longer valuable in light of Christ. Then Paul escalates to considering “all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ.” In other words, none of these gains even compares with the exceeding value of my relational intimacy with Christ Jesus my Lord. Then Paul climaxes with “I have suffered the loss of all things” and considering them “rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” The word “suffered” means “to forfeit.” Paul forfeited all his religious attainments and the accolades of men that accompanied them, and he counts them all as “rubbish,” literally “dung, animal excrement” that he might gain Christ. What Paul once valued and committed his life to, he now considers worthless, noxious, and even repulsive in light of gaining Christ and the righteousness that comes by faith through Christ (Philippians 3:9).
This is what God wants. He doesn’t want coerced compliance based on the promise of reward and the threat of punishment – though heaven and hell are very real (see footnote 2). But rather, He wants us to see the value of knowing Him and in view of that value, considering everything else as “cow pie” in comparison. In the parables of the hidden treasure and the priceless pearl, the buyer of the field and the merchant gladly sold everything to acquire the treasure and the pearl (Matthew 13:44-46). God wants us to experience His great love for us in Christ, see the inestimable value of knowing Him, and in response turn from our sin, and love Him because He first loved us.
When we struggle to give to God our sins or our rights or our plans or anything of personal value, it is because we have not seen or have lost a revelation of the value of Christ. When we truly see and experience the surpassing value of knowing Christ, we will with joy sell everything to gain Him.
Often when we have been taught sanctification, the emphasis has been on the negative side of its meaning. Sanctification means to be set apart from a profane or common use unto God for His holy purposes. The Sabbath Day was holy because it was set apart from all other days and it was set apart unto God for His purposes of rest and worship. The temple was considered holy because it was set apart from all other buildings unto God for His presence and for worship of Him. Though sanctification does mean to be set apart from, the emphasis is to set something apart unto God for His purposes, not simply to set it apart.
At times, the church has denounced sin in all its forms because Christians are to be set apart from this world and the ways of this world (John 17:13-17; 1 John 2:15-17), but too often we have produced moralists and legalists who are set apart from the world, but not unto God. We have warned believers, “Don’t smoke, drink, or chew, or run with girls who do,” but we haven’t shown them the value of knowing Jesus. Consequently, we have people who live morally, but don’t really know and love Jesus. Certainly, we need to address the many important moral issues that we are facing in our world today – something I plan to do from time to time in future blogs – but it’s more important that we show people Jesus and help them fall in love with Him. When people have a true revelation of Christ and see the surpassing value of knowing Him, then they won’t begrudgingly give up sin. Rather, with joy, they will “sell everything” to gain Christ.
God’s plan was not to create robots who do His every bidding, nor is it His goal to produce moralists who conform out of coercion. Rather, He wants a transformed people who change from within because they have been touched by His love and are indwelt by His Spirit. A real flower naturally takes on all the qualities of a flower – beauty, aroma, growth, and reproduction – because it is alive. In the same way, believers will grow in Christlikeness as they yield to the life-giving Holy Spirit who indwells them. The Holy Spirit desires the things of God. It is His nature to be holy and to want to please God. In contrast, it is the nature of “the flesh” to desire sin and to want to please ourselves. As we yield to the life of God's Spirit who indwells us, we will overcome the power of sin found in our flesh. It is by the power of the Spirit that we can rise above sin’s downward pull and live in a way that is pleasing to God. It is the power of the Spirit that enables us to be transformed from the inside out.
In theology, sanctification refers to being set apart to God and the process of being made holy. There are aspects of God’s sanctifying work in our lives that are immediate because of what Christ has done on the cross, and there are aspects that are progressive as the Holy Spirit changes us from glory to glory into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). There are aspects of sanctification that are God’s part and made possible by Christ’s death for us and the power of His Holy Spirit living in us, and there are aspects of sanctification that are our responsibility in cooperation with God’s enabling grace - such as abiding in Christ, renewing our minds, and yielding to the Spirit’s work in our lives. Furthermore, God often uses outside forces such as people, trials, and discipline to shape our lives into greater Christlikeness - though in reality it is not these forces, but our response to these forces that brings change. Future blogs will explore some of these processes for transforming us into the image of Christ.
 Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: Harper Collins, 1980, 47-48.
 Due to my purpose and focus for this blog post, I must defer expanding on this point to a future post.
 This is what I was taught by my uncle who was a physics professor. However, I do understand that Bernoulli's Principle is only partially responsible for creating lift on an airplane and that there are other important factors involved as well. My intent is to make a spiritual point, not to cover the finer technicalities of aerodynamics.