Change is not outside-in or inside-out. It’s outside-up.

To change internally through external acts can be flesh.

But to change externally through internal devotions can be just as flesh-ly.

Conversely, the external application of word and sacrament can have a wonderful effect internally.

And an internal resolve to look away to Christ can brilliantly impact your externals.

Neither outside-in nor inside-out is the right method for change.  The division the bible makes is between flesh and Spirit.

The real issue is whether the Spirit is leading us to Jesus and His finished work. It’s the Spirit who takes us outside to Christ who offers up our true standing before the Father.

I talk about this here in a recent sermon on Romans 8 (audio here).

13For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live,

What does it mean to put to death the misdeeds of the body by the Spirit.  Not by the law, not by the flesh, not by will power or human effort.  What does change look like that is by the Spirit?

Well, imagine you lie.  You lie to protect your reputation, you tell everyone you’ve done something that you haven’t done to sound like a big shot.  And afterwards you feel bad about lying.  And you want to stop lying like that because it’s getting to be a habit.

Now at that point – what is Christian about that resolve?  Non-Christians resolve to tell the truth too.  There’s nothing Christian about trying to be a better person.  There’s nothing Christian about putting sins to death.  It’s the WAY you put them to death that’s the real difference.

See, you could put it to death through the law.  You could say “The law says Thou shalt not lie.  I’ve broken the law.  I’ll punish myself and put myself under condemnation until I feel I’ve done my penance and then I’ll try really, really hard to be honest next time.”

Two problems with the law approach.  First, it doesn’t work.  Second, I’ve just resolved to be my own Saviour.  I don’t need Jesus for this.  I don’t need the cross, I don’t need the Spirit.  I’m just trying to be more moral.  There’s nothing Christian about resolving to tell the truth.

But Paul tells me to put lying to death BY THE SPIRIT.

What’s that?  Well to figure out that, we need to figure out what the Spirit is up to in the world.  And verse 14 will tell us what we need to know.  Here’s what the Spirit is up to:

14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Verse 15 calls the Spirit “the Spirit of Sonship.”  So the Spirit of the Son makes US sons and daughters of God.  The Spirit sweeps us up into Jesus so that we share Jesus’ relationship with God.  And what is Jesus’ relationship with God.  He is the Son, who calls out to God, “Abba, Father.”  And now, BY THE SPIRIT, so do we!

Abba is a word for Daddy in many middle eastern languages.  It’s intimate, it’s affectionate.  It’s also deeply respectful.  But here’s the question: Who on earth gets to call Almighty God, Abba?  Calling the Queen “Liz” is bad enough.  But at least calling her Liz doesn’t presume anything about your relationship to the Queen.  To call God “Daddy” you’re not only being incredibly intimate with God, you’re also making a claim on Him.  You’re saying “God, You are my Father and I am Your child.”  And children have certain rights.  In verse 17, Paul will tell us one of those rights – we have inheritance rights – as children of God we are heirs of the cosmos.

So that’s what the Spirit is up to – He’s communicating Christ to me, He’s testifying to me that I am in Jesus and in Him God is my Father, He’s communicating all that that means…

Now come back to verse 13 and ask “What does it mean to put to death the misdeeds of this Adamic body BY THE SPIRIT?”

Here’s what it means.  It means I open up my bible, I read the Spirit’s words and I allow Him to tell me:  “Glen, don’t you realize you HAVE the righteousness of Christ?!  You ARE God’s beloved child, unimprovably so.  So Glen, when you lied, who were you trying to impress?  Why lie?  You are dead to lying now, not because there’s an anti-lying law.  You’re dead to lying because, What need is there to lie?

The Spirit is constantly telling me, “I am a trillionaire walking around the millionaires club.”  And my lying exaggeration is like flashing around a counterfeit £50 note, trying to impress people.  That doesn’t impress people in the millionaires club.  And it completely forgets that I have a trillion pounds to my name?  What am I doing?

So put lying to death BY THE SPIRIT.

It works for all sins.

Put porn to death BY THE SPIRIT.  Why go after that counterfeit intimacy, when Jesus brings us into His eternal fellowship with the Father?

Put covetousness to death BY THE SPIRIT.  Do you really need the latest outfit or the latest gadget, when you’re about to inherit the universe?

Put anger and harsh words to death BY THE SPIRIT.  Don’t you realize you’re loved and appreciated and declared righteous in the heavenly realms?  Do you really need to assert your rights here and now?

Whatever the misdeeds of your Adam nature, put them to death BY THE SPIRIT.

To change by the Spirit means to have my gaze drawn to Christ who is my righteousness.  It means the Spirit re-reminding me that Christ is my standing before the Father.  All my sins spring from trying to live independently of Jesus and establishing my own standing in the world.  So look out to Christ who offers up the real you.  That’s how Christian change occurs.

Posted on by glenscriv in anthropology, pastoral theology, sanctification

6 Responses to Change is not outside-in or inside-out. It’s outside-up.

  1. Sarah

    So does putting something to death by the spirit mean that instead of knowing you did it wrong because the law says you did, you know you did it wrong because the spirit says ‘did you really need to do that, because…’? When you keep doing the same things (like lying) do you then continually have to repent and put it to death by the spirit as well as actively trying to stop doing what it is you are?

  2. Glen

    Hey Sarah,

    Well the Spirit *is* constantly reminding us of our status in Christ: “The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16). Bringing that truth to bear on the ridiculous sins we commit is indeed a continual thing. But it’s even stronger than saying “I really must try to stop doing that.”

    It’s a case of saying “That’s not me. That’s the crucified me. I’m totally dead to that.”

    It’s not about lifting ourselves out of the pit by our bootstraps. It’s declaring over ourselves the truth of the gospel – “I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live, Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

    That’s war with sin “by the Spirit”.

  3. Sarah

    Does that mean it’s more about the Spirits war with sin, rather than our own war with sin? ‘Cos we cannot bring ourselves out of sin/save ourselves.

    Also does that mean that it’a also recognising that sin isn’t a part of us in Christ but a remnant of us without Christ? Sin is within human nature, but absent from God’s nature.

    The way we are without sin is because when we do sin Jesus takes the punishment/sin from us through His death and resurrection. If we aren’t in Christ we are still guilty of the sins we have committed, but in Him we are seen as innocent. True?

  4. Glen

    Does that mean it’s more about the Spirits war with sin, rather than our own war with sin? ‘Cos we cannot bring ourselves out of sin/save ourselves.

    I like that way of putting it. We certainly participate in it, but “the battle is the LORD’s” In Christ it’s objectively won and by the Spirit it is subjectively waged in me.

    Also does that mean that it’a also recognising that sin isn’t a part of us in Christ but a remnant of us without Christ? Sin is within human nature, but absent from God’s nature.

    Yes, so much of Romans 7 is about this (from v14 especially). E.g. “17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.”

    Paul doesn’t so much speak of “human nature” and “God’s nature” as about “Adam’s nature” and “Christ’s nature”. By birth we have Adam’s nature. By new birth we have Christ’s. We’re stuck with Adam’s until death and along the way it will produce all sorts of sins. But the real me is hidden in Christ where I am declared completely righteous.

    The way we are without sin is because when we do sin Jesus takes the punishment/sin from us through His death and resurrection. If we aren’t in Christ we are still guilty of the sins we have committed, but in Him we are seen as innocent. True?

    Yes indeed. Christ *has* taken the punishment (Romans 8:1-4) and He’s risen again to offer His new life to us by the Spirit. All who receive Him are clothed in Him and seen as more than innocent – as positively righteous!

    That’s why they call it good news!

    :D

  5. Sarah

    Proverbs 28:13 = “those who conceal their sins do not prosper, but those who confess and renounce them find mercy”

    Is this based on a similar concept in that like the Spirit in us causing us to confess and renounce our sin. Without the Spirit then are our sins concealed to even ourselves so we do not confess or recognise them?

    Adam concealed himself in the garden and was therefore trying to hide his own self/sin. Jesus could identify the sin in others and reveal it to them (like the Samaritan woman at the well).

  6. Glen

    Good verse and great point about Adam and Christ. Adam is always concealing, Christ always revealing. Therefore the counter-intuitive way of the Spirit is to confess how sinful we are – right there we show that Adam doesn’t have the last word on us, Christ is at work. And if He’s at work then we are completely righteous in Him.

    Martin Luther used to talk abuot us being simulataneously righteous and a sinner. Being a Christian is not about hiding that sin, but knowing that I’m forgiven in Christ and therefore able to admit the worst about myself.

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