Belinda, Bethany and I travel a lot and a good bit of it includes long haul flights. And of course those who have experienced such themselves will appreciate the sheer misery entailed. 10 hours trapped in scuzz-class (er, I mean…economy!) at the back of the plane, desperately trying to sleep in a seat with about as much legroom as your average broom cupboard, in a crowded cabin that’s as quiet and peaceful as having a vacuum cleaner strapped to each ear. We have twice been bumped up to Business Class over the years, and man, I gotta tell you, it’s like spending a whole day (or night) in an up-market restaurant! The fine-dining just keeps on coming, and the most strenuous thing you have to do is hold down the button on your seat long enough for it to recline into bed configuration so you can sleep off the last classy meal for a couple of hours in preparation for the next one. (It’s obviously not easy – but hey, someone’s got to do it, so why not me?)
As it happens we just a few days ago arrived in the States having endured yet another such flight (and no, we didn’t get bumped; and no, it’s not fair; and yes, I have repented of discontent!), and I am still aching, still tired and still grateful beyond words not to be in an airplane. The very best thing about flying, or at least in cattle-class (er, I mean economy!) is that at least you eventually get to disembark. And disembarking this particular flight was all the more welcome after a bit of a roller-coaster ride of a landing due to strong side winds and pretty severe turbulence. That the pilot had warned us in advance of all this was, of course, reassuring, so we at least knew weren’t actually crashing (which is what it felt like) but that didn’t stop it from being, to say the least, a bit unpleasant. But we eventually landed safe and sound, such being my personal definition of a great flight. (Can you imagine how frustrating it must be in Business Class if you thought you were going to crash before finishing the canapés and that rather special glass of red? Man, that would be rough! The inconveniences and difficulties all those poor rich people have to face!)
What the Lord has done for us
But of course I mention all this for purposes other than just trying to generate sympathy at having to fly cattle-class (though obviously feel free to sympathise all you like), and am always struck by what a wonderful picture flying gives us of what the Lord has done for us so that our sins can be not merely forgiven, but actually, to a significant (though not complete) degree, overcome. Think of it like this:
Our sinfulness is like the law of gravity being referred to in scripture as the law of sin and death. It is unwavering and ever present, and like the law of gravity there is absolutely nothing any of us can do to affect it, change it or get rid of it. Sin, like gravity, is simply there, and it works both on us and in us as surely as gravity ensures that if you jump out of a tree then, all things being equal, you will most certainly fall to the ground. Yet there is another law that comes into affect whenever momentum combines with upward thrust, whether because of the presence of wings or rocket propulsion, called the law of aerodynamics; and aerodynamics, as long as the necessary thrust is present, will always trump the law of gravity. In other words, when you have wings you can most surely fly.
What the Lord has done then is to give us wings so we can, spiritually speaking, fly. It’s like a caterpillar that has as much chance of overcoming gravity and flying as I have of being the next James Bond. Yet when it turns into a butterfly with wings, as it eventually does, it instead becomes subject to that higher law of aerodynamics and can fly. Likewise, when we turned to Jesus, His life was placed within us, and because of that, because of this new nature, we now have spiritual wings that, when presented with the necessary momentum, cause us to fly. As a bird overcomes the downward drag of the force of gravity, so believers can overcome likewise downward drag in their lives of the law of sin and death. In other words, the law of the life in Christ Jesus, as scripture calls it, supersedes the law of sin and death in our lives and victory over sin can hence become a reality. Wonderful indeed, yet not the whole story!
What happens though when a bird stops flapping its wings, or when an airplane runs out of fuel and therefore out of forward thrust? Yeah! That’s right! The law of gravity is quickly discovered to have not gone anywhere…and down you go! So it’s not that the law of aerodynamics does away with gravity, merely that it supersedes it to the extent that the necessary power (momentum and upward thrust) is present and active. So too with us and our sinfulness. Just because we know the Lord and have the new nature in His likeness doesn’t mean that our sinfulness has actually gone anywhere. One day we will be rid of it because it resides in our bodies, and we will eventually have glorified ones, but in the meantime, in this life, we remain wretched sinners.
The difference between before were saved and now isn’t, therefore, that we have stopped being sinners, but that we have also become saints and have been given our spiritual wings. But the moment we stop flapping those wings, the moment we lose the momentum and upward thrust of looking to Jesus and hanging on to Him for dear life, the moment we trust ourselves and not Him, then guess what! You got it! Gravity takes back over, so to speak, the law of sin and death exerts itself and our sinfulness, which, just like the law of gravity, is always there, becomes the controlling force in our lives rather than the Lord’s life in us.
And that’s the balance we must both understand and maintain. That’s why the New Testament refers to believers as saints far more than it ever refers to us as sinners, yet also makes clear (through, for example, John’s first letter) that any Christian who thinks they have no sin is merely deceiving themselves. It is also why Paul, in a letter he wrote to Timothy towards the end of his life, refers to himself, in the present tense, as being the chief of sinners! There are Christians who are lax when it comes to their sin, and there are Christians who, by way of contrast, think they are largely free of it. Both are, of course, in a truly sorry state. Perhaps not much needs to be said about those who are just knowingly lax regarding their sins, except that they are a complete disgrace and should be ashamed of themselves; but for those who are, admittedly, doubtless more zealous, yet believe themselves to be largely free of sin, I have this to say.
Any brother who thinks he doesn’t sin much needs to have an honest talk with his wife. Likewise for any sisters who feel the same concerning themselves! If they were to just give them the chance, their husbands would, I guarantee, soon put them right. It is simply the case that, when it comes to answering the question as to how we are doing in our walk with the Lord, self-assessment alone is next to useless. Our hearts are just too deceitful for any of us to trust our own judgment of ourselves, and of course it is primarily ourselves that our hearts are primarily deceiving. No, it’s folk other than ourselves who know whether we are truly in right relationship with the Lord or not, hence the need for ongoing significant fellowship with other believers who can hold us to account, as we likewise do for them.
What is salvation?
So hey, truth of the matter is that we really don’t ever need to sin, and we have no excuse when we do. That we clearly do still sin though scripture makes obvious, and confession and repentance should be both our daily duty and ongoing practice. But that doesn’t change the reality of what Jesus has done both for us and in us. In his letter to the Romans Paul confirms the reality in our lives of this terrible thing he calls the law of sin and death, but extols too the equal and opposite reality of what he calls the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus: and that, and that alone, is why we can know a real and true ongoing and progressive deliverance from the power of sin in our lives. Salvation is basically this:
- We have been set free from the penalty of sin (Justification – our past salvation!)
- We are being set free from the power of sin (Sanctification – our present salvation!)
- We will one day be set free from the very presence of sin (Glorification – our future salvation!)
This should indeed make us want to love the Lord with our whole hearts, minds, bodies and strength. It should cause any who are lax concerning their sin to fall on their face in confession and repentance, and it should cause any who think they are doing well on the holiness front to stop assessing themselves by their own pitifully low standard and fall on their face and do likewise. As for me, my Christian life is the seemingly continual process of being wrestled back to the ground by the Lord as I stand up again and again in my own strength in pride and sinfulness.
If any of us have not yet come to that place then we should pray to the Lord that He might humble us and take us there. But if we are among those who consider that they have progressed beyond such a place, then we need to stop deceiving ourselves and get back to where we began our walk with the Lord in the first place, and where we should have never actually strayed from: that is, on our faces in repentance at the foot of the cross!