When it comes to the Christian faith, becoming a Christian is not the same as being one. Becoming a Christian happens through the Great Exchange. God exchanges the righteousness of Christ for our unrighteousness. On the cross Jesus took our sins upon Himself (Colossians 2:13-14) and gave us His righteousness in return (2 Corinthians 5:21). All those who have trusted in Christ as their Savior stand before God, clothed in the righteousness of Christ forevermore. And that Great Exchange took place in the instant we believed!
But when it comes to being a Christian in our daily lives . . . that takes a lifetime.
The seventh chapter of Romans makes it perfectly clear that indwelling sin will be with us until we reach the other side of the Jordan. The old nature fights against the new nature every step of the way (Galatians 5:17). Now, please understand that the apostle Paul did not write that chapter to discourage us with the prospect of living in continual defeat; he wrote it to encourage us that we should not expect to live in continual victory. Sin will always be present in our Christian life, but we will be progressively delivered from sin’s power throughout this life as we walk with our Lord.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25)
I doubt anyone would disagree that Paul was one of the most courageous and godly saints who ever walked this earth . . . yet he readily admitted that he wrestled with indwelling sin throughout his Christian life. Take comfort from that! We aren’t comforted by the fact that Paul struggled with his own sin, so much as we draw strength from the knowledge that we are not alone in this ongoing struggle with our sin.
Surely only a true Christian can cry out like this, because only a true Christian has two natures at war within. Prior to conversion, there is only one nature, and it is fallen, corrupt, and dead in trespasses and sins. It is not at war with itself. But when Jesus raises a dead sinner to life and gives us the new nature, the battle begins . . . and it will not end until the flesh is buried in the grave.
We become a Christian in the instant we believe; being a Christian is a daily battle. It is a lifelong process of struggling with sin, repenting of that sin, turning away from that sin and toward our Savior, and living in the power of the Holy Spirit. I find it remarkable that Paul would cry out with such desperate need and then provide us with the only hope for every Christian: Jesus Christ our Lord.
You see, our understanding of being a Christian is rooted in our understanding of becoming a Christian. Marinating in the truth that we have been joined to Jesus (Romans 6:5) provides us both the motive and the motivation to keep fighting the good fight, no matter how many times we get knocked down.
We know that the war was won on the cross. We know that the Lord occupies the throne of our lives, so that sin and death no longer reign. But we also know by way of experience that sin still remains and will do everything it can to draw our affections away from Christ. The key to being a Christian is to keep the Gospel before us. We must never shrink our view of the cross and begin to believe that we have grown beyond the Gospel. Never forget: the Gospel is for sinners, and we are still sinners after we have been saved. The Gospel is meant for us every bit as much after we have become Christians as it was before, and therefore we must rest in it daily.
There is no greater consolation in all of Scripture than that final verse in Romans 7—“Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” A heart filled with thanksgiving for what God has already done, and what He has promised still to do, is a heart that beats for Jesus. And the more our hearts beat for Jesus, the less they will beat for the things of this world.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!