The end of ourselves

Christians need to have a deeper spiritual experience in order to be useful to God.

Gonzalo Sepúlveda

Oh miserable man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).

This well-known exclamation of Paul in Romans 7 often bewilders many Christians. Many tend to doubt that this expression represents a born-again believer. Instead it seems to them to represent the condition of a worldly person who has no relation to Jesus Christ the savior. However, we have to recognize that this famous chapter 7 of the book of Romans is very well located within the New Testament.

The revelation of ourselves

Until halfway through chapter 5 of Romans, Paul extensively sets forth the work of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross in its external relation to man: the washing away of sins committed through the blood poured out (3:25), the rest of the conscience or the blessedness of the person who knows he is forgiven (4:7) and at peace with God (5:1). But from the second half of chapter 5 of this important letter, the Holy Spirit begins to reveal to us the condition of “ourselves”; not only now the transgressions and sins that separated us from a holy God but rather the “constitution” of man himself because of what he has inherited from Adam (5:19).

None of the fruits of true Christianity can be established in the practical life and testimony of the believer, unless he can understand this vital revelation that Scripture shows us about ourselves. The longed-for restoration of the church, the corporate life, the working together of all the members, the unity of the sons of God born again in Christ, the testimony of the gospel through the church to the nations, etc.  won’t be possible, won’t be a joyful reality unless  we all, or most of us, or at least many brothers and sisters in Christ arrive at a clear and intelligent experience of Romans 6 and 7.

One of the biggest shames in contemporary Christianity is that a great majority of brothers don’t get beyond Romans 4 in their experience of faith, which makes them tremendously vulnerable at the time of facing testing situations, tribulations, persecutions, disillusionments, conflicts between brothers (read in divisions), and spiritual battles with the enemy, Satan, the accuser.

When we read Romans 12 to 16 we find the longed-for church: all the members loving one another, blessing and giving preference to one another (12), with a faithful testimony before their fellow man, before the civil authorities, casting aside the works of darkness and clothing themselves with Jesus Christ (13), receiving one another without arguing, despising or judging, living for the Lord (14), bearing with one another and abounding in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit, full of all knowledge (15), and all the saints serving the Lord joyfully, opening up their houses for fellowship with the church and for evangelizing, attentive against any possible division or stumbling block against their doctrine (Christ) always serving “our Lord Jesus Christ” and crushing Satan beneath its feet (16).  The blessed church of Christ, the blessed bride that waits for her beloved, the blessed testimony to those who still lie in their sins, the blessed light to a world that is selfish and enslaved to degrading passions.  That is the church desired by every faithful servant and by Christ Himself. It is the glorious church, the latter glory (greater than the former), for which the Lord will come back, closing up the age of grace and initiating the new age of His blessed reign (as it is announced in Revelation 12:10, 19:7 and 20:6).

But beloved brothers, none of this can happen unless we pass through the ‘mill’ of Romans 6 and 7.  We have to arrive at the end of “ourselves”, to see ourselves as miserable men and women, incapable of fulfilling the divine purposes; our own strength needs to be weakened in the extreme, to give way to the ever powerful and triumphant life of the Holy Spirit. When a christian has not passed through this type of crisis, he tends to become dangerous –and moreover untrustworthy- in the work of God.

When Peter suggested to the Lord that he shouldn’t go to Jerusalem, without realizing it, he was resorting to his own ideas, or in other words, his natural strength, his “good intentions”.  As we know, the Lord attributed to Satan the same such intentions (Matthew 16: 22-23). (In this episode, Peter represents many inexperienced Christians, in need of further formation, full of good opinions but far from pleasing to the Lord.)  It was only after the sad episode of his denial that this servant came to see himself as he really was.  Such an experience is the best resemblance of what the apostle Paul relates in Romans 7: 24. In those bitter tears (Matthew 26: 75), Peter became truly conscious of his personal wretchedness.

In Luke 5: 8, Peter is aware of the sins committed in his life before he knew the Lord Jesus, but in Matthew 26 he comes to realize his natural incapacity for pleasing the Lord in his own strength: he had the “willing of the good, but not the doing of the good” (Romans 7: 18). This is what we could technically define as “the operation or subjective experience of the cross”. In the Old Testament, this point is broadly typified in all the failures of Israel through their wanderings in the desert and also in the circumcision of all the men on the hill of ‘Gibbeath-haaraloth’, related in the book of Joshua chapter 5, amongst other passages.

The need for a deeper experience

Beloved brothers and sisters, who in every place call upon the precious name of our Lord Jesus Christ with a clean heart, we live at a crucial time in the development of God’s purpose in this generation. It is necessary and urgent that we bow our hearts before the throne of our blesséd God and Father and recognise that unless the resurrection life of our Lord Jesus Christ is manifested through each one of us, we will not be of great usefulness in His kingdom. For this, it is necessary that His Word becomes life in us, that we leave behind us the times of laziness and negligence, the times where we only read favourite devotional passages in our bibles, and we beg the Lord to reveal to us His Word of the cross (I Cor 1: 18) just as He desires that we should know it; so that we may press on towards a higher, more mature stage of our experience in Christ Jesus.

For how long will our testimony be limited to the experience of the washing away of our sins by His blood? Is it not already time to rise up and proclaim that in Christ we have died to sin and that we have also died to the law? Let us not rest (in reality rest won’t be posible) until what is written in Romans 6,7 and 8 beomes part of our very life, of our blessed experience in Christ. Otherwise, we will go on to form part of the extensive list of frustrated Christians, who never entered into the riches of the grace of our God and are exposed to suffering great loss at the judgement seat of Christ.

God calls us to be protagonists in our time, overcomers in the midst of a luke-warm and conformist Christianity. It is time to rise up with the power of “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” so that the Lord Jesus Christ obtains His glorious church. He will obtain it, without any doubt, but our aspiration should be to be part of it: be part of the bride dressed in fine linen, be one of the overcomers of Revelation 2, one of the faithful servants of Matthew 25.

It’s easy to recognise the life of Christ flowing in another brother. There is a beautiful and simple relationship of fellowship, of love and even of service, between servants, brothers and sisters who only have Christ Himself at the centre of their lives. Otherwise, if we just find a ‘wise Christian’ with knowledge beyond our reach, with a Christian life that is religious and theoretical, when we relate to such a brother, we will perhaps find good doctrine, with a beautiful story, but in sum we will only touch a ‘man’ who holds certain truths (for which he may fight, even to the point of surrendering  his life), but sadly, because we don’t find the unmistakable life of Christ in him, fellowship is something that’s almost impossible…..  The cross has not been worked out in experience; the arrogance and self-sufficiency of the natural man are still too present.

Surely, for many of our readers this topic will be familiar and recurrent in this publication, but somehow we feel that we should not stop insisting on it, since the ignorance of many sons of God holds them captive, with no way out nor answer to the great question of why their faith ceases to grow and mature. It is sad to see multitudes of Christians in many places, following erroneous leaderships and/or doctrines. Often, the Lord’s sheep end up being fleeced by those who – as Paul prophesied in Acts 20:29 – not sparing the flock, make merchandise of the saints, who lie there in their ignorance, clouded by external aspects of the faith.

Many end up frustrated and disillusioned because they never matured; they lived by the faith of others, until they become entangled in their own ruin. Let us say finally, that God wants us, as well as recognising that we are sinners because of the faults that we have committed, to arrive at the end of ourselves, to recognise that unless Christ lives in us (this implies our crucifixion in Him) we will never be able to please Him. So we will cling to the Holy Spirit, powerful to make us alive on the inside and, in fellowship with those who have denied themselves, we will see the most glorious days of the history of the church… the glorious church for which our heavenly Bridegroom won’t delay in returning!

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