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God's Treasure in Earthen Vessels
by David A. DePra
The number one reason why Christians have great difficulty believing that they are really new creations, and really fully justified by God, is that our works continually indicate otherwise. Thus, we look at our works and see a contradiction to what the Bible teaches is the Truth. The Bible says we have a new identity: We are saints. We are new creations. Our works tells us that we are still sinners, and old creations. And the enemy supplies plenty of lies to keep our head spinning. He will say, "You are silly to believe this stuff. Everyday your works prove to you that it is simply not true."
The subtlety in all of this is that when we look at our works, see they contradict the Bible, and then doubt the Truth of God – this is exactly what it means to put our faith in our works! That is exactly what it means to walk "under the law" – in legalism. Some of us are so used to doing this that we don’t even think about it. To us, it is business as usual. But it is keeping us from the liberty God has for us.
Sin and Grace
The reason it is folly to look to our works as evidence that God has made us righteous, is that God never looked at them TO make us righteous. Our righteousness was never based on our works to begin with. So why are we basing our righteousness on them NOW?
Where we getting tripped up, of course, is that we know we are supposed to live a Godly life in Jesus Christ. And because we don’t seem to be able to live it, we think that there is something wrong. But according to the Bible, there is nothing wrong. The apostle Paul was very open about his own personal challenges:
Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:12-25)
Paul is describing a condition where he WANTS to obey God, but finds that he cannot. The cause of this struggle is "indwelling sin," that is, the sin nature which continues to be present in his flesh, or outward man. This constantly fights against – wars against – his real desire to obey God.
Why is this sin nature still there? Aren’t we dead to sin? Sure. But that does not mean the sin nature ceased to exist. No. We continual to live in an UNSAVED physical body. In a fallen creation, subject to the enemy. But it does mean we are freed from the control of the sin nature. But even then it takes time for the Holy Spirit to show us THAT we are free, HOW we are free, and HOW to walk in that freedom. Paul is describing himself to be in the middle of this process – which all of us are. We will be there until we die.
But despite all of the normal struggles, Paul is clear about one thing: None of this warfare changes the fact that, in Christ, he is righteous. None of it takes away from the fact of his new identity. All Paul is saying is that he, like us, is having trouble living out the new identity God has put within him.
Herein we see a great Truth about Christian liberty: Nothing we do affects our true identity in Jesus Christ. It was never based on works, and never will be. We are either born again or we are not. But even if we are, we are going to have to deal with sin. And that will be a warfare.
Not a Surrender
We do need to clear about one thing: Paul never says to surrender to the flesh. No. You keep striving to obey God. And if you do this in faith in the finished victory of Christ, you will eventually find the victory and freedom. You will HAVE to find it. It has already been won by Christ.
This is why Paul says, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." He knows that the victory is assured. It is just a matter of God bringing him to the place where it is realized in his experience.
The key here is to keep our faith in Christ – regardless of our sins and failures. If we do, the victory of Christ will be ours. It is ALREADY ours as a possession. But if we keep our faith in Christ, it will be ours by experience.
God promises us that we will be in a warfare regarding these things. In fact, it is a sure sign that something is WRONG if we are not struggling:
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. (Gal. 5:16-18)
If there is NO struggle, then it means that one of the two sides in the warfare has surrendered, or doesn’t exist. Well, the flesh will never surrender, and it certainly does exist. Thus, no struggle means either we don’t have the Spirit of God, or we have surrendered to the flesh.
Paul illustrates this struggle by speaking of himself as almost TWO people. He says, "So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." This is normal for a Christian. We have an outer man – which is fashioned after Adam. But we have an inner man – which is fashioned according to Christ. Thus, we may do much that is unrighteous. But we don’t want to. That’s because God has put in us, by the Holy Spirit, a righteous life.
Notice, however what Paul says – regardless of all of the struggle and warfare, and even the failures. He says, "But if you are led of the Spirit you are not under the law." In other words, your works are not determining whether you are righteous. They are not what you are to look at. You are righteous only by faith in the righteous One. Keep your faith in HIM.
For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.….For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…..For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. (see II Cor. 4:4-5:5)If you read the above passage, you will not find a hint that the victory is anything but assured for those whose faith is in Christ. Paul acknowledges that we have this TREASURE in "earthen vessels." And he says that those earthen vessels are, everyday, in the process of passing away. But the result will be that those earthen vessels will one day break apart and reveal the true person within – who is righteous in Jesus Christ.
But we need not wait until we die for all of this to happen. That’s when the fullness of it will be realized. But right now we can experience some of it. We do it by keeping our faith in Christ – regardless of our good works or bad works – and by seeking the Truth. Do that and a person cannot go wrong.
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