The Disaster

Treating just the symptoms doesn't get to the root of the problem.

Romans 12:2a (ESV)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,

Imagine this. You go to the doctors because you have a strange tingling in your fingers. The doctors start investigating and pretty soon they aren't looking at your fingers at all. They’re interested in your spine or your brain or something else seemingly unrelated to your hands. What's up with that?

What's up is that they know what they're doing. The tingling is just a clue. Now they’re trying to fix the real problem. Any doctor who just gave you a pill to reduce the tingling in your fingers would be incompetent.

This concept is central to understanding how Christianity works. Christianity isn't about making people feel better; it's about transforming them. We see our sins as the problem. That misses the point. Our specific sins are just clues. The real problem is sin itself, and only the Holy Spirit can cure that.

The transformation that Romans 12:2 talks about is not just about conversion to Christianity. Paul is writing to people who are already Christians. We are to be transformed again and again.

The enemy of all this is legalism. Legalism emphasizes the individual sins that people commit and pressures them to stop those sins. It works. They stop.

Well, at least it looks like it works. Folks hesitate to admit their sins. Some sinful practices may even be reduced.

But it’s a disaster. The honesty and openness that the gospel encourages is crushed. The law is back! The life of pretending to be perfect is restored. Deep fellowship is lost, and everyone’s sanctification freezes.

The right approach is the gospel of grace. One of the reasons that the gospel works so well in a prison is that “pretending to be perfect” isn’t as much the norm with prisoners. That pretending makes most people so phony that even their profession of faith can be insincere.

And the sad thing is that the pretending is so deeply ingrained that no one knows that they’re doing it.

This is why we preach and teach the gospel of grace constantly. Legalism is the antithesis of Christianity.

But legalism is so natural that it dominates how we think. The society we live in is legalistic. In one sense, it has to be. We must have a legal system of laws for our society to function.

But this leads to people not being genuine about their sinfulness. Frankly, being totally honest can be too much information. So, phoniness is the norm.

I wonder if being genuine is even possible in our culture.

It sure would take a lot of practice.

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Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.