The Christian: Righteous and yet a Sinner
The Christian life is simultaneously a great joy and a great struggle. The joy and the struggle are synchronous, not sequential. It is not that we somehow graduate beyond the struggle to a life of ‘joy and peace in believing.’ To think this is to fail to understand just what the Christian life is. Let me explain.
In one of his most famous, and profound, aphorisms, Martin Luther said that the Christian was simul iustus et peccator, at the same time justified and yet a sinner. Not for one moment does the Christian rise above the reality of his sin. Not for one moment does the Christian rise above her struggles with the world, the flesh and the devil. No, a thousand times, no. It is precisely here that Satan deceives and depresses many true Christians. I am not for one moment seeking to justify low-level Christian living. I am not seeking to accommodate sin. Rather, my concern is faithfully to communicate to you, and to myself, the present reality of the Christian life.
Our Lord Jesus was (and continues to be) the perfect man. He was without flaw. He did not sin because he could not sin. And yet we are told that he experienced constant temptations. From womb to tomb Satan sought to harm him and even destroy him. Even at the last the Tempter’s voice could be heard, ‘Let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One.’ Suffering, temptation, trial, belonged to the essence of the Perfect Man’s life. It was not sin that brought these trials upon him; it was faithfulness.
So it must be then for us who have been united to Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, through faith. There is, of course, this difference: Satan has a ‘landing ground’ in all of our lives that he did not have in our Saviour’s life – remaining or indwelling sin. Our struggles against the world and its prince are accentuated by the presence of a ‘fifth column’ in our hearts. It has always been the case ‘that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.’
Why mention this? For this reason: we all need to understand the shape of the Christian life; and that shape is a cross. The life of every believer is a daily life of death and resurrection. As it was with the Perfect Man, so it will be with the brothers and sisters of the Perfect Man. This is our great privilege. But more than that, this truth reminds us to live realistically. This is what Peter meant when he wrote, ‘beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.’
Too often Satan casts us down by pointing up our struggles and battles: ‘You – a Christian?’ We need to learn to reply, ‘Yes, by the grace of God I am; and in my struggles and battles I am fighting the good fight of faith against the world, the flesh and the devil.’ Until the day you die, you will carry around in your body ‘the death of Jesus – so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in (y)our bodies.’
So, go on, and keep on going on, ‘looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of faith.’
Ian Hamilton is Pastor of the Cambridge Presbyterian Church, now worshipping God on Sunday mornings in All Saints’ Church, Jesus Lane, Cambridge and in the Lutheran Church, Huntingdon Road, on Sunday evenings.
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