Unbelievers live according to the law. They rely on the flesh. They justify their actions, accuse others of their shortcoming and transgressions, work hard to feel good about themselves, punish themselves for wrong-doings, and so forth. It’s all about what they do and don’t do.
But Christians struggle with the law as well. Christians often see salvation as the act where God puts us back at the point where Adam started out, where past sins are forgiven and we have a fresh start. “Don’t mess up because you’ll have to start all over,” we think to ourselves. Basically, we try to live the Christian life under the law in the power of the flesh.
The only problem is: We can’t fulfill the law by the power of the flesh. The flesh is the thing that keeps producing evil deeds no matter how hard we try. It is the spirit that produces the fruit of righteousness within us. There’s no law against the work of the spirit, whereas the work of the flesh always breaks the law.
Sometimes I fear we’ve forgotten that we were redeemed from slavery. We often think of slavery as bondage, which is true. We simply conclude that we are free, whereas once we were enslaved. But slavery also represents work and toil underneath a master, work that never gets us anywhere and never produces anything of value. We were saved from our work by God’s work. The work that was being done underneath slavery is ineffective and powerless. It produces death. When we try to live the Christian life in the power of the flesh, we are rebelling against God’s work, claiming that we can provide rest for ourselves. But God didn’t save us so that we could revert back to the same old master. When we forget the work that God did, the perfect eternal work of Christ’s sacrifice, we rebel against God and appoint a leader who will lead us back into Egyptian bondage (Neh. 9:17).
Embrace this truth: God ultimately saved us for the sake of his name. God revealed himself to the world in the salvation of the Israelites. God purposely set up the contest between him and Pharaoh in order to show the world his power. In redeeming the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, God made a name for himself by humbling Pharaoh and his servants through mighty signs and wonders. This is how God put his mark on the ancient world. This is how God manifested his name to all the nations. All the nations saw the greatest king of the known world humbled before a shepherd, Moses.
In a similar fashion, God has destroyed your greatest adversary, Satan, the accuser of the saints. Satan’s power over God’s creation was death; he introduced it in the Garden of Eden. Satan knew that God sent Jesus to save people from their sins, but he didn’t understand how God was going to do it. No one did. It was an eternal plan hidden from the foundation of the world within the secret decrees of God’s own council. The angels looked on, wondering how God was going to reconcile the world to himself. By sending his own son as a man, Satan thought that God had made a mistake. God would now be underneath, for the first time ever, the power of darkness. Now Satan actually had a chance to destroy God. Satan had the power of death, and Jesus, in becoming a man, was subjected to the power of Satan.
On the night of Jesus’ betrayal, Satan entered into Judas to betray Jesus. It is apparent from the gospels that, behind the scenes, Satan had been orchestrating events in order to destroy Christ. When Jesus was sent to the cross, Jesus received the greatest blow that Satan had, death. The Devil killed the Son of Man . . . but that was it . . . that’s all Satan had. He had given it his best shot.
Similar to the Israelites, God made a name for himself through our redemption. Our Lord, in the greatest sign and wonder that the world has ever witnessed, raised his son from the dead. God took Satan’s greatest power and used it to defeat him. God placed his son, a humble shepherd, before Satan and allowed him to be destroyed. Christ was swallowed up in death, and buried in a garden, a fitting location for the beginning and end of sin.
But Satan didn’t realize that his victory was also his defeat. Satan didn’t realize that in killing Christ that he would be playing a part in the greatest public display of God’s power to ever be manifested on the face of the earth. He didn’t know that death itself would be swallowed up in life.
In Satan’s wisdom, he knew that man is subject to death, whereas God is not; man dies and God lives. But, in God’s infinite wisdom, Christ partook of death so that we might partake of life. That is, God partook of humanity so that we might become partakers of his divinity. Through death Jesus destroyed the one who has the power of death, Satan, and released all those, who through fear of death were subjected to slavery and bondage (Heb. 2:14-15).
Don’t rely on the flesh and its work. It is what you were saved from! Turn to Christ and his work. Do as the apostle Paul says and always carry in your “body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in” it (2 Cor. 4:10).