A couple years ago I was struck with the thought that my family, friends, and co-workers don't need to see me. They don't need to see the very best version of me that exists, or even the best version that could exist. They need to see the life of Jesus in my mortal body (2 Corinthians 4:11).
There's no shortage of "ministry" out there telling Christians how they can live better. But for the most part, it leads to attempting to improve what we were in Adam. What the New Testament – especially the Pauline epistles – teaches is not that Christ has come to improve Adam's race, but that Christ has come to replace it (2 Corinthians 15:45–49).
Of course we're still in Adam's world, and we're still in Adamic bodies. A day is coming when the Lord Jesus will come to take us out of this world (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18) and change these bodies to be like His (Philippians 3:20–21). But right now we have a distinct and unique place in God's purpose: God has been pleased to put something of immense value into "earthen vessels" (2 Corinthians 4:6–7). Scripture tells us exactly why: because He wants it to be obvious that it's His power and not ours that's on display (2 Corinthians 4:7).
There is an underlying assumption to all this: "they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:8). What God knows – what He demonstrated in sending His Son – is that Adam's race is not merely guilty, but also lost. It's not just that Adam's race is sinful, but they are hostile to God (Romans 8:7). When we try as Adam's children to please God, we find we cannot. We need to take our place with Christ – dead and risen with Him – before we can "walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4).
For many years I thought those statements were figurative – perhaps even romantic. Now I accept them as very literally true. God sees me as having died with Christ: my life as a child of Adam has come to an end. If I want to live the life that pleases God, I need to understand that it's got to be life from an entirely new source, on an entirely new principle. The life that pleases God is the life of His Son. It's not that I imitate Christ, it's that He Himself is to be my life (Colossians 3:4). The Lord Jesus said there's no pleasing God unless we "abide in Him" (John 15:4). This isn't a metaphorical description of the Christian life: it's an all-too-real summary of what we were as children of Adam. Without an entirely new life from an entirely new source, we can't please God.
Christ and Adam are divided by death. Christ has died (Romans 6:1–4), and death is now between Him and Adam. So if we want to please God, we need to be with Christ, not with Adam. This isn't some metaphorical exhortation to "die to self". This the plain statement that as far as God's concerned, I have died with Christ. As far as God's concerned, I was crucified with Christ (Romans 6:11). The question for me isn't whether I have to die, but whether I'm willing to accept God's estimation that I have already died.
The prevalent concept of Christianity among evangelical Christians is that God has forgiven us all our sins, and now we live to please Him. We fail often, of course, but when we confess our sins, He forgives us our sins (1 John 1:9).
That's not what the Scripture teaches.
Scripture teaches an entirely new life, the life of Jesus manifested in fallen bodies of men and women who have given up trying to find something in themselves that pleases God (Philippians 3:9). Being in Christ – having no righteousness of our own – we look to Him to be everything for us (1 Corinthians 1:26–31). We accept that our life has ended, and we are now in an entirely new realm (Colossians 3:1–4). We are content to "abide in Him."
If you scratch below the surface, there's a little Pelagius in all of us. We all believe at some level that we can please God. But Scripture insists we can't. And even when we know better, we find ourselves having once more having looked for good in ourselves.
What we need is the life of Jesus manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:11). There is a cost to that: "death works in us" (2 Corinthians 4:9 – 12). God's not interested in my life and Christ's life: He's interested in Christ's life instead of mine.
There are some practical concerns coming out of this: we'll save those for another post.