Sinful thoughts will come into our minds. Part of being a Christian is battling those thoughts. What we do when these thoughts come will determine if we act on these thoughts or if we turn away from them. Understanding the difference between law and grace will help us turn away from these thoughts, rather than act on them.
Romans 6:14 says:
Sin shall not be your master because you are not under law but under grace.
This verse tells us that living under grace is the key to not being controlled by sin in our lives. Grace is the key to being set free from sin and enjoying the peace God desires for us to have. However, if we are living under law, then sin will be in charge of our lives and will ultimately destroy us.
So, how does understanding the difference between law and grace help us when tempting thoughts come?
Before answering this question, we must first understand that the tempting thoughts we have are not our thoughts. They are the thoughts of our flesh or sin that is living in us.
Paul says in Ephesians 2:3:
All of us lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh
and following its desires and thoughts.
Romans 7:17-20 says the person who has come to faith in Jesus has a new set of desires, which are to please God. However, in conflict with these new set of desires to please God are the desires of the flesh and sin living in us.
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin living in me.
Galatians 5:17 says:
For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other so that you do not do what you want.
The above verses separate the sinful thoughts and desires of flesh within us from the Spirit of Christ who lives in us now that we have come to faith in Jesus. We are not the sinful thoughts and desires that come into our minds. We are aware those sinful thoughts and desires are living inside our flesh, but they do not reflect who we are. This is a very important distinction for us to make if we are not to yield to tempting sinful thoughts and desires. If we believe those sinful thoughts and desires are our thoughts, we will condemn ourselves for having those thoughts and desires, eventually acting upon those thoughts and desires
Now, let’s answer the question: How does understanding law and grace help us when tempting thoughts come?
Remember, Paul has stated that sin shall not be our master, or in control of our lives, because we are nor under law but under grace.
Sin operates through thoughts and desires. By responding with grace, rather than law, to these thoughts and desires, sin will not control our lives. Responding in law would look like this:
· What is wrong with me?
· How could I think that?
· How could I desire that?
· I must not be a Christian.
· God is mad at me.
· God is tired of me.
· I shouldn't think that.
· I am mad at myself.
· I am a terrible person.
· What’s the use?
· I give up.
· I quit.
If we think these are our thoughts, we will respond in law, rather than grace, and then begin feeling anger, guilt, condemnation, and shame toward ourselves. These feelings caused by law lead to great frustration and, eventually, lead back into sin itself.
For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment (law), deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.
What a wretched man that I am?
These verses, as well as the ones previously stated, are describing the frustration of a person living under the law who has yet to come to understand grace. The following verses describe how the law actually leads us back into sin.
The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law.
1 Corinthians 15:56
For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment (Ten Commandments), produced in me every kind of covenant desire. For apart from the law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life, actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.
It is not that the law is bad. The law is good. We just can’t obey it. And, by trying to obey the commandments, sin actually springs to life within us.
As long as we live under law, our sinful thoughts and desires will control us. Sin will be our master because we will constantly be focused on not sinning. Paul says in Romans 6:14 that sin will not be our master because we are not under law but under grace. Reverse this verse: sin will be our master since we are under law and not under grace.
As long as we seek to defeat sin by law, sin will take charge of our lives and defeat us. Living under grace is the key to overcoming sin. So, let’s take a look of how to respond with grace when tempting thoughts come.
Let’s define grace. Grace is God’s unconditional love, unmerited kindness, and unlimited forgiveness poured out upon us for our sins through Jesus. Grace is everything God has done for us through Jesus’ shed blood on the cross and his resurrection to bring us into a close relationship with himself. Because of grace, the shed blood of Jesus brings complete forgiveness of our sins, enabling us to enjoy the continual presence of God in our lives.
Often, we are taught we must confess all our sins in order to come into the presence of God as believers. We are taught that because of sin we are out of fellowship with God. These misguided teachings make us feel distant from God and actually keep us under law so that we do not experience God’s grace. By keeping us under law, sin is activated in our lives.
However, because of grace, which is all that God did for us through Jesus, we are able to go directly into the presence of God just as we are without fearing his condemnation or rejection. Since there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, we are freely and confidently able to bring him the thoughts and desires that come into our hearts and minds. We talk to him openly and honestly, assured of his love, kindness, and acceptance.
In him (Jesus) and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Because of grace, we do not have to perform for God by jumping through different religious hoops in order to come into his presence. We come directly into his presence in complete transparency and talk with him. We no longer see these thoughts as causing us to be out of fellowship with God or causing us to feel distant from God because we think he is upset with us. Grace sets us free from this bondage. From God's grace, we draw strength in our weaknesses.
It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace...
Jesus said, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
2 Corinthians 12:9
So often we try to be strong when tempting thoughts and desires come by trying not to yield to them. We feel we must hide our weaknesses from God because he expects us not to have these thoughts and desires. We picture God being angry with us for having them. So we try to obey him by not having these thoughts and desires. Yet, what God wants is for us to come to him honestly, confidently and freely with these thoughts and desires, and from him we receive grace and are strengthened in our weaknesses.
Furthermore, because of grace, we no longer have to pretend around others. When we have friendships with others who understand grace, we can go directly to them as well, telling them exactly what sinful thoughts and desires we are having without fearing their rejection and condemnation. From these friendships of grace, we draw strength.
Law causes us to hide from God and others because of shame and guilt, thus making sin our master. Satan enters into the picture, too, telling us not to tell anyone about the thoughts and desires we are having. He begins to cause us to doubt our salvation and God’s love and acceptance. By doing this, he is seeking to drive us away from God and make us feel distant form God.
When we live under the law and believe Satan’s lies, we are forced into the darkness where we bury our thoughts and desires underground because of guilt, shame, and condemnation. When we do this, the thoughts and desires become stronger within us eventually leading to sinful behaviors. That is why sin will be our master when we are under law.
However, grace frees us to be open and honest with God and others about the thoughts and desires we have because we are fully assured of God's and others' forgiveness, acceptance, and love; thus, releasing us from the power of sin.
When sinful thoughts and desires come, making you feel guilty and shameful, remember, Jesus died for the ungodly, which is all of us. When those ungodly thoughts come, rather than condemning yourself for having those thoughts and desires, tell Jesus “Thank you” for dying for those thoughts and desires and washing you totally clean by his shed blood, his grace.
When sinful thoughts and desires come, remember you are a new person in Christ. You are a loved, forgiven, and accepted child of God. You are not the thoughts and desires coming into your heart and mind. You are a son or daughter of God who is your loving Father.
If Satan tries to condemn you for having those thoughts and desires, just claim your forgiveness in Christ, knowing God’s grace is sufficient for you and is made powerful in your weaknesses.
Because of grace, you no longer have to live under the law which brings guilt, shame, and condemnation when sinful thoughts and desires come. Because of grace, you no longer have to beat yourself up or question if you really are a Christian. Because of grace, those thoughts and desires are forgiven. Through grace, you now rest in all that God did for you through the cross and can be completely open and honest with God and others about the thoughts and desires you are having. By doing this, sin will not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
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