A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.
A new power is in operation in our lives. This new power gives us a whole group of new principles by which to pattern our lives. In fact, it gives us a new potency for life - efficient, forceful, influential progress AGAINST sin in our lives. The rules we try to live by could never do this for us. Our human condition requires a radical change. This type of radical change could only be accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit within us.
Rules can only cover over our selfishness like a bandage covers over a wound - the wound still exists under that bandage. Keeping a set of rules merely makes us "look good" on the outside, but the desires to do stuff that feed our selfish desires still exists deep inside. We call this our sin nature. The Spirit of God does not "mask over" our sinful nature. He encounters it, exposes it, and exchanges it - setting us in order from the inside out.
The key to growth is to embrace what the Spirit is doing. What we frequently do is to simply "redouble" our efforts to "be good" or "live right", instead of embracing what the Spirit is doing within. Paul goes on to tell us:
5-8Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn't pleased at being ignored. (Romans 8:5-8)
As long as our focus is inward, self-centered, we have absolutely no new resources by which life-long struggles can be overcome. As soon as we turn our focus upward, toward God, the resources we need for living an "exchanged life" are limitless.
One thing I have observed in speaking with people about their frustrations with continued struggles with sin in their lives is that if there is no hope for the future, there is no work in the present. Why is this? It is simple - focus determines outcome. It drives us or diminishes our passion and pursuit. Focus is the position in which something is placed in order to have clarity in our perception. Until we take the focus off of self, our perception is clouded by every failure, every desire, and every attitude that we have formed because of life experiences.
We often cannot see beyond the immediate, but until we look fully into the eyes of the one who holds the future, we cannot fully comprehend the value of the present circumstances. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives - getting us to "focus" correctly. The value of the immediate is defined by our vision of the future state. We are defined by our identity in Christ - we don't appear to be entirely Christ-like today, but our immediate condition is being shaped by the promise that we will be entirely Christ-like in the future.
We are NEW today in Christ - our full exchange of character and the subsequent changes in practice will change in proportion to our willingness to keep our focus steady on him rather than the circumstances. Becoming Christ-like is more than holding a sentiment in our hearts - it is something that has to be worked out in every fiber of our being. As we partner with the Holy Spirit, we find this possible. Embrace him, allow him to expose your struggles, and then let him show you how to live a totally exchanged life.