The thought came to me today that perhaps the primary way that Jesus’ cross saves us from the power of indwelling sin is that the cross releases from our fruitless attempts to establish our own righteousness.
When we have sinned, our natural, sinful, tendency is to seek to “do better next time.” We want to put our failure behind us and show that we can do better. And we may actually do better to some degree, but we are still bound by sin because it is impossible for us to do better to the infinite degree that is required by God’s absolute holiness. Only when we come to the cross of Jesus for forgiveness of our sin and receive the free gift of his righteousness can we receive the absolute and infinte righteousness that God requires of us.
I Corinthians 15:56 says that “the power of sin is the law.” When we are set free from the attempt to justify ourselves by keeping the law, we are set free from the power of sin.
Romans 8:1-4 says the same thing:
There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
By the cross of Jesus we are set free in a way that the law could not set us free. The righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us through our union with Christ in his death and resurrection by the Holy Spirit. When we seek to establish our own righteousness, we are only confirming ourselves in our sin, but when we turn from our own self-righteousness to Jesus and his righteousness, we are set free from the vicious, fruitless cycle of trying to “do better next time”.
Interestingly, just after having this thought in my devotional time, I read the following quote from www.firstimportance.org:
“The only people who get better are people who know that, if they never get better, God will love them anyway.”
—Steve Brown, A Scandalous Freedom (West Monroe, LA: Howard Books, 2004), 68-69
The quote doesn’t state the basis of the assertion, but the basis is the cross of Jesus. God loves us because of the cross of Jesus and his imputed righteousness.