Self-improvement, Or Growth

I believe the reason for law, any kind of law, is for revelatory purposes, whether it be “the law of sin and death” incurred by Adam and Eve, the “law of Moses” as instructed by God for the Jew, or “the law of the Spirit,” of which the believer is partaker. Regardless of which law, or principle, it is part of what reveals God’s will to the individual (all Scripture being the entirety of His will).

The first law (command) for man was that which God allowed; “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat” (Gen 2:16). The first law against man was that which God forbid; “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (v 17). Therefore, disobedience to God incurred “the law of sin and death,” which defined is “the soul that sins shall die” (Eze 18:4, 20), per verse 17.

The Jew and Gentile are still both under the law of sin and death, but in Christ all are under “the law of the Spirit” (Rom 8:2), which “against such there is no law“ (Gal 5:23). The saved Jew is freed from this law and the Law of Moses; the saved Gentile, never being under the Law of Moses is freed from the law of sin (its guilt and dominion) and death (the “second death” for the physical body still dies now). What adds to the accountability of the sin-guilt (guilt is already incurred from the sin nature per Rom 5:19) is the knowledge of God’s will, for “the strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor 15:56) because, “I had not known sin, but by the law” (Rom 7:7).

The fact that the Lord Jesus revealed God’s will to man also incurred guilt, for “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin . . . If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin” (John 15:22, 24). The knowledge of God’s will not only reveals sin but enhances the guilt; “sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful” (Rom 7:13). The difference revealed between sin and holiness is for judgment to the unsaved and instruction to the saved.

We are also aware that it is written that, “It had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them” (2 Pet 2:21). “Better”, meaning not as troublesome, such as, “beaten with few stripes” (Luke 12:48), which shows there will be a variation in punishment for the unsaved, as “It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city” (Mark 6:11).
Self-Improvement, Or Growth
Everyone according his moral sense, if he is true to his conscience, refuses the evil and seeks the good; and as the conscience becomes enlightened, this is more definitely insisted on. This is the principle of law; obedience was enjoined by the law however contrary to the natural man. Now when grace comes in, the believer rejoices in the assurance of his forgiveness and, as he knows atonement, his conscience constrains him to live to please God; but this is often taken up on the principle of law, so that self-improvement becomes his great aim and the law his standard of walk.

Now it should be plain to anyone who understands the Gospel, that in the fullness of the grace of God, the man who offended against God was judicially terminated in the Cross, and the one who believes in the Second Man is justified. He should know that he is not now in the flesh, in Adam before God but in Christ; and that any attempt which he may make to improve his old man in conduct is in reality a flagrant, though unintentional, denial of the greatness of the grace of God.

But this is a wile by which many are captured and detained. Almost every believer is more or less caught in this snare and many, alas, continue in it to the end of their course. Very few learn early in their history what it is to be in Christ and thus meet to enjoy fellowship with the Father. Until this is known he is necessarily occupied with himself. As a result he sometimes subjects himself to much self-mortification in the effort to repress or improve the tendencies of the flesh, and this goes on until the cry is not, who will improve me? But “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

It is generally a long time before one arrives at this point; months and years are often spent in trying to improve, until one feels that all is hopelessly in vain. Then, and not until them, comes the agonizing cry, “O wretched man that I am!” When the believer has thus come to a true sense as to himself, that “in me (that is, my flesh) dwelleth no good thing,” he finally turns to God; and now after this exercise, he learns to say, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Now, deliverance is really sought; but here we must note what is typical and very sad, and that is that one of the wiles of the enemy is to divert that anxious soul from learning deliverance in the life of Christ, through the teaching that God sees the believer without sin by the work of Christ on the Cross, so the believer, by the reckoning of faith, is practically holy. This is a delusion and has done much harm to souls; and from this has sprung the teaching called “holiness by faith,” i.e., that as God sees you in Christ without spot, you can reckon yourself to be holy.

The reckoning is valid, but the actual deliverance and growth come progressively by waking in the Spirit, who in turn centers the dependent believer in Christ who is his Life, his Deliverer. Thus the question is, not as to whether you are governed by a new Person, but as you behold His glory, you are transformed into His image and you are the expression of Him here.

The Lord lead our hearts to see the contrast between self-improvement and growing in the Lord Jesus in His beauty and grace, nourished and cherished in Him. Thus instead of being elated at your own improvement, or cast down because you cannot effect it, you are occupied with the grace and beauty of the Lord Jesus, in which you are thus made to share.
– J B Stone