The common sense approach to moral and/or spiritual purity is that we must become incorruptible people. The Gospel turns common sense on its head by showing us that God frees us from corruption by sending us an incorruptible Savior.
In Romans 8:2, the Bible calls our quest to become incorruptible “the law of sin and death.” We all have different visions for what it means to be incorruptible. For the religious, being incorruptible may mean faithfully following a set of religious teachings. For the irreligious, being incorruptible may mean being true to oneself. We look for incorruptibility in different spheres of life. For some, their home is sacred ground; while for others it is their work place. Bible calls all these different ways to seek the incorruptible life “the law.” The law tells us who we must become in order to be incorruptible and free. But the law really does not have the power to make us incorruptible. In the end, the law will destroy us. The law does not make us free, it enslaves us to our corruption.
We can see the quest for incorruptibility in religious life. On an individualistic level we can obsess over having mystical experiences with the supernatural or experiencing prosperity as a sign that God (or the gods) loves us. On a social level we can obsess over being respected within our religious tradition (I was an altar boy!) or by ridding the world of injustice (my religion can save the world!). Either way, the outcome is ugly. We become proud of our mystical experiences and insecure when we don’t have mystical experiences (I just don’t feel God’s presence). We become proud of our prosperity and feel like God (or the gods) hates us when we fail to be prosperous. We create an exclusive community of people who belong in our religion or social cause and feel condemned when we are not good enough at our religion or good enough at social change. The law doesn’t enable us to serve God; it enslaves us to serve our insecurity and fear of condemnation.
The Gospel provides a different way. There is freedom in understanding what we can not do. The Gospel tells us that we can never make ourselves incorruptible because we are fallen, broken, alienated from our Creator, guilty, and corrupt. But God has freed us from our corruption by providing an incorruptible Savior. This completely takes the focus off ourselves and places it in God. Our hope is not in ourselves, but in God. Freedom is not something we earn; it is an unmerited gift received by faith in Christ. We do not overcome our corruption by focusing on what we can do; we overcome by focusing on what God has done for us in Christ.
In the words of Romans 8:3, “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.”
Jesus doesn’t make us incorruptible (this side of heaven anyway); he frees us from living as slaves to the law. It is only as people freed from the law of sin and death that we can actually experience freedom from corruption. The Gospel changes the way we understand spirituality and prosperity. Renewal differs from mysticism and religious tradition because it does not depend on our own experience or morality but completely depends on Christ. The Gospel sets us free to love God with humble and grateful hearts because we have nothing to prove – in Christ we are already perfect, the law has been fulfilled in us! The hope of our resurrection in Christ frees us to enjoy whatever prosperity we can experience in this world without looking to it to validate us as human beings. Rich or poor, we share from the same riches of the resurrection so we can live with humility, joy, and generosity.
Although the Gospel is an exclusive truth claim (Jesus is the only way, truth, and life), it is far more inclusive than the human quest for the incorruptible life in all human religion and tradition. The law excludes the corrupt. In the Gospel we are all corrupt yet we can all be forgiven in Christ. This gives us a great sense of mission and hope for people. We are able to get past the things people do to annoy us, frighten us, and offend us, and reach out to them in courageous love with the message that there is an incorruptible Savior who can save us all. At the same time the Gospel gives us the humility to live at peace with those who do not believe. As we live out our vocations in society we can work alongside unbelievers to make this world a better place. If Christ has freed us from condemnation, we truly believe that we are no better than anyone else. We can participate in political causes without demonizing the opposition and identify with Christian tradition while engaging the culture around us to enjoy and love our neighbors.