Romans 8.10: “if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”
It was the ancient philosophers of the Epicureans who proposed a strong split between the gods and the material world of human existence. The gods were off somewhere else, far from the concerns of human life. Christianity has often adopted this mentality, treating the work of God as far from human life, with God occasionally breaking in through it all and doing some great sign and wonder.
This has lead to a particular mental model of how God works within us: that God isn’t really close and present with us or dramatically changing the nature of our life, but rather we are occasionally possessed like empty vessels that God then uses for various purposes. Corresponding to this, we have a picture of righteousness and the moral life that is commensurate to this: since only God is good, we have no righteousness of our own but that we only do what we do because the Spirit makes is happen. As a consequence, in a sense of ‘humility’ we are then tempted to deny that there is any righteousness within ourselves. We hear things such as “our righteousness is like filthy rags” from Isaiah 64.6, regarding the prophet as given a universal anthropology for all time, including in the kingdom of heaven in this world.
How much this denies the fundamental truth of God’s redemption in Christ. If anyone is in Christ, new creation! (2 Cor 5.17). Our life in Christ is not some as some empty, sinful vessel that God happens to simply inspire, because God is not the creation but the Creator. Rather, in Christ, we are tangibly changed and transformed in our life. We are becoming a new person. We become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5.21). To say our righteousness is like filthy rags is to deny this fundamental reality that the God is bringing about and this judgment of abhorrence is often used to tear down those bearing the love of Christ for their mistakes, imperfections, weakness, and failures of judgment.
What is true is that even being in Christ we are not immune from sin. The ever present forces of sin and death in the world promote a decay and straying from God that we are in ever present need to return to the worship of God in fighting against and reversing the course of sin. This isn’t because we are simply empty vessels that God makes act right by pulling some string of power that gets referred to as the Holy Spirit, but as friends sharpen one another, the Holy Spirit presence in our lives creates tangible changes in us who do as the Spirit leads.
Never deny your heritage if you are a child of God: you are being made into a new creation. Deny your spiritual heritage and you risk making light of and forgetting the powerful transformation that God is bringing about in you, leading you to act from your spiritual poverty rather than from the riches that the Spirit has bestowed. Don’t let the presence of temptation and sin lead you to deny this reality in your life. You aren’t perfectly redeemed, as none of us will be until the redemption of our bodies, which means we still have to stand against those powers of sin and death that Paul describes. However, when you do what Jesus says by the Spirit who leads us to put to death the deeds of the flesh, you yourself are being changed, you yourself are different, you yourself are becoming an embodiment of God’s righteous vision for human well-being and thriving. Don’t let those who want to lower the bar so that they do not feel some sense of guilt take that from you. You were not perfect in your past, you are not as you will be in Christ in the resurrection, and you will find places where you won’t fully live out God’s righteousness that you will find a renewed need to either repent and/or be restrengthened by continuing in a Spirit-led prayer, worship, and meditation so that when a similar situation faces you will be able to stand like Peter who denied Jesus three times but then became a brave apostle of Jesus Christ. But make no mistake, follower of Christ and recipient of God’s Spirit: if Christ is in you, YOU are a new creation, right here, right now, even with your flaws and your struggles.