The Power of the Spirit

17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. – Romans 14:17-19 ESV

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. – Romans 15:13-14 ESV

Remember what Jesus said to His disciples just prior to His ascension: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” (Acts 1:8 ESV). Luke records that Jesus promised that they would receive power and that power would be a result of the Holy Spirit’s coming. The Greek word for power is dynamis and, as you can see, it is where we get our word for “dynamite.” According to the Outline of Biblical Usage, it is “inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth.” It can also mean the power to perform miracles.

When we consider the kind of power the disciples were to receive, we tend to associate it with that second meaning, the miraculous power to perform miracles. Why? Because we remember what happened that day in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples gathered in the upper room. Luke describes it for us:

…suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. – Acts 2:2-4 ESV

And this extraordinary phenomena did not go unnoticed.

…at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished… – Acts 2:6-7 ESV

The crowds that gathered were blown away by what they saw and heard because they immediately recognized that the disciples were Galileans. This prompted them to ask, “how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” (Acts 2:8 ESV).

We read this story and can’t help but associate the power of the Spirit with the miracle of speaking in tongues. And we are right to do so. But, at the same time, we tend to miss an important part of Luke’s record of the events of that day. While it’s only natural to focus on the miraculous nature of the disciples’ Spirit-empowered tongues-speaking, Luke wants us to consider what they were saying, not just how they were saying it.

“…we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” – Acts 2:11-12 ESV

There is no doubt that a miracle had taken place. Luke makes that point perfectly clear by providing a list of all the different ethnic groups represented whose languages were spoken by this small group of Galilean disciples. There were Parthians, Medes, and Elamites. There were residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and Libya. Not only that, there were visitors from as far away as Rome, the island of Crete and the region of Arabia.

This was a bonafide, Spirit-empowered miracle. But the point behind the miracle was the declaration of the mighty works of God. All of the people who gathered heard the wonders of God proclaimed in their own native tongue. And Luke notes, “all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?”” (Acts 2:12 ESV).

This obvious miracle had a not-so-obvious intent. It had gathered a crowd and had garnered attention. Not only that, it had raised the level of curiosity among those who saw and heard “the mighty works of God.” And Peter, under the power of the Holy Spirit, took advantage of the opportunity and addressed the crowd, sharing with them the good news concerning Jesus Christ. And Luke records that when Peter was finished, they were “cut to the heart” and asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37 ESV).

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38 ESV).

And Luke points out that the real miracle that day was not the disciples speaking in tongues, but the conversion of thousands of sinners into saints.

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. – Acts 2:41 ESV

Jesus promised power, and that promise was fulfilled in stunning fashion. But that day was to be one day among many yet to come. The Spirit of God was far from finished. And much of His work would prove to be far less flamboyant and spectacular.

Which brings us to Paul’s message to the believers in Rome recorded in chapter 14 of Romans. He has had to address an issue taking place within the local congregation in Rome. There were some disputes taking place between believers over what we might call “grey areas.” The church was made up of people from all walks of life, social strata, income levels, and religious backgrounds. There were Jews who had converted to Christianity and Gentiles who had turned from paganism to faith in Christ. And, like any other church, it was made up of believers of varying degrees of spiritual maturity.

The church in Rome had become a social, economic, racial, and religious melting pot. And, to a certain degree, it had become a spiritual petri dish where the Christian life was lived out, and the indwelling power of the Spirit was fleshed out in tangible and somewhat pedestrian ways.

Paul is addressing certain behaviors and personal beliefs that were causing conflict within the church. There were debates taking place over which foods were acceptable for Christians to eat. This had to do with meat sacrificed to pagan idols, which was often sold in the marketplace. The more mature believers were arguing that, since there was no such thing as a false god, because alone is God, the meat was perfectly fine for consumption. But the less-mature believers, many of whom had a pagan religious background, found the eating of this meat to be offensive – a kind of tacit approval of the false god to whom it was sacrificed. There were other conflicts brewing in the church as well, including arguments over which days were to be considered sacred and set apart as holy. These debates were dividing the church, and this led Paul to ask, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?” (Romans 14:10 ESV).

For Paul, the real issue was selfishness and self-centeredness. Each group was judging the other based on their own particular viewpoint. So, Paul gave them a sternly worded command: “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Romans 14:13 ESV).

These people were worrying about and arguing over which food was proper to eat and which day was right for worship. But, in doing so, they were failing to love one another. Each had made the issue about themselves. Their personal viewpoint had become sacred, and the unity of the body of Christ has become secondary. Which is what led Paul to say, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Don’t miss that last part of Paul’s statement. “Righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is not to be viewed as some kind of disembodied force that provides power for performing crowd-gathering miracles. He is the Spirit of God who dwells within the people of God so that they might express the righteousness, peace, and joy that come from God. And the forum for living this out is within the family of God.

In the very next chapter of his letter, Paul expands on his call for corporate unity through the power of the indwelling Spirit.

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself…  – Romans 15:1-3 ESV

He uses Jesus Himself as an example of what it looks like to please your neighbor for his good and to build him up. Even Jesus explained His ministry in terms of selfless service, not self-centeredness.

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 ESV

It was Paul’s heartfelt desire that the believers in Rome live in Spirit-empowered unity.  He knew there was no other way they could pull it off. The true miracle of the church is that it exists at all. It is a work of God. Which is why Paul asked God to unify the Roman believers and provide them the resources they needed to glorify Him together.

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Romans 15:5-6 ESV

And how does God do this? Through His indwelling Spirit. Paul makes that point clear when he prays yet again: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

The power of the Spirit is intended to transform our lives. The third person of the Trinity exists to radically alter the lives of those who have placed their faith in Christ and whom God has placed within the body of Christ. Our unity will not be the result of human effort, but the power of the Spirit.

It’s interesting to note how Luke records the gathering of the disciples in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. He writes, “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1 ESV). On closer inspection, we find that the term “all together” carries far more significance than we might think. Luke used the Greek word, homothymadon, which means “with one mind, with one accord, with one passion.” The disciples were of like mind. They had unity of purpose. They had been told by Jesus to return to Jerusalem, where they were to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. And it was in that state of unity, accord, and like-minded passion, that the power of God came upon them. 

They were transformed and, as a result, the world was forever changed. The power of the Spirit isn’t about external miracles but about the transformation of lives and the miraculous, mysterious formation of the body of Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

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His Grace Is Sufficient

On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:5-10 ESV

When we speak of sanctification, we typically frame the discussion in terms of spiritual growth or maturity. We tend to use terminology that conveys the idea of progress or of an incremental increase in our spirituality from one degree to another. We talk of becoming more like Christ, of increasing in our faith, or of growing in godliness. And there is ample biblical evidence to support this kind of language.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 3:18 ESV

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 1:5-8 ESV

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – 1 Peter 2:2 ESV

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. – Ephesians 4:15 ESV

The concept of spiritual growth is indeed biblical, but we tend to read these verses with a modern mindset that has been heavily influenced by the American work ethic. What do I mean by that? It’s really quite simple. We read the Bible through the lens of our pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps view of achievement and success. We even throw in biblical-sounding phrases like, “God helps those who help themselves.” This well-worn bromide has become sacred truth in the eyes of many, even though it has no precedence in Scripture. In fact, it is diametrically opposed to the whole concept of grace as found in God’s Word.

But, as western Christians, we have been raised on a steady diet of self-help books that promote autonomy and encourage self-actualization. We are the do-it-yourself generation with an Internet full of how-to videos on virtually any topic just a mouse-click away. With a few helpful tips, we can rebuild an engine or relaunch our careers. We can learn to brew our own beer or open up our own winery. With a little self-effort we can improve our quality of life, increase our income stream, enlarge our network of friends, and even take our spiritual life to a whole new level.

But is that what Paul has in mind in 2 Corinthians 12? I don’t think so. In fact, Paul’s emphasis seems to be on weakness, not strength. His focus is on inadequacy and need, not self-sufficiency and individual sovereignty. Paul was not encouraging the Corinthian believers to help themselves, but to acknowledge their need for God’s grace in their lives. And he used himself as an example.

Paul refers to a man he knew who, fourteen years earlier, had received a vision from God. This man had been allowed to enter into the “third heaven,” a reference to God’s dwelling place.  As a result of this divine vision, this man “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Corinthians 12:4 ESV). Like the apostle John in the book of Revelation, this individual was given a one-of-a-kind experience that was difficult to put into words. He saw things no other man had ever seen before. And Paul took it upon himself to brag on this man’s behalf. This hadn’t been your average, run-of-the-mill encounter with God. It had been totally supernatural and an undeserved act of God’s grace.

And it becomes clear from the context that this “man” was actually Paul himself. He was speaking in the third-person in order to relate a past event that had experienced, but he didn’t want it to come across as boasting. His intent was not to make himself look better in the eyes of others, but to emphasize the grace of God. The vision had been God’s doing. Paul wasn’t even sure how it happened. He couldn’t tell you whether he was physically transported to heaven or if it had all been some kind of dream. But Paul refers to  “the surpassing greatness of the revelations” and his fear of the experience producing in him a level of conceit or pride. So, he says that “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited” (2 Corinthians 12:7 ESV).

Paul had a mountain-top experience with God, but that was followed by some kind of pride-popping, humility producing “gift” from God to keep his head out of the clouds and concept out of his heart. We aren’t given the nature of this “thorn” but we know that Paul prayed for its removal, not once, but three separate times. And each time Paul prayed, the answer was, “No.” God wanted to keep Paul from focusing his attention on the wrong thing. His heavenly vision, as great as it was, was not be mistaken as a sign of his own godliness. His God-ordained glimpse into glory was not to be understood as God somehow glorifying Paul.

In response to Paul’s request for the thorn removal, God simply said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV). The solution to Paul’s problem was not another vision of heaven or a divine thorn-extraction procedure. No, all Paul needed was grace. The grace of God was fully sufficient. It was grace that had transported an undeserving man into God’s presence. And it was grace that would transform an undeserving man into Christ’s likeness. And that is the bottom line of this passage. Paul’s vision of heavenly glory was not the real miracle. It was God’s power made available to Paul in all his earthly inadequacy. Look closely at what Paul says:

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV

Paul could have bragged about going to heaven. But he knew the real miracle was that heaven had come to him, in the form of the power of Christ. His weakness had not been a barrier. It had actually been the required condition for the saving power of God to show up. For Paul, weakness was a badge of honor, not a sign of unworthiness. He didn’t view weakness as a deficit to be filled through self-effort and hard work. No, it was a non-debatable reality of who he was, apart from Christ. Which is what leads him to say, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV).

Had Paul lived in the 21st-Century, he might have been tempted to seek the latest self-help advice and do-it-yourself tips for improved spiritual strength conditioning. He might have found himself listening to the endless stream of well-meaning voices telling him how to overcome his weakness and embrace his inner warrior. But I doubt it.

Paul was quite at peace with his deficiences because he knew the real source of his strength. He would not allow heavenly visions or pain-producing thorns in the side determine his identity. His weakness was not a sign of unrighteousness or evidence that he was growth-deficient in his spirituality. It was an opportunity to refocus his faith on the grace of God and to reestablish his hope on the power of Christ.

Think about your own life. If you’re like me, you tend to long for those rare moments when heavenly visions give you a glimpse of God’s glory. But they are few and far between. And you also long for God to remove the thorns that bring you pain and leave you feeling weak and ineffective in your spiritual walk.

Paul’s vision of heaven didn’t make him any more spiritual. And the presence of pain and suffering didn’t make him any less spiritual. Escaping earth for heaven is not the point. Avoiding weakness through self-effort is not the goal. It is a realization that heaven came to a fallen earth in the form of the Son of God, and He made divine power available to sin-weakened men and women who recognize that God’s grace is sufficient.

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

But By the Grace of God…

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. – 1 Corinthians 15:9-11 ESV

Paul had a healthy self-identity. He knew who he was and was well aware of all he had accomplished in his life, including the good and the bad. He didn’t attempt to sugarcoat his past actions or paint himself as some kind of super saint who had his proverbial act together. At one point, he told the believers in Philippi, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me” (Philippians 3:10 NLT). Paul knew he was a work in process, a personal project of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But he wasn’t God’s only reclamation project. He reminded the Philippian believers that “God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13 NLT).

That’s why he could encourage them to “work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear” (Philippians 2:12 NLT). He wasn’t asking them to do the impossible. He was telling them to display the new nature that had been given to them by God through their faith in Christ and made possible by the indwelling Holy Spirit. They had been saved for a reason and it wasn’t just so they could go to heaven one day. God had a present plan for their lives and He had equipped them with all they would need to live in a manner worthy of the gospel. 

But back to Paul and his healthy sense of self-worth. Look at what he wrote to the believers in Corinth: “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” Paul knew who he was, but he had no delusions of grandeur. He didn’t view himself as somehow deserving of God’s goodness and grace. In fact, he makes it quite clear that his past track record of persecuting the church would have been more than enough reason for God to avoid him like the plague. So, when Paul says that he is what he is by the grace of God, what is he saying? Yes, he’s obviously talking about his salvation. He stands before God as righteous, forgiven of his sins, and free from all condemnation. But as great as that is, I think Paul has more in mind.

Throughout his letters, Paul consistently introduced himself in terms that expressed his awareness of his identity.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God – Romans 1:1 ESV

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus – 1 Corinthians 1:1 ESV

In virtually every letter Paul wrote, he introduced himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus. He willingly and proudly described himself as a servant or slave of Jesus. In other words, he was a servant-leader. He had been called and commissioned by Jesus Himself to take the gospel to the Gentiles, but he knew that his primary role was that of servant. And he had no problem with that role. Which is why he was able to tell the Philippian believers, “But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God” (Philippians 2:17 NLT). Paul knew who he was and what he had been called to do. He was completely at peace with his identity and his purpose.

But not only had Paul been called and commissioned, he was being constantly conditioned by virtue of his relationship with the Holy Spirit. The grace of God had made him who he was: a fully forgiven child of God; but it was also transforming him into the likeness of Jesus Himself.

Paul was confident that his entire life was in the hands of God. It was by God’s grace he even existed. It was by God’s grace he had been called. And it was by God’s grace he stood before the Corinthians as a servant and apostle of Christ. His life, from start to finish, was the work of God. He fully believed what he told the Philippian believers:

God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. – Philippians 1:6 NET

God was going to complete what He began. All according to His grace, not based on Paul’s merit or hard work. Paul’s transformation into the image of Christ was no more the byproduct of his own effort than was his deliverance from death to life. And this is why he was able to tell his brothers and sisters in Philippi that “the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort—for the sake of his good pleasure—is God” (Philippians 2:13 NET).

We should not treat lightly Paul’s admission, “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle.” This wasn’t some kind of rhetorical flourish designed to make him appear more spiritual to the believers in Philippi. He truly believed it. He was blown away that he had been considered worthy to be an apostle. But he knew it had not been based on this own worthiness, but that of Christ. If fact, he describes himself as “one untimely born,” a very graphic term which, in the Greek, refers to a stillborn baby. Paul uses this disparaging term in reference to Jesus’ appearance to him on the road to Damascus as recorded in Acts 9. In essence, Paul was comparing himself to a lifeless, prematurely born baby. As such, he would have had no inherent value or worth, yet Jesus chose to reveal Himself to Paul. Not only that, Jesus had called him, commissioned him, and was in the process of conditioning his character so that it mirrored His own.

And Paul recognized that his transformation into the likeness of Christ was the work of God based on the grace of God, just as his salvation had been.

It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. – Galatians 2:20-21 NLT

The grace of God. For Paul, it meant everything. Without grace, Paul was one untimely born and the least-deserving of all men to be called, commissioned, or conditioned by God for His service. God’s grace left Paul slack-jawed and awe-struck. He never got over the shock of who he had once been and who he had become – in Christ. And any value he used to hold in his former life was, by his own admission, little better than dung, when compared to his current standing as a child of God.

But by the grace of God, I am what I am. That was Paul’s firm belief. He knew it to be true and he saw it lived out in his life on a daily basis. I love the way The New Living Translation puts it: “But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results.” God’s grace produces results. It transforms and conditions. It radically alters and is constantly changing us so that we “are being transformed into His image with intensifying glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18 BSV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Put On…Put Off…Grow Up

13 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
– Romans 13:14 ESV

20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:20-24 ESV

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. – Colossians 3:8-10 ESV

2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – 1 Peter 2:2 ESV

18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 3:18 ESV

15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ… – Ephesians 4:15 ESV

By this point in our discussion, there should be little doubt that our sanctification is the work of God. In fact, each member of the Holy Trinity plays a vital and very specific part in our transformation from a sin-plagued, enemy of God to one of His chosen and fully forgiven children who stand in His presence as completely righteous and fully acceptable in His sight. And not just acceptable or tolerable, but loved and cherished as His very own.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that it was God the Father’s will that we be sanctified and the means by which He accomplished it was through His Son’s sacrificial death.

For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. – Hebrews 10:10 NLT

Paul expands on this thought in his letter to the believers in Ephesus.

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 1:4-5 NLT

God chose to set some apart, even though they were undeserving and unbelieving. And then He sent His Son into the world to be the means by which the unholy and unrighteous could be sanctified or made fit for His presence. It was only through the shedding of the blood of Christ that sinful men and women could receive permanent cleansing from their sins and made pure and holy in God’s eyes. God willed our sanctification. Jesus made it possible. And Peter summarizes the three-fold work of the Father, Son, and Spirit in our salvation when he states that it was “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Peter 1:2 ESV).

But is our sanctification complete? Has everything been done that needs to be done? Is there anything left that we need to do to complete the process? If you go back and read the verses that opened up this post, you may get the impression that there is still much to be done. After all, we’re told to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh.” And while we’re at it, we’re to put off the old self and put on the new self. And Peter tells us we’re supposed to grow up into salvation, whatever that means, and in the grace and knowledge of Christ.

Sounds like there is plenty left for us to do. And in his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul leaves the impression that even God has not yet completed the work of our sanctification.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. – 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 ESV

And the author of Hebrews provides us with a somewhat confusing and contradictory statement regarding the status of our sanctification when he writes, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14 ESV). So which is it? Are we perfected for all time, or are we becoming that way? Are we fully righteous or becoming more so? And if we are to supposed to be increasing in righteousness, is it up to us or up to God?

This is one of the classic debates of Christianity, and it has caused a lot of confusion and fostered a great deal of debate over the centuries. It has also resulted in a wide range of views regarding the doctrine of sanctification and man’s role in it. The primary crux of the debate revolves around the two poles of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. There is within every human being the desire to be the master of their own fate and the captain of their own soul. The thought of anyone or anything usurping our autonomy and controlling us from the outside rubs us the wrong way. We argue vehemently for our right to have a free will and the freedom to do as we choose – even as believers. But God would have us recognize that, apart from Him, free will is a misnomer, a lie of the enemy meant to keep man from recognizing the reality of his true condition. The apostle Paul reminds us that, prior to coming to faith in Christ, our so-called freedom was one-dimensional.

When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. – Romans 20 NLT

Those who are outside of Christ are slaves to sin and have no other choice but to obey their own sin natures. And because all that they do is done in their own flesh, and corrupted by their sin natures, even their so-called righteous deeds are like filthy rags in God’s eyes. They are unholy people attempting to do holy things, but everything they say and do is mired and marred by their sin. Even their best efforts done with the best of intentions are unacceptable to God.

But what about those of us who are in Christ? Once we have a relationship with Him, what is our responsibility when it comes to sanctification? Do we have a part to play? The answer is simple: Yes. But the explanation as to how we pull this off is a bit more complex. And this is where we tend to get into the high weeds when it comes to the topic of sanctification or our growth in Christlikeness. Far too often, we make the task of spiritual growth our own. We hear the Scriptures say, “put on, put off, and grow up,” and we assume that it is all up to us. But we fail to recognize that this ongoing transformation is still the work of God. It is not something we can accomplish in our own strength or by virtue of our will power. It is the work of the Spirit of God.

Think about what Paul said to the Thessalonian believers: “may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely.” It was God’s will that we be sanctified and it is God’s will that web become completely sanctified. And He has chosen to accomplish His will through the indwelling presence of His Spirit in the life of each and every believer. But it is essential that we understand what Paul is not saying. He is not inferring that our sanctification is somehow deficient. We have been sanctified by God. It is a completed action. He has set us apart as His own and nothing can impact that reality. We cannot become un-set apart. We don’t run the risk of losing our set apart status as His children or our righteous standing before Him.  Those were paid for by the blood of Christ.

But we can live in greater reliance upon His Spirit and experience an ever-increasing transformation into the likeness of His Son. Paul makes this clear in his second letter to the church in Corinth.

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. – 2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT

We stand before God as righteous because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but that does not mean that all we do in this life is righteous. Not all our thoughts and actions are righteous. We still have a sin nature that does daily battle with the Spirit within us. We have the capacity to ignore the Spirit’s promptings and to give in to our old desires. But it is the recognition of that interior battle that should drive us back to complete reliance upon God. He alone has made it possible for us to grow up in our salvation. He has provided the means by which we can be holy as He is holy. Or to put it another way, that we might live as who He has called us to be. Our daily lives can actually reflect the reality of our righteous standing as we put on Christ daily. But how do we pull that off?

Through complete dependence upon God. It is God alone who can produce in us the fruit of righteousness (Philippians 1:11). Remember, we are already righteous before God and, because we have His Holy Spirit within us, we can live righteous lives. Who we are can actually show up in how we act. Our righteous character can show up in righteous conduct. But it is only by the power of the Spirit of God.

So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. – Romans 8:3-6 NLT

When we read the words “put on, put off, and grow up,” we tend to hear commands telling us to get busy. They come across as tasks to perform and objectives to accomplish. But if we attempt to do them in our own strength, we will fail. They are a call to dependency and complete reliance upon the Spirit of God. They are reminders that our righteousness is God-given, not self-produced. They are meant to drive us back to the source of our sanctification: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The source of our sanctification is the same as that of our salvation.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Think First

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:5-11 ESV

Let’s face it. We tend to act first and think later. Far too often we allow ourselves to be driven by our emotions and controlled by our sin nature. Even when we try to do the right thing, we tend to focus on the behavior, while giving little or no thought to the motivation driving that behavior. For instance, we know that the Bible tells us to “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2 ESV). So, we feel the need to display an outward facade of joy, when on the inside we are full of anger and resentment over our circumstances. We act first and think later. And sometimes, we fail to think at all.

When James wrote that famous and somewhat infamous verse he was attempting to get his readers to see and understand their suffering from a different perspective. James went on to qualify his statement by adding, “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:3 ESV). The Greek word translated by the three English words, “for you know” is ginōskō and it describes an understanding of a matter derived from personal experience. It was commonly used as a Hebrew idiom for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. So, it conveys the idea of knowledge based on intimacy.

James is saying that we all know, from intimate experience, that trials produce  endurance. They make us stronger. They test us and force us to develop spiritual muscles we didn’t even know we had. But James is stressing the knowledge of that reality. He is suggesting that we think about the benefits of the trial rather than focusing on the trial itself. In the midst of the trial, we are to stop long enough to consider past trials we have experienced and how we came out the other end of the despair and darkness with a greater reliance upon God and a stronger faith in His love for us.

In the Philippians passage above, Paul has just finished challenging the believers in Philippi to “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27 ESV). He has encouraged them to stand “firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27 ESV). And in the face of the opposition they faced, he told them to remain unafraid. Paul then drops the bombshell that their suffering for the sake of Christ was to be seen as a natural outcome of their faith in Christ. And Paul’s own life was a glaring example. He had written this letter to them while under house arrest in Rome where he was awaiting trial before the emperor, Nero. He had spent the last four-plus years in some form of confinement, starting in Philippi, then in Caesarea Philippi, and eventually in Rome. And he told his brothers and sisters in Philippi that they could expect more of the same.

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. – Philippians 1:29-30 ESV

But after mentioning suffering and conflict, Paul opens up chapter two with a surprisingly upbeat collection of words: Encouragement, comfort, affection, sympathy, and joy. They seem out of place. But are they?

Paul tells the Philippians that his joy will be made complete if he hears that they are “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2 ESV). Notice how many times Paul uses the word, “mind.” You have to go back to verse 27 of chapter one, where he uses it for the first time. But then, in the first 11 verses of chapter two he uses it three more times. And it all comes to a head with his statement: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:4 ESV).

It is vitally important that we understand the full implication of Paul’s words. As essential as it is to grasp what Paul is saying, it is equally important to hear what he is not saying. He doesn’t say, “have this behavior among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Now, he could have said that. After all, Jesus Himself told His disciples, “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you” (John 13:15 NLT). And the apostle Peter wrote, “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21 NLT).

So clearly, Paul is not suggesting that we think like Christ, but not emulate the example of Christ. In this verses, Paul is providing us with an essential ingredient to our faith walk that often gets overlooked and left out. To attempt to follow the example of Christ without understanding the mind of Christ will inevitably result in failure and frustration. And that seems to be Paul’s point. But what does he mean when he says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus”? What kind of mind did Jesus have? And is this something we have to manufacture on our own?

The Greek word for “mind” is phroneō and it means “to think” or “to have understanding.” It can also mean “to have an opinion of one’s self, think of one’s self.” Essentially, Paul is telling the Philippian believers to consider or think about themselves the same way Jesus understood Himself. Jesus was the Son of God and yet He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2:6 ESV). He was fully aware of His deity and never doubted His role as a member of the Trinity. Yet, he was willing to take “the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7 ESV). 

This is all about identity. Jesus knew who He was and He knew the role He had come to fulfill. Jesus had no problem assuming the lowly status of an infant, born into a poor Jewish family and in relative obscurity. His incarnation did nothing to alter His divine identity. And at no time in His earthly ministry did Jesus forget who He was. That’s why the temptations He endured in the wilderness had no impact on Him. Satan had nothing he could offer Jesus that was not already His by right. As the Son of God, Jesus could not be tempted by earthly rewards. The accolades of men meant nothing to Him. The promise of power was not an allure for Him.

The mind that Jesus had was one of complete awareness of who He was and what He had come to do. He was on a mission. He was not out to earn favor with God. He already had it. He wasn’t attempting to prove His righteousness to God. He was God. From Jesus’ way of thinking, the things He had to suffer were part of His job description and an extension of His identity. As John the Baptist stated when he saw Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV).

Paul emphasizes that Jesus, because of who He was and what He had come to do, was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV). And when Jesus had fulfilled His role, having given His life as a ransom for many, He was resurrected and restored to His rightful place at His Father’s side. Jesus knew His death would be temporary. He knew His identity as God’s Son was not in jeopardy. And the author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus was able to endure the cross because He knew what God had in store for Him.

…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV

But what does this have to do with us? Everything. Paul’s whole point is that we need to have the same attitude that Christ had. Which means we need to recognize our true identity in Christ. It is because we don’t realize who we are and what we have become in Christ that we end up wrestling with disunity, selfish ambition, conceit, and pride. Yet, Paul would have us understand that, because of our union with Christ, we are seated with God in the heavenly places.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus… – Ephesians 2:4-6 ESV

We are as good as there. Our place is reserved. We are sons and daughters of God, joint-heirs with Christ, and guaranteed the reality of our future glorification. But we need to believe it. We need to constantly think about it. So that when the enemy tells us we are not enough or that we don’t measure up, we can reject the lie and live in the truth of who we are. Like Christ, we don’t need the accolades of men. There are no earthly rewards that can compare with what God has in store for us. So, like Christ, we find ourselves willing to serve and love others selflessly and sacrificially. We knew who we are and we know why we’re here. And best of all, we know what God has in store for us.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. – James 1:12 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Consider Yourselves…

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. – Romans 6:8-14 ESV

Salvation, is a work of God, from beginning to end. But that doesn’t mean that man plays no part. In response to the Philippian jailer’s question, “What must I do to be saved?”, Paul stated, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31 ESV). The free gift of salvation made available by God must be accepted or received. When Jesus stated, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV), He was offering an invitation that required acceptance. For anyone to receive the rest He offered, they would have to acknowledge their weariness, confess their heavy-heartedness, and come to Him.

Paul makes it clear, all throughout his writings, that faith is required for the free gift of salvation to be received. But even the act of faith is a gift from God, as His Spirit graciously opens the eyes of the spiritually blind and infuses life into the spiritually dead, allowing them to see the light of the gospel for the first time. And as a result, they are saved.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT

And in much the same way, sanctification is a gift of God, provided for by His grace, made possible by His Son, and powered by His indwelling Holy Spirit. Look closely at what Paul told the believers in Ephesus: “He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” God has sanctified a group of people who He has deemed His own, raising them from death to life, and providing them with a power to live in such a way that they bring glory to Him and reflect His personal emissaries, sharing His message of reconciliation to others.

But each and every believer must avail himself of the new life made available to Him through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and made possible by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Like Jesus’ invitation to come and find rest, the Holy Spirit cries for believers to rest in Him and find power.

One of the last things Jesus shared with His disciple before He departed this earth was His promise of the coming Holy Spirit.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 NLT

And just as Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit came. He took possession of the disciples, providing with power like they had never experienced before. He transformed them from a small crowd of timid, crestfallen men and women into a powerful force that rocked the world. In a matter of minutes, these people were radically changed from the inside-out and equipped with gifts they had never experienced before. They spoke in languages they didn’t know. They displayed a boldness that had been non-existent just a few minutes earlier. But while we tend to focus on the miraculous nature of the flames of fire hovering over their heads and the gift of tongues emanating from their lips, the real point of the story is that, with the Spirit’s coming, these people were forever changed. Pentecost was a once-in-a-lifetime event, but each and every one of them would go on to experience the life-transformative power of the Spirit in a thousand different ways.

The spectacular and heady days immediately following the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost would not last forever. Yes, there would be many more miraculous moments in the lives of the disciples. They would perform miracles and see many people come to faith in Christ. They would witness Jews and Gentiles receiving the power of the Spirit, just as they had. And in a relatively short period of time, they would witness the birth and rapid growth of the church.

But in the book of Romans, Paul provides us with a much-needed reminder, designed to help us keep our focus as the normalcy of life settles in and the mountaintop experiences fade away. The growth of the church was immediately met with skepticism, which was followed by intense persecution. It wasn’t long before the disciples, and their followers discovered that not every day was going to be like the day of Pentecost.

After his conversion, Paul quickly discovered just how difficult and dangerous faith in Christ could be. He also learned the very real lesson that sanctification was not always easy and living in the power of the Spirit didn’t come without its conflicts. He expressed, in very transparent terms, his struggle with sanctification.

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. – Romans 7:18-21 NLT

Paul had the Spirit of God living within him, but he also had the presence of his old sin nature. And as he described to the church in Galatia, these two do constant battle in the life of the believer.

But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. – Galatians 5:16-17 NLT

But Paul was not despondent. He was not surprised. No, he understood the battle going on in his own life and wanted his fellow believers to know that Jesus was the key to their success.

Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. – Romans 7:24-25 NLT

Jesus was and is the answer. And Jesus provided the Holy Spirit as the means by which the believer can experience victory over sin in his life. But the key that is often overlooked is found a bit earlier in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Beginning in verse one of chapter six, Paul reminds them that they had “died to sin,” been “baptized into his death,” were “buried…with Him,” and “raised…to walk in newness of life.”

But there’s more. They had been “united with him in a death like his” and would be “united with him in a resurrection like his.” Their “old self was crucified” and, as a result,  they were “no longer…enslaved to sin.” Because their old self had died with Christ, they had “been set free from sin.”

All of this sounds great, but is it something we experience in daily life? Or, like Paul, do we still find ourselves saying, “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” The answer to our dilemma is not work harder or do more. It is “consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11 NLT). That word, “consider” carries a lot of weight in the original Greek. It carries the idea of giving a thought careful and reasoned consideration. And the verb is in the present imperative, conveying the idea of constantness. We are never to stop thinking about our union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. Our old man has been put to death. Sin no longer rules and reigns over us. We have a Spirit-empowered capacity to say no to sin and yes to God. We can live righteous lives, not based on our own self-effort or moral wherewithal, but based on the power of the Spirit within us. Which is why Paul told the Galatian believers:

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. – Galatians 5:24-25 NLT

Sanctification, like salvation, is not about self-effort. It is not the American work ethic lived out in the spiritual dimension. God is not interested in self-made men and women. He gave us new lives and made us new creations so that we would no longer live in our own strength, but in the power of His indwelling Spirit. But the temptation we all face is that of forgetfulness – forgetting that we are dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.

And Paul provides us with a powerful reminder so we won’t forget.

…give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. – Romans 6:13 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

One With Christ

 – 8  Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers. – Hebrews 2:8-11 ESV

Any sanctification we enjoy or would hope to achieve in this life would be impossible without Christ’s incarnation. Had Jesus not taken on human flesh, suffered at the hands of men, willingly endured the humiliation of a series of trials based on false charges, and allowed Himself to be publicly tortured and crucified, there would be no sanctification available. But the apostles Paul reminds us that Jesus, “who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature” (Philippians 2:6-7 NLT).

He became one of us so that He might become one with us. His deliverance of mankind from slavery to sin and the condemnation of death required that He become a man. The author of the book of Hebrews takes the incarnation of Jesus way beyond the iconic image of baby Jesus in a manger and emphasizes the necessity of Jesus in the body of a man, “made in every respect like us.”

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. – Hebrews 2:14-15, 17 NLT

Jesus took on human flesh and, in doing so, became one of us. The author of Hebrews makes it clear that the incarnation was a demotion, not a promotion.

Jesus, who for a little while was given a position “a little lower than the angels.” – Hebrews 2:9 NLT

Jesus left His rightful place at His Father’s side in heaven and came to live among men. But not in the form of a burning bush, a pillar of fire, a cloud, or accompanied by flashes of lightning and peals of thunder. No, He took on human flesh so that He might become the visible expression of the invisible God. Look closely at how Paul describes this vital aspect of Jesus’ incarnation.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. – Colossians 1:15-16 NLT

He is the co-Creator of the universe, the second person of the Trinity and yet, He humbled Himself and took the form of one of those whom He created. But Paul goes on to explain that Jesus never sacrificed an ounce of His divinity while taking on humanity.

For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. – Colossians 1:19-20 NLT

It was His perfect combination of divinity and humanity that allowed Jesus to serve as God the Father’s reconciler. Jesus lived as a man, experiencing everything that we experience, enduring trials and temptations just as we do, and yet, without sin.

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. – Hebrews 4:15 NLT

It was His sinlessness that made Jesus the acceptable sacrifice for the sins of men. He was the unblemished Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. His death on the cross was an offering, made on behalf of sinful men, and approved by God as an acceptable sacrifice. He paid our sin debt with His own life. He died the death we deserved, offering Himself as sinless substitute whose blood satisfied the just demands of a holy God. And here is the incredible reality of it all:

For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ. – Colossians 2:9-10 NLT

Notice what Paul says: You also are complete through your union with Christ. Paul used the Greek word, plēroō and it conveys the idea of consummation. It means “to make complete in every particular, to render perfect.” It can also mean “to furnish or supply liberally.” Jesus’ incarnation and crucifixion have furnished all that sinful men and women need to be made complete or perfectly righteous in God’s eyes. And all it requires from us is faith – a belief that Jesus paid it all and all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, but He washed it white as snow.

And all of this, His incarnation, sinless existence, death, and resurrection, point to the remarkable truth that Jesus sanctified Himself so that we might be sanctified. Read and consider carefully the words of Jesus expressed to His Heavenly Father just hours before His death.

For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. – John 17:19 NASB

Jesus set Himself apart for God’s use, obediently answering the Father’s call for a sinless sacrifice so that sinful mankind might be reconciled. Jesus, the holy Son of God, sanctified Himself. But what does that mean? Had He made Himself more holy? Was He claiming that His coming death was going to be some kind of righteous performance that would earn Him favor with God?

Unto what did Christ allude when he there spoke of sanctifying himself? Certainily he could not possibly be referring to anything subjective or experimental, for in his own person he was “the Holy One of God”, and as such, he could not increase in holiness, or become more holy. His language then must have respect unto what was objective, relating to the exercise of his mediatorial office. – A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification

No, Jesus was completely righteous and fully holy. He was without sin. He was the Son of God. And His death on the cross would not add to His holiness or enhance His righteousness. It would serve as proof of who He was and act as an expression of His humble submission to the will of His Heavenly Father. Jesus sanctified Himself by committing Himself to do the will of God.

“Behold, I have come to do your will. – Hebrews 10:9 ESV

And because Jesus set Himself apart to the will of God, He made it possible for sinful men to be set apart (sanctified) as well. His obedience made provision for man’s salvation and sanctification. As the author of Hebrews states: “he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source”: Jesus Christ. He is everything – the sanctified and the sanctifier. And when we place our faith in Him, we become one with Him. Christ devoted Himself to the will of His Father, so that we might be sanctified as the sons and daughters of His Father.

As a result of Christ’s sanctifying himself – devoting himself as a whole burnt offering to God, his people are perfectly sanctified; their sins are put away, their persons are cleansed from all defilement; and not only so, but the excellency of his infinitely meritorious work is imputed to them, so that they are perfectly acceptable to God, meet for his presence, fitted for his worship. – A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification

Jesus became one of us so that we might become one with Him – set apart as God’s children and enjoying all the riches of our inheritance as His fellow heirs of the Kingdom.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Filled With the Spirit

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. – 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 ESV

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. – Acts 1:8 NLT

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. – John 14:16-17 NT

We have been and we are sanctified. It is a past action that has present ramifications. And while we may find it difficult to see ourselves as fully righteous, that does not change the fact that we are. Our problem is that we have a limited perspective, and find it hard to see beyond the limits of the fallen world in which we live and the ever-present reality of our sin nature. We think bad thoughts. We do wrong things. We commit acts that we know are out of God’s will for us as His children. And when we do, we conclude that our righteousness has diminished and needs to be restored. So, we get to work in a vain attempt to refill our righteousness tank and restore our holiness before God.

But we need to have the same attitude Paul had. He saw his life as completely dependent upon the saving work of Jesus Christ, from start to finish.

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20 NLT

When Paul failed, and he did, he didn’t attempt to manufacture his own brand of righteousness, but instead, he relied on the righteousness provided for him by Jesus. He wouldn’t allow himself to fall back into the old habit of works-righteousness, where he would try to restore his broken relationship with God through self-effort.

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. – Philippians 3:9 NLT

He went back to the reality of faith. The Christian life begins and ends with faith. It is completely dependent upon faith. And one of the most critical areas of the Christian’s life where faith is often in short supply is in when it comes to embracing our holiness before God. In light of the undeniable presence of sin our lives, how can we possibly know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are righteous? The answer is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. If we are in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit of God living within us.

A. W. Pink raises a logical and important point:

The coming of this divine and glorious Person to indwell one who is depraved and sinful is both a marvel and a mystery; a marvel that he should, a mystery that he would. How is it possible for him who is ineffably holy to dwell within those who are so unholy? – A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification

The very thought of the holy, perfectly sinless Spirit of God to take up residence within a fallen, sin-saturated human being seems impossible. But He does. The question is, how? For God’s Spirit to take up residence within the life of the believer indicates that the “house” has been cleansed and made pure enough for His presence. Paul rhetorically asked the believers in Corinth: “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God” (1 Corinthians 6:19 NLT). And earlier in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul clarified that the corporate body of Christ is the temple of God Himself.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. – 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NLT

In verse 9 of chapter 3, Paul refers to the church as “God’s building.” In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul confirmed, “For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16 NLT). He wrote the believers in Ephesus: “Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20-22 NLT).

So, God sends His Spirit to dwell within the life of each individual believer and, by extension, the corporate body of Christ. And for that to happen, the “house” or “dwelling” must be cleansed and purified. All of this was foreshadowed with the tabernacle in the wilderness. When Moses and the people of Israel had made all the parts of the tabernacle according to God’s instructions, they erected it for the first time, then God commanded Moses:

 “Then you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it may become holy. You shall also anoint the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and consecrate the altar, so that the altar may become most holy. You shall also anoint the basin and its stand, and consecrate it. Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall wash them with water and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve me as priest. You shall bring his sons also and put coats on them, and anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may serve me as priests. And their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations.” – Exodus 40:91-5 ESV

Just a few verses later, Moses records what happened once the tabernacle was erected, anointed, and purified.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. – Exodus 40:34-35 ESV

The tabernacle, built according to God’s instructions and purified according to His commands, was made a suitable dwelling place for His presence. In the same way, God purifies the believer, sprinkling Him clean with the blood of Christ, making him a worthy house for the presence of His Holy Spirit. The author of Hebrews compares the efforts of Moses to cleanse the people and the temple with that of Jesus cleansing the believer.

For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. – Hebrews 9:19-22 ESV

Just as the tabernacle had to be purified before God’s glory could enter, Jesus purifies the believer with His blood, making his life a fitting dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. As the author of Hebrews states, our hearts have been sprinkled clean and our bodies have been washed. God has prepared us to be the home of His Holy Spirit. Which is why the author of Hebrews tells us:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. – Hebrews 10:19-22 ESV

Whether we feel like it or not, each believer is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, and His presence is proof positive that we are fully righteous and acceptable before God. He would not send His Spirit to live in an unacceptable and unsanctified house. And it is the indwelling presence of the Spirit that gives us the confidence and right to draw near to God “with a true heart in full assurance of faith.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

God’s Satisfaction With Your Sanctification

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:19-21 ESV

One of the questions we are attempting to answer is whether the believer’s sanctification brings God satisfaction. Or, to put it another way, is there more he or she needs to do become fully acceptable to God? There is no doubt that the average Christian is far from perfect and fully capable of committing sins that offend a holy God. And the Scriptures are replete with admonitions that Christ-followers put every effort into the pursuit of a lifestyle that emulates Christ and honors God.

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.– Hebrews 12:14 NASB

Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. – 1 Timothy 6:11 ESV

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. – 2 Timothy 2:22 ESV

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called… – Ephesians 4:1 ESV

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. – 1 Thessalonians 4:1 ESV

But the real issue is whether these admonitions and the efforts they encourage are intended to produce additional godliness in the life of the believer. The term progressive sanctification is often used to describe the believer’s growth in godliness. It is the part of the believer’s life that connects his justification, which took place at salvation, with his future glorification, which will occur at Christ’s return. During the intervening years between initial salvation and future glorification, the believer is expected to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14 ESV), and to pursue a life of righteousness.

Sanctification begins with regeneration, the implanting of spiritual life in a believer. From that starting point sanctification is God’s progressively separating a believer from sin to Himself and transforming his total life experience toward holiness and purity. The process of sanctifiction for a believer never ends while he is on erth in his mortal body. It is consummated in glorification when that believer through death and resurrection or through the Rapture stands in the presence of God “ conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29). – J. F. Walvoord, R. B. Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary (1985), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scripture

But one of the dangers inherent in seeing the believer’s sanctification as progressive in nature is that it can leave the impression that he or she falls short of God’s glorious standard for acceptable righteousness. That is certainly not what the quote above implies, but it what far too many Christians have assumed about their relationship with God because of faulty conclusions regarding progressive sanctification.

The question is not whether we are to pursue righteousness or to make every effort to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. It is whether, in doing so, we are making ourselves any more acceptable to God than we already are. If we are not careful, we can turn sanctification into a work where we are attempting to please God by making ourselves more holy through self-effort. But Zuck and Walvoord are very specific when they write, “sanctification is God’s progressively separating a believer from sin to Himself and transforming his total life experience toward holiness and purity.” Sanctification is the work of God, not man. And in the process of sanctifying the believer, God is trying to make the believer more acceptable. The believer’s sanctification is not about satisfaction, but about the actualization of the righteousness imputed to the believer through his union with Christ.

The passage from Hebrews that opened this post provides us with a much-needed reminder that “we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19 ESV). In this chapter, the author of Hebrews is comparing the sacrificial work of Jesus on the cross with the Old Testament sacrificial system prescribed by God for the atonement of the sins of the people of Israel. Because of sin, the nation of Israel found itself constantly separated from God and unable to enter into His presence. So, God implemented the priestly office and the sacrificial system so that sinful men could receive cleansing from their sins and restored access to God.

…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. – Hebrews 9:22 ESV

But as the author of Hebrews puts it:

But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Hebrews 10:3-4 ESV

Once the sacrifice was made, the very next sin the average Israelite committed resulted in his separation from God yet again. So, another sacrifice was necessary. More blood had to be spilled. His righteous standing with God had to be restored.

But there is good news. The author goes on to quote Jesus, describing His role as the final and fully sufficient sacrifice for the sins of mankind.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
    but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
    as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” – Hebrews 10:5-7 ESV

Jesus came to provide a fully sufficient sacrifice for the sins of mankind. His death and the shedding of His blood for the remission of sins was fully satisfying to God. He propitiated or satisfied God’s demand that blood be shed in order for the sins of men to be atoned for. The wages of sin is death, and Jesus paid the debt that was owed.

“Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. – Hebrews 10:9-10 ESV

Don’s miss the significance of the author’s words. “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” There is no more sacrifice needed. No more blood is required.

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. – Hebrews 10:14 ESV

Here we have the stated the vital balance that must be maintained if we are to understand the role of sanctification in the life of the believer. With His death, Jesus has perfected or made complete each and every believer – for all time. And the author describes believers as “those who are being sanctified.” We are constantly being transformed into the likeness of Christ, but not so that we might become more perfect or acceptable. The blood of Jesus Christ has already accomplished that.

But here is the danger we face. Without a clear understanding of our right standing before God because of Christ’s death on the cross, we read a verse like Romans 12:1, and assume that our righteousness is up to us.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

We hear Paul telling us that we have to somehow make ourselves holy and acceptable to God through self-effort. And depending upon the church we attend or the faith community to which we belong, we interpret Paul’s call to be a living sacrifice as entailing Bible study, prayer, tithing, service, meditation, obedience, submission, or some other form of sacrificial effort on our part. We assume that Paul is telling us we don’t measure up, so we have to get busy if we want to have a right standing with God.

But the author of Hebrews has told us, “we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus.” The sacrifice has already been made – once for all. So, Paul’s call that we be living sacrifices is not a demand that we make ourselves acceptable to God, but that we recognize that we have been made acceptable by the blood of Jesus. We are an acceptable sacrifice because Jesus Christ has made us so. We have been imputed His righteousness and stand before God has holy and acceptable. Nothing we do will make us more so. Sanctification is not about achieving acceptability but about accepting our acceptability. We are right with God. And our pursuit of godliness is not meant to make us more right but to bring glory to God as He sovereignly and progressively transforms us into the likeness of His Son.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

How Righteous Do You Have To Be?

10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:10-13 ESV

When it comes to our salvation, most of us have no trouble acknowledging our sin. After all, as Jesus infers above in his statement to the Pharisees, He came to save sinners, not saints. In fact, Paul reminds us that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” and His death was proof of God’s love for us (Romans 5:8 ESV).  God didn’t require us to get our spiritual act together or our moral house in order. No, He sent His Son to die for us because we were sinners. And Jesus made the point behind His earthly mission quite clear: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10 ESV).

Obviously, by definition, sinners do not measure up to God’s righteous standard. And Paul stated that fact quite plainly when he wrote: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23 NLT). It was our lack of righteousness that made Christ’s righteousness necessary. All attempts by the Jews, God’s chosen people, to keep the righteous standard of God, as revealed in the Mosaic law, had fallen far short. Which is why God could look down on mankind and pronounce, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 ESV). And it was into this abysmal state of affairs that God sent His Son so that He would become the source of righteousness that sinful men so desperately need. The apostle Paul explains the details behind God’s plan for man’s sin problem.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:21-26 ESV

God’s righteousness was made manifest or known by the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. The kind of righteousness God required became physically and visibly apparent in the life of Jesus, the Son of God. But the righteousness of God was also revealed in that He did not overlook or ignore man’s sin problem, He dealt with it by delivering a death sentence against it. But He did so by sacrificing His own Son on behalf of and in place of sinful men. In keeping with the Old Testament sacrificial system, God provided a substitute or stand-in; an unblemished, flawless Lamb who gave His life in the place of unrighteous sinners. The author of Hebrews the full import behind Jesus’  death on the cross.

With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.

Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. – Hebrews 9:12-14 NLT

It was His righteousness that satisfied the just demands of a holy God. In His human state, Jesus lived a completely sin-free life, keeping each and every command God had given. He was perfectly obedient and fully submitted to the will of God, in spite of being “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are” and “yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). And because of His perfect obedience and sinless life, Jesus became “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV).

The apostle Paul would have us remember that it is our faith in Christ that makes us right with God. It is only as sinful men stop relying upon their own self-righteousness and turn to the righteousness made possible through Christ that they are restored to a right relationship with God the Father. It is when they recognize that their sin debt has been paid for by Jesus and accept His gracious gift of salvation, that sinners become righteous. But look closely at what Paul says:

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. – 1 Corinthians 1:30 NASB

He has made us right with God. In other words, we are righteous in God’s eyes. Not only that, we are seen by God as pure and holy or sanctified. And we have been set from sin. Yet, we know from experience that sin remains alive and active in our lives. We commit sins regularly and have to constantly fight the temptation to live unrighteous lives in spite of our righteous standing.

And this is where the confusion regarding sanctification comes in. We begin to believe that we have an obligation to improve our righteous standing before God. When we sin, we conclude that we have taken a step backward and regressed in our relationship with God, leaving us with no other choice but to regain the righteousness we lost. We have fallen out of favor with Him, and it is up to us to gain our way back into His good graces. But is this biblical? Is it true?

The danger behind this kind of thinking is that it diminishes the finished work of Jesus. It belittles and minimizes what He accomplished on the cross, by teaching a need for additional righteousness. By focusing on our need to replace our unrighteousness actions with righteous ones, we negate the righteousness of Christ. It is His righteousness alone that can satisfy a holy God. It is His blood alone that can make the impure clean and the defile holy. And that transaction happened the moment we placed our faith in Him as our sin substitute. There is no additional righteousness needed.

It’s interesting to note that Paul said, “For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live” (Romans 1:1 NET).  He didn’t say from righteousness to righteousness or from sanctification to sanctification. All the righteousness we need is revealed through faith in Jesus Christ. And faith never stops being the means by which we avail ourselves of that righteousness. We don’t need to produce more. We need to believe that we have more than enough in Christ. The danger we face as believers living in a fallen world and wrestling with our old sinful natures is that we can become convinced that we don’t measure up. And the enemy constantly accuses us of falling short of God’s standard by using our sins as proof of our inadequacy. So, we start trying to earn our way back into God’s good graces. We fall back into the faulty mindset that we can somehow produce a righteousness of our own.

But notice what Paul told the believers in Philippi.

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. – Philippians 3:8-9 ESV

Paul depended upon a righteousness that came from outside of himself. It was an alien righteousness, produced by Christ and imputed to Paul. And Paul kept placing His faith in that righteousness, not in any kind of self-produced righteousness he might attempt to manufacture.

So then, why should we attempt to do righteous deeds? Why should we bother to live worthy of our calling? If we are already as righteous as we will ever need to be, what’s the point of attempting to live holy lives? These are important questions, and we will address them in our next post.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson