The Role of Faith in Sanctification (Gal 2:20)
God expresses His own righteousness when He justifies believing sinners (Rom 3:21-22). He makes His righteousness the cause of our righteousness. What’s hard for us to understand is that God justifies usfor His Name’s sake. This is a difficult concept to grasp—namely that God is magnifying His name through the redemption of sinners.
God is known savingly ONLY by that which totally satisfies His offended holiness. This is as wonderful as it is hard to comprehend—we come to know God savingly only when we come to know what satisfies God. In our redemption, God puts His righteousness on display—by the work of Christ, God has satisfied His own offended holiness. Therefore in our salvation, it is God’s own righteousness coming to the aid of sinners through Christ.
Thus the gospel is the revelation of God’s righteousness (Rom 1:16-17). There is no saving knowledge of God apart from the Spirit of God ‘shining’ into the heart of the sinner to reveal the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:4-6). And that ‘glory in the face of Christ’ is not only Christ’s virtues and perfections as the God-man; but also the attributes of God revealed in the accomplishments of the cross—it is God giving His righteousness to us through Christ our Substitute. Oh how deep this thought, God makes His righteousness the cause of our righteousness.
I remember reading 1 Peter 1:16 as a baby Christian, “You shall be holy for I am holy.” My inner thought was, “Lord, I have about as much of a chance of equaling you in holiness as a woodchip does of surviving a blast furnace. It is inane for me to imagine that my meager efforts at holiness have any ability at all to satisfy your offended holiness.”
As a young believer, I turned my fear and longing into a prayer: “Lord, I am walking corruption. Yet I want to know you. Show me the connection between your burning, blazing holiness and my halting efforts at personal holiness. Lord, show me how your personal holiness makes me personally holy!” Only when I began to study justification in earnest was my prayer answered. I began to understand more clearly why God regards as righteous the sinner who puts his trust in the Gospel. Righteousness then cannot be reduced to something we do to please God. Righteousness must find its cause and source in God.
Justification (the imputation of righteousness) changes our relationship to God’s holiness. Through Christ, the justified man has become rightly adjusted to God’s person, character, and attributes. The justified man is right with God. He is “rightly adjusted” to the claims of God, the government of God, and the law of God. Sanctification involves receiving the word of justification repeatedly; and believing it passionately. As grace truths permeate the believer’s thoughts, values, and conclusions, he is transformed by them. Therefore, sanctification involves taking one’s justification seriously (Gal 2:20).
This is significant because the most common way we tend to think about sanctification is in terms of the amount of practical holiness we demonstrate in our lives. That’s not the primary way the Scriptures use the word sanctification.
In Scriptural usage, the moral aspect of sanctification is secondary to is soteriological reference (soteriology is the study of salvation). Sanctification is primarily relationship to God given, more than it is moral quality attained. When the word sanctification is used in the noun form (and in the past tense verb) it most commonly refers to a relationship given (1 Cor 1:2; 1:30; 6:11; Heb 10:10). The Christian life is defined more by allegiance to a Person (the Lord Jesus Christ) than it is by allegiance to a moral code. Because definitive sanctification (positional sanctification) is a relationship given—progressive sanctification is the result of maintaining that relationship that has been given.
The believer’s moral obligation rises out of God’s saving activity and ownership of us by which He consecrates us to Himself. Believers are the Lord’s distinct, dedicated people, possessed by Him. (His work for us produces Titus 2:11-14. Sanctification is about being possessed by God and expressing that distinctive relationship by the way we live.
Christ died to devote the Church to Himself in an exclusive and permanent relationship. The Holy Spirit has set apart believers as a holy people, destined to love and please God forever (This is vital—God cares about what your motives are for obedience. Let is not forget that Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses preach against coveting; adultery; lust; fornication; greed; bitterness—but they do not have Gospel motives for their obedience.)
Holiness is not simply acquired by human effort – first and foremost; it is the status or
condition which God imparts to those He chooses to bring into a special relationship with Himself through the covenant of redemption. But it is a status that carries with it certain responsibilities. Knowing God in Christ produces the practical consequences of moral change and transformation -- all moral change is related to God’s sanctifying initiative in Christ. The Lord wants you to understand how this differs radically from simply trying to be good.
A Biblical understanding of sanctification regards holiness to consist of our relationship with the Lord more than the mastery of a moral code. The Scriptures describe the path of holiness as walking in the light—but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light; we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn 1:7). Progressive sanctification is the result of maintaining your relationship with God.
This is why we talk about the believer’s sanctification being faith-driven; grace-driven; gospel-driven; relationally-driven. This is the sermon proposition: sanctification is faith-driven; it is relational; it is energized by maintaining fellowship with the Lord more than mastery of a moral code.
When we forget this; we can get spiritually sideways in a hurry. When our efforts at sanctification are divorced from faith; we get stuck in patterns of performance and trying to measure up—as if we can base the Christian life and our relationship with God on our own moral efforts (such a common mindset—it comes natural to us). It’s like trying to dig a hole in dry sand; it keeps flowing back in—we become defeated.
There is such a glorious freedom that comes from faith-driven sanctification—understanding that your progress in personal holiness is advanced by maintaining your relationship with the Lord. (EX. I was talking with a believer the other day—he said that for years his Christian life has been an attempt to keep guilt at bay—by trying to be good. How many other professed believers are in his shoes?)
Sanctification is advanced by faith feeding on Christ as He is offered in the Gospel. “Lord you are my propitiation—you satisfied all of God’s wrath and justice against me. You have removed every barrier to enjoyment of my Heavenly Father’s love. Lord you are my redemption. You have broken every link in the chain that held me to the world and my idols. Lord you are my reconciliation—you have removed every speck of enmity toward God and given me eternal friendship and adoption. Lord you are my justification—in you I am complete. You have removed my condemnation; all the dark things written against me by the Law—you have put your robe of righteousness around me and clothed my nakedness. Lord you are my sanctification—you have set me apart to yourself as your beloved possession. In you—my idolatry and double-mindedness have been crucified that I might live devoted to you through the power of your Spirit.
You see how different this is than vague and general thoughts of Christ? Our faith reaches out to Christ in His sufficiency as set forth in the Word of Grace (see 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:24; 3:18; Titus 2:11-14; Rom 3:23-26). Somehow we have gotten into our heads that the Gospel is just for lost people. That’s not what Paul preached. He continually affirmed that the Gospel—the Word of Grace is what renews and transforms the believer. Renewal by means of the gospel is vital to our progressive sanctification. Renewal of the mindresets our eternal priorities and kills our appetite for sin. Renewal takes us ‘off of self’ and puts us back to living upon Christ (see the following passages on renewal, Acts 20:32; 2 Cor 4:6; Col 3:10).
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the very “food” of the Church. The Gospel, or as Paul describes it at times, the “word of grace,” or “word of truth” is the sphere in which the church operates. It is her life breath and atmosphere. For it is by the Gospel that the Church worships, progresses in her knowledge of God, wars against her soul’s enemies, maintains purity, pursues unity, and fulfills her mission to the world.
The fruits and dividends of preaching the Gospel to ourselves are immense. It will greatly help us keep a godly perspective that focuses our attention upon the cross of Christ. It will enable us to understand our life in the world and our identity in Christ. It will give us a vantage point by which we interpret everything; for the cross puts all things in true relation to each other. It will fill us with peace, hope, and joy in believing. It will cause us to live upon Christ by faith. In a word; it will exert a sanctifying force upon us.
Those who are willing to continually drink deeply from the well of the “word of grace” (the Gospel) are kept from spiritual stagnancy and cynicism. They are renewed by fresh views of God – views that produce awe, adoration, wonder, fear, and amazement. That’s why the Gospel is central to worship. For it is by the Gospel that God exalts, preserves, makes known, and glorifies His holy character in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6). The saint is renewed and transformed as He continues to behold God in Christ (2 Cor 3:18)
If the precepts we teach are disconnected from the word of grace (the Gospel); the struggling believer is frequently left with the impression that his Christian life is a non-stop effort to measure up. So, in order to keep our sanctification gospel-driven, the exposition of biblical principles must be joined to a glorious exhibition of the majesty of the Savior whose Person answers every facet of our ruin.
Our text is proof that Paul preached the Gospel to Himself constantly and saw that ongoing faith in Christ as He is given to us in the Gospel is inseparable from devotion to Christ.
The behavior of the Galatian believers gives evidence to the fact that without sustained faith in Christ it is possible to lapse into a legal attempt to commend oneself to God (in everyday language we would say trying to base one’s relationship with the Lord on performance and measuring up). The Galatian error of attempting to perfect the flesh through law is not unique to the first Century. The Galatian error is deeply engrained in our flesh. It is the ‘pull’ toward the idea that, “I can do it myself.”
Paul condemns this dangerous tendency toward relapse as a departure from faith in the sufficiency of Christ. All attempts to put oneself right with God by law will be met with utter impossibility. The saint must not return to the ‘old path’ of law. For life under law was characterized by reliance upon oneself. By contrast (see in our text) Paul exults in the fact that he is so transformed by union with Christ that he does not recognize his former sinful self.
Legal working for acceptance with God is hostile to what is ours by God’s grace through union with Christ. The Christian life of faith in the Son of God excludes reliance upon oneself or works. The life of faith in Christ is dominated, controlled, and animated by the thought of the love of the Son of God.
“Seeking to be justified in Christ” (2:17) refers to the fact that justification (though a once for all forensic act of God) is a continuous experience for believers. Christians not only exercise initial faith, but continue to believe. They continue daily to reckon that Christ is their life, their favor, and their acceptance with God.
Though justification is a point in time past event, Paul brings justification into the
present in Galatians 2:20. We work, serve, and obey from the perspective that Another has worked for us;we live by faith in Him. The outcome of faith-driven obedience is practical, or progressive sanctification.
Is justification all of grace but sanctification by works? No; in justification, God
“preempts” the individual’s efforts to commend himself to his Creator. Status, favor, and acceptance are given as a gift of saving grace. The pursuit of sanctification is liberated from every legal effort to enhance our standing with God. Only in this way can sanctification be all of grace (Rom. 4:3-8,16; 1 Cor. 1:30).
I asked my students at The Master’s College write out their philosophy of teaching morality to believers. Only three out of eighteen brought the gospel into their papers! This certainly testifies to the fact that we naturally tend to separate justification from sanctification.
“I have been crucified with Christ” (I am justified in Christ and dead to sin)
The Apostle Paul’s life epitomizes faith in the Son. Paul represents himself as in Christ having been nailed to the cross. He speaks of himself as one of Christ’s members (Rom 12:4, 5). The Apostle’s statement illustrates just how fully Christ took our place.
Consider that God’s plan for sinners required that the Son of God voluntarily offer Himself. A body Thou hast prepared for Me (Heb 10:5). For the joy set before Him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:2). Therefore God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the Name which is above every name (Phil 2:9). He accomplished the Father’s will for our deliverance.
On Calvary’s tree the natural members of Christ’s physical body (His hands and His feet) were nailed to the cross. So also all the members of Christ’s mystical body (the children given to Him) were spiritually present on that awful occasion. They died and rose with Him.
It is our union with Christ that communicates all of the benefits of His Person and His work to us. We are conformed to our Head. But just as the cutting off of the head kills the body, so also the death of Christ was the death of His members (His people). Death and the curse were pronounced by God upon the Son; He was cut off from God. All God’s waves and billows rolled over Him; the Father’s face was hidden from Him as He endured divine wrath. This was the price of our reconciliation.
As the holy, only begotten Son of God, it was not possible for Christ to be held by the power of death (Acts 2:24). He went down into the grave for one purpose; that by Him eternal life might be communicated to all those given to Him.
Galatians 2:20 encapsulates in a single sentence the more comprehensive explanation of co-crucifixion found in Romans 6. Co-crucifixion, or radical identification with Christ’s person and work, produces enduring, all-encompassing results in the life of the believer.
Unlike the grace gifts of cleansing, a clear conscience, and the filling of the Spirit, the liberating force of co-crucifixion is a positional blessing that is not immediately experiential. It has to be reckoned; it must be taken on faith daily as Paul enjoins in Romans 6:11 in order for its power to be appropriated day by day.
God regards us as being dead to sin, and alive to Himself in Christ Jesus. We are to regard ourselves the same way. Preaching the Gospel to ourselves each day helps us see ourselves as God does. This is a function of faith. The cross secures our death to sin, and the resurrection our newness of life. There is no “fiction” in the believer reckoning himself dead to sin and alive to God, for sin and death have truly lost their hold on those ruled by God’s grace in Jesus Christ. The moral consequences of being united to Christ are guaranteed – there will be deliverance from the old era of sin and there will be newness of life lived out toward God.
The believer is not passive in this moral renewal (he reckons; he presents the members of his body). The Christian has a profound obligation to the One who has brought him from ‘death to life.’ Christ’s death and resurrection have made possible a profound change of attitude and motivation, a real sense of belonging to Him, a new freedom to resist sin and serve God because of justification.
We could not take one step in the pursuit of holiness if God in His grace had not first delivered us from the dominion of sin and brought us into union with His risen Son.
Our co-crucifixion with Christ is carried into practical living by means of faith. The believer is called upon to reckon a fact that appears contrary to our experience, namely that he is dead to sin (6:11). To “consider” or “reckon” is an imperative or command in the Greek (Rom. 6:11-13).
The benefit of Christ’s death to sin is the rightful property of His people. We enter into Christ’s victory over sin by “preaching” the gospel to ourselves daily. Our “fruit unto sanctification” turns upon the daily presentation of ourselves to God (an activity born of reckoning) (Rom. 6:22). The believer is dead to the law as a covenant and as a condemner by reason of having endured its curse in the Person of his Surety. Our Savior died a victim of the law’s righteous sentence. His death as our Substitute was sanctioned by God’s holy law that we might live unto God.
Progressive sanctification hinges on faith. Progress in sanctification issues from a life of giving ourselves back to God daily—practicing the principle of presentation set forth in Romans 6:11-13. We reckon by faith that we have been crucified to sin. We present ourselves to God as those made alive to God. The ‘fruit’ or outcome of this habitual practice is progressive sanctification (Rom 6:22). In Romans 6, Paul is not merely reckoning a fact (dead to sin; alive to Christ by co-crucifixion); he is reckoning a relationship—union with Christ!
“And it is no longer I who live” (I have a new life by union with Christ)
How do we live out our new life in Christ; by reckoning by faith our union with Him It is no longer I who live says Paul. Christ and my conscience must become one so that nothing remains in my sight but Christ crucified and raised. If I behold myself only and set Christ aside in my thinking, moral striving, and in my self evaluation, I am gone. Yes, we know what happens when we look at self without Christ in view. We find that the pendulum swings either to pride or despair.
It is no longer I who live – my own person is not the source of my spiritual life. The ‘old I’ was separate from Christ and bound to do the works of the law. The result of that arrangement was bondage to sin, death, and hell. Paul rejects the old person he was before Christ.
The new man—the saved man is in union with Christ. But our spiritual ‘sight’ is strained as we attempt to comprehend our oneness with Christ. We cannot spiritually conceive of Christ joined and united to us – it is like gazing at a wall and then attempting to see the color of the wall as separate from the wall.
Not I but Christ says Paul – in Christ there is a new endless life formed in us at regeneration (when the Son was revealed in us – 1:16). This new life is maintained by the supply of the Spirit of Christ.
The truth as it is in Christ, the word of grace; the Gospel is the “food” necessary to our support which keeps our union with Christ in view of our faith. The truth of Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection is the sustenance of our souls; in the Spirit’s hands the truth quickens us and manifests Christ to us.
The believer would die if he lost sight of Christ. The Christian is kept spiritually alive by the supply of the Spirit purchased for him by Christ’s ransom. The Spirit keeps us spiritually alive by taking the things of Christ and showing them to our minds (1 Cor 2:12).
“But Christ lives in me” (I am living out my union with Christ by faith)
Christ is joined and united unto us and abiding in us so that “He lives this life in me.” He lives this life in me which I now live. Christ Himself is the life I now live. Therefore Christ and I are now one. This is the great and glorious mystery set forth in Colossians 1:27.
This union with Christ; my conjunction with Him is the reason I am delivered from the terror of the law and sin. I have been translated into Christ and His kingdom. It is a sphere of righteousness, peace, joy, life, salvation, and eternal glory. It is His, yet it is mine also by inseparable union. While I abide in Him what evil can hurt me? Faith thinks these thoughts when we put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 13:14).
This is the ‘logical order’ in our moral exertion. Our moral striving and mortification of sin (commanded by God) must begin with, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, THEN make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom 13:14). Ask yourself, “In my striving against sin have I been putting on the Lord Jesus Christ first? Have I by faith been continually receiving Him and using Him as He is offered in the gospel? Do I see Him as my life, my sanctification, my righteousness, my status before God, my propitiation, my favor and acceptance, my adequacy, my eligibility for God’s unchanging love? Do I see Christ as my sphere of life—and only THEN do I pursue holiness?” This is key. All our forays into holiness must be launched from Christ as the staging area. We are to put Him then war against sin.
If I behold and consider myself apart from Christ there is only sin, law, and condemnation. But I look to Christ and behold by faith my union and conjunction with Him – then I am dead to the law as a covenant and a condemner; and have no sin on my account.
If therefore in the matter of justification I separate the Person of Christ from my person, then I am in the law and live in law, not in Christ – I am condemned by law and dead before God (the Galatians needed these truths drummed into them until they became second nature).
Part of our problem that keeps us from being ‘grace-based’ is that we tend to listen to the self rather than talking to the self about Christ. We listen to the self in its fretting and disputing. And seem content to live with a low level of blame, shame, guilt, fear, despair, disillusionment, comparisons, and self-rejection. When I find myself pulled into this vortex I try to remind myself that to be obsessed with how I’m doing is to be self-obsessed. The answer is to preach the gospel to ourselves. Only the gospel can take us off of self and reorient us to live upon Christ.
Faith must be purely and diligently taught. The true believer is entirely joined to Christ. The believer and Christ are made one person spiritually. The believer may boldly say I am now one with Christ. That is to say Christ’s righteousness, victory, and life are now mine.
Christ’s whole work for us is based on this radical exchange. In terms of the penalty He suffered for us; Christ could have said, I am that sinner . . . his sins and death are mine because he is joined to Me and I to him. By faith we are joined together so that we have become members of His body; His flesh and bone (Eph 5:30).
Preaching the gospel to oneself is not simply repetition; it is forming short sermons in the mind which reiterate Christ’s perfect suitability in all His offices so that my faith is convinced anew of Christ’s sufficiency. And therefore I take joy in Christ as God’s comprehensive answer to my ruin.
Yes, says Paul; I am expressing myself through the faculties of my fleshly body—they communicate my thoughts, will, and affections, yet it is not I, but Christ that lives in me. There is then a double life. The first is mine which is natural. The second is the life of Another; that is the life of Christ in me.
As touching my natural life, I am dead – but now I live by Another’s life, even Christ. If I lived my own life the law would have dominion over me and hold me captive. I am dead to my former life. This death (through my Substitute) purchased for me the life of Another (the life of Christ: which life is not mine by nature, but is given unto me by Christ through faith in Him).
Brethren, we must ‘grow up’ to think this way—for without faith driving our moral exertion in sanctification; the focus will be on performance of self, rather than upon our holy status in Christ. The believer will cease to live out his union with Christ, his faith will weaken, his graces will lapse.
“The life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God”
(I am relying upon Christ as the source of my Christian life)
How can this be? I look at my own person and see only flesh. The answer is that this life which I live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God. Observers see my life; I eat, sleep, labor, yet they don’t really see my life.
Yes, I indeed live in the flesh, but not through the flesh, or according to the flesh. I live through faith and according to faith. Yes, I live in the flesh and exercise the faculties of my fleshly body, yet every good work, whether self-control, or edification of the saints, or Christian virtue, comes not from my flesh, but from Christ.
I cannot teach, give thanks, write, or pray but by means of the faculties of flesh that God has given me; but the ability to do these works does not come from my flesh but is given from God above.
So we see plainly where the spiritual life comes from; it is from the life of Christ in me. For this life is not visible to the naked eye. This life is in the heart by faith where the tyranny of the flesh has been killed and Christ reigns through His Holy Spirit.
What is the Apostle’s aim for his readers? Namely the discovery that happy and holy is the man who can sayI live by faith in the Son of God. Is Paul’s mindset here optional for us? (for is Christ, as He is given to us in the Word of Grace, drifts from view—ceasing to be the controlling object of our faith—then we are back to performance-based living).
The Galatian error breaks apart justification and sanctification. The error reduces sanctification to a faithless effort at perfecting the flesh. Paul’s response to the Galatian error is a thundering, “Stay free!” (Gal 5:1ff.). Christ is your life and sanctification. Your pursuit of personal holiness must not be detached from God’s purpose to glorify Himself in Christ. Your salvation is all of grace; therefore your sanctification must be grace and glory-driven; and not self-improvement-driven. Christ must be exalted in your sanctification or self will be.
If sanctification is viewed as a process only, it will weaken our dependence upon God’s grace and it will downplay the role of ongoing faith in the Gospel. When sanctification is separated entirely from justification, there is a tendency to view sanctification as “something more,” and as a personal attainment. Sanctification is no longer seen as faith-based and “grace-driven. The focus turns to self effort.
In reality, sanctification is the lifestyle of living separated unto God; that separation is the expression of our holy status in Christ constantly realized by faith (that holy status is our justification).
Apostle Paul viewed the cross and union with Christ to be the resource for the Christian life. We follow his example when we keep taking Christ (by faith) as our life, our completeness, our confidence before God, our righteousness, our death to sin; our favor, our security, our destiny, THEN live accordingly as a new man or woman in the sphere of Christ.
“He loved me and gave Himself for me” (I am controlled by Christ’s Gethsemane love for me)
How we must hear this diligently and allow it to sink into our innermost being. The kingdom of man’s reason must bow and consent. All begins with the love and grace of Christ. He loved me first; He is the beginning. Faith in the word of grace (the gospel) will take us past all the protests of conscience. These protests argue that we are unworthy of Christ’s love due to our remaining corruptions. Remember, conscience is like a relentless prosecutor who is always sifting for evidence to prove that the defendant is guilty. Only a grace-based believer will silence the prosecutor through the gospel of Christ.
He found no good in me but had mercy on me. I was wicked, led astray, increasingly estranged from God, carried away and led captive by the devil. My reason, will, and understanding were at enmity with God, yet in spite of this He loved me and gave Himself to free me from the law, sin, the devil, and death.
The Son loved me and gave Himself for me – let these words thunder against any attempts at righteousness by the law, or by any of the law’s works. So great is the darkness in the will and understanding, it was impossible that sinful man should be ransomed but the infinite price of Christ’s death and blood.
Therefore it is terrible blasphemy to imagine any work we can do is able to pacify God (no wonder Paul warned of being severed from Christ!). Only the inestimable price of the death and blood of the Son of God can bring us near to our Creator. He gave Himself for me – a wretched, damnable sinner (He gave Himself for the worst things about me).
What a travesty to choose a religious work, order, or sect that promises to commend us to God by non-faith. It is blasphemous to trust in something other than faith in the Son of God who gave Himself to commend us to God. Nothing but destruction can come from religious exercise born of non-faith.
The only power against the solicitations, overtures, and temptations of acceptance with God by non-faith is the imputed righteousness of Christ. It was necessary He be delivered up for me; no other price in heaven or earth could avail.
Christ the Son of God was delivered up for me; this is boundless love. Saving faith wraps itself in Christ who was delivered to death for us. Our Savior is apprehended by faith – His gifts of righteousness and life are with Him to freely give to the believer.
Paul sets forth the Priesthood and offices of Christ which are to pacify God and make intercession for sinners. Christ offered Himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins that He might redeem us, instruct us, and comfort us. He is our Prophet, Priest, and King.
Faith says He is the Son of God who, not for any thing deserving in us; or any righteousness of our own; He gave Himself out of His free mercy. He offered Himself up as a sacrifice for us sinners that He might sanctify us forever.
He gave Himself for me—that is ‘Gethsemane love’—the Lord of the cosmos chose to be betrayed for the likes of me. He entered the ‘olive press’ of God’s wrath (Gethsemane, olive oil press from the Hebrew)—and life was crushed out of Him so that His life could be planted in me. How easy it is to have this slip from view if not diligently fed by faith.
It is the greatest knowledge, treasure, and wisdom that Christians can have to define Christ as He is defined in Galatians 2:20. But of all things it is the hardest. Luther confesses that in spite of the great light and illumination of the Gospel which had shone upon his understanding so brightly, it is with difficulty that he is able to consistently define Christ in the way Paul does in Galatians 2:20.
The Reformer admits that his years in Romanism served to steep him in the wrong definition of Christ. Says Luther, Oh how much work it was]to hold this definition of Christ which Paul here gives; so deeply had the opinion and pestilent doctrine that Christ is a lawgiver [entered] as it were into my bones.
What was Luther’s solution? A militant faith; he would say these words with great vehemence: Christ—“ lives in me,” “loved me,” “for me.” This is his counsel--that you may conceive, print, and etch their personal statement upon your heart and fully apply them to yourself, not doubting but confident by faith that you are among the number to whom the “for me” belongs.
It requires faith to apprehend that Christ did this for me personally. Christ manifests Himself to His people (not the world). He forms in His people the hope of glory – they feel their security in Him. What is faith? Is it a body of facts to be believed? Is it truth claims? Saving faith is simply confidence in Christ. It is a confidence which under conviction, guilt, and helplessness casts itself on Christ alone—to the exclusion of all else.
The names of true believers (since the Apostles) are not published in God’s Word. So how do we know who is in possession of saving faith? The conclusive proof is that they are trusting Christ; they are living Galatians 2:20.
Pastors need to be discerning concerning those who profess salvation, for there is a false humility that says, my sins are so aggravated that I cannot speak confidently about safety in Christ; and about being the object of His dying love. If you are not confident in his blood removing your guilt, you are not yet a believer.
Satan as an angel of light holds men in bondage by urging them to consider their guilt more than Christ. By contrast, the Holy Spirit through the Gospel gives Christ’s people the knowledge of salvation through remission of sins.
Paul wants believers to know they have eternal life. Yes, there is always the danger of presumption; the antinomian danger that winks at sin. But there is an equal hazard in embracing a legal spirit which drifts away from reliance upon Christ and moves ever closer to trust in our efforts to commend us to God.
Apart from Christ living in us we are spiritually bankrupt. It is our Mediator’s supply of the Spirit through faith that maintains the soul. The more confidently we rely on Christ for pardon, the more we shall experience His power in subduing iniquity, healing backsliding, and promoting sanctification.
Again pastors need to be discerning. It is a legal spirit that is ready to substitute faith in place of its object. Saving faith looks directly at the object it wishes to behold. It deals directly with Christ. It’s not content to know about Him; it longs to be familiar with Him. Divines in previous decades have warned that many come to the counseling room with the question, “What is faith that I may do it?” These wise divines saw the danger of reducing faith to a “how to.” What a reminder that we are prone to view true spirituality as a series of steps taken from a technical manual as opposed to living upon the Person of Christ by faith.
There is so much corruption that yet remains in us. If we seek comfort by observing how much we are conformed to Christ, we shall soon be disappointed and feel our comfort evaporating. Luther said of his own spiritual experiences, “I looked at Christ in faith and the dove of peace flew into my heart. I looked at the dove and it flew away.”
Some have based their comfort upon consciousness that they have believed. But tragically, many are conscious they believe whose faith is not the faith of Christ. Hearts are deceitful. Consciousness of having believed is not the bedrock foundation of hope. The bedrock of hope is confidence in Christ as He is offered in the Gospel. We are commanded to rest in Christ Himself; He is the great object of faith. In proportion to our confidence in Christ, we will have assurance of salvation.
It is the Spirit’s ministry to the saints to take the things of Christ, the things of His dignity, His Person, the infinite value of His atonement, the freeness of His salvation and show them to our minds.
Those who profess salvation must never be satisfied to coexist with doubt. Assuming that we shall be saved while we tolerate doubt is an unsafe position to maintain. The Scriptures command us to give diligence in confirming a full assurance of hope until the end (2 Pet 1:9-11). Never be satisfied until you can say and mean it He loved me and gave Himself for me.
All who hear the Gospel are commanded to trust in Christ for salvation with assurance of acceptance. Justification by faith is God’s gracious gift to those who believe; but to believe means to utterly forsake everything else you have looked to for justification or acceptance with God. Having renounced every other ground of hope, look to Christ for salvation. Call on the Name of the Lord – we have the promise of God confirmed to us by His oath – we shall be saved (Heb 6:13-20).
The more we believe God’s loving purposes in laying hold of us, the more we will present ourselves for daily obedience despite the many pressures upon us. Sanctification by faith in the truth is a continual process. When we make faith in the truth a daily habit, it will have an “enabling” affect upon us that motivates us unto good works.
“Sanctification means having a new identity, with the obligation to live according to that identity. The motivation and direction for obedience is the holy status which God has given us by bringing us to Himself and the holiness of His character, revealed through Scripture, but pre-eminently in His Son. Being cleansed from sin and set apart for God’s service, however, brings the obligation to reflect the holiness of God in every aspect.
This mindset of grace-driven sanctification is not adopted easily. For grace-based living is counter-intuitive. Our natures wish to manage our own dereliction. We prefer to manage our own depravity. It requires the work of the Spirit for us to reason in a gospel fashion which says, “I must be in order to do.” The flesh is naturally law-based and therefore says, “I must do in order to be.” I like to remind my students that each morning when the get up they begin their day either as “be to do,” or “do to be.” One is grace and the other is law. One liberates and empowers, the other puts us in harness with accompanying stress. Learning to preach the gospel to ourselves is part of the answer.
We’ve seen in our lesson that sanctifying grace is not primarily a principle or a possession; grace is a relationship; it is relational. God has made us His possession that we might know and enjoy Him and in so doing glorify Him – all flows from Christ, our “Source Person;” we abide in Him; He is “our life.” We are saved to commune with the Trinity and in so doing ultimately realize (that is be transformed into) our true identity in Christ.
Grace is a love relationship with our Heavenly Father through Christ our Lord in the power of the Spirit. Sanctification is the outworking of this love relationship.
When the believer maintains his relationship with the Lord, he is living a “separated unto God,” or “sanctified” life. Thus sanctification involves caring for our relationship with God by abiding in Christ.
All our forays against our corruption must begin here—at this same ‘starting line.’ Your faith must see that Christ is your sphere, your life, your identity. Your life is wrapped up in Him—THEN ‘have at it’ smash your idols, crush your bosom sins, trample all the world’s offers, declare war on the deeds of the flesh—because now your motives are gospel-driven when your identity in Christ is clearly in view.
This is our vantage point. Christ, as He is given to us in the gospel is our power base, our confidence, our courage, our ‘launch point,’ our ability to put sin to death, to love, to deny self, to pursue moral excellence. Thus sanctification is driven or energized by faith’s ongoing reception of all that Christ is as He is offered in the gospel. This mindset will not be adopted easily. For grace-based living is counter-intuitive. Our natures wish to manage our own dereliction. We prefer to manage our own depravity.
It requires the work of the Spirit for us to reason in a gospel fashion which says, “I must be in order to do.” The flesh is naturally law-based and therefore says, “I must do in order to be.” I like to remind my students that each morning when the get up they either begin their day as “be to do,” or “do to be.” One is grace and the other is law. One liberates and empowers, the other puts us in harness.