Matthew Fitzsimmons

Gospel Sanctification

My sister posted a comment on a brief article I wrote a while back that got me thinking of another article I read recently, and then a little more deeply along those lines.

The aforementioned article deals with how Christians should handle recurring sin in their lives in regards to grace vs. merit. The idea is that struggling to free ourselves of sin is just as idolatrous as the sin itself, and is based not in the gospel but in the idea that we somehow need to do something to keep God happy with us.

But this isn't what the Bible teaches at all. Take a look at Galatians 3:1-9:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

True Christians understand that salvation is by grace alone. There is nothing we can do to be accepted in Christ. Many Christians, however, forget this when it comes to sanctification. They think that somehow we need to live up to a certain standard or God will be angry with us.

Apparently the Galatians were thinking along the same lines, but Paul wanted to put things straight. According to Paul, the idea that you can somehow continue by works after receiving the spirit by faith is utter foolishness. It is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham, and that doesn't just mean initially. That means all of life and godliness is accomplished through faith.

In fact, it's not the ones who live by faith who God is angry with, but the ones who think they can accomplish their own sanctification through the works of the law. Galatians 3:10-14:

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

As Christians, we should understand that we are deeply flawed and the reality of sin means that will never go away. The measure of sanctification, then, is not that we somehow see ourselves as getting better and better. This isn’t sanctification at all, but pride mixed in with some legalism.

True gospel Christianity understands that Christ took the curse of sin upon himself. Trying to live by law means that we are trying to put ourselves back under the curse of the law, and treating the grace of God through Christ's sacrifice as worthless to us.

The reality is that there is nothing we can do that can bring us under God's wrath once we have been purchased with the blood of Christ. Nothing.

The measure of sanctification (not that it really can or should be measured) is that we realize more and more how deeply wicked we are and depend more and more on God’s grace. In the process, we will become better behaved people, but this is never the goal or measuring stick.

So, we need to give up. Stop trying to be what God wants you to be. You can't. That's the whole point of the gospel. When you sin, throw yourself on God. Don't hide it. Don't say “how could I do such a thing?” Don't make excuses. Don't try to be better. It is only when you cease trying and start trusting that you will get better.

Galatians 3:23-29:

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

February 5, 2009