Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of the certainty of where our story ends. There are ups and there are downs in the Christian life, and some of the highs are really high and some of the lows are really low. Just as your plane of vision changes while riding a roller coaster, sometimes we get confused on where we’ll actually end up, afraid one of those dips may not pull up in time to avoid disaster. How comforting, then, to look to the Word of God and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that every one of us who belong to Jesus will also be made like him in the end. We can know this because sanctification is ultimately his work anyway – work that he has promised to do. Here are a few passages.
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29). There are some loud theological words in this passage that raise some important questions, like, “What exactly does ‘foreknew’ and ‘predestined’ mean?” But for this writing, these pursuits are not the point. The point is this – if you a believer in Christ, you will ultimately be changed into the likeness of Jesus. It is as sure today as it ever has been, regardless of what your recent or not-so-recent experience has been. It’s up to him, and there’s nothing you can do about it. That is not constraining, it’s comforting.
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the Spirit of him who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies, through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:11). Everyone who belongs to Jesus has the Spirit (Rom 8:9). And if you have the Spirit, life is yours. There are no surprise endings.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:17-18). The Holy Spirit is God and brings freedom everywhere he goes, and your person is no exception. We all are becoming more like Jesus, from one degree of glory to the next. Progress may be unsteady from our wavering perspective, but it is as certain as the Word of the Lord. How do we know this? Because “it comes from the Lord.” Who, in case you forgot, is the Spirit.
“And I am confident of this: that he who began a good in work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6). You have a role to play in your sanctification. You are to battle the flesh and “let not sin reign in your mortal body” (Rom 6:11). God equips you “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). But in all these things, never forget that it is God who began the work. And it is God who will finish the work.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). The Shepherd takes care of the sheep, and he’s never lost any. Not even one.
“We eagerly await a Savior from [heaven], the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:20-21). If you trust in Jesus, you are included in that “our.” By his own authority, Christ is going to make your sin-filled body like his sinless, perfect body.
“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification, and its end, eternal life” (Rom 3:22). This is the clearest of all, perhaps. Man I love this verse. Easy and beautiful observations: 1) Sanctification has an end. 2) That end is eternal life.
“And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom 8:30). The “Golden Chain” of salvation. This verse is sweet sweet sweet. It means that salvation is an inextricable web, a work of God from start to finish. No one has ever begun who has not finished. There are no exit ramps on the highway of salvation. You will arrive safely at glory.
All this is to encourage you and let you know that even though the struggle hurts, it doesn’t go on forever. If you’re at the top of the spiritual stratosphere right now, take the time to encourage another believer. And if you’re in the midst of the struggle, know that the struggle has an end. And, because of the grace and lovingkindness of God toward you, you will win. Until then, keep seeking that next degree of glory.
Legalism is oft-used word and an oft-followed philosophy (although many do not realize they are trapped in its snare). So what is legalism, anyway?
In its more explicit application, legalism refers to the Law of Moses in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) and the belief that by following the Law one can be justified before God (by justified, think “made right” or “saved”). This kind of explicit legalism isn’t the legalism that typically entangles us most of the time, because it’s so easy to spot (and because it is so clearly obliterated by Scripture – see entire book of Galatians). I don’t find many people who are trusting in the Law of Moses for their justification/salvation.
But the principle behind this “Old Testament” legalism still plagues us. What, exactly, accomplishes justification according to legalism? Following the Law. And what is following the Law? An action which I do by my own effort. The legalism of our day has the same ultimate driving force behind it as explicit legalism – the belief that my merit before God comes from me. I trust in myself. I justify myself. We say in our minds, Not me. But our practice of running from God after spiritual failures and yet sprinting toward him proudly after spiritual successes says, Yes, you. Legalism at its core is justification by self-effort. In common usage today, Christians give the word “religion” the same definition.
Jesus gave a truly profound warning against this idea that comes so naturally to us all (John 5:45). Addressing a group of Jews (explicit legalists), he said, “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope.” Do you have ears to hear what he is saying? There is no need to accuse or condemn those who trust in the Law, because the Law will do that for itself. The very standard in which the Jews were trusting for deliverance would become the standard that would sentence them. What does that mean for you today? That if you set your hope on your own behavioral merits before God, your own behavioral shortcomings will stand to condemn you before God. Belief in self-propelled reward leads to the reality of self-wrought destruction. Trust in your own good, and your own bad will sentence you. Your penultimate success will not prevent your ultimate failure. Your good will not outweigh your bad – not when the standard is perfection. Do you have ears to hear these things?
What is the solution, then? The estate of humanity looks pretty bleak at this point. Are we helplessly and hopelessly condemned forever? By no means!
By trusting in a substitute, we can be made right with God. The light of Jesus Christ breaks into our darkness, and by faith in him we apprehend a right relationship with God. He prevents our failure. His good outweighs our bad. His merits overcome our shortcomings. His reward becomes ours. The question is not whether we deserve reward from God; that question has been already answered with a resounding no. What we deserve is punishment, because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). But forgiveness and life are offered to us anyway, with the affection of God the Father as the motivator. It’s grace, when you least expect to find it. It’s freedom, when you thought you already had it. Read John 3:16 with new eyes. “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
But, sadly, we don’t naturally like grace, do we? When we’re rewarded, we want the credit. We don’t want to depend on anyone or anything else for our lot in life, this one or the next. The legalist from within emerges, threatening to stomp out the hope of the gospel of grace. So the question you must ask yourself becomes, Can I bear to live in the light of a love I did not earn?
If you can, you will live a very long time, indeed. Forever. And this will be your song:
In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace!
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my all in all,
Here in the love of Christ I stand!
This article by JD Greear was shared with me by a coworker. Amazing presentation of what the gospel is (and what it is not).
I ran across a New York Times article this week by David Brooks entitled “How People Change.” This is a fascinating little op-ed piece that reflects what gospel-centered people already know—you cannot change a person by telling them to ‘be better.’
Brooks talks about a now infamous email that British father Nick Crews sent to his adult children, berating them for their poor life choices. The email, which was recently released to the public by one of Crews’ daughters, has been colloquially termed the “Crews Missile.” The term fits, as the tone of the email is downright scathing. “If it wasn’t for [my grandchildren],” Crews writes, “I would not be too concerned as each of you consciously, and with eyes wide open, crashed from one cock-up to the next. . . . I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed.”
As Brooks comments, the email has been received by many with delight. “Many parents are apparently delighted that someone finally had the gumption to give at least one set of overprivileged slackers a well-deserved kick in the pants.” The problem, though, is that people don’t change by being told that they don’t measure up. Tirades like this might be emotionally satisfying, but they aren’t effective.
As Brooks writes, “People don’t behave badly because they lack information about their shortcomings. They behave badly because they’ve fallen into patterns of destructive behavior from which they’re unable to escape.” Or to use theological language, we don’t keep on sinning because we don’t know what’s right. We keep on sinning because we love sin.
Not surprisingly, Brooks doesn’t end his article with a gospel proclamation. At least not completely. But he does close by reminding his readers that the most effective way to engender change is not by “bludgeoning bad behavior” but by “changing the underlying context.” In many ways, this is what the gospel does. The gospel is not a message to “go and do,” but a message that salvation has already been done. The underlying context has been changed. We are changed not by being told what we need to do for God, but by hearing the news about what He has done for us.