Second-Hand Faith

“…I am left, I alone…”

– 1 Kings 19:10

Hypothetical questions: If the person who led you to Christ suddenly told you, “I’m sorry. I misled you. I was wrong. There is no heaven or hell. Jesus is a fairy tale. God does not exist. … I have proof, and here it is…,” how would your faith fare?

What if all of the great Christian preachers, teachers, authors, apologists, radio and TV personalities, etc. you look up to suddenly said the same thing? What if everyone in the world abandoned Jesus and urged you to do so… what would you do?

I’ve thought about questions like these off and on for many years as a way of identifying whether my faith is real or not. It’s somewhat hypothetical: there will always be true believers. But there may come a time when it seems everyone around me has abandoned the faith once for all delivered to the saints. It has happened to some degree before and will happen again.

Since the early church, there have been those who appeared to be saved, and even had leadership roles in the church, but who fell away (2 Timothy 4:10). John tells us they left because “they were not of us” (1 John 2:19), meaning they were not really saved. These are somewhat isolated examples, but 2 Thessalonians 2:3 speaks of ‘the apostasy’ of the last days. There will come a time when there is a mass defection from the faith. I believe this speaks of people in the church that we would identify as believers, maybe even strong believers, because you can’t fall away from the truth unless you first have the truth. Some will fall away completely, while others will be seduced by a different gospel. I think we’re seeing this happen in America today. 1

I think one reason people fall away is because they have a second-hand faith. They believe in the doctrines of the Bible, and they say they believe in Jesus, but they don’t really trust in Him. They think they are saved because they agree with what the Bible says, but God hasn’t given them new birth. They don’t have the internal Witness, the Holy Spirit, who convicts of sin and helps them become more like Christ. They’ve heard or read inspiring stories of other people’s faith, but they haven’t stepped out in trusting obedience to the Lord and seen Him work in their lives. Then, when someone comes up with a convincing-sounding argument, or when difficulties arise, they easily fall away. Their faith is built on sand, not the Rock.

Do you believe in Jesus only because you’ve been taught to? Do you have a second-hand faith? Or have you stepped out in obedient faith and seen God prove Himself to be true?

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, supply with your faith virtue, with virtue knowledge, with knowledge self-control, with self-control perseverance, with perseverance godliness, with godliness brotherly affection, and with brotherly affection love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the full true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his sins of the past. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make sure of your calling and election, for if you do these things you will not ever stumble; for so an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly supplied to you.

– 1 Peter 1:5-11 (VW)

Notes:

  1. I don’t believe this has anything to do with losing salvation. Salvation cannot be truly lost if you have it. But there are many in the church who think because they did this or that at some time in their lives they are saved. Although repentance and faith are necessary prerequisites, salvation is not based on something we do. It is entirely the work of God, and what He does, He carries on to completion.

I See Dead People

In the movie The Sixth Sense, Bruce Willis’ character meets a boy who is ‘gifted’ with the ability to see ghosts – dead people. But these dead people don’t realize they are dead. They go on with their ‘lives’, moving around their old haunts, talking to those they knew… all in ignorance of their condition, until they suddenly realize what has happened. The movie is fiction, but the concept is real on a different level.

I see dead people every day. I pass them on the highway. I work with them. I talk with them. But they don’t realize they’re dead. They see the stars in the night sky, they hear the birds sing, and the feel the wind on their face. They talk among themselves. They have physical life in them, but they’re dead all the same.

They are cut off from the living God because of their sin.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

– Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV)

Do you see dead people, too? …or are you dead yourself – dead in your sins? A dead person is not aware that he is dead. He has no idea that his sins have separated him from God. He thinks he is okay and sin is okay. But a living person is aware that he is alive. He remembers the time when God forgave his sins in Christ and gave him new birth. He perceives the life of God in him. It is not just a doctrine he believes, but God actively assures him of it through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16, 1 John 4:13, 5:10). And he seeks to avoid being in that sinful state he was in before because he values his new relationship with God.

Has God given you new life in His Son? Do you have the internal Witness?

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

– John 3:16 (KJV)

Cerebro Consciousness Argument

(The following is another approach to my argument for the necessity of the human spirit given in More Than Matter, and Independently Conscious.

Imagine you are an X-Man like Charles Xavier, but with much more extreme capabilities. You also have a Cerebro-like machine that allows you to see every human being in the world and know everything there is to know about them. With your superhuman powers, you look at Cerebro’s screen and see billions of human beings at once in infinite detail. You know each person’s exact physical makeup. You can see their every neuron firing. And you fully comprehend what you see.

You also know virtually every human being on the screen is self-aware. Each has an independent conscious that allows them to experience the world around them from their own unique perspective. Virtually every one of those billions of bodies is not yours, but you could in theory experience reality through any one of them, because they are all capable of consciousness – because they are conscious. However, one of those bodies is yours, and you experience the world through it for the lifetime of that body. What is it about your particular body that allows you to perceive reality through it and no other?

You see that the neural activity in your brain is different from, say, Body A. It is also different from Body B, and different from all the other bodies. But the same thing can be said of Body A: It is also different from Body B, Body C, and all other bodies. Every body has this thing in common: they all have neural activity that is different from each other, yet not in any fundamentally unique way. This is to be expected, as each brain is thinking different things and working in different ways. But what a brain is thinking or doing has nothing to do with which body you are self-aware through or which body your neighbor is self-aware through. Neural activity differences can explain various mental processes going on in different brains, but they don’t explain why your self-awareness is tied to your particular body. If you could somehow force Body B’s neural connections and activity to exactly match yours, you wouldn’t suddenly start perceiving reality through both bodies!

Your self-awareness remains bound to your body for as long as your body lives. It does not change, even though the material that makes up your body changes over time. Most of the atoms and molecules that make up your body as a newborn child are gone when you reach old age. Your neural connections also change as you learn and age – your brain processes information differently over time. The firing of your neurons also constantly varies. You are different than you were as a child, or even a day ago. But your awareness stays the same. It doesn’t occasionally leave your body and maybe move to someone else’s.

If you believe the physical universe is all there is, can you give any scientific reason for why you are aware through your particular body, other than pulling groundless theories out of the air?

How can you prove that your particular consciousness is a product of neural activity, and not (at least to some degree) the other way around. I’m not talking about mentally processing information such as doing a math problem in your head, remembering something from the past, telling a story, and so on. A brain can theoretically do these things without requiring self-awareness – just like a computer. But self-awareness goes beyond this. How do you explain your personal self-awareness, as distinct from others’ self-awareness, purely as the result of physical processes?

I’m not asking for proof. There are many things that we can’t prove because of the limitations of time, money, energy, etc. But if the only things that are true are things that can be proven scientifically, then there must be a scientific way to prove your self-awareness is purely a physical phenomenon.

I do not think self-awareness is a purely physical phenomenon. I believe it is due to the interaction of body and spirit. Without a spirit, you would be no more self-aware through your body than you are self-aware through anyone else’s body.

The reason we are self-aware is a very important thing to find out, because if consciousness requires more than what is physical, the whole foundation of Godless scientific materialism falls apart.

Knowing God Through The Psalms

The path to greater faith is to know God better, for how can you trust someone you don’t know, and how can you trust someone more if you don’t know him more?

For the last 9 years I’ve kept a journal of my Bible readings. I keep track of each date, passage, and thing I’ve discovered. My primary focus is to know God better, so when I find something in my reading that directly or indirectly describes who God is, what He does, why He does it, to whom He does it, and so on, I write it down so I can remember for the benefit of my relationship with Him.

Psalm 18 is one of those psalms that contains much of who God is and what He does. It begins with David saying, “I love You”, and then continues with his reasons why. Here’s what the first verse tells me about my God…

He is to be served. David, the king of Israel willingly served God. But Yahweh is a kind and loving master who does more for us than we can do for Him, as the rest of the psalm shows. He is worthy to be served…

God saves us from our enemies. This is not to say that we will not be persecuted, but that we can trust that He will bring us through those trials. David was persecuted by Saul, but God delivered him. God delivers us from Satan, our enemy.

God is our strength. He doesn’t just give us strength – He is our strength. Rather than taking matters into his own hands, David relied on God for deliverance. He proved God through trust, and God came through. Ultimately, this is also the experience of those who also trust in God.

What else does this psalm tell you about God?

God Is Good

God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.

– Genesis 1:31a

Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.

– Acts 14:17

Paul said that everyone can see God’s power and deity through what He has created (Romans 1:20). I believe you can also add God’s goodness to that. What are some of the practical, everyday things you see and experience that let you know that God is good?

For myself I see incredible beauty in what God has created, from the galaxies down to the sub-microscopic details. But more than that, I see that God gave us the capacity to enjoy what He has created, to get pleasure from these things.

Imagine a world in which we can see, but not in color, where we can eat, but it all tastes bland or awful, and where we can hear, but we can’t appreciate vibrations in the air as music and singing. God could have made the world that way if He wanted to. We would have to eat to survive, but we would avoid it otherwise. I’m so thankful that God made the world enjoyable. It tells me that God is a good, loving God.

Whenever I eat a cherry, I marvel as I think about how different it is from foods we make on assembly lines. There’s no comparison between our candy and God’s. A cherry looks and tastes better, and is better for you. There’s no wrapper to throw away (the skin is edible), and the throw-away part (the pit) is good to toss since it can grow into a cherry tree. A cherry is incredibly complex, and yet God makes trillions of them every year with no effort at all, along with strawberries, bananas, kiwis, etc. … yes, and even okra :P.

I believe that God has the wisdom and power to create the world instantly, in less than a nano-second, but I think He took time to make it beautiful and enjoyable, a thing of glory, a piece of art.

And all this in a world affected by the curse. I can’t image what things were like before the fall, of what the new heavens and new earth will be like.

Praying For Patience

Take thy share in suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

– 2 Timothy 2:3 (JND)

It is not our purpose to seek out suffering, but neither is it to avoid it.

It is jokingly said that one thing you should not pray for is patience, because if you do, God is going to send all sorts of calamity to try what little patience you do have. However, patience is a virtue that we need to have. It is a fruit of the Spirit. Patience is a good, godly thing, and the only way to acquire it is to have it tried. To say, even jokingly, that you should not pray for patience focuses on the suffering rather than the goal. It cheats you out of Christ-likeness.

It is good to pray for patience, for that leads us to a greater likeness to our Master. To live as a Christian means we will suffer for Christ, and to suffer for Christ is to know Him better. Does our desire to avoid suffering exceed our desire to know Christ?

…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, …

– Philippians 3:10 (JND)

Book Giveaway: How To Gain Victory Over Sin

It’s been a few months since I published my second book, How To Gain Victory Over Sin. The ebook is free, but the paperback version isn’t simply because it costs money to print books.

But from now until May 3, you have the chance to win one of 10 free paperback editions of the book through Goodreads.com. All you need to do is click on the ‘Enter To Win’ button below. If you do win, I’ll send you the book, asking you for an honest review on Goodreads, Amazon, or wherever. (Of course, you don’t have to enter the contest to post a review!)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

How to Gain Victory Over Sin by Andrew Bernhardt

How to Gain Victory Over Sin

by Andrew Bernhardt

Giveaway ends May 03, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Abandoning Fleshly Righteousness

The fleshly nature has two ways of expressing itself. The first is the one we are most aware and ashamed of: it is our desire to sin. But the second way is also bad, and maybe worse because we are not ashamed of it – we’re even proud of it: it is our desire for self-righteousness.

When I say self-righteousness, I’m not talking about a holier-than-thou attitude, or a hypocritical righteous facade. I mean sincerely trying to do the right thing through one’s own willpower and determination, but apart from reliance on the power of God. This kind of ‘righteousness’ falls far short of the righteousness God requires for salvation or for living the Christian life. That law-keeping is insufficient for salvation can be seen in Mark 10:17-23.

A young man came to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replied with the commandments, “Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not give false testimony, Do not defraud, and Honor your father and mother.” The man replied, “Teacher, I have observed all these things from my youth.”

Jesus did not call the man a liar, nor did He try to undeceive the man on his ability to keep the ten commandments. This young man was able to keep the letter of the law – I’m sure not perfectly, but Jesus didn’t make an issue of it. But also notice Jesus did not say, “Don’t worry about it then. You kept the Law, you’re in!” Instead, He said, “One thing you lack. Go, sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me, taking up the cross.” Jesus said eternal life requires more than just keeping the ten commandments.

As he walked away in sorrow, Jesus said, “How difficult it is for those who have riches to enter into the Kingdom of God!” This amazed His disciples because the Law says nothing about wealth hindering one’s entrance into heaven. (Actually, the Law mentions nothing about heaven.) The Law even includes blessings of wealth on those who keep its commands (Deuteronomy 7:12-24, 28:1-14). But Jesus’ told the man to sell all he had, give to the poor, take up the cross and follow Him. The reason He did so was to reveal the fleshly heart condition that was keeping him from eternal life. The man was still a slave to his fleshly desires. 1

The righteousness of the flesh looks deceptively good because it claims the letter of the Law as its standard. We think if we can keep the letter of the Law, we’re righteous. We can see this in the Pharisee’s prayer in Luke 18:11-12:

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus to himself, God, I thank You that I am not like other men; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.

– Luke 18:11-12 (VW)

Again, there is no indication that the Pharisee was being deceptive in his prayer. He was able to live up to the letter of the Law. And yet, it was the sinful tax collector who left justified, not the law-keeping Pharisee.

I can see Paul in this Pharisee. Before he was saved, Paul was also able to live up to the letter of the Law “blamelessly” (Philippians 3:4-6). But once he was saved, Paul realized his legalistic self-righteousness had brought him no closer to God. You see, the letter of the Law covers only a portion of the standard of righteousness. It is only the beginning.

Imagine somebody handed you a bottle with the label “Lemon Juice” on it, but you were suspicious that it might contain something else that was perhaps poisonous. How would you know the contents matched the label? You would test it against the characteristics of real lemon juice.

Lemon juice is a slightly yellow sour liquid. As you look at the bottle, you see it is a yellowish liquid, but how can you tell it is sour without tasting it? You can do a litmus test. Blue litmus paper turns red when dipped in acid. So you dip the litmus paper in the liquid and it doesn’t turn red. You have proved the liquid is not lemon juice.

But even if the paper did turn red, that would not prove the liquid was lemon juice, because any acid will do that. To prove the liquid is what it says it is, it has to pass all tests for lemon juice (which goes beyond testing just for ‘a slightly yellow sour liquid’). Each test by itself can only disprove what it is. Only all of the tests together can prove what it is.

The Old Testament Law is like a litmus test for righteousness. If you break just one command, then you are not righteous. But even if you keep all of the Law to the letter, that still doesn’t prove you are righteous. The Law is only one test – just enough to disprove our righteousness, but not enough to prove it. Jesus gives more tests for righteousness in Matthew 5:17-48. You may have kept the letter of the Law in regards to murder, and yet still be guilty of murder. You may not have committed adultery by the letter of the Law, and yet still be guilty of adultery. Keeping the letter of the Law does not prove you are righteous, because you still fail the other tests. But by breaking the letter of the Law (i.e. any one command), you immediately prove yourself a sinner.

For whoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.

– James 2:10 VW 2

If you break one command of the Law, the Law has done its job in proving you a sinner (Romans 3:20).

The flesh thinks it can live up to the Law, but doesn’t realize the Law actually condemns it. Jesus shows us God’s righteousness is so perfect, we have no hope of fully meeting all of its requirements. We have to exceed the letter-of-the-Law righteousness of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). The Pharisee’s righteousness, and ours, are just filthy rags.

Self-righteousness is done in our own power, with no real need to be grateful to God. It is not the righteousness of (i.e. from) God 3. Only Christ’s righteousness satisfies God’s standard. But that righteousness will only do us good if we forsake our own weak, fleshly attempts. When Paul was saved, he abandoned his own “blameless” legalistic self-righteousness, and trusted entirely in the righteousness of Christ. Let’s follow his example.

But no, rather, I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

– Philippians 3:8-11 (VW)

Notes:

  1. Notice Jesus told the man, “One thing you lack,” then proceeded to mention four things: sell all, give to the poor, follow me, take up the cross. What the man lacked was not these things he had to do, but a heart that was fully submitted to Jesus.
  2. Likewise, Galatians 3:10 says, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the Law, to do them.”
  3. Isaiah 54:17, Romans 3:21-22, 10:3, 2 Corinthians 5:21, James 2:23

What Do I Mean By ‘Sanctification’?

This question came up recently on a Christian forum. Since I’ve written quite a bit about justification and sanctification lately, it would be a good idea for me to clarify what I mean by these terms.

In the Bible, justification has to do with righteousness. It is about being declared innocent – not guilty – before God. The Law, summarized by the Ten Commandments, reveals God’s righteousness, and therefore it is closely tied to justification. A person can only be justified if the entire Law is kept faultlessly. To break just one Law imputes guilt on a person.

Jesus Christ is the only Person to keep the whole Law without sin, but He did so in our place so we can have His righteousness imputed to us. When we repent and believe in Him, He takes our guilt and He gives us His righteousness. This is the process of justification by which we are declared righteous before God. When God looks at a saved believer, He doesn’t see sin. He sees the righteousness of Christ.

Sanctification, on the other hand, has to do with holiness, not judicial righteousness. It is about being set apart to God, and therefore it implies being owned by Him. As is also the case with the word “justified”, most uses of this word in the Bible are in the past tense, i.e. “sanctified”. When God justified us, He also sanctified us in that we became God’s own – holy to Him. Like justification, this was also a direct result of Jesus dying on the cross (Hebrews 10:29). 1

In the Old Testament, when God chose His people Israel, they became His own, dedicated to serve and worship Him (Deuteronomy 7:6). But that did not make them righteous, because sanctification is not about righteousness. When we are saved, however, we are both declared righteous (justified) and set apart (sanctified) to God. Both of these are the result of Jesus’ death for us, …but still, neither of these stops us from sinning.

The Bible also speaks of the on-going process of sanctification. This is the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:3) in making us holy like Christ in heart, mind and actions. It can only happen if we have first been justified and sanctified (set apart) for this purpose.

The Galatian believers were trying to achieve sanctification by works of the Law. But the Law is about justification, not sanctification. They were so focused on the Law, that instead of progressing toward holiness, they were losing their understanding of the more elementary principles of justification. The letter to the Galatians implies there is a close and dependent relationship between justification and sanctification. If we get one wrong, we’ll likely get the other wrong also.

Generally, I use ‘justification’ to describe what God does through Christ to save us from the legal consequences of our sins, and ‘sanctification’ to describe what God does through the Holy Spirit to make us more like Christ. They are two different but related things, and they are both the work of God through faith.

Notes:

  1. In my writings, I’ll use the phrase ‘practical righteousness,’ as distinct from judicial righteousness, to mean holy living. This sanctification-type righteousness is spoken of in Titus 2:12, 1 John 2:29, 3:7.

Is Sanctification By Law Or By Faith?

We tend to misunderstand what was going on in the Galatian church. Well, let me rephrase. I have misunderstood what was going on in the Galatian church, …but I do think many of us share the same misunderstanding.

What I mean is, as we read Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, we assume they were trying to be saved by the works of the Law of Moses. It’s real easy to come to this conclusion when we see warnings of “a different gospel,” and read statements like “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through the faith of Jesus Christ,” and “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” There is so much justification-by-grace-through-faith doctrine in Paul’s letter that we think he was correcting their misunderstanding about how we come to salvation. And there is nothing wrong with applying the doctrine in this manner. We are saved by faith, not by works. Any gospel that says otherwise is a false one. But salvation by works was not their main problem.

While there may have been exceptions, for the most part, the Galatians were not trying to earn their salvation. They had already received the true gospel (Galatians 1:9,4:9), and as a result they had already received the Holy Spirit by faith (Galatians 3:2, Ephesians 1:14). Getting saved was not their problem. The issue was how they lived after they were saved. They had a misunderstanding of sanctification.

That their problem was a practical one can be seen in Galatians 2:10, where Paul mentions Peter, James and John’s instructions on how believing Gentiles are to live, while leaving out any instructions on how Gentiles are to be saved 1. But it becomes much more evident in chapter 3 where Paul really starts chewing them out:

Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?

– Galatians 3:3 (KJV)

This is the first place where Paul directly confronts them with their error. Notice the word ‘Spirit’ here. This is a gigantic clue he is not talking about how to become or stay saved …otherwise he would have said something like, “having begun in Christ.” It is the Holy Spirit’s role to make us practically righteous, not to declare us righteous before God.

The Greek word for ‘perfect’, epiteleo, is used nine times elsewhere in the New Testament. Every one of those usages refer to accomplishing something through actions 2. Epiteleo is never used in reference to our gaining or maintaining a right standing before God. In other words, we have no need to perfect our righteous status before God, because Jesus has already perfected it.

Also notice Paul did not condemn his readers merely for seeking perfection. He condemned them for the manner in which they sought it. This is another clue that sanctification is the topic at hand. The Galatian believers were trying to attain practical perfection through the Law. They thought they could achieve sanctification by works of the flesh. But sanctification is purely God’s work (John 17:17, Romans 15:16, 1 Corinthians 1:30, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Ephesians 5:26, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Hebrews 2:11, 10:10, 13:12, 1 Peter 1:2, 3:15). They began their walk correctly (‘by the Spirit’), but then they ceased submitting to the leading of the Holy Spirit and let the Judaizers divert them. No wonder Paul was upset with them!

Although we apply the doctrine of justification in this epistle to our evangelism of the lost, it was written primarily to us believers, because we are vulnerable to the Galatians’ error. Sanctification by works is a much subtler error than justification by works, because it infects our minds so easily without knowing it. In some churches today, the Holy Spirit’s role goes no further than doctrine. Practically speaking, the Trinity becomes the Father, the Son, and the Holy Scriptures. Perhaps this is a reaction against the errors of some who tend to have a fixation on the Holy Spirit at the expense of good doctrine. I don’t know. But I do know there are serious dangers in trying to live by the Law:

• It actually empowers sin in our lives (Romans 5:20, 7:5,8, 1 Corinthians 15:56). The more we seek to live by the Law, the more power sin has over us, even if that sin is only a prideful self-righteous attitude over others. It’s not the Law’s fault – the Law is righteous and good. But our flesh still has sinful desires which attempts to use the requirements of the Law to make itself look good.

• We downplay what Paul said in Galatians 3:10, that those who insist on living by the law are under a curse, because they put themselves in debt to keep the whole law, with its sacrificial system, holy days, circumcision, etc. While this is not the curse of Galatians 1:8,9, it is still a very bad thing.

• And a legalistic sanctification mindset slowly infects our justification mindset, eventually sowing seeds of doubt about our salvation.

I think a big part of the problem is our lack of appreciation of the gospel. When we read or hear a message about the death of Jesus, or the importance of trusting in Him, we file the information away under the heading ‘How To Be Saved’, not realizing the gospel is also good news about what God does to enable us to overcome sin in our day-to-day lives 3. Jesus’ death on the cross not only has justification benefits, it has sanctification benefits (Romans 8:3-4), and both come on the same basis: by grace through faith.

The Christian life is not one of following a standard but of following a Person. Many believe the only way to avoid sin is by keeping the Law. They are unaware that walking in the Spirit and abiding in Christ prevents sin, and does so much better than trying to obey the Law. (I’m not advocating lawlessness – that would lead to sin. Instead, we are to live by a different law: the law of the Spirit of life (Romans 8:2-4).)

But we lack faith to live this way. We’d rather hold on to our own works through law-keeping because we’re afraid to trust God to make us holy. As a result, we find no real victory over sinful habits.

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster [to bring us] unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

– Galatians 3:24-25 (KJV)

Justification happens as a one-time event, but sanctification is a process that continues for the rest of our lives. We don’t drop law-keeping at the point of salvation, and then immediately take it back up again afterwards. We are no longer under that schoolmaster 4. We live by faith. Faith is not only the beginning of the way of life but its entirety. The faith that trusts God to justify us when we abandon our self-righteous works and believe in Jesus is the same faith that trusts that He will sanctify us as well when we abandon our self-righteous works and walk in His Holy Spirit. It is part of the same gospel. This is why Paul uses the doctrine of justification to address how the Galatians lived the Christian life. Sanctification is tied inseparably to justification.

We do not partake of a partial grace that gets us into heaven but doesn’t make us fit to live there. The gospel is the good news of all that God does to restore us to Himself. If we continue to rely on law-keeping to make ourselves presentable to God, it would be well to ask ourselves what Paul asked the Galatian believers: “Are we so foolish?”

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of {i.e. ‘in’} the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness [come] by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

– Galatians 2:20-21 (KJV)

Notes:

  1. This is also seen in the practical words “our liberty in Christ” in verse 4, and “walked” in verse 14. Even the word ‘gospel’ in chapter 2 is repeatedly used in the context of how believers are to live, showing the gospel includes the doctrine of sanctification as well as justification. When Paul rebuked Peter in Galatians 2:11-21, it was over a practical issue of how he lived, not about his lack of faith in Jesus to save him.
  2. The word is used elsewhere in Luke 13:32 (‘perform cures’), Romans 15:28 (‘I have performed this’), 2 Cor. 7:1 (‘perfecting holiness’), 2 Cor. 8:6 (‘he would finish‘), 2 Cor. 8:11 (‘perform‘), Php 1:6 (‘He will perform‘), Heb. 8:5 (‘make the tabernacle’), Heb 9:6 (‘accomplishing the service’), 1 Pet. 5:9 (‘afflictions are accomplished‘).
  3. Another confusing point is that Paul uses the word ‘justified’ six times in his letter, while never using ‘sanctified’. We like to separate the meanings of the words into how to get saved and how to live. But these words are sometimes used interchangeably. We need to pay attention to the context. In this letter, even though we see Paul using the word ‘justified’, he writes about how we are live.
  4. The Law still has a purpose: to convict men of sin and to lead them to Christ. As the standard, it remains. But the Mosaic Law is eliminated as a means of living (Romans 7:1-6). Look at Paul who used to follow the Law “blamelessly” before he was saved (Philippians 3:6). After he was saved he didn’t use his salvation as an opportunity to keep the Law more perfectly. Instead, he counted law-keeping a total “loss”. This is what he meant when he called the Galatians (and us) to “be as I am; for I am as you are.” If you find this difficult to accept, I suggest reading straight through the epistle to the Galatians once a day for at least a week, so you can get familiar with the flow of Paul’s argument.