Steps to Holiness
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, April 26, 2009
Copyright © 2009, P. G. Mathew
Too many Christians today consider Christian antinomianism to be normal and that sanctification is not mandatory but optional. They deem justification by grace through faith all that is necessary to get to heaven. But what does the Bible say?
Paul states, "It is God's will that you should be sanctified" (1 Thess. 4:3). And he exhorts Timothy, "Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come" (1 Tim. 4:7-8). The writer to the Hebrews tells us, "Without holiness no one will see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14). John says, "Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure" (1 John 3:3). Jesus Christ declares in the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Matt. 5:8).
Holiness, which is obedience to God, is mandatory for every true believer. The man who lives in sin is not saved at all, for the grace that saves is at the same time opposed to sin. He who sins habitually will hear from the Lord on that day, "Depart from me, you who practice anomia, lawlessness."
Romans 6:1-10 taught us that the basis of a godly life is our union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus died once for all with respect to sin, and in him we also died with respect to sin. Jesus rose from the dead and we also rose with him. Because he lives, we live in him forever, serving God in the newness of life. Our old man, our "in-Adam" man, has been crucified with Christ on the cross (v. 6). This dying body of sin is rendered powerless so that we may not serve sin but serve God. Paul declares, "I have been crucified with Christ. Nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). The "in-Christ" man is a new creation. He is a free man who is capable of saying no to sin and obeying Christ.
The new man is not passive; he is active. He fights against the devil and sin, and he wins because Jesus Christ, by his death, defeated all our enemies. Sin is not dead, but it is defeated. So the in-Christ man can resist the devil and the devil will flee. The in-Christ man is a super-conqueror, like David who by faith killed the giant Goliath. Let us consider the steps of holiness as taught in Romans 6:11-14.
Step 1: Consider
"In the same way, count yourselves [consider] dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus" (v. 11). This is the first of several exhortations in the book of Romans. In justification God declares us just on the basis of our faith in what Jesus Christ alone has done. In sanctification we work out what God works in us. He works in us both to will and to do his good pleasure.
He who justifies also sanctifies. Jesus is not only righteousness; he is also holiness. He imparts that holiness to us, but unlike justification, in sanctification the believer has a part to play. Sanctification is not an experience or a gift to be received. Instead, it is a life of obedience lived out in the power of God. In other words, in sanctification we are active, not passive. We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works (i.e., unto obedience), which God has foreordained that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10).
The first step in holiness is to consider ourselves dead with respect to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. The Greek word used (logizethe) speaks of logical thinking. We must keep on considering, thinking, realizing, remembering, meditating, accounting, calculating, reasoning, and keeping before our minds the fact of our union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection.
The imperative is based on the indicative of our union with Christ. Paul calls us to count as true what is in fact true. It is like my telling an adult, "Do not behave as a baby; you are grown man," or saying to a married man, "Do not act like a single person; you are now married." We must consider that which is objectively true.
We are dead to sin and alive to God forever. The regime of sin is over, and the eternal regime of God has begun. We have been rescued from the kingdom of sin, death, devil, and darkness, and are brought now into the kingdom of life and light and the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Therefore, do not just emote-think! We must know who we are, where we are, and who our new King is. Keep on accounting the truth. We are dead to sin. James M. Boice points out what Paul does not mean when he says we are dead to sin.1 It is notthat our duty is to die to sin. No, we died to sin, our former boss. It is not a command to die to sin. We are already dead. It is not to reckon sin as a force in us to be dead. Sin is still a force in us, but it is not dominant. It is not that sin in us has been eradicated. Sin is still in our dying bodies as a power that desires to reassert its former authority, but it has been defeated. It is not that we are dead to sin as long as we gain victory over sin. It is not that reckoning ourselves dead to sin makes us dead to sin. We must consider this: We died to sin in the death of Jesus Christ with respect to sin. In Christ's death, we died to sin now and forevermore, just as in Christ's resurrection, we rose again and live to God forever.
This reckoning is not cooking the books or wishful thinking. It is not an ugly person reckoning himself to be very beautiful or a pauper accounting himself to have a fat bank account. It is knowing and thinking truth, as Abraham did: "By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who has received the promise was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, 'It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.' Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from the dead" (Heb. 11:17, italics added).
Look at the use of the verb "reckon" in the Bible. God reckons our sins to Jesus Christ, meaning he puts our sins upon him. And God reckons Christ's perfect righteousness to us. This is not fantasy; it is the truth. We are clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ now and forevermore.
Negatively, we must know that we are dead in Christ Jesus, and positively we must recognize that in Jesus we are alive to live for God. All of these things are in union with Jesus Christ. The phrases "In Christ", "in Jesus", and "in him" appear 164 times in Paul's writings, but this is the first time it appears in this epistle.
We are in Jesus Christ. No enemy can touch us, destroy us, or take away from Christ. No one is able to snatch us out of his hand. Neither can anyone snatch us from the hand of the Father. We are in him. Consider yourselves, in your whole being, dead to sin and alive to God in union with Jesus Christ. No sin or devil can take us back as his slaves again.
We have been set free from sin and now are privileged to be God's slaves. "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness and the result is eternal life" (Rom. 6:22). If the Son sets you free, you are indeed and forever free.
Knowledge of this is so important. We read in Hosea 4:6, "My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. 'Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, ?I also will ignore your children.'" God declares in Isaiah 1:2-3: "I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, ?but Israel does not know, my people do not understand."
We must know this truth of being in Christ and live by it daily. No longer are we obligated to sin. We are obligated to God alone; therefore, we live for the praise of his glorious grace.
Step 2: Do Not Let Sin Reign
"Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires" (v. 12). This is the second step to holiness: Do not let sin reign in your mortal body. Being united with Christ Jesus, we died with him and are risen with him. Because Jesus paid all our debts and we have no obligation to sin, we must not let the old master Sin exercise dominion in our dying bodies. In other words, we must not let sin rule us again. As believers in Christ we have freedom to resist our former defeated king and stop him in his tracks by disobeying sin, which desires to reassert its dominion over us. We slaves have been set free, but our old master does not want us to know this fact. That is why we must know that we have been set free and are no longer obliged to that master.
During our pre-regenerate days, we were obedient slaves of sin and disobedient to God: "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath" (Eph. 2:1-3).
Now we are regenerated and have been given a new, divine nature. We have a new dynamic- the resurrection power within us. In us dwells the Holy Spirit, who now leads us. We serve God in the newness of life in the Holy Spirit, exercising our freedom to disobey sin and obey God.
Grace is now our king. Jesus Christ received all authority in heaven and on earth and has defeated sin, death, and the devil by his death and resurrection. He is the King of kings and we have been made kings with Christ's power, authority, rule, and dignity given to us.
We have been seated with Christ and now we reign in life. Paul writes, "For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:17). We exercise authority and dominion over sin, the devil, the world, and the flesh. Paul teaches, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age while we wait for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, zealous and eager to do what is good" (Tit. 2:12-14).
Paul told us in Romans 3:9 that we, along with the whole world, were under sin's authority. Moreover, we were also under a law that commanded and condemned us. But in the death of Jesus Christ, we died to sin and we died to law that condemned us.
Yes, sin is still in our mortal bodies. It twists and perverts the good instincts of the body and makes them sinful. For example, hunger is good, but sin twists it into gluttony, bulimia, and anorexia. Thirst is also good, but sin perverts it into alcoholism and caffeine addiction. Sexuality is good. But sin turns it into pornography, fornication, adultery, bestiality, homosexuality, lesbianism, and incest. Rest and sleep are good, but sin twists it into sloth and laziness. The tongue is a good member of our body, but sin twists it for slander and gossip.
"Do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies, that you may be obedient to its lusts" (v. 12, author's translation). Do not come and say you sinned again. You did not have to do it. Though we are not entirely free from sin, we are free from its dominion. We must reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. So flex your spiritual muscle. (PGM) No longer are you servants of sin; you are servants of Christ. Be a good soldier and fight the good fight. Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Put on the full armor of God and wrestle against all enemies of godliness.
Christus victor means Christ is victor. Christ has defeated all our enemies; now we can resist the devil and sin, which shall and must flee from believers who stand with Christ and fight. Joseph victoriously resolved, "How can I do this wicked thing and sin against God?" (Gen. 39:9). Daniel resolved not to defile his body with non-kosher food, and he was victorious. But David the great warrior did not fight when he saw Bathsheba, and he experienced a terrible defeat.
Fight! We can do all things through Jesus Christ who makes us strong. We know sin has no claim on us. Now in Christ we rule sin. We control our bodies and decide how much we eat. We know our position and our rights. We believe in the Bible. We study it to know who we are and what our rights are. We overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.
We do not fight without purpose; we fight to win. We know from the Scriptures that we are in Christ and the Holy Spirit is in us. We are not spiritual ignoramuses. We declare with conviction to the devil: "It is written." We live by the Spirit and use the sword of the Spirit. We take every thought captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ. God's grace abounds to us, and we abound in every good work.
Listen to what Paul says: "For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again" (2 Cor. 5:14-15). That is the purpose of our Christian life. Listen to Peter: "Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God" (1 Pet. 4:1-2).
Be a fighter. Listen to the violent language Paul uses: "For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds [sins] of the body, you will live" (Rom. 8:13). Elsewhere Paul says, "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry" (Col. 3:5). Put them to death! See how Paul uses his freedom: "No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize" (1 Cor. 9:27). We rule our bodies; they do not rule us. As God's free men and women, we beat our bodies and make them our slaves to obey Jesus Christ and to disobey sin. We have no obligation to the flesh. We put to death the misdeeds of the body by the Holy Spirit. We are led by the Spirit and filled with the Spirit. Sin shall not win. In Christ, having done all, we will stand.
We are set free and are able to put to death whatever belongs to our earthly nature. We have a new nature and are filled with the Holy Spirit. And having been redeemed from sin, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, so we honor God with our bodies. We are no longer slaves in Egypt to obey Pharaoh. We are now citizens of heaven and obligated to obey God. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us to will and to do his good pleasure. We follow Jesus Christ in his footsteps. He commanded us to deny ourselves, take up the cross daily, and follow him.
We surely face temptation daily, but what does the Scripture say? "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (1 Cor. 10:13). Don't come in defeat and say you were tempted. God is faithful. He will make certain that you are shown a way so that you will stand victorious.
Peter says, "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us" (1 Pet. 2:11-12). Paul guarantees that we do not have to sin at all: "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature [flesh]. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law" (Gal. 5:16-18). "In conflict" means the Holy Spirit is against the flesh, and the flesh is against the Holy Spirit. As long as we are led by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit will win through us.
Do not let King Sin, our defeated former boss, reassert his kingship in your mortal body. Exercise your freedom and power. Resist him and be an overcomer. Become what you are! Reckon daily that you are dead to sin and alive to serve God. Know that he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. Sin no longer is our master. It used to be when we were dead in trespasses and sins in which we used to live when we followed the ways of this world and continuously gratified the cravings of our sinful nature.
But something wonderful happened to us. God made us alive in Christ. We have been regenerated. We are given a new nature and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We have a renewed mind, and we now delight in God's law. The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, so we love God and obey his commands. We hate sin and love righteousness. We love Jesus Christ who loved us and gave himself for us. We are no longer hell-bound objects of God's wrath. We belong to God's family as his sons and daughters. We have joined the holy church, which is on her way to heaven. We fight the devil and sin in our bodies and we win the victory and sing praise to God. Super-abounding grace is king. Since we daily receive this super-abounding grace, we too are kings. We exercise our kingship and power in our war against our enemies and live our daily lives for God's glory.
God delivered us out of Egypt. Some people want to go back. They like it. But God is with us, and he guides us. God fights against Amalekites, and we fight. God always wins and so do we. He goes before us and leads us through Jordan to the city of the living God. He is the way, the truth, and the life.
There is a day coming when all wars will cease and all enemies shall be disposed of. There shall be peace forevermore under the Prince of peace. So Isaiah says this:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him-the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD -and he will delight in the fear of the LORD . He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isa. 11:1-9)
A day is coming when the fight will be over. We look forward to that day of great peace in the new heaven and on the earth. In the meantime, we are to fight in the power of the mighty Holy Spirit.
1 Dr. Boice presents an organization of the thoughts of Martyn Lloyd-Jones (James Boice, Romans, Vol. 2: The Reign of Grace, [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992], 676-677).
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Copyright © 2009, P. G. Mathew
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The "NIV" and "New International Version" are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™