Binding the Christian with Law does not Produce Freedom

From part 4 of my friend Ed Trefzger’s series “Completed by the Spirit“, this is for the Reformed Baptist and Presbyterian brethren out there. Speaking about the use of the Law in the life of the Christian, Trefzger notes

Despite Paul’s warnings that the law arouses sin, many will point to the law as a prime mover in sanctification,  essen­tial to con­vict­ing us about our remain­ing sin and mea­sur­ing our growth in holi­ness. In doing so, they will attempt to draw a dis­tinc­tion between being “under the law” and fol­low­ing the law…

Yet for the Christian,

It is the Spirit that sanc­ti­fies, not the law in a fleshly exer­cise of behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion. Des­per­a­tion and more sin­ful­ness are the results of a focus on law for sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion instead of avail­ing one’s self of the Holy Spirit and behold­ing with awe the per­son and work of Jesus Christ.

And commenting on Joel Beeke’s focus on law-based sanctification, Trefzger (before the Lance Armstrong scandal ruined him), puts it starkly:

Beeke [argues] that bind­ing users under the law actu­ally pro­duces free­dom. Per­haps an anal­ogy would be that keep­ing train­ing wheels on bicy­cles actu­ally pro­duces Lance Armstrong.

Ed Trefzger

Ed Trefzger is an elder at the Evangelical Church of Fairport, NY

Can you tell he has a passionate stance on this issue? I do too. Sanctification is summarized by Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 when he declares triumphantly

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.

Christian, you are free to be sanctified in freedom from legalism, for you are not under law, but under grace. Look to, gaze upon, and feast on the glorious Christ for all that is needed in this life…

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

Moral Improvement IS Why God Saved You!

In my last post, I argued that moral improvement is not why God saved you, as if somehow God’s goal in creating humans was to get us to behave correctly.

Be good or else

In other words, Christian salvation according to the Bible is not initiated by God in order to simply clean the mud off our trousers. He saves His people primarily to glorify Himself, and to give us gifts of infinite joy and eternal life with Him. That’s the goal, a la Ephesians 1:3-14 (noting my bold emphases):

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. 11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will12 that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. 13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. (NKJV)

His purpose is to glorify Himself. And shouldn’t He? He is the greatest being and Person in all existence, and nothing compares to Him. It’s great news that our salvation is aimed at lifting our eyes to Him; the best gift that grants ultimate joy!

And Yet He Saves Us to Improve Our Moral Standing

God’s love for us (in Christ) is unconditional. Let’s get that straight – He loves us because He loves us because He is love because He is God (cf. Deut. 7:7-8). There’s no way out of that circle of divine, mysterious graciousness. Yet in this unconditional love, He loves in such a way that He will change our inner man. We were, after all, “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29).

Saved to be changed, conformed into an image that was previously marred in us – malformed in sin as we are conceived in Adam the sinner. The image of God in which we were originally created has been overshadowed and defaced by sin – and yet in love God predestines His people to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, who is the image of God. To say it simply, He loves us too much to see us remain in sin and defacement, because He loves His glory too much for us to take His name in vain through unrepentant, sin-filled living (Ezk. 36:16-32ff.; Heb. 12:5-11).

Once we grasp the balance here – that we are loved perfectly in Christ no matter our sins, and that we are loved in order to be changed morally – then we can live the Christian life with joy and confidence! We can now live knowing

I am a terrible, wicked sinner who is completely forgiven and loved on the basis of the perfections of Christ. My sin was placed on Him and He owned it in His death on the cross – and His perfect standing before the Father was reckoned to my account when He saved me and justified me. God sees me and counts me as perfect as Jesus Himself!

Well, then we can live however we want! What’s the point of moral improvement? Paul knew you’d think that, and answers

“How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:2-4).

Full circle. God created us and in sovereign grace saves us from eternal wrath and justice in order to (re)shape us into His glorious, holy image… BECAUSE He loves His Name, and therefore extends His love to His people unconditionally, because He loves us!

Expect to be brutally loved by God when He has given you new birth by grace through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. He’s a good Father – He will discipline us if we wander from Him and indulge in sin. Rejoice, Christian! The pleasures of sin are passing and shallow compared to the glory intended for you in eternal life with Christ Jesus our Lord. Resist the deeds of the flesh, renew your mind in Christ Jesus and His Word, and live in light of a dawning eternity of joy and sinless fellowship with an infinitely wonderful God. You are blessed.

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

Moral Improvement is Not Why God Saved You

If you’ve been around American evangelicalism at all, you might have picked up the idea that God saved you in order to put you to work for Him. Justification is that glorious moment of favor that God gives to those who are for the first time believing in Christ, but it quickly fades into a life of hard work, moral improvement, and careful discipline in spiritual matters. Sound like the Christianity you know?

If so, I’m so happy to tell you this: you don’t know Christianity. Here’s the secret to seeking the joy that God intends for His kids… well, let me give the mic to a maestro of grace:

From Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith,

As John Murray helpfully explains, progressive sanctification depends not only on justification but on God’s once-and-for-all act of claiming us as saints. For many Christians, the change in subject from justification to sanctification roughly corresponds to God’s work for us and our work for God, respectively. The result of this assumption, however, is that for a brief moment at the beginning of the Christian life the focus was on Christ and his blessing of justification that was received through faith alone—itself, in fact, a gift of God. But then the rest of our life is a matter of striving for moral improvement. “Having begun by the Spirit,” Paul asked the Galatians, “are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Sanctification, like justification, has its source not in the “works of the law” but in “hearing with faith” (Gal 3:3 – 5). [1]

Were you saved by grace through faith? You are. Striving for moral improvement as a matter of willpower and personal commitment will either land you in the hospital, or you’ll quit Christianity (though you’ll have never actually internalized the real grace of God), or if you can pull it off and become a moral person, you’ll have something to boast in, and you’ve become a nasty little canker on the tongue of the church.

No. No, no, no. Our only strength and hope in the Christian life is to look to Jesus – learn Him, be filled with Him, seek Him in all things. And friends, for heaven’s sake, don’t run from God when you’ve sinned… run to Him.

This blog will re-visit this subject frequently. There is much need in the Christian community for these reminders of grace, for the constant removal of the chains of moralism. Be free[d] in Christ!

Thanks for reading,

Justin

[1] Michael Horton, The Christian Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 650-1.