The Gospel & Sanctification
Language is important.
Communication of incredibly important truths is what we are all about as a church. We are gospel-centered. We are missional. “What aren’t you believing about the gospel?” is a common question asked. The gospel is language, Good News that forms our individual and corporate identities. But can we use these words so much that they lose their meaning? Can they become inadvertently detached from the foundational truths that make them such important words?
In some ways yes, and in others no. I’m thankful that we come back to the Word as our sufficient authority in all matters of faith and ministry. But as we hear this Good News on Sunday mornings, and wrestle over it throughout the week personally and in Missional Community, we need to always be mindful of the truths that underlie our communication with one another.
What truths form the gospel? What effect does the gospel have on our lives, in the here and now? What we know and believe impacts what we communicate. Lord willing, as we grow theologically, we will grow in Christlikeness. And as we grow in Christlikeness, we will be in a position to lovingly and truthfully share the Good News.
What is the gospel?
The gospel is the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and return whereby guilty sinners are justified and made alive by the power of the Holy Spirit.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified in his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. — Romans 5:6-9
Through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, wretched sinners are made saints. Broken, rebellious haters of God are awakened to the glory of the Son, and begin worshipping him in spirit and in truth. The Good News of Jesus tells us that our sins will no longer be held against us, that the guilt and condemnation they deserved has been placed on the Son. As we trust Christ by faith, we are made righteous and can now come to God as a loving Father.
For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. — Romans 5:17
There are many more passages we could look to, defining the gospel message. The more we grow in our understanding of the theology that makes up this Good News, the more our language will be grounded in truth and powerful in our relationships. The more we understand the gospel, the more we will be transformed.
What is Sanctification?
Between coming to faith and being with Jesus, all of God’s children are being sanctified. It is the work of God in our hearts, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. This is the process of transformation from one degree of glory to another. A work he promises to bring to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
But it is also a responsibility we have as God’s children, to put off the old self and put on the new. To cut off the hand and pluck out the eye. To work out our salvation with fear and trembling. To flee youthful passions and to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
God’s work in us, and our effort empowered by his grace. There is a partnership between God’s child, God’s Spirit, God’s people, and God’s truth in the work of sanctification, ultimately resulting in people who think and relate and act like the Lord Jesus himself.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. — Romans 8:29
God’s will is to conform believers into the image of Christ, from one degree of glory to another, before finally removing from them the stain of sin in all its ugliness from his children. That will be a glorious day, and our ongoing metamorphosis points to a time when we will see him as he is and be like him.
As we disciple one another, our language of sanctification must be founded in Scripture and point to the gospel. When we help people struggling with sin, and call them to believe the gospel and turn, what do we mean? How does the truth of the gospel inform our understanding of sanctification.
What is the relationship between the gospel and sanctification?
What do we mean when we say the gospel saves and sanctifies? What are the foundational truths that give power to our transformation?
To answer these questions, we will look at the passive and active obedience of Jesus Christ. It is in these two important truths we will find great power for sanctification and proper communication.
Jesus’ active obedience refers to his ongoing adherence to God’s law on behalf of his people. Jesus was tempted in every way, yet without sin. He lived in anonymity for 30 years, think about that. Thirty years! And in that time he was tempted in every way…in every way. He is able to relate to the battle we face everyday, to believe or not to believe. To obey or not to obey. To worship God or worship his creation. Jesus has been there, and yet he did not give into temptation. He didn’t even consider it. There was not one millisecond where he thought, “I know this is not the will of my Father, but I’ll do it anyway.”
Jesus obeyed perfectly, every single second of every single day of his life. He didn’t come to abolish the law, he came to fulfill it.
And because of this active obedience, he was a worthy sacrifice. He was the spotless Lamb. He did not deserve what he was given, yet for the joy set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame.
This is Jesus’ passive obedience, going to the cross on our behalf. Taking what we deserved. The full cup of God’s wrath for his people poured out on the innocent Son. Oftentimes, Jesus’ death on the cross takes center stage in our gospel-centered language. And it should, that is the epicenter of history, the most important thing that ever happened on the face of the earth (alongside his death-defying resurrection)!
But I do not hear people talk about Jesus’ perfect record of obedience as much as his death. I hear a lot of talk regarding Jesus’ taking the guilt and the punishment and the shame, giving comfort to broken sinners feeling the weight of conviction. We need to be better at talking about the empowerment of Jesus’ obedient life for people struggling with sin.
Because of Jesus’ obedience, we can walk in obedience ourselves. This is crucial for the one who is resigned to the fact that porn will always be a struggle. This is crucial for the one who just can’t seem to get over their anger. This is crucial for the one who thinks that God could never love them. This is crucial for the one who defines themselves by whatever sin they struggle with.
Thinking about the battle we wage against the spiritual forces of darkness and evil in the heavenly places, we need to talk about no condemnation. We need to talk about the payment being made in Christ’s blood. But we also need to talk about freedom from sin’s dominion and the ability in Christ to walk in newness of life.
It puts us in a position to rest in Jesus’ obedience rather than lament our disobedience. It keeps us from being moralistic, seeking behavior change because “God just wants us to be better people.” It keeps us from taking pride in our obedience, knowing that God’s favor is not based upon our willingness or ability to keep God’s law!
It puts us in a position where the only thing left to do is worship the triune God for his mercy, love, and grace toward us in Christ.
And when someone is worshipful, they are in a position to battle sin well. When someone is worshipful, they want to grow in holiness. When someone is worshipful, their language towards others is loving and kind, yet full of truth. When someone is worshipful, they are in a position to be used of God for his wonderful purposes in the world.
When someone is worshipful, they build up others in the body. The local church grows in relational health, where people gently restore those caught in sin. When the local church is made up of worshipful people, resting in Jesus’ perfect obedience and atoning death, disciples are made and strengthened.
The Good News of the gospel impacts our temporal and eternal lives. May our communication flow from hearts that grow in the understanding and belief that Jesus did indeed do it all.