Other ways in which the gospel contributes to change (sanctification)
Biblically, the way Paul lays it out especially, seems to be reflecting the key to our changing in a manner that is pleasing to God. And there are other ways as well. The Bible brings this out in terms of gospel being vital to our being able to change in growth and sanctification. Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, “I’ve been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I know, live in the flesh, I live by faith and the son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.” So you see in that verse, Paul is describing his present life. It’s that life in the present is a life of faith in the son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me, that’s the gospel. But he’s living that faith now in his walk with Christ. In John chapter 15, I can’t go through that as much as I did in Romans chapter six, but it’s also very similar that Jesus is describing himself as the true vine. And he says every branch doesn’t bear fruit, it’s just pruned. But he, going on verse four, “Abide in me and I in you as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches who abides in me and I in him. He bears much fruit, from apart from me, you can do nothing.” So that last phrase, without union with Christ, we can’t do anything fruitful for God, no matter how hard you try, no matter mature you think you are. We need to be cultivating this sense of dependence upon Christ. It’s a union with him. Christ, he’s our example, but he’s also our enablement. And the picture he gives us is very vivid. You cut the branch from the vine and the branch dies. And so in our life, we want to be cultivating this sense of dependence upon him.
And he actually goes on in the following context that “If you abide in me and my words abide in you.” So it’s the words of Christ, it’s prayer, “Ask what you wish will be done for you.” It’s a yearning for fruit. “My father is glorified by this that you bear much fruit.” He also describes how we should love each other. So it’s this union with Christ and a personal knowledge of that, and thinking about it, and cultivating it. And as we’re drawing near to Christ, the Christ who saved us, who has done all for us, that will enable us to live these changed lives that are fruitful lives. Another passage, I love for this. And we use it elsewhere in the course, but it’s worth more than one mention, is Isaiah chapter 55 in verse one, where the Lord speaks to his prophet and says, “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and you who have no money come, buy and eat, come buy wine and milk without money, and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread? And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me and eat what is good and delight yourself in abundance.” What I get from this passage is he’s describing how we so often go after, figuratively speaking, symbolically speaking, food that does not satisfy. That’s representing sin. And what the Lord is saying is that a key to change, to overcoming temptation and sin, is to recognize that Christ is better than these idols which tempt us. John Piper has made a career really talking about what he calls Christian hedonism in his book, Desiring God, that the greatest of all pleasures is to be found in God, to be found in Christ. And so as we realize, that the things in the world will never satisfy. As we taste and see that the Lord is good, He is the one who will satisfy our souls and that will enable us to overcome the temptations to change.
Again, to put it into concrete terms, in terms of a counselee, is a young mom is depressed, she had been converted, actually, as a young adult. And she had done what she thought was the right thing, and married a Christian and had kids. But life was hard, and as she felt kind of lonely and empty, she was finding herself, not only neglecting her family, but tempted to go back to her old life, to the party life of going out, and going to bars, and hanging out with her old friends. And she claimed that she wasn’t getting drunk and she wasn’t engaging in adulterous relationships, but it was like she had to have that to be happy. And I was speaking with her, that her need as a professing Christian is to see that she is seeking from those earthly pleasures, that the joy and the satisfaction that they will never give. It’s the satisfaction that can only be found in Christ. And so to see that she is thirsty, she is feeling empty. And I’m not denying there are difficulties in her life, but it’s turning to Christ and thinking of who he is, and what he has done for her, and what he is to her, that will feed her soul and enable her to be content and glad in the midst of these challenging times in her life. He alone can fill and satisfy the soul. And then as we comprehend God’s love for us in the gospel and God’s grace, that is what empowers us and enables us to love others and to show grace. John writes in first John 4:19, that “We love because he first loved us.” And the more we think of his love for us, in dealing with a husband, why are you struggling in loving your wife? And the answer is the more you think of Christ’s love for you, the more you think of God’s grace to you, and how great that love is, and you fill yourself with that in your mind, the more you will reflect that love to your wife. It’s not just go love your wife, but look upon Christ, see his love for you. And then the same thing is for the wife, as she remembers God’s grace to her and His faithfulness to her, and what’s He’s done for her. That enables her to love a husband who’s hard to love. And, of course, if they’re both doing it together, great things happen. So to summarize this section, change begins with the gospel. And it continues with the gospel.
The gospel is not just the facts one believes to get justified, and then you move on to sanctification by works. Sanctification is rooted in the gospel, knowing the gospel, applying the gospel, thinking of yourself in light of the truth of the gospel. And that will enable you to transform your life. A resource I would recommend, you say, “Well, how do I preach the gospel to myself every day?” would be the The Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent. And he gives his own testimony in the back of that, how after years of frustration and failure of just trying by works to satisfy God, that he found peace in knowing that God would satisfy with Christ work for him, but that rather than leading to more sin, actually led to a freedom and a life transformation that led to more righteousness.