This post is part of a series about the gospel’s power for sanctification:
The gospel isn’t just for non-Christians. It’s not something we move past once we’ve entered the Kingdom. Believing the gospel and living in light of it is how we grow in our faith:
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?
Notice a few things about Paul’s exhortation:
- We are not yet fully mature and need to be “perfected.”
- The Holy Spirit is the alternative to “the flesh” as the power for our sanctification.
- The Holy Spirit works through our faith – in the gospel.
If 1) we need to be perfected 2) through the work of the Holy Spirit 3) through our faith in the gospel, how does that process work? We can invite and allow the Holy Spirit to do his work in us by asking ourselves five questions and then working hard to fight the sin along side Him:
1. What is the selfish heart condition which seeks to improperly fulfill a natural, God-given desire?
Why do we sin? We sin because we want to fulfill legitimate desires in illegitimate ways. Some examples:
- Lust: The sins of lust and adultery are corrupted means of fulfilling our God-given desire for sexual satisfaction in God-honoring, God-reflecting marriage.
- Anger: The sin of anger is a corrupted means of fulfilling our God-given desire for justice.
Before we can fight sin we need to know what the sin actually is. Look beyond the action to the motivation – that’s where the sinful heart produces the sinful action:
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
2. How did God fulfill that need for us through the gospel and free us from having to fulfill it for ourselves?
We are not left alone trying to satisfy our God-given desires. We do not need to resort to corruptions. We have a way out:
God has provided for all our needs in the gospel.
- Lust: God ordained the desire for sexual intimacy to pull us into marriage – a reflection of his love for us. (Eph 5:25) Not only that but the gospel paves the way for reconciliation within marriage so we can flourish in that relationship.
- Anger: God has poured out his wrath on injustice so that we don’t have to. The anger that boils up in us when we feel personally wronged pales in comparison to the anger that was due us but extinguished on the cross.
The gospel doesn’t just address these needs and desires, it fills them in a more beautiful and satisfying way than we can on our own. The gospel isn’t just a ticket into heaven. It’s the answer to our most pressing problems.
3. How can we remind ourselves of this when tempted to sin?
The only way to stop the cycle of sin is intervening with the gospel. How do we cut into it?
Pray: Remember how we began this discussion recognizing that Paul said that the Holy Spirit is involved in our sanctification? Ask God to make the gospel beautiful to your eyes. When tempted, cry out to him to make the gospel seem beautiful and sufficient so that you do not need the sin to be satisfied.
Reflect: You won’t remember how the gospel preempts and overpowers your sin unless that knowledge is embedded deep inside. This means we must meditate on how the gospel fills our need before temptation comes. Think ahead and anticipate your temptations. When are you most likely to be tempted? What will you be thinking about? Meditate on the beauty of the gospel before that time. This needs to be a habit in your life because our desires to sin are so strong – we need to preemptively attack.
4. How can we learn to hate the sin?
Defeating sin requires that we ultimately hate sin.
If sin is detestable to us we won’t be tempted to indulge in it. In fact, it won’t be indulging anymore because we only indulge in the things we like. The question is, “How do we learn to hate sin?”
We could look at the filth of our sin all day long. Or we could look at Jesus:
If you will see sin’s sinfulness to loathe it, and mourn, do not stand looking upon [your] sin, but look upon Christ first, as suffering and satisfying for it.
– Thomas Wilcox via Of First Importance
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
We need to cast off the sin that entangles us.
By looking to Jesus… who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross. Find this beautiful and you will not find sin beautiful.
Remember, though, that this is a program for inviting the Holy Spirit to help us crush the desire to sin. This does not mean that we are free from the responsibility to work hard against the sin. In fact, looking again to Hebrews 12 we see that we are responsible to run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Never think that you are relieved of your responsibility to work hard against sin.
That’s not all.
Defeating sin is an important part of our sanctification. If we are to look like our Elder Brother we need to be killing sin. But that’s not our only goal in sanctification. We also need to pursue good works.
How can we use the gospel to pursue holiness? That’s what we’ll discuss next.
The gospel is not just for the unsaved.
Calling God “Fool” – I’m Sanctifying Myself