This work God has begun in the Philippians (and in you if you’re a Christian) is the Holy Spirit work of sanctification. I’m sure you found that once saved all of your evil desires didn’t just vanish and that you still sinned on a fairly regular basis. You were not the saint you may have expected to become. This most likely evidenced itself in one of two ways, both of which stem from a misunderstanding of sanctification and the gospel.
The error of “Work harder”
The first response to the doctrine of sanctification is to work harder. If this is you, before your conversion you lived according to your own set of rules. You were your own master and did as you pleased. But now you rightly recognize a new master in your life even if you don’t fully understand His ways. You see His book as a new set of rules to be governed by and everything hinges on your ability to perform accordingly. Make no mistake, they are tough, going so far as to require perfection (Matthew 5:48, 1 Peter 1:15). The weight of the law of God is enough to crush even the strongest believer underneath its obligation. For you, sanctification hinges on your performance.
As was mentioned in the last post, you fail to remember the glorious gospel truth that Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly on your behalf. He met every requirement, never failing at even one point. He did this so you don’t have to. All you have to do is trust in His work. This trusting does not happen at a specific point in life called “conversion” and then cease to exist beyond that. This trusting happens at every point of life from conversion on into eternity.
The error of “Don’t Work At All” (antinomianism)
The second flawed view of sanctification is that God begins and God completes and what happens in the middle doesn’t really matter. If it’s already settled that God is going to complete this work in me than I am free to rest in grace and continue living my life the way I see fit. You might argue, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds more.” This is an error known as antinomianism. Antinomianism is a big word which simply means, “A belief which holds that under the gospel dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary for salvation.” In other words, grace rules the day. I can do whatever I want and be fine because of grace.
In one sense the definition above is certainly true. Faith alone is necessary for salvation. After all, doesn’t Ephesians 2:8-9 tell us that we are saved “by grace through faith?” It does indeed. The question is then, “What kind of faith can truly be deemed ‘saving faith’?”
You have failed to fully grasp what it is that Jesus accomplished on the cross for your sins. He not only saved you from something. He saved you to something. As Paul mention in verse one of Philippians, you are now a servant of Christ. This is your new identity.
But even this isn’t the full picture because once you realize this you might slip into the first misunderstanding of works based righteousness. There is a better way…
Dallas Willard once said
Grace is opposed to earning, not effort.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship
Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has…Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, but it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His Son…and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.
The question for you is this…on which kind of grace do you rely, cheap grace or costly grace? According to Bonhoeffer cheap grace is the deadly enemy of the Church. I tend to agree. A Christianity that has cost you nothing may, in the end, be weighed and found wanting (Luke 14:25-33).
You may find these articles helpful as well.
What are your thoughts towards these issues? Let me know in the comments…