“And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? “
Even the most liberal of theologians believe that there is a minimum requirement. Although they claim that the bar is set very, very low; still they preach that salvation is only given to those who accept Jesus Christ as personal savior. According to them, that is all one must do! The popular notion is that we are not held to any standard of righteousness because Jesus has already forgiven our sins, past, present and future. Once a person has “given his heart to the Lord” they say, he is saved both now and forever, regardless of future behavior. Once saved, always saved.
Of course it is easy to see the flaws in what much of mainstream Christianity believes. Those of us who read the Bible know that more is required of us than merely professing a belief in Christ. We know that Jesus said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). We understand that we must do the will of the Father.
Or do we? Do we really believe that doing the will of the Father – living by His standard of righteousness -- is a requirement for salvation? Or have we been convinced that overcoming sin in this life is impossible? Have we been conditioned to believe that merely trying to obey God is enough? Do we think that God will overlook the fact that we lack his holy, righteous character? Do we think that at the return of Jesus Christ, God will somehow miraculously endow us with the character that we have failed to develop?
Just what is God’s requirement for salvation? The bar is set much higher than many realize. Notice the words of Jesus:
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).Clearly, there is a level of righteousness to which we must attain to or we will not enter into the Kingdom of God. And it must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees. So what, exactly, is the righteousness that God expects of us? What must one do to enter into the Kingdom of God?
There Is None Good But God
Nearly 2000 years ago Jesus was asked this very question by a wealthy ruler of the Jewish people.
And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? (Matthew 19:16).Before Jesus answered this man’s question, he made a statement which at first glance may seem unrelated to the question. But it is a statement that is fundamental to understanding the topic at hand. He said:
“Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God” (verse 17a).Why did Jesus say this? And what does it have to do with what is required for eternal life?
Jesus’ statement implies that genuine righteousness is the domain of God alone; that true goodness does not spring from any human resource. While we mortals are capable of doing “good” on a human level, our righteousness does not approach God’s standards. Even at its best, human righteousness, when compared to God’s righteousness, is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Jesus statement hints at the fact that self righteousness is not sufficient for salvation.
Although the term “self righteous” does not appear in the King James Bible, it is an apt description of the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day. It properly refers to people who attempt to achieve righteousness on the strength of their own resources -- those who, as Jesus said, trust in themselves that they are righteous (Luke 18:9). What Jesus called “the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” is self righteousness – it is human righteousness, generated solely by the industry of our own efforts.
The apostle Paul fully understood what Jesus meant by “the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.” Prior to his conversion, Paul was a Pharisee, and had attained the highest level of human righteousness possible. He said, concerning “the righteousness which is in the law” that he was “blameless” (Philippians 3:6). And yet he regarded the things of his former life, including this remarkable achievement, as “dung” (verse 8). He sought after a much higher level of righteousness, desiring that he might:
…be found in him [Christ], not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith (Philippians 3:9).Paul recognized that his righteousness was not enough for salvation. Without the righteousness which comes by faith -- the righteousness of God (Romans 3:22) -- he knew that he would not attain unto the resurrection of eternal life (Philippians 3:11). Paul’s righteousness was the same as the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. It was human righteousness. Paul describes the mindset of the Jewish religious community of which he was once a part:
For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God (Romans 10:3).When Jesus said, “There is none good but one, that is, God,” he addressed the fact that true righteousness comes only from God. Although there is a level of righteousness that is attainable through human goodness, it is self righteousness, and it is not sufficient for entry into the Kingdom of God.
If You Will Be Perfect
Now back to the rich ruler’s question. This young man asked what “good” thing he could do to have eternal life. Implied in Jesus’ initial response -- that there is none good but God -- is the understanding that human goodness is not enough. But then Jesus went on to add:
…but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments (Matthew 19:17b).After confirming that Jesus meant the Ten Commandments, the man told Jesus that he had kept them from the time that he was a child. He then asked Jesus what else he needed to do. What Jesus didn’t say in his answer is almost as instructive as what he did say.
Jesus did not say, “Oh, no, you haven’t kept the Commandments.” He seems to accept the man’s statement at face value. Perhaps this man, like Paul, had diligently observed the letter of the law. But something more is required to inherit eternal life. We know this because Jesus then said to him:
If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me (verse 21).Notice Jesus’ use of the word “perfect.” Clearly he implies that being perfect – whatever that might mean – is necessary for eternal life. And he clearly enunciated the way to perfection. He told this rich man to sell all of his possessions, give the money to the poor and to follow him. (Of course not all of us are required to sell all our possessions and give the money to the poor. But we all must be willing to give up everything to follow Christ.) Now this man was very rich. His life revolved around his possessions, and Jesus knew it. In essence, Jesus was telling this man to give up his life.
This story is preserved for our benefit. Just as for this man, the road to perfection – and thus eternal life -- required giving up what he valued the most; our road to perfection and eternal life requires us to give up anything upon which we place a higher value than God. Giving up one’s life is necessary for salvation. Jesus said:
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it (Luke 9:24).Paul describes giving up his life in terms of an actual death of the former self. He says that he was “made conformable to [Jesus’] death” (Philippians 3:10). In his letter to the Romans he refers to the death of the old self – the old man – as being crucified with Jesus Christ.
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin (Romans 6:6).Jesus declared that any man who would be his disciple must be crucified with him, saying, “He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38). A man who carries his cross is a man who is on his way to be crucified. The Roman soldiers made the condemned man carry his own cross; thus Jesus is describing a man who is to be crucified.
Baptism pictures death by crucifixion. Being immersed under water in baptism is merely acting out in a physical play what has already taken place in our heart and mind. When we repent, we make a commitment to crucify the old self with Jesus Christ. The underwater immersion of baptism pictures the death and burial of the old man. Notice what Paul says:
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3).
With Men It Is Impossible
Unfortunately, this wealthy ruler was not willing to give up his life. His material possessions were too important to him. We read that “he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.” Even as this young man walked away from what was too difficult for him, Jesus turned to his disciples and commented on the difficulty of entering into the kingdom of God.
Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:23-24).The disciples were shocked! They understood that Jesus was talking about something physically impossible. A camel cannot fit through the eye of a needle. They wondered how any man could then enter into the kingdom of God.
When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? (verse 25).Notice they did not ask how a rich man could be saved. They asked how anyone could be saved. Why they made the leap from rich man to any man is not certain -- perhaps they thought that this man, being not only wealthy, but a ruler, would have a better chance of getting into the kingdom than an ordinary citizen. It wouldn’t be the first time that wealth and power has been mistaken for favor with God.
In any case, it is important to understand the question that Jesus was asked. The disciples asked him how anyone could be saved. They said, “Who then can be saved? ” And Jesus answered:
With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible (verse 26).The importance of Jesus’ statement here cannot be overemphasized. He is clearly telling us that it is humanly impossible for ANYONE to enter into the kingdom of God. But he is also telling us that with God, the impossible is made possible.
The bar for entry into the Kingdom of God is set far too high for any human being to make it in on his own merits. Paul knew that his own righteousness would not suffice. As Jesus said, our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. The level of righteousness required is God’s righteousness (Romans 10:3).
God’s righteousness is not attainable through human effort. It must be bestowed by God, who is the only one who has it to give. As with eternal life, God’s righteousness is a gift.
For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:17).The gift of righteousness, which comes from God, is obtained by the faith of Jesus Christ. Paul describes this righteousness as “the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22). And even the faith of Jesus Christ is a gift.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).Salvation is entirely a gift from God. There is no part of the salvation process that man can claim credit for, “that no flesh should glory in his presence” (1 Corinthians 1:29). Salvation is only possible because God is doing what is humanly impossible: he is creating in separate beings -- beings that possess the power of independent thought and free will – his perfect, righteous holy character. “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. ”
God’s intended purpose for the Christian life is to develop the mind of Jesus Christ in us (Philippians 2:5). He is creating in human beings the ability to obey, from the heart, his holy, spiritual law. He wants to make his law become a part of us – to make his nature become our nature. This is the very essence of the New Covenant.
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jeremiah 31:33).
Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them (Hebrews 10:15-16).This is the hope of the New Covenant: to take on the very nature of God himself. As Paul writes in Romans 5, this hope is made possible by the gift of God’s love – which enables us to fulfill his law (Romans 13:10) -- dispersed in our heart by the Holy Spirit.
And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us (Romans 5:5).Although God’s righteousness is a gift, it is not a gift that God can bestow instantaneously by divine command. Holy, righteous character must be developed over time, through trial and testing. And this development process begins with crucifying the self – the old man – with Christ.
Why did Jesus die by crucifixion? There are many other methods of execution, most -- if not all -- of which are more humane. Death by crucifixion is a particularly painful death. Our English word “excruciating”, which means “extremely painful; causing intense suffering; unbearably distressing” comes from the Latin for “out of crucifying.”
It is difficult to imagine a slower, more painful and agonizing death than crucifixion. But God the Father and the Word had decided long ago that Jesus would die by crucifixion. Why?
Jesus’ death by crucifixion shows us the death of the old man. The old man does not die quickly, nor does he die without significant pain. As with a victim of crucifixion, the old man dies slowly and painfully.
This understanding of how the old man dies is of utmost importance to a Christian. Although at initial repentance and baptism we make a commitment to crucify the self with Christ, the old man does not immediately die!
The death of the old man requires an ongoing commitment. Jesus could have, at any time he was on the cross, decided to get down from the cross. He was the son of God! He could do anything he wanted. He said to the disciples, “[Think you] that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53). But he had made a commitment to see his crucifixion through to the end.
In like manner, we must see the death of the old man through to the very end. It does not happen overnight! It requires a daily commitment to continue in the process of crucifying the old man with Christ. Jesus said that we must take up our cross on a daily basis.
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. (Luke 9:23).Thus, each day we must make a renewed commitment to deny our selfish desires and willingly give up our life to Christ as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). Day by day, the old man grows weaker and weaker; but until the time comes that the old man is completely dead, we must continually renew our commitment to “die daily” -- as Paul said that he did. (1 Corinthians 15:31).
Just as Jesus suffered an excruciating death on the cross, so we will suffer in the course of the old man dying. But the suffering we endure is not without purpose. Peter writes that it is through suffering that we learn to stop sinning.
Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin (1Peter 4:1).God’s great purpose in allowing us to suffer is to purify us, thereby enabling us to inherit eternal life. Jesus, the scripture says, endured the suffering of crucifixion “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2), and we, too, have great joy set before us. Paul writes that if we suffer with Christ, we will also be glorified with him.
…if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:17-18).Suffering of itself has no value, but God uses it for our benefit, working all things “together for good” for his children (Romans 8:28). God does not enjoy seeing his children suffer, but as a loving Father, he disciplines us for our own good.
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth (Hebrews 12:6).God chastens us by orchestrating circumstances in our life such that we learn the lessons that he wants us to learn. It is through these circumstances – often quite painful in the short term – that God leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). That is, he guides us through the process of crucifying the old man, while at the same time nourishing the new creation in us. For if we are in Christ, we are -- even before the process is complete -- a new creation in Christ.
A New Creation
In water baptism, we act out the process of transformation from the old man to the new man. Immersion under the water represents the death and burial of the old man -- being crucified with Christ. But just as we are to be crucified with Christ, we are also to be resurrected with him! Coming up out of the water depicts a resurrection to live a new and different life. We are from that time forward to “walk in newness of life.”
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).When we come up out of the water of baptism and receive the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands (Hebrews 6:2; Acts 8:15-17), a new life is begun in us. God’s Spirit unites with our spirit, just as a human sperm and egg unite. We are at that moment, a newly created, but not yet fully formed, child of God.
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God (Romans 8:16).The union of God’s Spirit with our spirit creates the embryo of a new life within us. And though that embryo must grow and develop, it is nevertheless the beginning of a new life. We are now literally a new creation.
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).The new life forming within us is being shaped in the image of Jesus Christ. We are to be transformed to take on his very mind -- his nature and character. As with a human baby: though the final shape of the child is not at first apparent, the pattern of the baby’s development is predetermined. In the same way, our heavenly Father has predetermined that we are to be shaped in the image of Jesus Christ.
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29).This growth process takes time, but eventually we will be fully formed in the image of Christ. Following the analogy of human birth, Paul called the brethren at Galatia his little children, with whom he waited for, and worked toward, the completion of this transformation.
My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you (Galatians 4:19).Paul’s role in the church at Galatia of nurturing the brethren toward maturity illustrates the function that God has ordained for his ministers within his Church. The ministers’ role is to edify the members of the body of Christ. It is to instruct, exhort and encourage the members of the body of Christ to grow to perfection – that is, to mature until fully formed in the image of Christ.
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ (Eph 4: 11-13).How does God accomplish this? How does he perfect us? How does he develop the tiny spark of new life that was begun in us when we received his Spirit? How do we grow up to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”?
He That Abides In Me
As we have seen, the development of God’s righteousness in us is a process that begins with giving up our life, our old way of doing things. It means crucifying the old man with Christ. Upon true repentance, baptism and the laying on of hands, we receive God’s Spirit, which combines with our human spirit and gives birth to a new creation.
But this new creation is just an embryo. It must grow and develop in the womb of the mother until it is fully formed. As with a human baby, our development can only take place when we are being nourished from our mother, the Jerusalem which is above (Galatians 4:26). Aside from artificial life support, a fetus that is removed from the mother’s body will die.
Jesus illustrated this principle with the analogy of a fruit-bearing vine. A branch cannot obtain the nourishment necessary for life and for bearing fruit unless it is connected to the vine. Jesus said:
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing (John 15:5).Apart from Jesus, we can do NOTHING! In order for us to receive the nourishment needed to grow and develop, we must remain in Christ, the source of spiritual food and life. Unless we remain in Christ, we wither and die spiritually.
If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned (verse 6).Even Christ himself, when he walked the earth in human form, said, “I can of mine own self do nothing” (John 5:30). Jesus was totally dependent upon the Father. He said, “the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works” (John 14:10).
Too many of us have struggled in vain to be righteous by doing our own works. Like the Israelites described by Paul, we have been ignorant of God's righteousness, and have gone about trying to establish our own righteousness (Romans 10:3). But the fruits of righteousness are not something we can create by our own efforts. Fruit is created by the vine from within, and born through the branches.
Consider the analogy of a fruit tree. Say, for instance, a man plants an orange tree in his backyard in hopes of someday harvesting a crop of oranges. How does he realize the hope of picking mature, ripe oranges from his tree? Does he manufacture the oranges in his workshop and fasten them to the branches of the tree? Of course not! The oranges are miraculously created from within the tree, nourished by the water and nutrients drawn up from the soil by the tree’s roots.
We cannot manufacture the fruits of righteousness by our own efforts. The only effort required of us is the effort of seeking to be watered and nourished. We must expend diligent effort to be in, and remain in, the vine – the source of all spiritual water and nourishment. That is to say, we must talk to God in prayer, and fill our mind with his Word, on a frequent, consistent basis. The fruits of righteousness will then grow from within us -- if we remain in the vine.
The miracle of plant life was created by God, not just to feed man, but to teach us spiritual lessons. A seed by itself cannot do anything. It must be put into the soil, where it dies! (1 Corinthians 15:36). Then, when it is watered and nourished by the nutrients found in the soil, and activated by the warmth of the sun, a new life sprouts up. If this new life continues to be nourished, it grows and eventually bears fruit.
It’s the same process with us. We, of ourselves can do nothing. But when God begins to work with us, when we die to our old self, when we are fed with the nutrients found in the Word of God, and when we are watered by the Holy Spirit, we then begin to grow and bear fruit.
But it is not the fruit of our righteousness! It is the fruit of God’s righteousness in us. That is why God’s Word calls these fruits “the fruits of the SPIRIT! ” (Galatians 5:22-23). They are the tangible evidence and result of GOD’S righteousness IN us. This kind of fruit grows supernaturally from within us only when we are in Christ. We must live in Christ, and Christ must live in us; just as Jesus lived in the Father, and the Father lived in him.
Jesus was in complete harmony with the Father. He described his relationship with the Father when speaking with the disciples. Philip asked him to show them the Father, and Jesus answered:
Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works (John 14:10-11).We can actually have the very same relationship with Jesus Christ and the Father that they have with each other. Jesus went on to tell the disciples that although he would leave them physically, he would not leave them comfortless, but that he and the Father would come and live in them through the Holy Spirit.
I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you…Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him (verses 18-20, 23).Jesus speaks even more plainly of this special relationship a few chapters later in the same book of John. At the conclusion of his last Passover supper with the disciples, Jesus prayed for them:
And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are…Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me (John 17:11, 20-23).What an exciting and yet sobering reality to contemplate! “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us. ” When we are in Christ, and he is living in us, we are actually one with the very Creator and Ruler of all things. This awesome spiritual reality is clearly seen in the physical creation, as we will see in the next section
A Great Mystery
As we saw in the previous section, the Creator made the universe in such a way that the physical creation mirrors the spiritual. He did this so that we could see and understand the invisible things of the spirit realm by observing the physical, material world around us.
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made (Romans 1:20).Perhaps the most amazing spiritual reality to be comprehended by observing the physical creation is seen in the divine institution of marriage. The relationship between Christ and the Church is understood by the relationship between a husband and wife. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul admonishes husbands and wives to see their roles in terms of Christ and the Church.
For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it (Ephesians 5:23-25).Paul then makes a profound statement about how Christ loves the Church. Christ not only gave himself to redeem the Church, but he is actively working to perfect the Church. Paul describes the process:
That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish (verses 26-27).Water is used in the Scriptures as a type of the Holy Spirit (John 7:38-39). God’s Spirit, in conjunction with his Word, affects a cleansing, purifying process within us, which ultimately results in character that is holy, and without spot, or wrinkle or any blemish. More about this later, but now Paul completes the analogy of husband and wife.
So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church (verses 28-32).What Paul calls a great mystery is the fact that we can actually be one with Christ through the Spirit, even as a husband and wife are one. A husband and wife are individual beings, yet because they are physically joined together, they are called one flesh. The Father and Jesus Christ are individual beings, yet because they share the same Spirit, and thus are of the same mind, they are ONE.
For the very same reason that a woman is both the wife of her husband and at the same time part of his body, the Church is called the bride and wife of Christ (Revelation 19:7; 21:2), and it is called the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). The relationship that God ordained between a husband and wife is the same exact relationship that the Church has with Christ. They are ONE!
It is difficult for the human mind to grasp the REALITY of this. Because we are physical, the material world that we can see and touch seems real to us, while the unseen spirit realm seems unreal. We can see the reality of being one with our wife or our husband, but being one with God seems distant and ethereal. The reality, however, is that God is offering us the opportunity to be ONE with him and with Christ through his Spirit living in us.
When we are in Christ, we are literally one with him through the Spirit. If we are crucified with Christ, then we are also resurrected with him -- as pictured by coming up out of the water of baptism -- to LIVE with him. We are literally raised up to sit with him at the right hand of the Father.
But God...hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: (Ephesians 2:4-6).Meditate on these scriptures! Do we really grasp the enormity of what God inspired Paul to write here? Do we really understand what it means to be in Christ? And would we profane and defile the temple of God’s Holy Spirit with sin in our life if we were truly living in Christ?
Of course we can only live in Christ if we are truly crucified with him. There can be no resurrection without there first being a death and a burial. But the old man does not want to be crucified and die; he wants to revive himself and come down off the cross to live and walk the broad street that is the way of this world.
Who Will Deliver Me?
The old man does not give up easily. There is a great struggle that takes place inside us between the old man and the new man. Paul describes this internal struggle in Romans, chapter 7:
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. (Romans 7:14-16).Paul was fighting his own nature, a nature contrary to the law. As we read previously, Paul was capable of adhering to the letter of the law, but he could not fulfill the spirit of the law. The law is spiritual, and therefore addresses the thoughts and intentions of our mind.
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).Jesus addressed the spiritual nature of the law in his famous Sermon on the Mount. He said that it is not enough to refrain from violating the letter of the law. The righteousness of God requires that even the very thoughts and intentions of our heart be pure.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28).God’s righteousness begins with righteous thoughts; but the natural human heart is incapable of controlling thought. To try to not think about something is to think about it. Trying to control our thoughts is like trying to grasp the wind – it is humanly impossible.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9).Paul discovered that he could not control the thoughts and intentions of his heart. He found the righteousness of God beyond his grasp. He strove for it, but could not -- of himself -- attain it.
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do (Romans 7:17-19).Paul describes the struggle within him in terms of warfare. The two natures, one the old man, the other the new man, battled each other for control of his mind.
Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members (verses 20-23).Paul knew it was a war he could not win. He recognized that he did not have within himself the resources to win the battle between the sin that permeated his fleshly body, and the desire of the inner man to serve the law of God. So he asks this question:
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (verse 24).It is a great question! Unfortunately, many people stop reading there, and conclude that Paul never won the battle. But Paul answers his own question:
I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin (verse 25).Paul declares plainly that God, through Jesus Christ, would deliver him! God delivered the ancient nation of Israel from the bondage of Egypt (a type of sin) and he will deliver us from sin, too -- if we ask him, and if we have surrendered our lives to him. God’s instructions through Moses to the Israelites poised to cross the Red Sea were recorded for us – modern-day, spiritual Israel:
And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever (Exodus 14:13).God fought for his people in ancient times, and he will fight for us, too, in our battles with sin. In the second book of the Chronicles of the kings of Israel and Judah, we find the story of how God fought for Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. This story is recorded for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come (1 Corinthians 10:11).
The Battle Is Not Yours
King Jehoshaphat strove to obey God and as a result was blessed greatly. We read that “The LORD was with Jehoshaphat”, that his enemies made peace with him, that “he had riches and honour in abundance” and that he “waxed great exceedingly” (2 Chronicles 17:3-5, 10-12).
And yet there came a time when God allowed a great trial to come upon Jehoshaphat. One day the king got alarming news of an impending invasion. The Moabites and the Ammonites and the inhabitants of Mount Seir had gathered together a vast army, and were marching toward Jerusalem with the intention of destroying Jehoshaphat’s army, taking his land and enslaving his people. Jehoshaphat was badly outnumbered, and he knew it.
This story of war waged upon Jehoshaphat by his enemies is an allegory of our own struggle with sin. Sin threatens to destroy us. The god of this world comes against us with an overwhelming force that we cannot defeat on our own.
Notice how Jehoshaphat dealt with the news of this impending doom. Immediately he set himself to seek God, and proclaimed a fast throughout the land. Now when all the people had gathered together at Jerusalem to ask help of God, the king stood before the people in the house of God to pray.
And said, O LORD God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee?…And now, behold, the children of Ammon and Moab and mount Seir…Behold, I say, how they reward us, to come to cast us out of thy possession, which thou hast given us to inherit. O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee (2 Chronicles 20:6-12).God’s answer to Jehoshaphat is one of the most encouraging passages in all the Bible. It is the same answer he gives to everyone who asks for his help in the fight to overcome sin, and whose heart is right with him.
Thus saith the LORD unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God's…Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the LORD (2 Chronicles 20:15-17).Just as God destroyed the armies of Moab, Ammon and Mount Seir that day, he will destroy sin in our life, if we will allow him to. But he will only do this if and when we give up our life, and unconditionally surrender to the authority of his governance in our life. As long as we continue to violate the first Commandment by allowing other interests to take first place in our heart and mind, God will not fight for us. He will let sin have dominion over us, just as he allowed the Israelites to be conquered by the surrounding pagan nations when they forsook him and followed after strange gods.
But if we will give up our life, and put God first, he will fight against sin for us. If we will crucify the self with Christ and diligently seek God, he will deliver us from our enemy, and from a battle we cannot win on our own strength. He will “cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The battle belongs to God.
The Righteousness Of The Law Fulfilled In Us
Paul understood that in the war against sin, the battle belongs to God. Immediately after describing the inner struggle between the old man and the new creation inside him, Paul not only declares that God will deliver him, he makes this remarkable statement:
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-2).Paul plainly states that the Spirit of life in Jesus Christ made him FREE from the law of sin and death that dwelt in his flesh. But how many people have completely ignored this passage of Scripture? Many in the churches of God today claim that Paul could not, and did not, overcome sin; and therefore make the claim that we are not required to overcome sin. The people who make these claims have taken Romans 7 completely out of context.
The greater context of Paul’s letter to the Romans is that we must overcome sin through Jesus Christ living in us. Notice what Paul wrote in the preceding chapter.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? (Romans 6:1-2).The message that Paul clearly conveys here is that we are no longer to live in sin. We are now to be dead to sin. We have, as he says in verses 3-4, been baptized into the death of Jesus Christ; we are to be raised up with Christ to walk in newness of life. We are to live a new and different life:
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin (verse 6).Does this sound like Paul believes that we cannot overcome sin? No! If there remains any doubt, Paul forcefully states his belief here:
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace (verses 12-14).Sin shall not have dominion over you! What would happen to us if we were to allow sin to have dominion over us?
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23).While it is true that Paul could not, by his own strength, overcome sin; it is not true to say that Paul continued to sin. If we continue to sin, the end result is not eternal life in God’s Kingdom; it is death. But God provided a way for Paul to be delivered from sin, as he stated at the conclusion of Romans 7. And in the following chapter, he expands on this way that God provided for him -- and has provided for us -- to overcome sin and be given the gift of eternal life.
Remember, Paul begins Romans 8 by making this remarkable statement: There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are IN Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me FREE from the law of sin and death.
The way that God has provided for us to overcome sin is to be IN Christ; to walk after the Spirit. In other words, we must live in Christ, and Christ must live in us. As Paul wrote in another place:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).Paul did not overcome by the strength of his own resources. He overcame by living in Christ, which is to say that Christ lived in him. He continues with this theme in Romans 8:
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Romans 8:3-4).Jesus Christ will fulfill the righteousness of the law in us, if we are truly crucified with him. We cannot, of our self, fulfill the righteousness of the law. Why? Because the law is spiritual; but we are carnal, sold under sin (Romans 7:14). As Paul said:
…the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be (Romans 8:7).Our carnal, natural mind cannot be subject to the law of God. So when we are in the flesh, we cannot please God (verse 8). But notice now this all-important truth:
But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you (verse 9).Did you get that? If Christ, through the Spirit of God, is truly living in us, we are not in the flesh! Yes, we are still housed in a physical, fleshly body -- but we are not in the flesh; we are in the Spirit, if Christ lives in us. This is the way that God has provided for us to overcome sin. We abide in Christ; we walk after the Spirit, and are made free of the law of sin and death. Jesus Christ lives his life in us and fulfills the righteousness of the law in us.
Now some will quote Paul saying, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect” (Philippians 3:12) as proof that Paul never fully attained perfection, never fully overcame sin. But take a look at a more complete account of Paul’s statement:
If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:11-14).All this really proves is that perfection is a process. The development of God’s perfect, holy, righteous character -- whether in Paul, or in each of us – is a process that takes a lifetime. Paul had not yet gotten there, but he “followed after” and “press[ed] toward the mark.” If anything, these verses add yet further evidence that there is a relationship between perfection and attaining unto the resurrection of eternal life.
Be You Therefore Perfect
Jesus said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). While this scripture has been the subject of many a message from the pulpit, ultimately the effect of these messages has been to convince the listener that Jesus didn’t really mean what he said. Did he mean, as many have suggested, nothing more than that we are to become mature? Or did he really mean that we are to become perfect, just as God the Father is perfect?
There is no doubt that the word “perfect” can be argued to mean “mature”. While one definition of perfect is: “being without defect or blemish”; another definition is: “lacking nothing essential to the whole; complete of its nature or kind.” Mature is defined as: “having reached full natural growth or development; a desired or final condition” (American Heritage Dictionary). Clearly, the two words can have similar meaning: “complete of its nature” is virtually synonymous with “having reached full natural growth.”
So if Jesus meant that we are to become perfect in the sense of mature or complete, what, exactly, are we to mature into? What “full development” or “complete nature” are we to come to? Paul writes:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ (Ephesians 4:13-15).What we are to mature into is Jesus Christ! If the scripture says that we are to “grow up into him in all things” (verse 15), is it not saying we are to become perfect, as he is perfect? Christ is perfect, and as Paul said, Christ is being formed in us (Galatians 4:19). Is maturing “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” really any different than becoming perfect in the sense of “being without defect or blemish”?
Defining “perfect” as “mature” is nothing more than a semantic exercise, which only serves to obscure the fact that God is reproducing himself by creating his holy, righteous, perfect character in human beings. Paul confirms this as he continues the theme in Ephesians 4 of growing into the perfection of Christ. He exhorts us to:
...put off concerning the former [conduct] the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness (Ephesians 4: 22 -24).God is creating the new man “in righteousness and true holiness”! Peter describes the process of God’s creation as taking on the very nature of God.
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Peter 1:4).Exceeding great and precious promises indeed! We can, through the righteousness of God -- through Jesus Christ living in us -- escape the corruption that is in the world. We are saved by the life of Christ, that is, by him living his perfect life in us.
For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life (Romans 5:10).
Lest There Be Any Profane Person
In Hebrews 12, we are admonished to beware of taking for granted the promises of which Peter spoke. We are told to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us” (verse 1) and to endure the chastening of God, which “yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (verse 11). We are exhorted to follow after “holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (verse 14).
We are admonished to be diligent in seeking God, “lest any man fail of the grace of God” (verse 15). We are warned against being profane, as in the example of Esau, who rejected the promises of his birthright:
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears (verses 16-17).It is sobering to think that we, like Esau, might be rejected if we behave in a profane manner. And it should sober us, because the consequences are serious.
For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God (Ephesians 5: 5).Esau’s sin was covetousness, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5); and his story is preserved for our benefit. Is it possible that some of us are guilty of profaning our birthright? Are we guilty of idolatry? Have we placed greater importance on the physical pursuits of this life than we have placed on seeking the Kingdom of God “and HIS righteousness”? (Matthew 6:33).
The writer of Hebrews seeks to impress upon us the gravity of our situation. He describes the awesome aspect of God’s presence on Mount Sinai, and how it caused the people to fear and tremble. He then compares that encounter with God to our encounter with the Creator. We are not come unto a physical mountain, but into the very presence of the living God. How much more should we fear and tremble? (Philippians 2:12).
But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect (Hebrews 12:22-23).There is that word perfect again. “The spirits of just men made perfect.” How were they made perfect? They have not yet been given Spirit bodies. The only logical, scriptural conclusion is that God perfected them while they were human beings, through the “the chastening of the Lord” which yields “the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”
Some discount what the writer of Hebrews says here. They will quote the verse immediately preceding Hebrews 12, with its theme of God’s chastening, and righteousness. This verse, speaking of the great men and women of faith, says:
God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect (Hebrews 11:40).They point to this scripture and say, “See? They are not yet made perfect.” Of course, they conveniently forget that they had previously insisted that the word “perfect” means “mature”, or “complete.” But as we have seen, the word “perfect” can mean “complete”, which is clearly its meaning here.
The Church is a holy temple, which is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20-21). This building, which is the body of Christ, is not complete without that which every member of the body adds (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:16). Thus, the spirits of just men made perfect await the addition of us, the remainder of the body, without which they are an incomplete temple.
Those who misinterpret Hebrews 11:40 take it out of context, as they also take passages in Romans 7 out of context. But the only way to understand the Bible is to let the Bible interpret itself. We must look at all the scriptures on a given subject; and on this subject, the overwhelming evidence of the Bible is that we must overcome sin; we must submit to God and allow him to develop within us the mind of Christ -- his holy, righteous, perfect character.
To think that we don’t have to overcome sin is to ignore the vast majority of Scripture. To think that even though we don’t completely overcome sin, that God will still grant us eternal life in his Kingdom is denial of the worst sort. Do not be deceived.
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting (Galatians 6:7-8).Do not be deceived! God is not mocked: the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Those who live after the flesh will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5: 19-21).Is it possible that we who attend the churches of God are guilty of any of these works of the flesh? How about idolatry, for example? Do we allow other things to take first place above God in the affections of our heart and mind? Do we think that we will make it into the Kingdom of God if we do not repent and turn from our idolatry? Do not be deceived!
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? BE NOT DECEIVED: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).There it is again: “Be not deceived.” The consequences of defiling the temple of God’s spirit with sin are serious.
If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are (1 Corinthians 3:17).The apostle Peter warns about people who misinterpret the Bible, especially the portions of it written by Paul. He concedes that Paul’s writings contain passages that are hard to be understood, and therefore cautions us not to be led away into the error of the wicked.
As also in all [Paul’s] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness (2 Peter 3:16-17).Do not be led away into error. God is not going to wave a magic wand at the return of Jesus Christ and turn your unrighteousness into righteousness. Godly character is something that must be developed over time. Righteousness is a gift from God (Romans 3:22), but it is a gift that God cannot give instantaneously by divine command. Have we so soon forgotten the teaching of Herbert Armstrong?
But there was one super-important quality that even God's creative powers could not create instantly by fiat--the same perfect, holy, righteous CHARACTER inherent in both God and the Word! This kind of character must be DEVELOPED, by the CHOICE and the INTENT of the one in whom it comes to exist. So mark well this super-vital truism--that perfect, holy and righteous character is the supreme feat of accomplishment possible for Almighty God the Creator--it is also the means to his ultimate supreme PURPOSE! His final objective!
Actually, this perfect character comes only from God, as instilled within the entity of his creation, upon voluntary acquiescence, even after severe trial and test. (Herbert Armstrong, Mystery Of The Ages, pages 69, 70).
If We Say That We Have No Sin
Invariably, when this topic is discussed, someone will quote 1 John 1:8 as proof that we cannot overcome sin in this life. They will actually use it as an accusation against anyone who dares quote the scriptures where God tells us to be holy, to be righteous, and to be perfect. Below is the verse in question:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).Admittedly, this verse, taken by itself, could easily be misunderstood to mean that we cannot ever reach the place in this life where we are free from the law of sin and death. Much of the Bible is written in an ambiguous fashion, making it very easy to misunderstand. Again, one must be careful not to lift any one verse out of context.
An example of misunderstanding a verse by taking it out of context is found in Romans 10:
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13).If one were to read this scripture by itself, and only this scripture, it would be easy to arrive at the incorrect conclusion that much of mainstream Christianity has arrived at. Of course, it’s easy for us to see it when others take scriptures out of context; but can we see it when we do the same thing?
The context is vital to understanding. In the case of 1 John 1:8, the verses that immediately follow verse 8 clarify what John is saying. When he says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” he is clearly speaking of one who claims to have never sinned. We know this in part because of what the very next sentence reads:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (verse 9).How can God be said to cleanse us of all unrighteousness if we never reach the place where we are no longer sinning? Notice now the first verse of chapter 2, just two sentences later (remember there were originally no chapter breaks in John’s letter):
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not (1 John 2:1).John’s very purpose in writing the letter is that we “sin not.” If verse 8, of chapter 1, means that one can never overcome sin in this life, it would be a contradiction for John to say, “These things write I unto you, that ye sin not.”
In the next sentence of the same verse, John says “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Not when, but if! The only way for these verses to be reconciled is that in chapter 1, verse 8, John simply means that we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and that any person who claims to have never sinned is a liar.
Throughout the remainder of this epistle, John makes it clear that our goal is to overcome sin in this life. In the following verses of chapter 2, he tells us that if we are truly in Christ, we will live as Christ lived.
And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked (1 John 2:3-6).If we do not walk as Christ walked, we are not in Christ! John says this same thing in even plainer language in chapter 3:
Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:6-8).If we think that it is possible to be in Christ, while at the same time committing sin, we are ignoring the plain Word of God. In addition to the passages quoted here from John’s first epistle, we have the testimony of Jesus Christ, who said:
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire (Matthew 7:17-19).A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit! Neither can Jesus Christ -- the good vine -- bring forth evil fruit. He can only bring forth good fruit. Thus, when we are sinning (bringing forth evil fruit), we are not in the vine; but have separated ourselves from the vine -- a condition, which if not corrected, will lead to being withered and cast into the fire (John 15:6).
Is this to say that a Christian will never sin? Or that if one sins, he is not a Christian, or doesn’t have God’s Spirit? No. The developing of God’s righteous character is a process, and on the way to being perfected a Christian can fall prey to temptation and sin. And if that happens, we have a high priest in heaven that understands our weaknesses and will help us.
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).As John said, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” But let’s not kid ourselves: when we sin, we are not abiding in Christ. A good tree CANNOT bring forth evil fruit. To abide in Christ is to bring forth good fruit.
Denying The Power Thereof
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul forewarns that the last days will be dangerous times. He warns that in the last days there will be people who “will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:3). He says that they will be:
…lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away (2 Timothy 3:4-5).Could we be guilty of having only a form of godliness, while denying the power thereof? Isaiah describes a people who have the appearance of seeking God, but fail to live righteously.
Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God (Isaiah 58:2).How could we have a form of godliness, and yet deny the power of God? We come before God each week, ostensibly for the purpose of being instructed in righteousness, yet many of us deny that it is God’s purpose to create in us his holy, righteous, perfect character. Many of us say that righteousness is impossible; that it is impossible to fully overcome sin in this life. But Jesus said that with God all things are possible. He says, through the apostle Paul:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10: 3-5).Believe it or not, many who read this scripture contend that it doesn’t really mean what it says. They say that “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” is impossible. They unwittingly deny the power of God to do what he says he can do.
We can go to church every week, and call ourselves the people of God; and yet refuse to submit to the authority of God in our lives, denying him the opportunity to create his perfect, holy, righteous character in us. We can deny that God has the power to create in us his righteousness. When we say that sin cannot be fully overcome in this life, we deny the very creative process that defines God’s purpose for mankind.
Why? Why have we repudiated the teaching of Herbert Armstrong that God is creating in us his perfect, holy, righteous character? Why have we repudiated his teaching that this character cannot be bestowed upon us instantaneously by divine fiat, but must be developed over time through trial and test? Why have we denied the power of God to perfect us? What has happened to us?
Timothy gives us the answer: “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God. ” Many of us love the physical, material pursuits of this life more than we love God. We put on our Sabbath smiles and come to church services every week as if we were truly seeking God with all our heart; yet we allow the entertainments and pursuits of this world to draw us into covetousness, which is idolatry.
What is the connection with denying the power of God? When we allow idolatry to creep into our life, God will not fight the battle against sin for us! When the Israelites of old drifted into idolatry, God allowed them to be conquered by their enemies. If we go up against sin without God, we will be defeated by it. But it is easy to conclude that sin cannot be overcome. It is easy to delude our self into thinking that the reason we’re being defeated by sin is because it is impossible to overcome sin. Now we’re just one little step away from convincing our self that God doesn’t really require us to fully overcome sin in this life. It is very easy to think that God is with us, when he really isn’t.
We can think that because we go to church on the right day of the week, because we pay our tithes and don’t smoke, because we don’t eat shellfish or pork; that we are in God’s good graces. But for many of us there is much form and little substance to our religion. Many of us have allowed the physical pursuits of this life to take first place in the affections of our heart and mind. John warns us of the dangers of this mindset:
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever (1 John 2:15-17).There it is again. Eternal life is for those who do the will of God. But many have concluded that righteousness is not a prerequisite to being granted eternal life.
The conclusion that perfect character is not a prerequisite to being granted eternal life is not rooted in Scripture, but in human experience. We struggle on our own against sin, and fail. And in those moments when we are truly honest with our self, we realize that we have not overcome sin, but are wrestling with the same old sins we have faced for years. But instead of recognizing the problem for what it is – that we have been trying to establish our own righteousness, and have not submitted our self unto the righteousness of God (Romans 10:3) – we conclude that sin cannot be fully overcome, and therefore overcoming it must not be a requirement for salvation.
Buy Of Me Gold
Jesus is in the process of sanctifying and cleansing his bride -- the Church– “with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26-27). Some say that we will not have perfect, holy, righteous character until we are changed into Spirit at the return of Jesus Christ. But if that were true, why does Jesus say that he is cleansing us “with the washing of water by the word”? Would he not rather say that he will cleanse us by changing us into Spirit at his return?
It is true that God will instantaneously change our physical bodies into Spirit at the return of Jesus Christ (1Corinthians 15:50-53); but he cannot similarly transform the human mind. The human mind is already composed of spirit. Our mind is equipped with a spiritual component, which combined with the Spirit of God, results in the beginning of a new creation. The mind of the true Christian is even now undergoing the transformation process:
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Romans 12:2).The way that God renews our mind -- that is, creates a new mind in us -- is by the “washing of water by the word”, which is the operation of the Holy Spirit in us as it interacts with the Word of God to change us from the inside out. It is the means by which God develops within us a new mind -- the mind of Jesus Christ. It is the process by which he cleanses us of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9) and develops perfect, holy, righteous character within us. Jesus counsels us, with the utmost gravity, to obtain this righteous character:
I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see (Revelation 3:18).The gold spoken of here is clearly character (1 Peter 1:7); the white raiment is the righteousness of the saints (Revelation 19:8); and the eye salve is the faith of Jesus Christ (2 Kings 6:17). How do we “buy” these things? By diligently seeking the “washing of water by the word.”
We must ask God to cleanse us of all unrighteousness. We must ask him to lead us to a deeper level of repentance that will allow us to lay down our life and truly crucify the old man with Christ. We must put away the false gods – the things in our life that claim higher priority than God – and ask him to conquer sin in our life. We must not let a day go by that we do not seek God through prayer and reading his Word. We must use the tools of fasting, and meditating on God’s Word.
Unfortunately, many in the churches of God no longer believe that it is necessary to develop God’s perfect, holy, righteous character. They don’t believe that God can conquer sin in our life and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. They are like the Israelites who, poised to go into the Promised Land, did not believe that God could defeat their enemies. They saw the enemy as giants, impossible to defeat. Because of their unbelief, God did not allow them to go into the Promised Land. And he warns us, the modern-day, spiritual Israelites:
Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.) Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:7-13).Could there be in any of us an evil heart of unbelief? Have we been hardened through the deceitfulness of sin? It is not too late to repent. It is still “today” if we will hear God’s voice. Jesus says to us:
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me (Revelation 3:19-20).We must not despise the chastening of the Lord (Proverbs 3:11; Hebrews 12:5); but yield to his authority in our life, knowing “that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). We are God’s workmanship, “created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). If we truly surrender to God and seek him with all our heart, we can be confident that he will perform the good work that he has begun in us (Philippians 1:6).
To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches (Revelation 3:21-22).Yes, there is a minimum requirement for entry into the Kingdom of God: we must overcome sin and develop God’s righteous character. And we can, if we allow Jesus Christ to live in us and fulfill the righteousness of the law in us (Romans 8:4). It is God who works in us, “both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13); but we must do our part -- we must diligently seek him. As Peter said, “Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14).
He that has an ear to hear; let him hear.
“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled”
“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts”