5. Christ’s Character Reproduced in Us
Justification is God’s way of simultaneously counting men right and making them so. In declaring a man just, God writes no fiction. The disciple experiences the process of sanctification and the character of Christ is perfectly reproduced in us. Both justification and sanctification are the work of God and are necessary and causative for salvation.
When a man comes to Christ and accepts Him as personal Savior, he is counted as if he had never sinned. Accepting means receiving the work of God, permitting His power to work re-creation. There are conditions to our receiving justification, sanctification, and the righteousness of Christ. While good works will not save even one soul, it is impossible for even one soul to be saved without a faith that works (James 2:14-26). God transforms us according to a principle. We must ask to receive, seek to find, and knock to have the door opened to us (Matthew 7:7, 8).
When God justifies a man, declaring him right, He also makes that man right (Luke 18:9-14). His surrender is accepted where he is; God changes him. Justification imputes or counts man right, even as justification imparts to man rightness. The human agent simply surrenders, agreeing, “I have made a miserable failure on my own. Please take me where I am and as fast as I can go, the way I need to go.” This is his prayer.
The new blade of grass is a half-inch tall, but perfect for a new blade of grass. Another is larger, has been growing longer, and is perfect for its degree of maturity. Another is full grown, its roots are deep, and stretches perfect and green in the breeze. Each is perfect for its stage of development.
The thief on the cross (Luke 23:42) was not converted for very long, but for his stage of Christian growth, he was perfect. We will be praying; we will be studying the inspired writings; we will be in attendance at the meetings of the church. We will be pursue our devotional life. We walk into the light of truth as fast as light opens up. Entire conformity to the will of our Heavenly Father as He unfolds it to us, is sanctification. The universe is watching and waiting for our sanctification (Romans 8:18-22).
Justification and sanctification are part of one gospel. God can be just and justify the sinner through the merits of Christ, but no person can cover himself with the garments of Christ's righteousness while practicing known sins or neglecting known duties. Our heart must be surrendered entirely before justification can take place; and for the continued experience, we keep walking with Jesus. Faith works purifying the soul (Galatians 5:6). God's Word declares, “Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried” (Daniel 12:10).
To say that something is causative for salvation means that, without it, salvation is not caused. It may be fashionable to say we are saved by justification alone, but sanctification, making holy, is necessary. Without holiness, we cannot see God and meet Him in peace (Hebrews 12:14). We need inward washing (Titus 3:5). Pure hearts shall see God (Matthew 5:8). Guileless hearts experience the end-time crises remaining blameless before God’s throne (Revelation 14:4, 5).
Disobedience can be forgiven. Pardon is a gift but obedience, holiness, Christlikeness is developed. We will not finally be asked, “What did you believe?” but the judgment will be centered on “What did you do?” What we have done will testify to what we have become (Matthew 25:31-46).
Salvation means actual change, and actual change means learning to echo Jesus even while our disordered humanity and defective characters war in us in rebellion toward goodness. “Whoso keepeth His word, in him verity is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in Him. He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also to walk, even as He walked” (1 John 2:5, 6).
We want to give ourselves to Him, but we are weak in moral power. Controlling our thoughts, impulses, and affections seems an impossible goal. Our broken promises cause us to doubt our own sincerity. Is there any hope?
When we have sinned we need to repent again and lay hold on Christ with renewed determination. In the gospels, how many did Christ turn away? Not one! Not one who sought Him was left to perish. We need to understand what the Holy Spirit seeks to accomplish through our will. Jesus desires that we stop sinning, but when we do fail we are reminded that He is our Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1). He is our High Priest touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He knows by experience the battle fought in our kind of flesh (Hebrews 2:18).
When we are at the verge of failing, we must pray, “Lord, I believe! Help Thou mine unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). When despair seizes us we must learn to trust, to depend solely upon the merits of the atonement, and in all our helpless unworthiness cast ourselves upon the merits of the crucified and risen Savior.
Let us make each occasion of failure the first step in climbing the mount of blessing again. What looked like a string of failures will later be seen as a succession of victories. When we have denied our Lord, when we come to ourselves (Luke 15:17), let us approach again the throne of grace where victory awaits through His power (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Can God be just and count a man, who is not right, right? No! His great desire is to heal people, to grant them rightness inwardly. Imparted righteousness and sanctification is the same thing. Being made holy is part of salvation. The gospel does these things in us which are both necessary and causative for salvation as much as Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross. All merit for our salvation comes from Christ, whether imputed or imparted. In the last generation it is demonstrated what God can do. He can transform us or He can’t. And the universe will know from our lives which is true.
6. Obedience a Condition for salvation
Obedience is both a condition and on ongoing requirement of salvation. Many have been subtly taught we are saved apart from obedience and that obedience is merely a fruitage of having been saved. People want the benefits God offers but without conditions--conditions that help heal our sin problem.
When Jesus met the whithered man at the pool of Bethesda, He urged him, "Rise, take up your bed, and walk" (John 5:8). The man might have argued with Christ that to make such an effort would be legalistic. But he believed Christ’s word, believed that he was made whole, and he made the effort at once; he willed to walk, and he did walk. He acted on the word of Christ and God gave the power. He was made whole. Faith is more than mental assent. Faith includes trust and willingness to obey the Person one trusts. Thus, in the Bible, believing, trusting, and obeying are the same.
But which comes first? Obeying or believing?
The Scriptures insist that the Holy Spirit is given “to them that obey Him” (Acts 5:32). We must obey in order to receive the Holy Spirit. Yet, without Jesus "you can do nothing" (John 15:5). I must have the Holy Spirit to obey, but I cannot obey without Jesus. Without Jesus I cannot have the Holy Spirit.
What if God grants the gift of salvation first, and obedience comes only as its fruit? Obedience is a fruit of salvation but not only a fruit. Obedience is part of the faith that says "Yes" to the gospel. Obedience is present, inescapably, at the beginning of the Christian experience. We must obey the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17). We must have a faith that works (Galatians 5:6).
Jesus called on the rich young ruler to sell all that he had, give the proceeds to the poor, and then come and follow Him (Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30). He saw the man was committed more to his own values than the kingdom. He could not serve two masters. He must obey at the first moment of discipleship even as at each following step, or he would be no disciple of Christ (Luke 16:13; Galatians 1:10). Obedience is not only something that follows.
But what if we say that first we must obey in our own power, and that only then do we qualify for salvation? What if first we must obey, and then after we have obeyed, we receive the Holy Spirit? That would be a legal religion. Then in some measure one initially obeys without Christ. Then by independent obedience one has, in some measure, earned salvation.
But there is a third possibility. That, in the very same moment we sincerely repent and ask for strength to obey, God sends us power to obey. At the same time we respond in faith, God speaks and gives us power to be obedient. Power is given us to act in obedience. In our very plea for help, He grants help. God and man speak at the same time, in harmony. Obeying is neither first nor last! All God’s biddings are enablings. We are not asked to do righteousness apart from His gift of righteousness. In the very moment God calls for our obedience He enables us. In that same moment righteousness is imputed and imparted.
He does not save us by law; neither will He save us in disobedience to law. Neither faith nor obedience saves, but neither does salvation come without the obedience of faith. Without the faith that obeys, authentic Christianity is impossible.
There is a difference between "sufficient" and "necessary" conditions. A necessary condition must be met to obtain the desired effect. There may be several necessary conditions. The operation of a gasoline powered automobile requires the presence of gasoline, coolant, brake fluid, a battery with electrical charge, and a key to trigger ignition. To start the vehicle and continue its operation, several things are necessary.
A sufficient condition, in contrast, automatically leads to a desired effect. In itself it accomplishes everything needed. It is sufficient. Obedience is a necessary condition for one to be saved, but it is not a sufficient condition. I must be obedient to be saved, but my obedience is not in itself sufficient to save me. Jesus died for me on the cross. He made a sacrifice of sufficient value to save me, but I must actively embrace it. The question of salvation is not only about the sufficiency of the sacrifice but also about my willingness to embrace it.
God designed the salvation plan with two parts. Jesus lived and died in our place; that’s objective, outside of us. The subjective element is within us: we must choose to accept all that is meant by His life and death. Jesus’ merit is valuable enough to save. Yet my obedience is also necessary. It is not sufficient to save me. It is a non-meritorious condition, a necessary but insufficient condition. God makes choices; I make choices. The role of human free will is as important in the end-time as in the Garden of Eden.
Christ's life is of enough value, on one hand, to prove God's fairness in His dealing with sinners. On the other, Jesus shows the universe the final outcome of rebellion--the "wages of sin." All those who make Him their Lord and Redeemer will be saved from the Godforsakenness He experienced. If you take human choice out of the gospel all that is left is a divine edict, an enforcement of the divine will. Grace becomes irresistible. But if grace is irresistible there is no free will. Our Father's work to save us is not wrought in isolation from us.
I can never bring any of my own works to Him as being meritorious (Isaiah 64:6; Ephesians 2:9), He must die in my place and live in my life (Romans 5:8; 8:34; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 15:3; Galatians 2:20; 3:13; Colossians 1:27). Because He refuses to override free choice, I must choose His kingdom. Because I have no power to choose I must have His help even to choose. Our obedience is a non-meritorious condition for salvation at the beginning and all along the way. We learn to walk with Jesus, following Him wherever He goes. God and man speak together in the same moment.
7. JESUS EMPTIED HIMSELF AND TOOK OUR FALLEN FLESH
During His earthly sojourn, Jesus, God from eternity and still God, laid aside out of His possession certain of His powers of deity and lived as a man in fallen flesh among men in fallen flesh. He did not come to give the obedience of a lesser God to a greater, but as a man to obey God's Holy Law. He could have recovered those powers at any time, but for our sakes chose to live as we do.
The very center of Christianity is Jesus Christ. We believe on Him for salvation. "No other name is given under heaven" by which we must be saved but the name of Jesus (Acts 4:10, 12). At the center of Christ's work for man is the incarnation: Jesus steps down from His throne in heaven to take a human body and be born into this world an infant, to grow to adulthood, live a life unsullied by sin, and voluntarily sacrifice that life for us, in our place, at the cross.
The Bible tells us that Jesus was in the beginning with God the Father (John 1:1-3). He was God from eternity and never stopped being God (Philippians 2:6; Hebrews 1:8). But He took our flesh (John 1:14). Jesus voluntarily stepped into His creation. He emptied Himself of certain of His divine powers in order to pitch His tent side by side with our tents, in conditions like our own. He came to earth this way, not to render the obedience of a lessor God to a greater God, but as a man to obey God's law.
The Bible commands us to have the mind of Christ: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation [literally, "emptied Himself"], and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:5-8).
We are to live our life surrendered to the Father just as did Jesus (1 John 3:1-3; Luke 22:42). If He used His powers of deity to get Him special shortcuts for obeying that we cannot have, then He would not have shown us how to obey. So He "emptied Himself," laying aside powers that we cannot have, to obey by faith just as we must obey.
It would have been an almost infinite humiliation for Jesus to take man's nature, even before Adam sinned in Eden. But Jesus accepted humanity when the race had been weakened by four thousand years of sin. Like all of us He experienced the results of heredity. With such heredity He came to share our sorrows and temptations, and to give us the example of a sinless life.
He trusted in the Father just as is our privilege. He exercised faith. When Satan came to tempt Him, he found no foothold (John 14:30). There was nothing in Jesus that responded to Satan's sophistry. He did not consent to sin. Not even by a thought did He yield to temptation. So it may be with us (Psalm 17:3; Revelation 3:21)! Jesus lived as a man just as we must live as men. His humanity was united with divinity (2 Peter 1:3, 4). He lived without sinning by the same indwelling of the Holy Spirit we experience.
The disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat. Jesus was with them. A sharp tempest arose, threatening to sink the vessel. But Jesus stood up in the boat and prayed to His Father. The sea was stilled. When Jesus had been awakened to meet the storm He had been in perfect peace. But He did not then possess almighty power. He had laid down that power.
He could have recovered His powers of deity at any time, for they were His by right (John 10:18; Philippians 2:6). But between the time of His entry into the human experience as a babe and the time of His crucifixion, He refused to employ powers He had laid aside. Why? Because we do not have such personal powers. He was subject to the same constraints in His flesh as we are in ours, for that flesh was, after all, the same kind as ours (Hebrews 2:7-18). We can live in fallen flesh without joining ourselves to the deep and dangerous tendencies of that flesh. We may obey just exactly as He obeyed.
8. JESUS TEMPTED FROM WITHOUT AND FROM WITHIN
That which Jesus has not assumed He has not healed. He took our disordered humanity and was tempted both from without and within. Capable of choosing to sin, constantly He chose not to sin. In this sense, His entire earthly life was lived as we will live once we are sealed. Even after probation has closed, His power and presence continue with us. He grants us today an experience of present and complete victory over sin.
In the fourth century Gregory of Nazianzus uttered something quite profound. The occasion was the Apollinarian controversy. Pastor Apollinarius taught that Jesus had a human body but a divine mind. This was not unlike saying that Jesus was like us from the neck down but not like us from the neck up.
Gregory countered, "That which He [Jesus] has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united with His Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole of the nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole."
The humanity of Christ is often presented as partly like Adam's and partly like ours. But since the Fall affected man in every aspect, we must have in Jesus a Savior who defeats sin in the same flesh as our own (Matthew 8:17). The humanity He takes must be wholly affected by the Fall even as ours is, and the victory He wins over that disordered humanity must be just as complete.
Thus Jesus took our disordered humanity--not the nature of Adam before his Fall, but after. While Jesus was sinless (Hebrews 7:26), and never chose to sin (Hebrews 4:15), His humanity was the same disordered variety as our own. Jesus had come to defeat sin in its own lair, therefore He must meet sin in fallen human flesh. He must confront it in all of its strength. The Bible tells us, "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness [not “unlikeness”!] 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).
If His stripes are going to heal us, He must receive His stripes in our fallen kind of flesh (Isaiah 53:1-6). Jesus was a free agent, placed on probation at risk of failure, as was Adam and as we are. We resist temptation by faith laying firm hold upon divine power. With every succeeding generation, the race has been further weakened. Yet Jesus overcame (Revelation 3:21)!
There were significant differences between Christ and us. He was God. We are not. As God, He had inherent rights to power as God. We do not. The value of His character is the character of the righteous God. Ours is not. We all have chosen to sin. He never did.
Jesus, to successfully redeem man, must never sin. One sin on His part and the whole great controversy war would be lost. Jesus lived while human as we are, in flesh like our own, with the clamors and pulls of fallenness kept under with each step He walked those 33 years (Matthew 26:39, 42; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42; 1 Corinthians 9:27).
Our case is different. Jesus could not sin one time without losing all; we have sinned many times. Yet, if we through His power forsake sin, we will be saved at last. If Jesus' life is to have meaning as an example for us, it is crucial He inherit just what we inherit. If our Lord took a perfect human nature, then He reconnected God and man's unfallen nature, but not God and fallen man. But if Christ shared our fallen human nature, then He has bridged the whole gulf between God and fallen man. Then we have a Savior!
Jesus lived His whole life like we will live when probation for man will have closed (Revelation 22:11, 12). When redemption is finished and Jesus is ready to return, the sanctuary in heaven will have ceased to operate as it always has before. Mediation for sin will have ceased. Willing believers will have stopped sinning through the power of the Holy Spirit. No new sins will ascend to be recorded in the sanctuary.
After probation closes, we are still empowered by Christ, who pledged never to leave us (Matthew 28:18-20). But then we will live in the sight of a holy God without a Mediator. Our characters will have been purified from sin by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:14). Through the grace of God and a measure of strong effort on our part called faith (though not meritorious!), we will have become conquerors in the battle with evil.
Jesus not only lived victoriously by the power of the Father just as we will, but He, like us, was tempted from the outside and from the inside (John 2:25; Hebrews 2:11, 14, 16-18; 4:15; Luke 22:42). His humanity pulled and clamored just as ours does. But He never chose to join Himself to the inclinations of His human machinery. He never developed the habit patterns of sin, for He never sinned.
In order to heal our fallen humanity, He must accomplish His incarnation mission in our fallen humanity. We all have sinned and come short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). It gives us courage to face our own battles when we realize that Jesus fought the battle against inward inclination and kept His character pure.
In proving that a human being, encumbered with all the liabilities of human nature, could, by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God, obey His laws, freely and without coercion, Jesus showed that God’s moral requirements are fair and that Satan has been lying. He showed what He is willing to do for the last generation.
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