At a Bible college I went to in St. Louis for a year, I had a series of talks with the professor of Old Testament Theology about the importance of keeping the rules of the college regardless of how ridiculous or irrelevant they were. They were good talks. I completely agreed with the importance of submitting under authority. But as the days went on, I began to see the impossibility of my actually keeping all of these unrealistic rules. I expressed my concerns to him and was answered with this statement: “Nobody said that holiness was easy.” I left crushed and defeated at his reply.
Later on I was thinking about this situation and what came to my mind was what Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light
I couldn’t see how this reconciled with my prof’s adamant retort: even though holiness is extremely difficult, we must pursue to achieve it without wavering. Needless to say, my understanding of the gospel was rather limited at this time and in retrospect, I much more understand what was going on, namely that the gospel was absent. There was a lot of talk of holiness and righteousness and piety, but little (if any) of the atoning work of Christ on the cross for our sins.
So before I talk anymore about the goodness of the law or our need to pursue sanctification, I want to clearly explain what the gospel has to do with the question of “Why Should I?”
Before I had these talks with my prof, I had had an atrocious month of November. Then was Christmas break, which was a much needed spiritual refreshment, but I started off on the wrong foot back at college. I felt wonderfully rejuvenated. Maybe even rejuvenated enough to make a good pursuit of holiness? So I took off on this mission of following the rules with my prof and a few friends. But once again, exasperation overwhelmed me. I couldn’t do it. I found myself in another (yet the same) hopeless quandary. I was inadequate to follow the law of God.
Yet somehow, this was the best thing that could have happened to me. I finally started to learn to fall into the arms of the gospel. I had to. There was nowhere else to go. If that moralism is what Christianity is, then I could have nothing to do with it. I’m simply not good enough.
Thus the gospel came to my rescue. I met some good friends who began to lovingly pound “saved by grace through faith alone” into me. At first this sounded familiar. I “knew” the gospel. Most people do. The problem is that I didn’t understand it. I could tell you what it was, but I didn’t understand the deep implications of it. When those things started to become apparent to me, the gospel began to seem to be what it really is: scandalous.
What makes this so complicated is that it is so easy to “know” the gospel and even have a good feel for it, but totally miss how thorough it is. For example. Often we sin. We understand that Jesus died for that. But what if I don’t even feel bad? What if I can’t even repent? What if God seems too far and my desire is nowhere to be found? Well, that’s a different matter. No.. it’s not! Jesus died for all of those things as well: uber scandalous.
“Alive in the Ways of God”
So…sanctification. What does this have to do with that? With the question of “Why Should I?” Here’s the reason.
Even though I feel like I get the gospel better than ever before, there are still moments when I lose it (by “lose it” I don’t mean sin, instead I forget to rest in the gospel when I do sin). I screw up and I feel hopeless. The reason being that I’m finding hope in the wrong things, namely, my own efforts. Where are my eyes? They are looking at me. That’s idolatry (which Jesus also died for, by the way)! My eyes are supposed to be on Christ. Why? Because there’s no where else for them to turn and find relief from the condemnation that comes from within. Christ is all there is.
Now, the funny thing is, when my eyes do turn to Christ, things begin to change. I’m not walking around all day crushed by the questions of “Am I good enough?” or “Am I loving enough?’ The answer is always going to be a resounding, “No!” But when I walk around with the understanding presented in Romans 7, that I am no longer married to the law, but to Christ, and in him I am clothed with all wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30) then miraculously, I begin to love; not perfectly, quite inadequately, actually.
In accord with part 1 of this series, I also am, through Christ, able to see the law as good. It’s impossible to see it as good when it’s condemning us. But the gospel lets us see it for what it really is: a wonderful expression of the character of God. A perfect law.
This doesn’t mean I stop sinning. There are moments when I feel as though I would be happier doing things my way and I worship things other than the creator. But sin never ultimately can work for a regenerated Christian. As C.H. Spurgeon wrote, “No Christian enjoys comfort when his eyes are fixed on empty pursuits; he finds no satisfaction unless his soul is made alive in the ways of God. The world may find happiness elsewhere, but he cannot.”
As the Holy Spirit works in our lives and continues this “already, but also not yet” principle, we find hope in the gospel. See, the Holy Spirit doesn’t sanctify us to make us more moral or good. He instead turns our affections to Christ. He shows us our depravity and hopelessness and leads us to Hope. As this happens, Jesus not only becomes our Savior, but also our Lord. We then have nothing to prove and nothing more to gain. Only to fall into the arms of Jesus.