Secure in Christ to become more like Christ
We constantly preach two central themes here at Mountain Creek: Christ crucified (the central message of the gospel), and Christ’s call to obedience (the demands from the gospel). We preach salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and we preach that this salvation by grace leads to a life of faithfully following Jesus with his people.
We preach this because we see this modeled in Scripture. Jesus, who proclaimed his death and resurrection in Mark 8:31, immediately afterward proclaimed that those who would be his people must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him (Mark 8:34). Paul who told the Corinthian church “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23) and “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2), in the same letter set out to give numerous commands to those who believed in “Christ crucified”, and even instructed the church to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
The grace that we preach here at Mountain Creek is a grace that saves us in Christ, and a grace that calls us and enables us and trains us to follow Christ (see Mark 8:24, 1 Cor. 15:10, Titus 2:11–12).
There is, to be sure, a tension there. It’s a tension that you may feel at times, and perhaps you wrestle with it at times, when you consider that we are saved by grace and we’re called to obey. We’re saved through faith, and we’re saved for good works. Of these pairs, the former is what we call justification, and the latter is what we mean by the word sanctification.
Justification refers to the Christian’s right standing with God through Christ. When God justifies a Christian, he declares the Christian to be perfectly righteous––not because the Christian himself is perfectly righteous in his daily life, but because Jesus is perfectly righteous, and by grace through faith, Jesus’s righteousness has been counted for the Christian.
Therefore, the Christian’s justification is secure in Christ from the moment of salvation. For instance, at the conclusion of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18, the Tax Collector who threw himself on God’s mercy by faith has this said about him by Jesus: “this man went down to his house justified.” Period. There is no added clause, “if he does this”, or “if he does that.” He humbled himself before God in exercising true faith, and he was justified. He was declared righteous. It was secure. We could see the same thing from the thief on the cross: “Today, you will be with me in paradise,” Jesus told him. Justified. Secure. Done. Complete. By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. That’s justification.
Sanctification, on the other hand, refers to the Christian’s growth in practical, personal holiness. It’s his growing conformity to Christlikeness, a growing maturity in Christ that is worked out in his everyday life. Sanctification is progressive, it continues and increases over time; sanctification is therefore a process. It is empowered by the Holy Spirit in us, through his ministry of applying the Word of God to our lives in such a way that we are shaped by it, and we cooperate in that work by our own practical obedience.
Sanctification is what all believers are called to pursue. “Strive for holiness,” the writer of Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 12:14.
The same author tells us this in chapter 10, regarding the relationship between our justification and our sanctification: “For by a single offering, he [Christ] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14). By his offering of himself on the cross, Jesus Christ has decisively and eternally justified (“perfected for all time”) those who right now in this life are in the process of becoming more like Jesus in their everyday lives (“those who are being sanctified”). In Christ, you both are perfect (justification) and you are becoming perfect (sanctification). Your justification is secure, Hebrews 10:14 declares, even while your sanctification is a work in progress.
So here are the twin truths that I want all of us to know:
Your justification doesn’t depend on your sanctification, it fuels your sanctification.
Your justification isn’t dependent on your sanctification, but your sanctification is fueled by your justification.
When you are struggling with another setback, another weakness, another sin, you need to know that God doesn’t love you any less. You are secure in his love by Christ. You are seen as having been “perfected for all time.” You are justified.
He doesn’t love you any more for having read the Bible every day last week, and he doesn’t love you any less because you’re three weeks behind on your reading plan for the year. You’re not more secure in Christ because you’ve not missed a Sunday worship service since we opened back up the Sanctuary last summer, and you’re not any less secure because you just started back a few weeks ago. Your security in salvation depends solely on Christ. That’s saving grace.
But that grace then compels us to follow him obediently. It doesn’t depend on our personal holiness, but it does fuel our personal holiness. It powers us for obedience. The knowledge and experience of grace compels us to obey, to put our faith to work, to enter into those good works for which we have been saved.
Jesus said, “if you love me, you’ll keep my commands” (John 14:15), and we keep his commands (we express our love for him) precisely because he first loved us, even when we didn’t deserve it (see 1 John 4:9, 19).
Christian, your right standing with God doesn’t depend on your efforts, it depends on Jesus. You’re secure in him. Therefore, be free from anxiety and worry, and knowing that you have the love of God in Christ, seek to live more like Christ in response.
Bert Watts has served since December 2016 as the Senior Pastor at Mountain Creek Baptist Church, where he has been on staff since 2012.