Spiritual Growth is Work
- Wednesday, June 08, 2011
In other words, remembering, revisiting, and rediscovering the reality of our justification every day is the hard work we're called to do if we're going to grow.
Similarly, in Colossians 1:9 Paul says: You will grow in your understanding of God's will, be filled with spiritual wisdom and understanding, increase in your knowledge of God, be strengthened with God's power which will produce joy filled patience and endurance (v.9-12a) as you come to a greater realization that you've already been qualified, delivered, transferred, redeemed, and forgiven (v.12b-14).
Sanctification is a grueling process. But it's NOT the process of moving beyond the reality of our justification but rather moving deeper into the reality of our justification. If sanctification could be likened to our responsibility to swim, justification is the pool we swim in. Sanctification is the hard work of going back to the certainty of our already secured pardon in Christ and hitting the refresh button over and over.
A couple chapters after Peter exhorts us to "make every effort" he succinctly describes growth in 2 Peter 2:18 by saying, "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Growth always happens "in grace." In other words, the truest measure of our growth is not our behavior (otherwise the Pharisees would have been the godliest people on the planet); it's our grasp of grace-a grasp which involves coming to deeper and deeper terms with the unconditionality of God's justifying grace. It's also growth in "the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." This doesn't simply mean learning facts about Jesus. It means growing in our love for Christ because of what he has already earned and secured for us and then fighting to live in a more vital awareness of that grace.
The reason this is such an important theme in the New Testament is because every temptation to sin (going all the way back to the Garden of Eden) is a temptation to disbelieve the gospel-the temptation to secure for myself in that moment something I think I need in order to be happy, something I don't yet have: meaning, freedom, validation, cleansing, forgiveness, a sense of identity, worth, value and so on. Bad behavior, therefore, happens when we fail to believe that everything I need, in Christ I already have; it happens when we fail to believe in the rich provisional resources that are already ours in the gospel. Conversely, good behavior happens when we daily rest in and receive Christ's "It is finished" into our rebellious regions of unbelief (what one writer calls "our unevangelized territories") smashing any sense of a self-aggrandizing and narcissistic need to secure for ourselves anything beyond what Christ has already secured for us.
Justification alone kills all of our self-salvation projects that fuel all of our bad behavior and moral failures (Read Romans 6:1).
So, going back to Philippians 2:12, when Paul tells us to "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" he's making it clear that we've got work to do—but what exactly is the work? He goes on to explain: "For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (2:13). As is often, and rightly, said: We work out what God has worked in. Well, what has God worked in and what are we therefore to work out? God works his work in you—which is the work already accomplished by Christ. Christ's subjective work in us is his constantly driving us back to the reality of his objective work for us. Sanctification feeds on justification, not the other way around. This is why in his Lectures on Romans Martin Luther wrote, "To progress is always to begin again." Real spiritual progress, in other words, requires a daily going backwards.
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