We’ve also seen that not one of us is exempt from committing these sins. We are all guilty, even those who have been graciously saved and redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. That reality—our sinfulness—is what brings us to the cure for these not-so-acceptable sins.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)
What a comfort. What marvelous truth. What a gracious and merciful Savior! Those who repent of their sin and believe upon Christ are reconciled to God, justified before the righteous King and Judge. And with this great positional reality comes an inward transformation that is manifested outwardly as we live a life worthy of the gospel by which we have been called.
If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:21-24)
Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentlest, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
(Colossians 3:1-3; 12-15; 17)
And so we put on Christ. We put on the new self, for we are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Yet this is not merely a change in behavior, it is, as we see in the verse above, a matter of a transformation of our mind and heart, so that we are fixed on the things of Christ’s Kingdom and not on the things of this earth.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
Says Bible teacher Mike Riccardi:
And so the sanctification that we are seeking is both internal and external. We want to have sanctified affections as well as sanctified actions—because God commands us not only to behave righteously; He also commands us to be holy. (Michael Riccardi, Sanctification: The Christian’s Pursuit of God-Given Holiness; Grace Books, 2015; 11)
Still, we cannot do this alone! God does not save us and then leave us to sanctify ourselves.
for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)
The Holy Spirit, who comes to indwell a believer at the moment of salvation (i.e., regeneration is an instantaneous event) is the One who sanctifies, and sanctification is a lifelong process. Oh, the believer is active in his pursuit of holiness, seeking the Lord through prayer, Scripture reading, fellowship with the saints, and other means. The believer actively shuns the sinfulness of the world and of his former life and he does so, not merely out of obligation, but out of love for His Lord; out of the desires of his newly created heart. And the Holy Spirit grants the believer the enabling power necessary to engage in such active pursuits. He is the One who has transformed the believer’s mind and is conforming it to the way of Christ. The good works of the believer, those that clearly demonstrate his Christlikeness are, after all, deemed the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
Says Puritan theologian John Owen:
Sanctification is an immediate work of the Spirit of God on the souls of believers, purifying and cleansing their natures from the pollution and uncleanness of sin, renewing in them the image of God, and thereby enabling them, from a spiritual and habitual principle of grace, to yield obedience to God, according to the tenor and terms of the new covenant, by virtue of the life and death of Jesus Christ. (John Owen, Sanctification Is a Progressive Work)
As we delight and desire to do good works in service to our saving Lord, let us not lose sight of that good gospel of grace
that saved us in the first place. Let us not forget that the gospel is the good news that Christ—the perfect, holy, righteous God-man—lived the life that we—wretched, wicked, hopeless sinners—can never live. He kept God’s law perfectly, for perfection is what God requires. And then He—that spotless, blameless, sinless God-man—willingly and obediently died the death that we—miserable, God-hating worms—deserve. Christ bore the wrath of God for all who would ever believe. He offered Himself as a sacrifice—the only perfect sacrifice ever offered—so that men may be saved. And He lives still! His resurrection demonstrates God’s acceptance of that sacrifice, and so men may now be reconciled to God.
That, dear reader, is the good news of the gospel. The way of salvation is narrow, for there is only one way and it is a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Yet, though narrow, this way is not hidden. Come to Christ. For those who have not been saved and who now live as condemned before God, there is forgiveness. Come to Christ. For those who have been saved but who struggle against sin (as we all do [Romans 7:14-25]), there is forgiveness and the promise that you are not left to sanctify yourself. Come to Christ. Ask Him to help you serve Him well. It is a prayer He will surely answer.