I became a Christian twenty-five years ago. On that day, I was made into a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17)…sin was defeated. Or so I thought. Soon, I found myself still committing sin. O sure, gradually, some sins where left by the wayside, but other sins seemed to rise to take their place.
Getting married introduced me to a whole new level of understanding how sinful I was, because now there was someone in my life who knew my private life. Having children also stretched me in that there were a whole new set of temptations to sin! And, again, there were now more people who could see my private life.
When a person becomes a Christian, you might think that the angry and lustful thoughts would disappear—but they don’t. You might think that you’d never say another unkind word—but you do. You might think that you’d never be tempted by sex outside of marriage, or taking drugs, or cheating and stealing, but…despite your best efforts, you are tempted and, frequently fall into those and many other sins.
Sometimes it’s discouraging, isn’t it? As Christians, we know that we are new creatures and that Christ has defeated sin and Satan, but we still struggle with sin. We might try to rationalize our sin away, or downplay it somehow—“I have a righteous anger”—but late at night on our beds we know in our hearts that sin is sin.
What happened? Why do we Christians still sin? Is there hope for us? Can we ever overcome our sin? I want to show you three steps to becoming completely sinless. Let me start by saying this—if you are a Christian, these steps to sinlessness will happen, but not on the time table we desire.
Let me also say that, while God is the primary power behind our becoming sinless, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t work for us to do. We have a part in our becoming sinless.
The first step in our becoming sinless is…
JUSTIFICATION: FREEDOM FROM SIN’S PENALTY
Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
The bad news for humanity is this—“all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” Notice that sinning is more than simply making a mistake or goofing up. Sinning is coming short of the “glory of God.” Our God is perfectly holy. He makes no mistakes, no errors in judgment…nothing that is wrong or sinful. He sets the standard by which we must follow. It doesn’t take long being a human before we come short of that standard, does it? Just ask any parent—the sinful nature reveals itself very quickly in a baby’s life.
We are quick to justify our sin. We say things like, “Well, that’s the way I am; God’s got to accept me this way.” Or we focus on God’s love for us and try to ignore or downplay his holiness. But God’s love will not allow a sinner into Heaven. Let me say that again: God’s love will not allow a sinner into Heaven. It’s true. But God’s love will provide a way for a sinner to come to Heaven. That’s what we see in the next verse:
Romans 3:24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
“Being justified” means “being declared to be righteous” and also “being made right with God.” Being declared righteous is nothing that we earn. It’s given to us “freely by his grace.”
In Matthew 22, Jesus tells a parable about a king who has a marriage feast for his son. Those originally invited refused to come to the feast, so the king told his servants to…
9 Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. 10 So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. 11 And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: 12 And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. 13 Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 14 For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:2–14)
The point in this part of the parable is that to be at the wedding feast, you have to be wearing the right clothes. Now, it seems in the parable, since these folks were just regular people off from the streets who couldn’t afford wedding clothes, that the king provided the right clothes. This man who had no wedding clothes must have refused the king’s wedding clothes offered to him. As a result, he was cast into outer darkness. To attend the wedding feast—or, to go to Heaven, if you will—you need to have the right clothing. You need to be righteous. That’s what justification does. When you repent of your sins and place your trust in Christ, God will declare you to be righteous in his sight. In his grace, he gives you perfect wedding garments.
The biggest thing about grace is that it’s undeserved. If grace were deserved (sometimes we say, “I deserve a little grace here”), then it wouldn’t be grace, it would be earned wages. John Piper wrote, “Grace is the good that you get from someone when he owes you nothing.”
How is God able to justify us by grace? Only “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” You see, while grace doesn’t cost us anything, it does cost God a great deal. Jesus bought our salvation (“redemption” means to buy something back) by personally dying on the cross for our sins.
Justification is completely God’s work in a person’s life to set you free from the penalty of sin. No longer are the wages of sin death for you. All you do is accept what he has done by faith in Jesus Christ. Once you do, you’ll be on your way to becoming sinless.
SANCTIFICATION: FREEDOM FROM SIN’S POWER
The next step in our complete salvation from sin is sanctification. The kind of sanctification we are concerned about here is progressive sanctification—where the Christian gradually becomes more and more like Christ. Where justification was about being declared righteous and set free from the penalty of sin, sanctification is about the becoming righteous in your living and being free from sin’s power in your life. Justification is completely God’s work. Sanctification is also God’s work, but you must cooperate with him in it.
Thus Paul says in Philippians—
Philippians 2:12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
Philippians 2:13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
The phrase, “work out your own salvation” does not mean that we need to work for or earn our salvation. He means that believers are supposed to live lives that are consistent with the salvation given to them by God. Paul put it another way in Galatians 5:25, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
Living out our salvation is not to be passive. The Greek word for “work” here (κατεργάζεσθε, VPUM2P, κατεργάζομαι) means “to bring about a result by doing something” (BDAG). It means to cause something to happen or to change. Paul testifies of his own energy that he expended in working out his own salvation:
10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)
We need to understand that, while God’s help is absolutely necessary in our becoming holy and sinless, we also need to take personal responsibility for our own holiness. Sin is not overcome by “letting go and letting God.”
1. Hate Sin
Perhaps the first step in living out our salvation and becoming more holy is to come to hate the sin in our lives like God hates it. I think that’s part of what Paul is getting at when he says “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Why are we to do it with “fear and trembling”? Why not with happiness and joy? Or, at least, humility and seriousness?
Part of what “fear and trembling” means that we are to live our salvation with respect and dependence on God. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
But another part of “fear and trembling” is the attitude we’re supposed to have toward what we’re being saved from—sin. Imagine being saved from falling off a cliff. Some Park Ranger grabs you and pulls you back in the nick of time. But to make it back to the Ranger Station, you’ll have to walk a treacherous path along the cliff. So, on one side is the Park Ranger, holding your arm, and on the other side is the cliff. You are full of fear and trembling—that keeps you depending on the Park Ranger, respecting his skill and power and having a healthy respect and fear of the cliff!
We are to be nervous about falling back into the patterns of our old life. We are to fear letting sins in our lives grow and to take over. It’s to be afraid of grieving the Holy Spirit by sinning—of crucifying our Lord again with our sin.
We’re prone to say, “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.” That’s true, but we skip to the last part a little too quickly sometimes. God hates our sins and, because he does, we ought to as well. We are so used to our sins that we easily justify them or ignore them. “God accepts me the way I am,” we claim. Or we say, “I am no worse than anyone else, in fact, I am better than most.” Like children, when someone points to a sin in our lives, we are quick to say, “What about him over there? He does bad things also!”
The simple fact is this: until we take responsibility for our own sin, our sanctification will be stalled. God will work in our lives to get our attention, but we won’t move forward until we are willing to cooperate—beginning with hating our sin like he does.
2. Behold Christ
Another important step in our sanctification is found in 2 Corinthians—
2 Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Again, you see in this verse that there is cooperation between God and ourselves in our sanctification. We are to be “beholding” while we are “changed…by the Spirit of the Lord.” “Beholding” sounds at first like it might be a passive sort of thing—We sit like Mary at the feet of Jesus and gaze at him while we are changed by the Spirit.
But that’s not the case at all. “Beholding” (κατοπτριζόμενοι, VPMP-PNM, κατοπτρίζω) means to contemplate something, but to the end that you act on that contemplation. Why do we look at a map when we are traveling? To determine where to go. Now if you were riding in a bus, there would be no reason for you to look at a map, right? You might, but it would have no effect on your route. The reason that we “behold” a map is because we are determining where to go—then we go there.
The map that we are to behold is Jesus Christ, as he is found in the Bible—not merely our imaginations. One person described some of the things we could learn by beholding Jesus in the Gospels:
As we see him stretch out his hand in compassion to heal a leper, we see how we should be compassionate [Who are the lepers in your life? The people that you put down? The people you avoid being around?]…As we observe Jesus resist the temptations of Satan to love the world, we learn to love the Lord our God as he did…As we see Jesus submit to his Father’s will – “Not my will be done, but yours,” – we to learn to submit to our wills to the Father’s will. As we see Jesus caring for his mother while he hangs on the cross, we to learn to honor our parents and care for them…As we watch Jesus welcome little children we too learn how important children are to Jesus…As we watch Jesus put up with the pride, selfishness and stupidity of his disciples, we grow in patience with our fellow believers’ foibles. (http://theblazingcenter.com/2015/05/the-most-important-step-in-becoming-more-like-jesus-christ.html)
When we learn to hate our sin like God does and to behold Christ and yearn to be like him, gradually, the Spirit changes us into his glory. But when is this process complete? Not until Jesus returns. That’s when the final step to sinlessness happens:
GLORIFICATION: FREEDOM FROM SIN’S PRESENCE
Glorification is the name of the final step of our salvation (see Romans 8:30). This final step in becoming sinless happens when Jesus returns for the church and raises from the dead the bodies of all believers. The bodies of all those dead believers and the bodies of all living believers will…
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:52)
What will our glorified resurrection bodies be like?
1. They will be incorruptible.
That is, they will never grow old, never get sick, never wear out. They will stay healthy and vital forever. This is the part that we most often think of, especially if we are older or disabled in some way. But there’s more…
2. They will be powerful.
43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: (1 Corinthians 15:43)
This verse is saying that, right now, our bodies are weak—at least compared to what they will be when raised in glory. How powerful will they be? Not infinitely powerful like God, of course, and you might want to strike from your mind being powerful like Superman. But they will be powerful in the way that God intended our bodies to be when he first created Adam and Eve.
I won’t be afraid of heights. You won’t be nervous about speaking in public. I won’t be out of breath after running a block. Some people talk about having a bucket list—a list of things they want to do before they die. Christians should have a bucket list of things that they want to do after they die.
Imagine, the things that you always wanted to do, but physically you weren’t able to do, you’ll be able to do in the New Heaven and Earth. I’m going skydiving—first thing. Then, I’ll go for a run—halfway around the world.
3. They will be spiritual.
44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:44)
Our first thought here is that spiritual means immaterial or nonphysical. That’s not what is in view here. Paul doesn’t contrast a spiritual body with a physical body. He contrasts a spiritual body with a natural body. A natural body is a body that is subject to the desires of this age that we live in. A spiritual body is a body that is subject to the desires of the Holy Spirit.
As Christians in these bodies now, we struggle with acting according to the sinful nature and acting according to the Spirit. In our glorified bodies—that conflict will be gone! We will, finally, and always, act according to the Spirit because our bodies will be spiritual bodies—tuned to the voice of the Spirit.
So finally, when that trump sounds, and Jesus returns, we will find ourselves sinless.
Are you a Christian? We were in El Paso, wanting to visit the Fort Bliss Museum, which is on the Fort Bliss military base. Now, this was one of only two times that our GPS failed us on our vacation. It took us to Fort Bliss alright, but it didn’t know what entrance to the base was the correct one. As we drove up to the gate, we could tell by the signs that we were in trouble. This was a military-personnel-only entrance.
Sure enough, when we pulled up to the uniformed guard, he asked me for my Department of Defense ID card. I explained that I didn’t have a DOD ID card and that we were looking for the museum. So he took my driver’s license, told me to pull ahead and do a u-turn, and he would return my driver’s license on my way out.
I thought about that and realized that the entrance to Heaven might be like that. A person will come up, but if they aren’t justified by faith in Jesus Christ, they will have to do a u-turn and go away to a dark place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
But, if a person will repent of their sins now—and what does it mean to repent? It means to do a u-turn. If you will repent of your sins, especially the sin of unbelief now—if you do a u-turn now and receive Christ as your Savior—you won’t have to do a u-turn later and turned away from Heaven.
Be assured of your justification. If you have received Christ in faith, then the penalty of your sin has been satisfied in God’s eyes.
Be diligent and patient with your sanctification. Don’t give up trying, striving, fighting against sin. Be patient to depend on God’s help in changing you. Keep the tension between human effort and God’s power.
Be eager for your glorification. It will be a day like no other, and, it will come—guaranteed. When at last, you’ll be able to do all things without a hint of sin in your actions, words, or your heart.