If a born-again Christian knows he is already righteous in Christ and has all his sins forgiven through Jesus’ finished work, won’t he take advantage of this and live a godless life?
How do we reconcile our forgiveness in Christ with a lifestyle of holy living?
Many believers are worried that people will take advantage of the revelation of their total forgiveness in Christ and go on to lead godless lives. They are worried that such teaching places no emphasis on sanctification or the desire to live holy, God-glorifying lives. So allow me to explain here that while you have been justified and made righteous by the blood of Jesus or perfected forever, the truth is that sanctification is ongoing in your growth as a Christian. This is why the author of the book of Hebrews says that we are being sanctified even though we are perfected forever by Christ’s one act of obedience at the cross (see Heb. 10:14).
As a believer you cannot become more righteous, but you can become more sanctified or holy in terms of how you live your life. Justification by faith happened instantaneously. The moment you received Jesus, you were forgiven, cleansed, perfected in righteousness, and saved. You were also sanctified in Christ (see Heb. 10:10). However, it is important to understand that the revelation and outworking of your sanctification in Christ is progressive. This means that the more you grow in your relationship with the Lord Jesus, the more holy you will become in every area of your life.
I remember a precious brother writing to my ministry describing how the revelation of our forgiveness in Christ brought him into an intimacy with God that he had previously only dreamed about. “Previously, when I was trying to be a good Christian,” he said, “I was only crawling along, inch by inch. But now that I’ve got hold of grace, I’m running in my relationship with God! The more I learn about God’s amazing grace, the more I desperately want to glorify Him with my life!”
What a beautiful, true-life picture of what really happens when a person sits under teaching that uncovers the undiluted gospel of grace! My dear friend, we know that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16), so how can we say that behavior is not important? But contrary to what many people imagine, the revelation of forgiveness does not detract from, nor is it at the expense of, right living. Instead it is the fuel that makes right living happen.
Merriam-Webster Online describes sanctification as “the state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after conversion.”1 You see, it is all about growing in grace. Establish yourself in the gospel of grace. Paul told Timothy to be “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1). Peter encouraged believers to build a strong foundation with these closing words in his last epistle: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
Precious believers all around the world are today growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have observed that the more I focus my preaching on unveiling the person of Jesus in the gospel of grace, the more my ministry office receives testimonies from people who have found freedom from the power of sin! Today they are so in love with Jesus and so filled with His peace and life that they begin to lose the desire to dabble in self-destructive behaviors!
You see, grace produces true holiness. The more you grow in grace—the more you are washed, again and again, by the water of the word of God’s grace—the more you grow in sanctification and holiness, and the more you allow the Holy Spirit to correct habits and thinking that keep you in bondage. Beloved, when you experience the grace of our Lord Jesus, the allure and passing pleasures of sin fade in the light of His glory and grace. Victory also begins to come into previous areas of struggle, weakness, and defeat.
Excerpted from Grace Revolution, chapter 4, Receive the Greatest Blessing.
1. Retrieved October 23, 2014, from www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sanctification.