Christ demands that we be born again (John 3:3, 7), and yet we have seen that this is impossible for us to obey. The dead do not give themselves new life. Then, in unspeakable grace, God Himself makes us alive (Eph 2:4-5). He brings us forth into new life in the exercise of His will (Jas 1:18). He causes us to be born again (1Pet 1:3). He grants what He requires.
Last time I exhorted you to see the genius of grace presented in this truth. God commands something of everyone in the world that is absolutely impossible for them to do, something that is only possible for God Himself to accomplish. This bows us low in humility and helplessness, and we become so dependent on the gifts of a benefactor outside of ourselves. Then, He Himself becomes our benefactor by granting the gift of new life, and in so doing He magnifies His sufficiency over and against our insufficiency.
Now, the point of this post (and the next) is that these truths about God granting what He requires for justification carry over into the realm of sanctification. The requirement that is placed on us as believers is no less impossible, even with a redeemed nature. Because our sinful flesh remains, the command to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and the command to love our neighbor as ourselves, are impossible.
And if I thought that the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ (2Cor 4:4) was a doctrine that only got me justified, I would be miserable as I sought to live the Christian life. I would go around clenching my fists, gritting my teeth, and resolving to never be angry again, or to never have a lustful thought again, or to never be impatient again, or to always love my wife like Christ loved the Church. And I would fail. And I would hate it. And I would soon grow hopeless.
But, praise be to God, because I am told that this same Gospel -- this same vision of the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2Cor 4:6) -- gets me sanctified, gets me transformed into the image of Christ (2Cor 3:18), well then I will know how to fight the fight of faith unto holiness in unspeakable hope and in gospel freedom!
The obedience that we are called to as Christians is indeed impossible (cf. Mt 22:37-40). But all my hope for progress in my sanctification hangs on this wonderful truth that my God graciously grants what He requires. This is where right thinking about the doctrine of regeneration intersects with the Christian life. We no longer seek to obey out of a principle of law. We don’t obey just because. God doesn’t require that of us. Instead of law, we’re under grace (Rom 6:14), and so His commandments cease to be burdensome (1Jn 5:3), and instead they become sweet (Ps 119:1-176).
The Bible says that for people who are born again by having their eyes opened to the Light of the knowledge of the glory of Christ -- by seeing Jesus as He actually is, namely supremely desirable -- that these people are no longer burdened by a list of demands (Col 2:13-23) by which we could never be justified (Gal 3:11, 21-22) or sanctified (Gal 3:3). But instead, grace causes us to delight in the law of God. Here's what Scripture says of us:
- Jeremiah 31:33-34 - "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."
- Ezekiel 36:25-27 - Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
The impossible is required of me. And because of this truth of bountiful grace that God grants what He requires, the impossible is no longer burdensome (1Jn 5:3).
And so the Christian life is lived by joyful obedience, not by burdensome duty. God not only is not pleased, but is dishonored, by the one who attempts to obey Him out of a sense of mere duty. Christ gets so little glory from that, because, in effect, we tell Him, "I know that what you say is good and right and godly, and therefore I should do it. And I'll do my best to do it if I have to. But I really don't enjoy obeying you. Your glory is not so compelling as to make my heart well up in delight as I see you when I obey you." Dear friends, is not your Savior greater and more pleasing and soul-satisfying than to be forced upon you begrudgingly?
Indeed He is. And so maturity in obedience in the Christian life comes from having your heart changed so that you see Him as beautiful and as pleasing as He actually is! And when you see Him, you love to do those things that your flesh once hated to do! That is how we progress in sanctification! We are more honoring and glorifying to God when we are so satisfied in Him that we delight to do what He commands us to do. He is glorified and made to look big and worthy and mighty when His people see His beauty and His pleasantness, and just because of that they obey Him gladly and joyfully.
The reason why obedience is impossible for me is because, left to myself, I can't see. But now God has shone in my dead heart the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. He has granted the spiritual sight that is necessary to see Him, to enjoy Him, and so to obey Him joyfully, with all of my heart.
The impossible is no longer burdensome.
- 2 Corinthians 3:18 -
For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.
- 1 John 5:3 -
1. The Theology of the New Birth
1.1. Man's Spiritual Death (Total Depravity)
1.2. The Dead Cannot See
1.3. The Wind Blows Where it Wishes: The Freedom of God and Irresistible Grace
1.4. Regeneration and Faith: Temporally Simultaneous but Logically Distinct
2. Implications for the Christian Life
2.1. God Grants What He Requires
2.2. The Impossible is No Longer Burdensome
2.3. The Means of Justification is the Means of Sanctification