Are you now being perfected by the flesh?
We have a habit of trusting in our own strength in order to grow as followers of Jesus. We preach a gospel of faith, not works. We stand in agreement with the Scriptures that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). And then we spend the rest of our lives living as though we can earn something on our own. As though we can persist by our own strength. The Biblical vision for the Christian is not that we live by our own strength, but that we are perfected by the same Spirit that saved us. We walk by the strength of God's Spirit, which began this good work in us.
This is not a new concept. We are not falling into a new form of error. Believing that we can somehow earn something on our own is as old as sin itself. In the early Church, Paul gave this exhortation to the churches in Galatia:
"Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness? (Galatians 3:2-6 ESV)"
The Galatians were being led astray by foolish teachers who were undermining the truth of the Gospel message. We must resist the same false message in our own lives. Whether implicit or explicit, the message is being sent that we can somehow earn something from God.
Salvation is more than conversion
Salvation is often equated with only the point of conversation. The Gospel message is commonly taught as a message about only conversion, but that is not consistent with a Biblical picture of salvation. Three core elements of salvation are: Justification (Rom 5:1, 2 Cor 5:21), Sanctification (John 17:16-17; Heb. 10:14) and Glorification (1 John 3:2). All of which happen by the power of Jesus through the work of God's Spirit.
In Hebrews, it says that through Jesus, God has "perfected for all time those who are being sanctified [perfected] (Heb 10:14)." Justification means that "for all time" God has made us completely perfect through Jesus. Another way of saying it is that we have been made fully righteous through Jesus. He took our sin and he gave us his righteousness (2 Cor 5:21).
Even though we have been made perfect through Jesus (justification), we still experience the imperfect nature of our current life. God is still in the process of sanctifying us in our motives, words and deeds. I still experience sin in my life, and so do you. Every day I wage war against my sin and God is helping me grow. I am being perfected (sanctified).
Glorification means that one day I will be like Jesus. I am not yet like Jesus, but God is shaping me more and more into the likeness of Christ. One day, it will be brought to fruition. I look forward to that day with great joy.
Here is a diagram of these three elements of salvation drawn on the white board in my office:
You have an infinite source of strength
Be encouraged today. If you have been laboring under the weight of your own sin, you don't have the fight the battle alone. Actually, you cannot succeed at fighting the battle alone. The power of Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit gives you both the motivation and the strength to grow as a Christian.
You are already perfect before God (justification). Jesus has already given you his righteousness and you do not have to be afraid of your standing before God. Trying to live a perfect life on your own earns you nothing. Jesus has already lived the perfect life on your behalf. Trying to live a perfect life on your own will actually lead you astray as it did the Galatians. Our motivation to pursue sanctification is not to earn something. Instead, we are motivated because Jesus has already earned everything we need. We do not fight sin to earn God's love, because God has already loved us through Jesus. We fight sin in response to God's love. We fight sin because He already loves us and that love motivates us to pursue the life God desires for us.
The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives inside of you (Rom 8:11). The same Spirit that saved you through faith in Jesus continues to give you the strength to live the Christian life. Why do you try to earn by your own strength that which God has already given you through His Spirit? In faith you began through the Spirit. In faith you will continue through the Spirit.
How do we respond?
Take a moment and pray. Ask God to reveal the ways you are trying to live by your own strength. Repent of those areas and your self-righteous attitude that says you can do it on your own. Turn to God and rely on the power of the Spirit to give you strength for your day. This is not a theoretical exercise. After I typed those words, I stopped and did exactly what I am asking you to do. Be encouraged. You have all the strength you need for your day.
If you get a chance to share in the comments below, let us know how this impacts your life today.