Christians Perfected by the Spirit, Not by the Law (Galatians Sermon 6 of 26)
December 08, 2013 | Andrew Davis
Sanctification, Holy Spirit
So we come to Galatians 3:1-5, and as we do, I come to the issue of the perfection of Christians, how it is that Christians are made perfect once they have come to an initial saving faith in Christ. The title of this sermon is Christians are perfected by the Spirit and not by the law. We saw last time in Galatians 2:16 that clear statement, the doctrinal center, of the book of Galatians, really, of the Christian message to the world, of justification by faith alone apart from works of the law. So you can see it there in Galatians 2:16. There, Paul says, "We know that a person is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ." So he says, "We, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law. Because by observing the law, no one will be justified." So this is the answer to the Philippian jailer's question, "What must I do to be saved?" It's a question every single descendant of Adam should be asking. People don't realize the danger they're in and their sin.
They don't understand how the wrath of God remains on them as long as they do not turn to Christ. As it says in John 3:36, once they have repented and turned to Christ, they are delivered from the wrath of God. But before that, they are vessels or objects of wrath and they're under judgment. And we should all, every single human being should be asking that question that the Philippian jailer asked, trembling, having just been rescued from committing suicide. He brings Paul and Silas out and asked them, "What must I do to be saved?" And the answer is, "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved." And that is the answer. Justification by faith apart from works of the law.
We know that Paul is addressing a heresy that had come in after he had planted those churches in Asia Minor in Galatia, preaching Christ crucified, preaching justification by faith. In came some Judaizers afterwards, and they began messing it up. They began saying, “Faith in Christ is not enough. You need to add the works of the law, the Jewish law in particular. You have to be circumcised. You have to obey the Law of Moses in order to be saved.” Paul says, "This is no gospel at all. It's not good news at all to know that you can, buy your own law-keeping, save yourself, because no one can do it." And so he is writing to establish plainly, again, in the minds of these Galatian Christians, what is the Gospel?
So we are justified, we sinners are justified, we are made right with a holy God simply by faith in Jesus Christ. And that if you trust in Jesus and you put your faith in him, all of your sins will be forgiven. And you will be seen to be perfectly righteous in the sight of God, positionally righteous. The perfect work of Jesus Christ in law-keeping and in living under the Law of Moses, that perfect record of obedience will be imputed or credited to your account, and God will forever see you as obedient as his own Son. Isn't that staggering? I just can't say it enough. That if you're a Christian, God sees you as obedient as Jesus, perfectly righteous. But how then, after you've come to faith in Christ, after you have been justified, how then shall we live our lives?
And we find that there is a call, an upward call of God in Christ Jesus toward perfection that's part of Christianity. We find that we are saved in stages, and that our salvation from sin is not complete. The positional aspect is instantaneous, it happens right at the beginning of the Christian life. You hear the Gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected, you repent and believe, and instantaneously, you're justified. But then begins that long journey of sanctification. And I think our text today addresses that. Having begun by the Spirit, you are not perfected by law-keeping. You're not perfected by the flesh, by human efforts.
But we're going to find in the gospel, we're going to find here in the book of Galatians, the same way you begin the Christian life, that's how you make progress in it as well. We are called on to be perfect every day. Matthew 5:48, Jesus said, "You must be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect." And we begin to learn all of the areas, the scope, of that perfection, how it covers everything that there is in life. Every thought, every inclination or attitude of the heart, every occasion, every interaction with another human being, is an opportunity for you to be perfect, to love God with all of your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. You're going to find that sanctification calls on you to seek to be perfect, as Christ is perfect. But it's impossible to do it in the flesh. We're going to find out that the same way that we began, through faith in Christ crucified and resurrected, by reliance in the spirit, that's how we make progress in the Christian life.
And we're going to learn to rely, as Paul says in Philippians 1:6, on, “He who began a good work in us.” That He, the same one that began this good work in us, He's going to continue it. He's going to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. God means to carry on our salvation the same way He began it, by us completely relying on Jesus. And to God be the glory then for every step we make, every advance we make in sanctification, God gets the full credit and the full glory.
I. The Foolishness of Trying to Be Perfected by Law (verses 1, 3)
So let's look at it step by step. Jonathan, what an incredible reading of scripture. That was awesome. But the impact of that, "Oh, foolish Galatians!" I was jumping at that moment. It was startling to me. But it's right there in the text, so thank you, Jonathan, for highlighting that. That was like bold, italic, underscore there. Powerful. But Paul begins a passionate appeal and he seems to be very distressed with the Galatians. He's very passionate about this, "Oh, foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?" And there's this little Greek word "oh" in there. And so it's an emotional word here. Same word you see in that in incredible doxology in Romans, "Oh, the depths of the riches, the wisdom, and the knowledge of God." There, that "oh" is one of rich joy and the depths of the wisdom of God and he's overwhelmed, it's a word of worship. But here, it really is a word of bitter disappointment. He's emotional here. Similar perhaps to the word "oh" in Jesus's statement, "Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem. You who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you. How often I've longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you are unwilling." Same kind of bitter sadness at what's happening with these Galatian churches.
Paul is heartbroken that these churches that he has planted have in some way turned their back on the true gospel and have embraced this false doctrine of "works righteousness." They've turned their backs on the gospel of God and Christ. And he calls it "foolishness." "Oh, foolish Galatians." So there's the foolishness here, it's not a matter of stupidity. It's not that they're stupid or intellectually depleted or in some way lacking intelligence. Really, it's that moral stupidity that we get in the book of Proverbs, the fool of the book of Proverbs. There's a stubbornness of heart here, in this word "foolish." They're stubborn, their hearts are hard. And they were fools to exchange the truth of God for the lie of fleshly works. And again, I don't think it's spoken harshly or angrily. He's trying to wake them up out of the stupor of this false doctrine. And so I picture him saying it tenderly but sharply here.
Similar to Jesus on the road to Emmaus with those two disciples, where he says, "How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that God has spoken through the prophets. Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter into glory?" And so, at that point, Jesus then patiently explained the scriptures and showed why they were foolish not to be ready for the resurrection. And I think Paul does the same thing here. He doesn't just stop at calling them "fools," but he reasons with them based on their experience and then later, (we’ll study next week and beyond), based on the scriptures. And so in Galatians 3, he's going to talk first about their own experience with the gospel. That's what we are looking at today. Over the next few weeks, we will see that he's going to be reasoning from Abraham's experience as well. So he's going to reason with them from scripture and from experience, but experience first. And he's going to say, "Look at yourselves. Look at what happened to you. Look when the Holy Spirit came. And your relationship then to the law."
And he speaks here of the bewitching appeal of false teaching. "Who has bewitched you?" It's almost like, "Who has hypnotized you? Who's put the evil eye on you?" It's an interesting Greek word here. "Who's kinda put the evil eye on you to get you to believe this false doctrine?" Now, Paul's not using it literally, but it's almost like some mind control cult, some weird thing where you come back a year later and people are all walking around with this glazed look on their face, and they're all talking in a monotone. It's like, "What happened to you people? You've become weird, doctrinally weird. Who has bewitched you to follow this false doctrine?" And so, he appeals then to their first experience to try to win them back to how they first understood the gospel. Later in the book of Galatians, he's going to say, "What's happened to all your joy? Don't you remember how it was? You remember how joyful you were when you realized you were forgiven? How God had sent His son to die in your place? Don't you remember that? Can't we get back to that? And remember how you loved me at that time and how warm you were and how you embraced me? And you would've plucked out your eyes and given them to me. You were just so loving, and now you're set against me."
II. We Experienced Christ by Faith, Not Law (Verse 1)
And so he goes back to their experience. "Let's go back to how it was when you first heard the gospel of Christ." And how did they first experience Christ? Well, they experienced Christ by faith. So look at it in verse one, "Oh, foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified." They first saw Christ. You could almost put quotations around that, but not really. They first saw Jesus crucified, publicly crucified. Now, how did they do this? Please don't imagine they had the Jesus film back then. I know you've heard of that ministry and people go all over places and they set up generators and they play the Jesus film.
That's not what's going on here. You know what was going on? Just simple, clear preaching. It was just proclamation of Christ and him crucified. And friends, that's been going on for 20 centuries. It's going on all over the world right now. It's going on right here in this room. A simple proclamation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born of a virgin, the one who lived a sinless life, who spoke all of his incredible teachings. This Jesus who spoke these parables, the Sermon on the Mount, who never sinned, the sinless Jesus. This one who did supernatural signs and wonders, who walked on water, who spoke to the wind and the waves and they obeyed him, who spoke to fish and they swam into fishermen's nets. Who could heal any disease and sickness, who could raise the dead, this Jesus was crucified.
And he was publicly portrayed before your eyes as crucified. They saw with the eyes of their heart. You know how it says in Ephesians 1:18, "May the eyes of your heart be enlightened." What are the eyes of the heart? It is faith. I really believe that. Faith is the eyesight of the soul. By faith, you see what cannot be seen based on words. So you hear the words of Christ and you can picture him in your mind's eye. You can survey the wondrous cross, and you can see Jesus, the Son of God, nailed to the cross. You can actually almost have a sense of what it was like when his hands and feet were pierced with those nails, as the nails were driven into the wood and as blood soaked into that wood and streamed down his body. You can picture that in your mind's eye. You can picture the circumstances, that eerie darkness that came over all the earth at that time.
And you can hear his words saying, "Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing." And the events as, Kyle talked about in the baptism, the gospels give us the events, what happened at the time. And the words he spoke, where he said, "Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit." And "My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?" And "It is finished." You can hear these words, and so Christ crucified is proclaimed, and I imagine you can see that now in your mind's eye, too, you can picture Christ crucified, you can picture him there. And more than that, along come the Epistles, the Apostolic preaching of the cross gave the explanation of why of the circumstances. They tell us why it is that the Son of God died. And how in 2 Corinthians 5:21, it says, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God" and how by faith in Christ all our sins are forgiven. And so, you foolish Galatians, we publicly portrayed, we placarded Jesus Christ crucified before your very eyes, and then the Spirit worked in you at that time, a supernatural work of regeneration.
You were born again as you heard that gospel. Faith came by hearing, and you heard, and the faith sprang to life within your heart, just like that man born blind. You'd never seen light before that moment. But suddenly, at that moment, God said, "Let there be light," and in your heart, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ sprang up inside your hearts. And you didn't have to see anything, you're just listening to the gospel as it was being preached, and you believed. You remember how it was? By simple hearing with faith, you were justified. By simple hearing with faith, your sins were forgiven. And that was your first encounter with Jesus. That's how it all started for you. That's how you encountered Jesus. Do you remember how it was? But not only that, at that moment, you also experienced the third person of the Trinity. At that moment, you received the gift of the Holy Spirit. And so you experienced the Holy Spirit at that moment, too.
III. We Experienced the Spirit by Faith, Not Law (Verses 2-4)
Look at verses 2-4, "I would like to learn just one thing from you. Did you receive the Spirit by observing a law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish your race or be perfected by the flesh, by human effort? [Verse four] Have you suffered so much for nothing if it really was for nothing?" So he now is appealing to their experience with the Spirit. He talks about the incredible gift of the Holy Spirit that came into their lives at that time. He asked a dramatic rhetorical question, "I just want to learn one thing from you." So he's underscoring by that use of kind of a dramatic rhetorical question, "Tell me something about yourselves. I want to ask one thing. I want you to go back to how it was at that time. You remember when you received the gift of the Holy Spirit? Do you remember how it was? The Holy Spirit came on you at that moment, the moment you heard and believed. You didn't go out on week's probation with a list of dos and don'ts and then based on how well you obeyed those dos and don'ts, then we saw which of you would get the Spirit. That's not how it happened. It was hearing, believing, and then the Spirit came. There was no time lapse. The Holy Spirit was poured out on you, uncircumcised, gentile believers in Jesus. That's how the Spirit came."
Now you may wonder, you say, "That really wasn't my experience with the Gospel. We didn't have signs and wonders. We didn't speak in tongues." You may have wondered. Well, back then in the Apostolic era, frequently, the Holy Spirit would be poured out in a very signal way, a spectacular way. You remember how, on the day of Pentecost, all of the believers were gathered there in the upper room, you remember? And on that day of Pentecost, suddenly, there came a sound like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were staying, and they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. And all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. That was a visible auditory... Just an actual experience of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. And unbelievers, people that hadn't come to faith in Christ yet, could hear the sound. And they gathered around the house, so it was something everybody experienced at that point.
Well, that same kind of experience happened at other times. You remember how Peter went to Cornelius's house, remember? And he preached to that Roman centurion and his family and friends that were gathered in the house. And as Peter was preaching about Christ crucified and resurrected, as that preaching was going on, while he was preaching, suddenly, the same thing happened again, like a mini-day of Pentecost happened. In Acts 10:44-47, "The Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God." So there was a clear sensory proof of the coming of the Spirit, that's something God did back then from time to time. Then Peter said, "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They've received the Holy Spirit just as we have." I believe that water baptism is an outward and visible sign of the true baptism that's already happened, the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
If you're a genuine believer in Christ, you are immersed in the Holy Spirit. And if anyone doesn't have the Spirit, they're not a Christian. Romans 8 teaches that. So you are immersed in faith in Christ, by faith in Christ in the Spirit, you've already been baptized in the Spirit. We just testified to it outwardly to the world by the water baptism. And so they linked it back then, they said, "Look, these are uncircumcised Romans, these are uncircumcised Gentiles, but they've received the Holy Spirit." And I've already learned from that, that sheet being let down, "Don't call anything impure that God has made clean," He's purified these Gentiles now. They're clean by faith in Christ. Uncircumcised Gentiles.
And the Holy Spirit came, so, Galatians, remember how that was? I think the same thing must have happened for them. And they received a supernatural manifestation of the outpouring of the Spirit. Later, in our verse here, in verse five, he says, "Does God work miracles among you by works of the law or by believing what you heard?" And so, again, signs and wonders and miracles poured out on these Galatians. And they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Now, we don't have those manifestations, but that doesn't mean that we don't receive the gift of the Spirit. I've already said in Romans chapter eight, If you have not received the gift of the Spirit, you're not justified. You're not a Christian. So every justified person, every genuine Christian, receives the Spirit. What does that mean? What does it mean to receive the Spirit? Well, it means to receive the gift of the third person of the Trinity, who, in some amazing way, comes and dwells in your heart. He dwells within you. He lives within you. John 14:16-17, Jesus said this, "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another counselor to be with you forever. The Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, cannot receive him, because it neither sees him nor knows him, but you know him for he lives with you and will be in you."
So the Spirit is going to be in you forever. The Spirit comes and dwells within your heart. And we're going to talk in future weeks about the varieties of the workings of the Spirit in the life of a believer. He comes at the beginning of the Christian life, at the moment of justification, and takes up residence within your life, and nothing is ever the same again. He is the third person of the Trinity. And then he fulfills the promise of radical transformation. He makes you into a new being. He is the fulfillment of the promise in Ezekiel, "I will take out the heart of stone, and I will put in you a heart of flesh, and I'll put my Spirit on you, and I will move you to follow my decrees and my laws. " So by the power of the Spirit, you then make progress in the Christian life and the Spirit fulfills that promise of radical transformation, so a genuine believer may love now what Christ loves and hate, genuinely hate, what Christ hates. And a genuine believer yearns for what Christ yearns for, and wills what Christ would will, and rejects what Christ would reject.
Transformed from the inside by the Spirit, you have the same emotional reactions and you have the mind of Christ and think like he does, and out of that internally changed nature, you then live a different kind of life. That's biblical sanctification. That's what the Holy Spirit has come to do inside of us. And "It is not by law," he says, "but by the hearing with faith." He says that they're foolish and bewitched to think that having received the Holy Spirit by hearing with faith, they now make progress toward perfection by some other means. By human effort, by the flesh. They did not earn the Spirit. He was a beautiful gift given to them freely.
The gift of the Spirit is not earned by any works of piety. It is not earned by any moralistic laws, not earned by circumcision or dietary regulations, not earned by fasting. The Holy Spirit is not earned by any kind of self-denial. He is not earned by any good works of benevolence you may pour out on the poor and needy. The gift of the Holy Spirit is not given as a reward at all. The Spirit is not a wage given to workers. He is a gift given to sons and daughters. And so he says, "I would like to learn just one thing from you. Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law or by believing the message you heard?" And then having begun by the Spirit, we are not perfected by the law. And this is kinda the centerpiece of my message today. Look at verse three. "Are you so foolish, having begun by the Spirit, are you now perfected in the flesh?" If the Spirit has begun to do all this in us, isn't it a clear indication that we cannot do anything apart from him?
Now, for Paul, it's pretty clear that there's still a journey yet to be traveled. You say, "Well, what else could there be after justification?" Well, in God's perfect purposes and in His plans, He wills that we live in this world in our mortal bodies, our bodies of sin, these bodies of death, we are to live in this Satan-dominated world surrounded by other people who are regenerate, but also living in bodies of sin and bodies of death, or unregenerate people who are dead in their transgressions and sins and filled with murderous threats against the Lord's people, or just totally ambivalent or not interested. We are to live out lives of godliness in those circumstances. And that's the playing field of sanctification. He wants to see us living a perfect life in that setting. And He wants us to run a race now, a race toward perfection every single day. Paul talks about this very beautifully in Philippians 3. I love Philippians 3, these verses. Look at verses 8- 12 in Philippians, you can just go over it or just listen. Philippians 3:8 and following.
It says, "That I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ. The righteous that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow to attain to the resurrection of the dead. Not that I have obtained all this or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me… So forgetting what lies behind and straining, [striving, pressing on] toward what lies ahead" I aim for perfection. So in that statement in Philippians, he says, "I press on to take hold of that [purpose] for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." Okay, why did Christ take hold of me? He took hold of me that I would be perfect, holy, and blameless in his sight. So every day, I strive, I press after perfection every day. Now here's the challenging part, that means you have to work. You have to labor. You have to have holy resolutions. You have to have holy efforts. You have to strive, but you have to do it not in a legalistic way. How do we do that? How do we do that? How do we strive and not be legalistic? How do we make holy resolutions and not be legalistic? Well, everything comes down to the mentality as we do it. Everything comes down to this.
This is the internal journey that FBC talks about. How do we do it? First and foremost, in total reliance on Jesus Christ, him crucified and resurrected. Just say to yourself every day in your quiet time. John 15:5. Jesus, you said to me, "I am the vine, you are the branches. If a person remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing." See, I think what's going on is that as the Galatians are trying to finish their race by human efforts, they feel like they're on their own. Like, Jesus came to town, Paul came to town, preaching the gospel and got them a good start, but now he's gone and they've got to run the rest of the race themselves. They're on their own now. And then on Judgement Day, the Lord can say, "Hey, look, I gave you an incredible, awesome start, what happened since then?" And so you become inward-focused and you're thinking, "What can I do?", and you've got all these challenges. And you see the perfection that you need to have in your lives, the way you think, the way you love, the way you live in every area, sins of commission, sins of omission. You're learning more and more of scripture and you're starting to get into the pile, and it's like, "How in the world can I be perfect like Jesus?" And you feel like you're on your own. But you're not. He is the vine, and you are the branch, and you abide in Jesus by the Spirit.
And you look to Christ crucified and you say, "He died my sins. The wrath of God against me is gone. I'm not afraid of the law's accusations anymore, I'm free from the law as it condemns me. I'm free. I'm a son, I'm a daughter, of the living God, and nothing I do or don't do today will change that. I'm secure in that love. But oh, I yearn to please my Heavenly Father. And sin is just poison and I don't want to do it today. And even though I can somehow drink it and not die, I can't drink it and not be sick. And so I don't want to sin today. I want to be free from all sin. Oh, Lord help me. I rely in you. I trust in you, Lord Jesus. Christ crucified, that's my death. I died a sin forever. Christ resurrected, that's my life, I can live a new life now by the Spirit." That's how you do it. As it says in Colossians 2:6-7, "So then just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, so continue to live in him." The way you begin the Christian life is the way you continue. Look to Christ crucified and resurrected. Trust in him. Hearing with faith, reliance in the Spirit, that's it.
And Paul's concern, verse 4, "Have you suffered so much for nothing if it really was for nothing?" They were persecuted for their faith, they were beat up by the surrounding community, the churches went through hard times. He said, "But now it's like you're that stony ground hearer. When trouble, persecution, difficulty comes, you're fading. Turning away from the true gospel." And he's concerned that his labor for them was in vain. Later, in Galatians 4:19, he's going to use women in labor language. He says, "My dear children, for whom I'm again in the pains of childbirth until Christ be formed in you."
He's in anguish over these churches. It's like, "I'm afraid that everything I've done for you was in vain. If you go off into this worked-based religion, it's all for nothing." So, he's yearning that they understand. You experienced Jesus by hearing with faith. You experienced the Spirit by hearing with faith, and you are in a relationship now with God the Father also by hearing with faith, and that's it. So look what he says in verse 5, "Does God give you, [God the Father, does He give you] the Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law or by believing what you heard?"
You have a relationship with God by the gospel. You have an ongoing walk with God now because you believe the gospel, by faith and by the Spirit. God doesn't give any of these things as a wage. We were universally sinful. There was no one righteous. Not even one. All of us had fallen short of the glory of God. None of us declared righteous by observing the law. And God, I love this word, "supplies" His spirit to you by faith and not by law. And so He gives you a flow. So often, the Holy Spirit's like a river. There's a flow, the pouring out of the Spirit, he's like liquid. And there's a sense of an ongoing stream of power coming to you by the Father's command and not because you are law-keeping.
IV. Applications: Begun by the Spirit, Perfected by the Spirit
Alright, so, how do we apply this understanding? What application can we take from this? Well, first, I hope that there are some that have been invited here that are not Christians yet, and for you, I just want to say you have had Jesus Christ publicly portrayed as crucified before your eyes today. All you need to do is, having heard that, believe, and all of your sins will be forgiven. How sweet is that? Trust in the Lord. Believe in Jesus Christ. Call on the name of the Lord, and you will be saved. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Now John Stott said, and I love this, "Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to first see it as something done by us." So what you need to do is say, "Lord, I'm a sinner. I've violated your laws. I have not loved you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, I've not loved my neighbor as myself, I've violated the 10 Commandments. I've been lustful, I've been covetous in my heart, I've led a wicked life. And Jesus died because I was a sinner. Jesus died in my place. I trust in you to take my wrath away." So you call on the name of the Lord and you picture him in your mind's eye, and you cry out to him and you say, "Save me, Jesus, save me."
And he will save you. For everyone who calls on the name on the Lord will be saved. But having received, then, justification as a gift. Now I'm talking to all of you. So now, make progress by the same pattern. Make progress by the same pattern. Understand salvation is a process. You have to be perfected, you have to grow in grace in the knowledge of Christ. And so he wants you to become more and more mature. More and more like Christ. He wants you to aim every day for perfection. It says in 2 Corinthians 13, "Aim for perfection." Every day. There is a journey, but you must make that journey by actively relying on Christ crucified and the power of the Spirit. You're not on your own, praise God. You're not on your own. So, I want to turn around and say, "What does sanctification by flesh look like?" What does it look like? How can I know if I am trying to make progress in the flesh? Well, let's start with what happens when you sin. Okay? What happens when you know you violated your conscience, you've violated God's standards?
When I was a Catholic (I was raised in the Catholic faith), I had to go to confession, and you were told that if you died with unconfessed sin, it will be longer in purgatory. That was the doctrine that was told to us at that time, and so you would go and confess your sins to the priest. Back in my day, they had just gotten away from the confessionals, you had to sit and face the guy, face-to-face, and go tell him all your deep, dark secrets. And then there's purgatory hanging in the background. And then after you confessed your sins to the priest, he would then give you a list of things you had to do. Hail Mary's, Our Father's, prayers, giving money to the poor, etcetra. That was the bill at the end of the time. It's like that's my sin bill. "And if I do these works, then I'm clear? Is that it? Got it." Okay? Now I'm not necessarily saying that that was a right preaching of Roman Catholic soteriology. I'm not entirely sure what their answer to the question, "What must I do to be saved?" is anymore. But I know this. Satan still tries to hand us that bill of good works to do after you sin. You know what I'm saying?
Until I do these seven things, I can't feel good anymore about my walk with God. God's smile, His fatherly smile to you, cannot be earned. It can't be earned, so just like the prodigal son, go back, throw yourself at the feet of your Father, have Him lift you up, and put you in that robe again, that raiment and say, "I love you." And you didn't do anything. You are restored by faith in Jesus alone, not by works. It is so easy to get legalistic about this. You know what I'm saying? So you've sinned, and you try to earn your way back to God by doing good works. That is what working it out by the flesh.
Another way is you make a list of resolutions, of good things you want to do. 10 things you want to do in the year 2014. Look, I think there's nothing wrong and everything right with having goals. It says in Isaiah, "The noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds, he stands." It's good to have plans. But hold them loosely because God delights in throwing wrenches into your moral plans. He loves messing it up. It's God doing it, not Satan, it's God. He wants to know what you do when you don't do all the things you want to do, and Bible-reading and scripture memorization and fasting and praying and sharing the gospel and all that. You got this list, alright, "45 minutes of Bible reading every day. Hour of prayer every day. Going to memorize two verses a day throughout the year. I'm not going to go to bed any day in the year 2014 without sharing the gospel with someone," on and on. All of those are good things. Not one of them is bad. But what happens when you don't? And is it all up to you to do it, to crank it out?
So those are two aspects of what it starts to look like, having begun by the spirit, perfected in the flesh. What do you do when you sin? And how do you approach your lists of things you want to do to improve your Christian life? There's so many more things I could say. I guess I'd like to bring you back to Philippians 2:12-13, where it says very plainly, I love how it works to get there, it says, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." So work hard at it. If you don't work, you will not make progress toward perfection. But understand, "it is God who works in you to will and to act, according to His good purpose." So all of your working and all of your willing and all of your striving, do it by faith in Christ crucified and resurrected, and by the power of the Spirit. Close with me in prayer.
Father, we thank you for the things we've learned today. That we should not be so foolish to think that we, having begun by the Spirit, are now perfected by the flesh. Help us, oh, Lord, to make genuine progress in the Christian life, but help us to do it by a constant reliance on Christ crucified and resurrected, and a constant reliance on the gift of the Holy Spirit. And knowing that our Father's smile is given us constantly as a gift of grace. It's blood bought, and it's our constant gift of grace. You love us and You'll never stop loving us. Help us to realize that, that we don't have to earn forgiveness. We pray this in Jesus's name. Amen.