Friday, May 11, 2007

Is Christianity Futile?

I recently had a conversation in the past week about becoming like Christ. There was a comment made that got me thinking-about how we as Christians are living a double life. We are to be like Christ and become like Him. That it was something that we are to do, and that is how they have always been taught-that it was on us to be like Christ. It made me sad to hear that, because it makes the Christian life futile, cause on our own we will never be like Christ- so then why try.

If that is what is being taught in our churches and we are believing instead of going by what the Bible says-that's awful. I have always been taught that we cannot walk the Christian life on our own- that we live each day through the strength of Jesus Christ. It is only through Him that we can be like Him. I did a little research on this topic, and came across a sermon preached by John Piper on Romans 8:28-30. The verse that caught me was verse 29: "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son,"

The way that verb is it seems to me that the action of conforming is not being done by us, rather by God. "The three acts of God are seen in the words, 1) "He foreknew," 2) "He predestined," and 3) "We become conformed to Christ." We know that all things work together for our good because God foreknew us, predestined us, and is conforming us like Christ. Two of these are past (foreknowing us and predestining us) and one of these is present and future (conforming us to the image of Christ)." -John Piper's sermon: Foreknown, Predestined, Conformed to Christ. It is God who is doing the conforming in us, not us trying to do it on our own.

And that makes it all the more important that it is indeed God's work in us, so that the necessity of it doesn't throw us back on ourselves. It throws us desperately on God. Paul says in I Corinthians 8:6 "...Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live." We can only live through Christ. It is Him who gives us the strength to make it through life: "Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am." (Phil. 4:13)

Another Exerpt from John Piper's Sermon, Glorification: Conformed to Christ for the Supremacy of Christ

"Why is it not mentioned in this unbreakable chain in Romans 8:29-30? Paul mentions five links in the chain: Those whom he (1) foreknew he predestined; and those whom he (2) predestined he called; and those whom he (3) called, he justified; and those whom he (4) justified, he (5) glorified. Why didn't he say, "And those whom he justified he sanctified, and those whom he sanctified he glorified"?

The reason this matters is that someone might say, "Well, since it's not in the chain, it's either not necessary for heaven like the others, or it is not the work of God the way the others are. Both of those inferences would be a deadly mistake. Sanctification is necessary for heaven. That is why Romans 6:22 says that the outcome of your sanctification is eternal life! (See Hebrews 12:14; Galatians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:9). And that makes it all the more important that it is indeed God's work in us, so that the necessity of it doesn't throw us back on ourselves. It throws us desperately on God.

For example, Paul says in Philippians 1:6, "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." And Philippians 2:12b-13, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." And 1 Corinthians 15:10, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me."

So sanctification is both necessary and the work of God. So why is it not mentioned between justification and glorification. I think the reason is that in Paul's mind sanctification is included in glorification. So, in effect, he does make it part of the chain. Now why do I think this? What's the Biblical basis for it?

It comes from 2 Corinthians 3:18. Paul describes here how we are changed into the likeness of Christ — that is how we are sanctified. It happens by looking to Christ — the spiritual sight we talked about earlier (note the context!). He says, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit."

Now what is so relevant in this verse for us is the word "glory." Our gradual change into the image of Christ is, Paul says, a moving "from glory to glory." And he says this is from the Lord. This is essentially the work of the Lord. So being glorified in Paul's mind is not only the final transformation at the end of the age at the resurrection when we get out new bodies; it is also the process of moving morally and spiritually toward that goal.

So in Paul's mind, when he said in Romans 8:30, "the justified are glorified" he meant, God works to make sure that those whom he justified move from one degree of glory to the next (sanctification) and finally reach perfection with new and glorious bodies like Christ's (Hebrews 12:23; Philippians 3:21). So your progressive sanctification — your becoming like Jesus — is as sure and as firmly planned and worked by God as is your election and predestination and calling and justification and final glory."

So, is the Christian life futile? Yes, if you are trying to do it on your own. No, if you live as we are called to live-through Christ.

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