How to Live the Victorious Life
The church is not short of books, tracts and sermons on how to live the victorious Christian life. You could go into an average religious book shop and cart off a truck load of this kind of literature. At the present time there are seminars in progress all over the land teaching people how to turn on to dynamic Christian living.
Most of this flood of material on Christian living does not lead to victory over sin, but it actually breeds sin. Sin is egotism and self-centeredness. Religious egotism is the worst form. It sets people to gazing at their own spiritual navel and drowns them in their own victory life piety.
Four hundred fifty years ago the church was delivered from this groveling, believer-centered mentality by the mighty truth of justification by faith. We fully believe that the church is again ripe for another revolution.
A lot of people may give lip allegiance to the mighty truth of justification by faith, but they do not see how it is relevant to their daily Christian experience. The church is largely bogged down with a sort of sanctificationism which has become divorced from the gospel and justification by faith.
The following article shows how a true understanding of the Reformation principle of justification by faith is the only thing that can lead to reformatory action and successful Christian living. Justification by faith is no cop-out from the privilege and responsibility of victorious Christian living, but the only way to it. Preoccupation with something outside of man is the only thing that will correct the egotism inside of man.
The Editors, Present Truth Magazine, (www.PresentTruthMag.com)
How to Live the Victorious Life
The mainspring of Christian existence is justification by faith. Here is the pulsating heart of biblical revelation and all true evangelical religion.
Sanctification is what God does inside the believer. Important as it is, it is not the basis of salvation nor the foundation of the Christian's hope. Sanctification, of course, is a work of grace, but it is fed from the springs of a higher, more primary work of grace. Unless sanctification is rooted in justification and constantly returns to justification, it cannot escape the poisonous miasma of subjectivism, moralism or Pharisaism.
Human reason would tell us that what grace does in changing the heart of the sinner is the most important thing God could possibly do in the salvation process. This contention is the heart of medieval soteriology, and it must be admitted that the overwhelming preoccupation of evangelicalism today is its message of being saved by "letting Christ come into the heart," by being born again, etc. It is sheer evangelical medievalism.
The great truth of justification by faith, however, does not deal with the acts of God within the believer, but with the saving acts of God outside the believer.
First, the ground of a man's acceptance with God unto life eternal is sheer grace. . . "being justified freely by His grace" Rom. 3:24. The Greek word here translated freely is elsewhere translated without cause. Grace is not conditioned on any quality in the human heart. So far is it from relating to a quality within man that the apostle declares that this "grace. . . was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." 2 Tim. 1:9. It is a quality in God's heart, His disposition to be kind and merciful to those who are lost and undeserving. Grace means God's attribute of accepting those who are unacceptable.
Yet God cannot allow His grace to override His justice. The rule of law must be upheld. God must have valid grounds to forgive sinners and to accept them as righteous. Those grounds are also completely outside of us.
. . . being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus [through His (God's) act of liberation in the Person of Christ Jesus N.E.B.] . . . — Rom. 3:24.
Christ's doing and dying are the sole grounds of God's being able to judge us and treat us as righteous. This is being "justified by Christ." Gal. 2:17. The gospel proclaims that sinners are saved by the objective, concrete acts of God in history. This is an action which is so far outside the sinner that it happened two thousand years ago. This is Christianity. It is the only truly historical religion. All other religions teach that salvation is found in some process within the worshiper, and consequently the worshiper's supreme preoccupation is with his internal experience. Christianity alone proclaims a salvation which is found in an event outside the believer.
This truth, of course, is a great offence to human pride. Cannot we at least sympathize with the children of Israel in the wilderness? Many were bitten by serpents and were facing certain death. Moses put a likeness of a deadly serpent on a pole and invited the dying to look and live. Whoever had heard of such a thing as this? The poison was inside, and how could something completely outside bring them any help? So they were inclined to reason.
To us who are bitten by that old serpent, the devil, Jesus declares:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.... — John 3:14.
The basis of salvation is not a subjective process. If the way of salvation were simply a matter of inviting Christ into the heart or being born again by the Spirit, then Christ need not have come here to suffer and die. No amount of sanctification or inward holiness can bridge the gulf that sin has made and put us into right relationship with God. Fellowship with God cannot rest on an internal process of being made holy. Perfection is not something that God requires at the end of the road. He demands perfection and absolute holiness before any right relationship can begin.
So we say again, salvation and right standing with God rest on what God has already done outside of us in the Person of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:24). Two thousand years ago there was an objective, concrete, historical event. God Himself broke into human history in the Person of His Son. He became our representative Man. He bore our nature and became so identified with us that all which He did was not only for us, but was exactly the same as if we had done it. He strove with sin, the devil and death. He utterly defeated them and destroyed their power. His victory was for us. It was really our victory. When He lived that holy life, which measured with the claims of God's law, it was for us. It was exactly the same as if we had lived it. When He bore the punishment for sin, justice saw us punished in Him. "..... if One died for all, then are all dead" 2 Cor. 5:14. When He arose and was accepted with joy into the presence of God, honored and exalted to God's right hand, all that was for us. It was our humanity that God embraced in the Person of His Son. As certainly as God came to this earth in the Person of Christ, just so certainly have we gone to heaven in the Person of Christ. The gospel does not proclaim the good things that God will do, but it proclaims the good things which He has done. By His glorious acts outside of us, He has actually accomplished our liberation. He has forgiven, justified and restored us to glory and honor in the Person of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:3-7; 2:4-6; Rom. 4:25; 5:8-10, 18,19; Col. 2:10).
Justification is not only by grace and by Christ; it must also be by faith. That which God has done outside of us in His Son must be believed and received. Faith comes by hearing this message of Christ (Rom. 10:17, R.S.V.). Faith does not bring salvation into existence. It does not produce the righteousness by which God justifies us. Faith does not make; it takes. It is becoming conscious of something already in existence.
Faith is completely objective in its action. It is not affixed to anything horizontal, to anything which is on earth, or to anything which can be seen. Therefore, it is not faith in what the Holy Spirit has done within us. It is not faith in our sanctification or in some past experience of being born again. Faith is affixed to what is in heaven, to what we have in Christ at God's right hand (Col. 3:1-4). Therefore, we must decisively say that sanctification, being on earth, being in the believer, and being seen, is no part of the righteousness which is by faith alone. The righteousness which is of faith alone is the doing and dying of Christ. It is that life of perfect holiness which Christ now presents at the bar of justice on our behalf. The only righteousness which we have before God is the righteousness which is actually before God. Our righteousness, therefore, is where we need it most — in God's presence, before God's law, at the Father's right hand. For our righteousness is Christ Himself (Jer. 23:6), who is absent from us on earth. As John Bunyan declared, the sublime mystery of the Bible is "that a righteousness that resides with a person in heaven should justify me, a sinner, on earth." This is righteousness by faith. It is a righteousness which the Reformers declared to be "an alien righteousness" — a righteousness completely outside of man and so foreign to human reason that it can be known only by the gospel.
We have seen that God justifies by grace, on the grounds of Christ's work, and applies the blessing to the sinner who receives it in faith. The grace that justifies is outside of man. The righteousness which justifies is outside of man. And the faith that accepts the blessing is affixed to that which is outside of the believer. We must press this radical truth further and consider that God's act of justifying the believing sinner is also outside the believer. This may be seen in two different ways.
1. The Meaning of Justification. Justification is a legal word having reference to trial and judgment. It does not mean to make a person subjectively righteous any more than condemnation means to make a person subjectively wicked. Justification is simply a verdict of the court declaring, or pronouncing, a person to be righteous. In the case of God's verdict, He declares the believing sinner to be righteous because the sinner's Representative is righteous. Or to put it another way, when the sinner claims the righteousness of Christ as his own and presents it before God, the Judge acknowledges that the debt has been paid, and the sinner is set right before the law.
Justification, therefore, is not an act of God within the sinner, but it is an act of God outside the sinner. It is God's verdict upon him. It is a forensic, declaratory act. It is not based on the holiness of the one who believes, but on the holiness of Him in whom the one believes. This point is crucial. In this matter of our acceptance with God, we are not to be anxious about what God thinks of us, but about what God thinks of Christ, our Substitute. If we confuse justification with the internal sanctification process, faith totters, and we find it impossible to stand before God with a pacified conscience. Justification pertains to what God does for us, not what He does in us.
2. The Method of Justification. In Romans, chapter 4, the apostle not only declares that God justifies the ungodly (v. 5), but that God does this by imputing righteousness to the one who believes (vv. 3, 5-7). In chapter 5 Paul shows that the righteousness which God imputes is "the righteousness of One" (vv. 18, 19). Now the word impute does not mean to infuse. It simply means to attribute to the sinner that which he does not possess in himself. For instance, when Eli thought (imputed) that Hannah was drunk, that did not make Hannah drunk (1 Sam. 1:13). Imputation does not change the object, but it changes the way the object is regarded. The supreme illustration of this is Calvary. Our sins were imputed to Christ (2Cor. 5:19-21). This did not subjectively make Him a sinner. But it did change the way God regarded Him. It had a decisive bearing on the way justice treated Him.
3. God's act of justification depends on perfect righteousness. Yet it does not depend on this righteousness being in us, but on it being interceded for us in God's presence. God reckons it to us simply because Christ performed it for us and we accept it in faith.
Therefore, whichever way we look at it and whichever way we turn it, justification is an act of God's grace that is wholly outside the experience of the one who believes.
We are aware of those objections, hoary with age, which rush in, crying derisively, "Legal fiction!" "Divine make-believe!" "Celestial bookkeeping!" "As-if, pasted-on righteousness!" etc.
We will answer these objections by considering the inseparable relationship between justification and sanctification. Indeed, it is now our purpose to show how due emphasis on this outside work is the only thing that can lead to the experience of God's inside work. The kind of justification we have considered is the dynamic mainspring of sanctification. The doctrine of imputed righteousness undergirds all ethical and reformatory action.
Under four heads we will consider how God's outside act of justification makes the inside process of sanctification possible. The four vantage points from which we will view this unique relationship between justification and sanctification are the legal, the psychological, the efficient and the positional.