Ordo Salutis

The Resurrection in Romans

easter-5019243_1280How important is the resurrection of Jesus Christ? In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 the Apostle Paul tells us that the resurrection of Christ (along with His death and burial) is “of first importance” (ESV).

The Apostles were first and foremost to be witnesses of the resurrection. Acts chapter one tells us that this was not only one of the main qualifications in order to be an apostle (i.e. to have been with Christ throughout His earthly ministry and to have been a witness of His resurrection); but it was also in another sense a summary of their calling – an apostle was called to be “a witness to his resurrection” (v.22) – that is, to bear witness to it!

Acts 4:2 tells us that the priests and the Sadducees had Peter and John arrested “because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” It wasn’t just that they told people about the Lord Jesus Christ in general, but that they preached His resurrection, and the resurrection unto life of all who believe in Him for salvation. Acts 4:33 later tells us, “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.”

So in some way the message of the apostles could be summed up as their testimony to Christ’s resurrection. It was of primary importance in their teaching and preaching. Read through the epistles in the New Testament and you will find a vast multitude of references to Christ’s resurrection, both to the truth of it, as well as to it’s significance for all who believe in Him.

For example, if you read through the book of Romans with an eye toward Paul’s references to Christ’s resurrection, you may be surprised at how often he brings up that very subject. He does so practically throughout the entire epistle!

Paul all but begins his great epistle of the gospel with a reference to Christ’s resurrection. In Romans 1:1–4 he writes,

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (ESV)

First, he tells us that he was “a servant of Christ Jesus” (v.1). This obviously implies that Christ Jesus was alive. (One really can’t be a servant of someone who is dead and in the grave.) But then he adds that he was “set apart for the gospel of God” (v.1). And what is the gospel about? He says that it concerns “his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (v.3-4, Italics added). So the gospel is about the risen Christ!

In Romans 4:25 Paul tells us that Christ was “raised for our justification.” Christ’s death on the cross atoned for our sins, and is the basis of our justification, but we are not justified by a dead Savior – He had to be raised from the dead in order for us to be justified in Him! As Herman Bavinck puts it, Christ’s resurrection is “the Amen of the Father upon the Finished of the Son” and “the public declaration of our acquittal.” (The Wonderful Works of God, p.351)

In Romans 5:10 he writes, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (ESV, Italics added) When Paul speaks there of our being “saved by his life,” it is clear that he has Christ’s resurrection in mind, and His ongoing life and ministry on our behalf. The writer of the book of Hebrews makes a similar statement when he writes, “Consequently, he [that is, Christ] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25, ESV)

Then again in Romans 6:4 Paul adds that “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Here we see that it is not just our justification which is closely related to Christ’s glorious resurrection, but our new life and sanctification as well! Believers are raised with Christ in His resurrection to new life, so that we now “walk in newness of life.”

Paul goes on in a similar line of thought in the very next chapter, where he writes, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:4, ESV)

And then in Romans 8:11 Paul writes, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Simply put, Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of our own future resurrection for all who are in Christ. Or as the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, “the resurrection of Christ is the sure pledge of our own blessed resurrection” (Q/A 45).

But wait – there’s more! In Romans 8:33–34 he writes, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (ESV) The resurrection of Christ and His ongoing ministry of intercession on our behalf at the right hand of God, makes our salvation in Him all the more sure!

Lastly, Paul reminds us that true saving faith in Christ involves a sincere belief that He has been raised from the dead! In Romans 10:9–10, he writes, “[B]ecause, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (ESV, Italics added)

So the gospel, from beginning to end, has to do with, not just Christ’s death on the cross for our sins, but also with His glorious resurrection! Christ’s resurrection makes all the difference in the lives of believers. It is involved in our justification, sanctification, and future glorification! And it is a wellspring of comfort and assurance for believers, because it means that our Redeemer “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25, ESV)

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

The Difference Between Justification & Sanctification

WCFWhat is the difference between justification & sanctification?  Good question. The Westminster Larger Catechism (not surprisingly) supplies us with a very helpful answer:

Q.77. Wherein do justification and sanctification differ? A. Although sanctification is inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputes the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification His Spirit infuses grace, and enables the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one does equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.

So the first thing this tells us is that we must distinguish between the two, but never separate them. You cannot have one without the other (as they are “inseparably joined”), but they differ in significant ways. How, then, do they differ?

First, justification involves the imputation (or reckoning, accounting) of Christ’s righteousness, while sanctification involves the actual infusion of grace and the enabling to exercise it in daily life.  You may recall that the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification mistakenly teaches that justification involves the infusion (rather than the imputation) of Christ’s righteousness. But the biblical doctrine of justification is that in Christ all believers are declared righteous, rather than made righteous. This is what Paul is speaking of in Romans 4:3-5,

“For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness . . . .”

Abraham was not justified by works, but by believing God at His Word in the promise of the gospel. Justification is (to borrow the words of v.5) a matter of God ‘justifying the ungodly’ (or the “wicked” – NIV), not matter of God making the ungodly person godly. (That would be sanctification.)

The second difference noted above in the Larger Catechism is that in justification sin is forgiven, while in sanctification it is subdued. In the former, all believers in Christ are forever freed from the just penalty of their sins – the wrath of God. But in the latter, the  grace of God works in the lives of believers to subdue the power of sin over their lives. In other words, in justification we are viewed and accepted by God as sinless because we are in Christ; but in sanctification we begin to actually and objectively sin less than we did before coming to Christ by faith.

The third difference is a very important one, and that is that all believers are equally & perfectly justified, but sanctification can and does differ from one believer to the next in this life. There are no degrees of justification (i.e. you are either justified before God or you are not), but there most certainly are differing degrees of sanctification. Not only that, but while all believers are perfectly justified in this life, none of us are perfectly sanctified in this life. Not a one. In this life all believers are, by the grace of God, “growing up to perfection.”

So let us never separate justification and sanctification – they belong together. The one who has been once and for all time justified in Christ will also presently be in the process of being sanctified in this life. But let us also avoid the opposite mistake of confusing the two or mixing them up. To do that is to (at minimum) hinder our growth in grace, or even (at worst) to deny the gospel itself.

John Murray on Sanctification

Murray

In his book, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, John Murray writes the following about the sanctification of the believer in Christ:

There is a total difference between surviving sin and reigning sin, the regenerate in conflict with sin and the unregenerate complacent to sin. It is one thing for sin to live in us: it is another for us to live in sin. (p.145)

If you are a Christian and you struggle with sin . . . welcome to the club!  That is not a cause for worry or despair.   The work of the Lord in your sanctification is ongoing; it is lifelong.  You will spend the rest of your life repenting of sin, and you will do that because of the grace of God at work in you!

The time to worry (as Murray says) is if you are complacent in and about your sin.  That is a sign that sin is still reigning in your life.  It is a sign that, despite whatever profession of faith you may have made, you are simply not yet a Christian.

But if you are a believer in Christ, you are no longer a slave to sin.  As Paul writes in Romans 6:20-23,

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It is vitally important that we understand the difference between “surviving sin and reigning sin.”  The better we understand not only the nature of our justification, but our sanctification in Christ as well, the better equipped we will be to deal with our sins and the doubts that sometimes accompany them.

Justification is an “act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.33).  So we are not justified by anything that we do (not by any righteousness of our own!), but only on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Christ, accounted to us by faith alone!

And sanctification is “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.35).  So, unlike justification (which is a one-time act of God’s grace), sanctification is the ongoing work of God’s free grace in the life of a believer, conforming us more and more into the image of Christ.

Understanding the work of God’s grace in our sanctification (like the act of His grace in our justification) is a key to experiencing the assurance of our salvation in Jesus Christ.  In fact, truly understanding the difference between the two (our justification and our sanctification) is one of the keys to experiencing the assurance of our salvation.

And God most certainly does want every one of us who believes in the name of Jesus Christ to know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

Who said that theology wasn’t practical!

“At Home” In Sin?

Murray

Some strong, but ever-so-timely words from the late John Murray (1898-1975) regarding the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers:

“If we find ourselves at home in the ungodliness, lust, and filth of this present world, it is because we have not been called effectually by God’s grace.” (John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p.92)

What is effectual calling?  The Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q.31) defines it as “the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convicting us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, He does persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.”

So in other words, if we (to use Murray’s phrase) still “find ourselves at home in the ungodliness, lust, and filth of this present world” it shows that the Holy Spirit has not worked in us to convict us of our sin and misery.  Sinners who are “at home” in sin do not perceive the sinfulness of sin.  Sinners who are “at home” in sin do not see it as the source of their misery.

And so Murray is also saying that being “at home” in sin is also evidence that one has not truly been enlightened in the knowledge of Christ, nor has he or she truly embraced Jesus Christ by faith as He is freely offered to us in the gospel.  All this is to say that being “at home” in sin is evidence that one is not yet truly a believer in Christ at all.

Are you “at home” in sin?  Then, simply put, you are not yet a Christian.

But there is a world of difference between being “at home” in sin (in other words, seeing nothing wrong with it, being quite comfortable in it), and being a believer who simply struggles with sin.  Struggling with sin shows that one is convicted that it is, in fact, sin.  Struggling with sin shows that one is convicted of the misery of sin.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and are struggling with sin, welcome to the club!  You are in some pretty good company.  Even the Apostle Paul himself struggled with sin!  Look at his words in Romans 7:15-23 (ESV):

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

Sound familiar? Feel familiar?

And what was his solution?  Look at what he wrote in the next two verses:

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:24-25 ESV)

When you feel the weight of your struggle with sin, let that drive you all the more to Jesus Christ.  Cling to Him by faith.  Thanks be to God through Jesus our Lord, for He is the One who will deliver us from this body of death!