Editors Note: This is a new series on sanctification designed to help our readers understand what sanctification is and how to grow in Christ.

****************

In realizing that Christians are called to be holy, we cannot lose sight of the ground of our sanctification: the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and our new identity in Him. Before I was made a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), the Christian life seemed impossibly rigorous and undesirable. In my fleshly, spiritually dead state, the commands to be holy seemed impossible to keep. This shouldn’t be surprising, as this is the clear teaching of Romans 8:7-8. In His grace, God radically changed me, replacing my heart of stone with a heart of flesh. He set my new heart ablaze for His glory, and gave me new affections and a desire to live in conformity to His precious Word.

The sanctification of God’s people is only possible because of the finished work of Jesus. Through His finished work, His people stand before Him covered in His perfect righteousness. Like all redeemed sinners, I was once dead in my sins. To drive this point home, consider that when you were saved, you were a dead man or woman brought to new life. When this occurred, the Holy Spirit granted to you a new heart, with new desires, a new passion and a new identity in Him, enabling you to desire, delight and marvel at the love of Christ and to live for Him. This means the Christian, while commanded to be holy (Hebrews 12:14, 1 Peter 1:15-16), needs to understand that the work of progressively becoming like Jesus is grounded in the sufficient work of Christ whereby He brings His people back to their new identity in Him. This enables God’s people to live in a way that pleases and glorifies Him in and through their lives as the Holy Spirit empowers them to be His witnesses in the world.

Our new identity in Christ

Understanding your new identity in Christ leads to understanding that the commands in the New Testament are grounded in the gospel. Dr. John Piper rightly states, “You never outgrow the need to preach to yourself the gospel.”[i] Forgetting that our sanctification springs from God granting His people repentance and faith in Christ, leads to falling into the snare of legalism. This type of thinking is eliminated by understanding that the Christian desires to live for God not in their own strength but only because of the finished work of Christ applied by the Holy Spirit. If the Christian forgets this precious truth, they are in danger of forgetting the gospel of grace. This is exactly why Christians must remind themselves that in and through Christ, they who were once far off have been brought near by His blood (Ephesians 2:13). This provides the foundation for why Christians must preach the gospel to themselves that they might consistently know and proclaim the glorious good news of His grace to a lost and dying world.

God’s work in His people’s lives is, from beginning to end, all of grace. To further elaborate on this point consider the following biblical truths: The Christian’s new identity is linked to Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. As John MacArthur writes, “Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf establishes our new identity for eternity—we are His church, His body, and His bride.”[ii] We are the Bride that is being sanctified until one day we will be like Him (Ephesians 5:27). Our sanctification is ultimately grounded in this new identity granted to us by His grace. The Christian’s new identity in Christ is the reason His people desire to love Him and His people. As Dr. John Piper puts it in Finally Alive, “when the new birth wakens faith and unites us to Christ, who is our righteousness, and unleashes the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, we are on the narrow way that leads to heaven.”[iii] The Holy Spirit unites His people to Christ by continuing to make them more like Him in holiness.[iv]

Conclusion

The truth about our new identity in Christ and the Holy Spirit’s continued work can be applied to many different areas of our Christian life. As a new Christian, I struggled with assurance because I questioned God’s promises. I often wondered, “Could God really forgive me even when I fall so short of His glory?” Through actively attending a solid Bible-believing local church, regularly reading my Bible and praying, the Holy Spirit pointed me away from myself and to Christ. The result of this was that I continued to repent of my sin and grow in His grace.[v] Instead of questioning God’s promises, I now have a greater assurance of my salvation and confidence in the sufficiency of Christ’s work on my behalf. If you’re struggling with sin, confess it, turn to God and away from yourself. Look to your new identity in Christ as you preach the gospel to yourself

[i]Piper, John. “The Gospel in 6 Minutes.” Desiring God. September 12, 2007. Accessed May 22, 2014. http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-gospel-in-6-minutes.

[ii]MacArthur, John. “Membership Is Identity.” Grace To You. January 23, 2013. Accessed May 24, 2014. http://www.gty.org/blog/B130123.

[iii]Piper, John. Finally Alive: What Happens When We Are Born Again. Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2009, 62.

[iv] See the instructive discussion on the office of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer in Ursinus, Zacharias, and G. W. Williard. The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism. Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company, 1888. 277-279.

[v] See Dr. John Piper’s discussion of this verse and its relationship to sanctification in Piper, John. God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005, 90.