What you believe makes a big difference in your Christian life. Even if the categories of formal theology seem remote and unfamiliar, you have a theology. Everything you think about God, Jesus, law, sin, salvation, holiness, the Spirit, the church, human nature, life, death, and eternity is theological. We are all theologians. The real question is whether or not our theologies are true to Scripture.
One of the most important areas of theology is sanctification: the doctrine that concerns our consecration to God, the restoration and renewal of God’s image within us, and our practical progress in holiness. I’ve seen a number of common errors that Christians make in this area. In fact, here are seven errors to avoid in following Christ.
1. Looking to your sanctification for your justification
Justification and sanctification are related, but not to be confused. Justification concerns our legal status before God. Scripture teaches that we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. If you believe in Jesus, your sins are pardoned and God already accepts you as righteous – even though you still struggle with sin.
And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness… (Rom. 4:5)
God justifies the ungodly! Full forgiveness is freely given through faith in Jesus crucified and risen alone. The verdict is in: “not guilty.”
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1)
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. (Rom. 8:33-34)
Don’t measure your acceptance with God by your progress in holiness or apparent lack thereof. Sanctification depends on justification, not the other way around.
2. Adding rules to Scripture
Make no mistake: there are commands in Scripture and we must obey them. Even Christians, who are freed the law (Acts 13:39; Rom. 7:4; 8:2; Gal. 5:1-13), are commanded to walk in love, work out their own salvation, bring holiness to completion in the fear of God, and more (Eph. 5:2; Philip. 2:12; 2 Cor. 7:1). While obeying God’s commands does not justify us, obedience is an essential part of sanctification.
But sometimes people require more than God requires. When Paul warned of those who would forbid marriage and require abstinence from certain foods, he said it was demonic (1 Tim. 4:1-3). That’s pretty strong language! But it underscores the absolute sufficiency of God’s word for training us in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).
If the Bible doesn’t forbid it or require it, neither should you. Doing so won’t help you or others become holy. It will only undermine confidence in Scripture. Beware of adding rules to the Bible.