Picking up where I left off, I want to draw out the continuous nature of gospel renewal through the ongoing work of sanctification. Behind these posts is the central theological motif that our union with Christ is the fountainhead of all genuine renewal in the Christian life, and therefore we should center our lives, churches, and ministries on the gospel of Jesus Christ and experience its satisfying and strengthening work from beginning to end.
Justification and Sanctification
We are made new by the justification of God where the new covenant promises of the Father are fulfilled in new and living way of Christ’s atoning death through which we experience regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. This work of renewal continues as those who are being saved continually repent and believe the good news which is forever theirs in Christ Jesus. God is committed to perfect a people for Himself by reversing the curse of sin through the Fall as His people are changed into the likeness of Christ, the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15).
In justification, we are made a new creation in Christ by the sovereign work of God in bringing those who are dead in trespasses and sin and making them alive (Eph. 2:1-5). The continuing work of this resurrection power is seen as “the old passing away as all things become new” (2 Cor. 5:17b). We are being made new (sanctification) only because we have been made new (justification). Those who seek renewal upon spiritual performances and not the gospel are trying to be made new without having been made new, thereby replacing justification with sanctification. This deathly treadmill is a cycle which does not breed new life but new despair in the heart of those whose hopes are in what they can do for God rather than what God has done for them.
The goal of the gospel’s work is seen in the “golden chain of redemption” where, for everyone in Christ, God has foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified (Rom. 8:28-29). The goal in all of this is so that we may be “conformed into the image of His Son.” The in-breaking of the kingdom of God established in our hearts results in the outworking of our salvation with fear and trembling in a process called sanctification where the image of Christ is daily being formed in the new man God has created having been united with His Son.
Sanctification says, “I am being made new”
The relationship between having been made new and being made new is spelled out for us in Ephesians 4:17-24 where Paul writes:
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
The pivotal moment from what we read in verses 17-19 about life outside of Christ and verses 22-24 about being made new through a ongoing basis is verses 20-21 which speak of “learning Christ” and the change it brings. There is to be a sharp contrast between those who are “alienated from the life of God” and those who are “created in the likeness of God” through the process of being “renewed in the spirit of your minds” and “putting on the new self.” Without daily renewal through the gospel, there will be little distinctiveness between the two kinds of people in this text (the old man vs. the new man).
But notice also how we are to regularly be renewed–“in the spirit of your minds.” Those outside of Christ walk “in the futility of their minds” with a “darkened understanding” while those who are being sanctified are not being conformed to such thinking but are “being transformed by the renewing of their minds” (Rom. 12:2). Consequently, we “learn” Christ by being “taught” in him because the “truth” is in Christ Jesus. The role of the mind in apprehending biblical truth by the illumining work of the Spirit is essential as such knowledge is intended to help form the character of Christ who has been revealed in our hearts. Becoming like Christ is impossible without intimate knowledge of Christ. Being renewed into His image is preceded by a genuine understanding of His character (“true righteousness and holiness”).
The means by which we are conformed into the image of Christ is through the daily renewal of Spirit-inspired, Spirit-illumined biblical truth whereby the pattern of our lives is programmed by the gospel of Jesus Christ and nothing else. Everyone united with Christ are in the process of becoming like Christ, and everyone of us have been gospel truths to learn, meditate, pray through, and enjoy as our satisfaction of what Christ has done our behalf overflows with joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Pet. 1:8).