People love rules.
And rules make sense because they give us conditions. In essence, you could say we are natural-born legalists. It goes like this: if you do a, b, and c, you will get a reward. But if you break the rules, a bad result will follow. Rules give us a sense of control because if we can make good on those rules, then we can stay in control and master our destiny. But God’s economy is different. God, in the gospel, says you get exactly what you don’t deserve. Grace.
The Gospel Is Still Offensive
But the gospel is offensive to our natural human legalism. It just feels “wrong” that God would save people without any work or effort on our part, doesn’t it? It seems crazy that God would pardon sinners in Jesus. It’s a scandal, really, but it’s God’s design (Eph. 2:8-9), and Christians delight that despite their sin, they are justified for Jesus’ sake. So we get the offense of the gospel when it comes to our being justified (something we’re exceedingly glad for). But as soon as we enjoy the I-once-was-lost-but-now-I’m-found freedom, we move quickly into rules and performance mode and miss the offense of the gospel in sanctification.
What Is Sanctification?
Sanctification means being “set apart,” that Christians are progressively made to be more holy. Simply put, it is being made more and more like Jesus who loved God and others perfectly.
It’s right at the doctrinal point of sanctification that many smuggle in their anti-gospel theology. Jesus doesn’t just save us at conversion and then say “good luck” to our sanctification. This would be a sort of functional Pelagianism that sells a self-salvation answer to sanctification. Beware of it! It will kill you and heap burdens on others.
Grace provides the desire, motivation, and power to love God and others.
Most Christians aren’t theologically malicious about the doctrine of sanctification, they’re simply confused over the issues of law and gospel when it comes to sanctification.
The law is God’s law and it’s true and right (Psalm 119, 1 Timothy 1:8, Rom 3:31, Rom 7:12-16), and it’s an accurate summary or description of what it means to be obedient, happy, and fulfilled. If we were able to fulfill it, the law would be the answer to humanity’s problems.
We can’t fulfill it though. While the law is good and right, it cannot generate in us what it commands (Romans 7:24-25). It’s like a sign when you’re driving that tells you the speed limit for that road, but as we all know, that sign doesn’t give you the motivation or ability to obey it.
What’s Needed for Healing
The law tells us the truth about our condition and ourselves, but it fails to give the power to correct the maladies it diagnoses. Something else is needed for healing to occur. What’s needed is grace, which can only be found in Jesus’ gospel. That grace provides the desire, motivation, and power to love God and others.
But rather than trying to explain this any better myself, I’m going to stop writing now and point you to Chapter 7 of Jared Wilson’s new book Gospel Wakefulness. I have not read a better description of gospel-driven sanctification anywhere else. So I asked Jared and his publisher (Crossway) if they would be willing to make it available to you for free, and they graciously agreed. This is the only place you’ll be able to find this right now. Enjoy. The rest of the book is just as good.