This Mystery

reflections on theology and life

Tag: behavior modification

Josh Harris: ‘Try hard’ is not good news

There seems to be a grow­ing intra­mural dis­cus­sion on the inter­net among those who say we must “try harder” to attain growth in holi­ness and those who say our growth in holi­ness comes from con­stantly return­ing to the Gospel — under­stand­ing that in Christ, it is fin­ished. I’m with the lat­ter camp; our stand­ing is not based on our per­for­mance and our growth is based in His com­pleted work.

Growth in holi­ness — pro­gres­sive sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion — is not a bat­tle to be fought in the flesh but in the strength of the Holy Spirit () in light of the Cross.

Check out this clip from Josh Har­ris as he makes the case:

HT: Tim Bris­ter


Are you so fool­ish? Hav­ing begun by the Spirit, are you now being per­fected by the flesh? (ESV)

Virgo: ‘The law always kills in the end’

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hear­ing with faith? Are you so fool­ish? Hav­ing begun by the Spirit, are you now being per­fected by the flesh? ()

The Spirit-Filled Church by Terry Virgo

The Spirit-Filled Church: Find­ing Your Place in God’s Purpose

We recently noted an ongo­ing dis­cus­sion about the effort we’re called to make in our sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion. I believe Scrip­ture tells us that although we can do things that look like sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion, if those actions are done in the flesh they are sim­ply behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion. It’s a change in the heart that is desired, not sim­ply an out­ward change in actions.

I’m cur­rently read­ing The Spirit-Filled Church: Find­ing Your Place in God’s Pur­pose, by Terry Virgo. Virgo takes this argu­ment one step fur­ther, show­ing us that using the law for sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion gives Satan the oppor­tu­nity to heap con­dem­na­tion on us. “The law always kills in the end,” Virgo notes.

This por­tion of The Spirit-Filled Church (avail­able for pre-order at Ama­zon and via Ama­zon in the U.K. here or world­wide from the U.K here) out­lines Virgo’s case. It’s in agree­ment with what we’re advo­cat­ing in our cur­rent Com­pleted by the Spirit series:

It is essen­tial for us con­stantly to rec­og­nize our death to law. It is no longer the basis for our rela­tion­ship with God and never will be. We are mar­ried to Christ and our ful­fil­ment as Chris­tians is bound up in our love rela­tion­ship with him.

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Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hear­ing with faith? Are you so fool­ish? Hav­ing begun by the Spirit, are you now being per­fected by the flesh? (ESV)

Sanctification, Gospel and Effort

Tug of war in 1920'sJustin Tay­lor brings our atten­tion to an online dia­logue between Kevin DeY­oung and Tul­lian Tchivid­jian on the effort we’re called to make in our sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion. Since that ties in with our cur­rent series, Com­pleted by the Spirit, I thought it would be good to visit the dis­cus­sion as it stands so far:

The two pas­tors agree that the indica­tive of the gospel and our jus­ti­fi­ca­tion in Christ must be the basis of our sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion. But I think the dif­fer­ence can be boiled down to the dif­fer­ence between action and ontol­ogy. At the risk of over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion, Kevin’s call is for us to “do” those things that are given to us as imper­a­tives, while Tullian’s call is for us to “rest in” the indica­tives so that the imper­a­tives flow from them.

Our view — and the one that will be explained in fur­ther posts in the Com­pleted by the Spirit series — is that Paul’s imper­a­tives are calls for us to “be who we already are.” We can do things that look like sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion but if those actions are done in the flesh, they are sim­ply behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion. It’s a change in the heart that is desired, not sim­ply an out­ward change in actions.

To grow in Christ’s image, we must engage in “the hard work of going back to the cer­tainty of our already secured par­don in Christ and hit­ting the refresh but­ton over and over,” as Tul­lian explains. It’s know­ing who we now are in Christ that gives us the free­dom to be that new creature.

Completed by the Spirit Part 4: The ‘Poverty of our Sanctification?’

This is the fourth part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

Measuring tapeDespite Paul’s warn­ings that the law arouses sin, many will point to the law as a prime mover in sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion, essen­tial to con­vict­ing us about our remain­ing sin and mea­sur­ing our growth in holi­ness. In doing so, they will attempt to draw a dis­tinc­tion between being “under the law” and fol­low­ing the law. For example:

This con­vict­ing use of the law is also crit­i­cal for the believer’s sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion, for it serves to pre­vent the res­ur­rec­tion of self-righteousness — that ungodly self-righteousness which is always prone to reassert itself even in the holi­est of saints. The believer con­tin­ues to live under the law as a life­long penitent.

This chas­ten­ing work of the law does not imply that the believer’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tion is ever dimin­ished or annulled. From the moment of regen­er­a­tion, his state before God is fixed and irrev­o­ca­ble. He is a new cre­ation in Christ Jesus (). He can never revert to a state of con­dem­na­tion nor lose his son­ship. Nev­er­the­less, the law exposes the ongo­ing poverty of his sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion on a daily basis. He learns that there is a law in his mem­bers such that when he would do good, evil is present with him (). He must repeat­edly con­demn him­self, deplore his wretched­ness, and cry daily for fresh appli­ca­tions of the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses from all sin (; ).[1]

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17 There­fore, if any­one is in Christ, he is a new cre­ation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (ESV)


21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. (ESV)


24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (ESV)


But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fel­low­ship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1:9

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fel­low­ship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1:9

If we con­fess our sins, he is faith­ful and just to for­give us our sins and to cleanse us from all unright­eous­ness. (ESV)

Tchividjian: Too Good To Be True

I enjoy read­ing Tul­lian Tchividjian’s blog because of his unwa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to the Gospel — not just in our jus­ti­fi­ca­tion but in our sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion. Many in the “reformed camp” can focus too strongly on our own wretched­ness and on law-based behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion in sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion, while instead we should be rely­ing on the fin­ished work of Christ and grow­ing in grace by behold­ing Christ. That sort of flesh-based attempt at sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion leads to despair and a los­ing bat­tle against sin — rather than the joy and vic­tory we’re called to have — as I am argu­ing in my cur­rent series, Com­pleted by the Spirit.

Today, Tchivid­jian writes about his new ser­mon series enti­tled “Pic­tures of Grace:”

What the Phar­isee, the pros­ti­tute, and all of us need to remem­ber every day is that Christ offers for­give­ness full and free from both our self-righteous good­ness and our unright­eous bad­ness. This is the hard­est thing for us to believe as Chris­tians. We think it’s a mark of spir­i­tual matu­rity to hang onto our guilt and shame. We’ve sickly con­cluded that the worse we feel, the bet­ter we actu­ally are.

A friend refers to that feel­ing of guilt and shame as “Protes­tant penance.” Christ’s for­give­ness removes that shame. Under­stand­ing that grows us in the knowl­edge and like­ness of Him.

Orig­i­nal post: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2011/05/24/too-good-to-be-true/

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