Following is an excerpt from an article in the July/August, 2006 issue of Modern Reformation Magazine. This magazine, and it’s sister radio show, The White Horse Inn, are sources for my regular theological nourishment. In the year 2006, they’ve been conducting a “Romans Revolution,” emphasizing the fact that many significant spiritual awakenings have been sparked by a rediscovery of the truth of justification by faith as taught in Paul’s most systematic presentation of the gospel, the book of Romans. In Romans 7, Paul highlights the struggle between our indwelling sin and the new life of the Spirit which compete for our compliance. How do we deal with the struggle most effectively? Realize that even though our strides in sanctification are often few and far between, our justification freely given to us on account of Christ will not only comfort us, but give us the hope to get back in the fray with the flesh!
. . . in Romans 8:1, Paul assures us that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” So, Romans 7:4 and 8:1 say essentially the same thing: God does not look on our struggles against indwelling sin with an attitude of condemnation and judgment because the condemning power of his law has been forever dealt with by Christ.
So in the midst of our struggle with indwelling sin, we must continually keep our focus on the gospel (emphasis mine). We must always go back to the truth that even in the face of the fact that so often “I do not do the good that I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (v. 19), there is no condemnation. God no longer counts our sin agaist us (Romans 4:8).
Or, to say it another way, God wants us to find our primary joy in our objectively declared justification, not in our subjectively perceived sanctification (emphasis mine). Regardless of how much progress we make in our pursuit of holiness, it will never come close to the absolute perfect righteousness of Christ that is ours through our union with him in his life and death.
So we should learn to live with the discomfort of the justified life. We should accept the fact that as a still-growing Christian, we will always be dissatisfied with our sanctification. But at the same time, we should remember that in Christ we are justified. We are righteous in him. There is the familiar play on the word “justification,” which means “just as if I’d never sinned.” But there is another way of saying that which is even better: justification means “just as if I’d always obeyed.” That’s the way we stand before God–clothed in the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. And that’s the way we can live with the discomfort of the justified life.