Paul’s great theme in his greatest book is how to be freed from sin (Romans 6.7). We all of us have loads of it (Romans 3.10, 23). How are we freed from that sin? How do we become righteous? Via belief. That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation (Romans 10.9-10).
Romans is not, however, only occupied with the idea of what saves or rescues us from the penalty of our sin – hell – and takes us to Heaven. It is also occupied with what enables us to live above sin in this life right now. It is just as much occupied with freeing us from the doing of sin as it is freeing us from the consequences of the doing of sin. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life (Romans 6.22).
Succinctly summarized, Paul says, “If you aren’t saved, get saved. If you are saved, get holy.” And in either case the means/method is the same: faith. We are spiritually birthed by faith; we continue on in that new life by faith. We live by faith.
Paul himself summarized more elegantly than I when he penned Romans 1.16-17. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. It is the gospel, Christ displayed triumphant in His death, burial, and resurrection. That gospel is the power of God unto salvation, the only cure that can overpower sin. That gospel is available to every one that believeth, the means of applying the cure. Therein – in the gospel – is the righteousness of God revealed. How so? God’s righteousness is revealed in Jesus’ holiness and God’s wrath, and it is revealed more directly in my life as the means of my becoming righteous and obtaining righteousness. The means of this two-fold righteousness being applied to my life is faith. It is from faith – we are saved by faith – to faith – living a life of dependence upon the Lord as we grow in likeness to Christ. Ergo, the just shall live by faith. We become alive by faith and we become like Christ by faith.
It can be accurately said that faith in Christ brings us two things. First, it brings us salvation and, second, it brings us holiness. Initially, we are saved from hell and granted a positional righteousness. Immediately following, we are freed from the dominion of sin in our lives, and gradually we grow in practical righteousness.
We see, then, an unvarnished truth. The Christian life that must be birthed by faith can also only be well lived by faith. I do not begin in faith and continue in works. Does the Christian life contain good works? Yea, verily, in numberless multiplicity. But they are not done in order to obtain salvation for we already have that salvation. Nor are they done in order to obtain holiness. Good works are a necessary ingredient in a holy life, but those good works must be done while relying upon the Lord. We cannot do them in our own strength. We must depend upon Christ just as much in the doing of our good works, in living out a sanctified life as we did to enter into that life via the new birth to begin with.
Thus it is we see the magnificent clarity of Paul’s phrasing in Romans 1.17. Those who are justified must live by faith. We must live from faith to faith, faith to get saved, faith to live out the fullness of that salvation.
For many years, our fireplace in the home in which I grew up was graced by two cane-bottomed chairs. More decorative than functional, nevertheless, they occasionally were pressed into service when hospitality demanded it via a plethora of guests. I sat in them a time or two as a young man, but I would never sit in them now. Why? Because I stepped on the scale this morning and I know better. I will put no weight in them for I do not believe they will hold me up.
I have given you several definitions for faith in this blog series and we have now stumbled across yet another one. Faith is putting all your weight on something. If you came across me in a grocery store aisle and I was on crutches you would assume something had happened to my legs. Why else would I need some help to support me? Yet if I stood there on my crutches and blithely assured you there was nothing wrong with my legs you would be rightly suspicious. Just so, I am rightly suspicious when a Catholic theologian tells me he is really trusting in Christ alone for salvation. If that is the case, why all the massive institutional demand that people place themselves on the crutches of good works? No, beloved, if you are trusting in Christ alone for salvation all of your weight has to be placed just in Him. You cannot trust Christ and trust your church, your priest, your pastor, or your own good works in order to obtain justification at the very same time. It is only faith and faith in Christ only that accesses the grace of God to save us.
In the chair illustration we thus see faith for salvation. Let me offer you a second illustration to picture the faith necessary for sanctification. Years ago, in some sermon or other, I heard a preacher waxing eloquent about his mistaken efforts to become like Christ. He pictured himself as an artist whose desperate brush strokes entirely failed at painting the image of Christ onto his life. It dawned on him one day that his mental image was mistaken. He was not the artist; he was the canvas. The Holy Spirit was the artist, and it was His job to paint the picture of Christ on the canvas of his life.
That preacher’s illustration, well helpful, was incomplete. In and of itself, it can lead to quietism and passivity when the truth is God repeatedly calls us to fight, to labor, to work. I do think he was right though that you and I are not the artist. That is most definitely the Holy Spirit. But we are more than just the canvas; we are also the brush. Having been freed from sin, we are now free to choose to whom we will yield the control of that brush – to sin or to righteousness, to God or the devil, to the lust of the Spirit or the lust of the flesh. The brush cannot paint the image of Christ on the canvas of our lives in and of itself. It must yield itself in entire dependence on the Spirit to paint what and when and how He will. And when you and I yield ourselves in dependence upon God He uses us to write His will into our hearts and lives.
Romans 6. 16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?
17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
19 I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.
20 For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.
21 What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.
22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
|Young Painter at His Easel|
by Theodore Gericault, c 1820
In either case – salvation or sanctification – it is by faith. It is from faith to faith. It is being birthed into the Christian life by faith; it is continuing to live out the day to day Christian life of holiness by faith. It is living by faith.
Have you begun in faith yet? I trust the answer is yes, that you have placed your faith alone in Christ to save you from your sin. Then continue on in faith. Yield yourself to the Lord and let Him do His will through you. Rely upon Him in faith to help you to tell the truth, to live a life of purity, to put down the bottle, to love your wife like Christ loves the church, to give to missions, and to do a thousand other things. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Galatians 2.20).Live by faith. Live from faith to faith.