The Potter’s House: Romans 8:14-39; Assurance and Aggressive Sanctification
Spiritually Healthy Christians Must Know That They Are Secure Slaves
This message will be the last in our commentary, The Gospel: Clarity in Confusing Times; Volume One. Volume one covers the first half of Romans. Starting in chapter nine the apostle Paul clarifies the truth about Israel in eschatology. In chapter twelve Paul begins to explain the life application of truth. He finishes Romans with that subject.
Our last message in the first volume covers Romans 8:14-39 which completes chapter eight. Paul states the following in verse 8:14-17;
14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
It is absolutely critical that healthy, strong Christians know without a doubt that they are on their way to heaven. Eternal security is paramount to effective sanctification. I realize many Christians struggle with security, and the Bible seems to indicate that for whatever reason, some will suffer from chronic doubt. But in most cases doubt is the result of weak leadership and weak sanctification. I believe most Christians want to see things happening in their lives and the lives of others. I believe Christians long to see the power of God manifested. In fact, we are to work out our own salvation with trembling and fear (PHIL 2:12-13), and I believe that is a fear from seeing the power of God being worked out in our lives. It can be a fearful thing to realize that you are in the same rowboat with God. Sometimes we fantasize that God is doing some unbelievable work in our lives, but He actually wants to do more than we could ever imagine (EPH 1:18-20).
Let’s face it: people aren’t being saved, and the ones who are being saved stop changing after the honeymoon. We are all nice enough as compared to the world, but every week that we see each other we are the same nice people that we saw last week. In other words, we are boring and the world knows we are boring. Where there is life there is change. The world isn’t stupid; if we are not changing more than them we don’t have any life either. But all Christians are given the same power that raised Christ from the grave (Ibid). This is a matter of wise, aggressive sanctification that appropriates that power. Hence, God’s word teaches us all of the necessary facets of this diamond in the rough.
It starts with getting people signed up correctly. Life insurance salesmen are boring. People rarely like to meet with them. Canned gospel presentations that offer eternal life in exchange for a cheap prayer doesn’t seem quite right to intelligent heathens. Many heathens are more intelligent than we are; therefore, we should go to them with the mind of Christ. We need to tell them that if they believe on the atoning works of Christ alone, God will impute His righteousness to them and impute their sin to the penalty paid in full by Christ. Then, God will give them the gift of the Holy Spirit who will enslave their minds to the law. It’s a gift by faith alone, but it will result in their minds being enslaved to God’s law. If they don’t want to be enslaved to God’s law—God will not save them. They are choosing to remain a slave to sin and the fear that comes with it. Why? We learned in earlier studies in our Romans series that the works of the law are written on the hearts of every individual born into the world. Their consciences either accuse or excuse based on that law. That’s why mankind is not totally depraved. They have a conscience guided by God’s intuitive word. But as we also learned, they are enslaved to sin, under the law, and will be judged by the law. In fact, the law that they will be judged by provokes their sinful nature to sin. Salvation puts that man to death with Christ, imputes to him/her a righteousness apart from the law, frees him/her from any judgment of the law, and resurrects him/her to a new life that is enslaved to the law (ROM 7:25).
When I became a believer, a struggle that haunted me for years ensued. I knew I was saved whether I kept the law or not. I knew that I wasn’t saved by works. But yet, I was disturbed by the fact that obeying God’s law was so important to me. I feared this urgency came from the fact that I was functioning by works salvation. I feared that I was assenting mentally to grace by faith alone, but functioning by works salvation. I feared that I was only giving a tacit nod to grace by faith alone while actually living by works. Here is what I didn’t understand: that wasn’t the case at all; the fact is that my mind was (and still is) enslaved to the law. My obsession with obeying the law was due to being a new creature. My misunderstanding of this crippled my walk with God for years.
Then, when I did understand that, my concern turned to how “powerless” I was to obey. Where is all of this new creaturehood? Why do I sin so much? Why do I keep committing the same sins? This was due to the fact that I was unaware that the Bible has much to say about how we overcome sin. It is a hearty endeavor that includes many, many different subjects. I was trying to do the right thing the wrong way. Many Christians who don’t understand the aggressive nature of sanctification eventually give up and lose hope. Teaching and leading the saints in aggressive sanctification is the premiere failure of the pastorate in our day. If not antinomian, most Christians live by biblical generalities. Most cannot state specifically how the word of God has changed their life in the past month. Many cannot remember the last time that the word of God made a marked difference in their lives.
But part and parcel with aggressive sanctification is suffering; specifically, suffering for righteousness sake. Paul states that we cannot “fall” back into the old spirit running the show resulting in fear of judgment. The apostle John stated that fear has to do with judgment (1JN 4:18). Paul writes that we are heirs, and the Holy Spirit testifies with us (not to us) that we are the sons of God. And then Paul adds the following: “provided we suffer with Him.” What is this suffering? Apart from the joy and hope we have in salvation, Paul is referring to the suffering in our fight against sin in our flesh. This harkens back to Romans 7:21-25 specifically:
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
As in a previous study, we will take note of the word “wretched.” Note the reference below if you would:
g5005. ταλαιπωροσ talaiporos; from the base of 5007 and a derivative of the base of 3984; enduring trial, i. e. miserable:— wretched. AV (2)- wretched 2; enduring toils and troubles afflicted, wretched.
Paul is saying that we are afflicted as we endure in our battle against sin in our flesh. It’s an affliction. Though the old us is dead, somehow, sin still lives in our mortal flesh. It can no longer enslave us, but it can attack us in various and sundry ways as it still has access to our intellect and emotions. Its power is still significant, and it is tenacious to the point where it even wages war against the indwelling Holy Spirit (GAL 5:16). This is the suffering Paul is talking about.
Paul continues on this point and compares our oppression from sin to how creation is also oppressed by the curse of sin. Unbelievers do not experience this suffering. That’s Paul’s point in verses 15-17—this suffering is evidence of our salvation—this suffering should give us assurance and stoke an eager anticipation for the return of Christ. Creation also groans and eagerly anticipates the return of Christ as well. Having the firstfruits of the Sprit makes us groan for redemption:
Romans 8:18 – For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
We are in warfare together with the indwelling Holy Spirit against the sin of our flesh and the sin in the world. With the Holy Spirit, we are putting to death the deeds of the flesh (ROM 8:13). Look how Paul begins verse 26. He begins with “likewise.” Likewise what? Well, Paul just finished speaking of us groaning together with creation in our suffering because of sin. Likewise, the Holy Spirit groans also. In His great love for us, he helps us in many ways as we fight together. He intercedes for us by prayer in groaning that is too deep for words. Other Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is also grieved by our failures in fighting the good fight against sin. Here is how Paul states it:
Romans 8:26 – Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We are exhorted to grieve not the Holy Spirit who has sealed us until the day of redemption (EPH 4:30). In other words, the Holy Spirit is already suffering for our sanctification in ways that are beyond words—far be it from us to add to His suffering via spiritual laziness, indifference, or outright sin. Is it just me, or are these deep sanctification matters little talked about in our day? Do we experience warfare with our flesh and the world alongside the Holy Spirit? Are we putting to death the deeds of the flesh with the Spirit’s help daily? Are we changing? One thing is for certain, experiencing the aforementioned to any degree excludes doubt. Paul is sharing how this struggle with sin is actually experienced. To the contrary, this experience (it well vary in intensity among Christians) should not cause us to doubt, but should give us assurance. It is indicative of a gift that comes with salvation: love for the truth.
2Thessalonians 2:9 – The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Do you take pleasure in unrighteousness? If not, this should be one of many things that give you assurance. But even with that, learning to hate unrightousness may be one of the ways you need to change. Even you secretly desire certain sins, the Bible states that you can learn to hate them. Sanctification is a many-faceted issue but we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
Let me once more reiterate our major theme here: eternal security is crucial for healthy sanctification. Aggressiveness and hesitation are mismatched colaborers. Paul points out that those born of the Spirit should experience sanctification in a certain way because we are new creatures in the Holy Spirit. He also explains why we still struggle with sin. Now he moves on to other facts that should bolster our assurance:
Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
I am not sure that Paul had this in mind when he penned these words, but past regret is also a poor motivator in sanctification. Susan and I often bemoan the fact that we have found each other late in life and have a pretty good marriage because of what we have learned over the years. Just think of what we could have done for the Lord and what our lives could have been if we had found each other earlier. But this isn’t exactly true. Note what Paul states once again:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Susan and I have a pretty focused life and know where we want to go with it, but the fact is, we get it because of the prior years and what we experienced. It probably took that many years because we have remembrance issues. Remembering what God has taught us in the past to be better in the future is a major, major theme in the Bible. We have enough of the old stubbornness in us to warrant many years of hammering for remembrance purposes. Nevertheless, God works all of life into His plan for us and the grand goal is guaranteed. Susan and I have deep convictions that drive us, but our past lives have a lot to do with that. We could have had longer years together for God’s glory, but what about quality? Those years should also translate into a call of duty. When God has gifted us with many years, it is our duty to take those years that God has worked for our good and apply what we have learned to what years we have left—God has always been at work, and He is always working for our good.
Now, verses 29 and 30 are paramount to our secure standing. They are also paramount to healthy sanctification. First and foremost, these verses teach us that Scripture is applicable. What’s that mean? It’s primarily for life application. The power is in the doing. If you doubt that, read James 1:25 and Mathew 7: 24-27. Doing leads to a blessed life built on a rock. But how can we be aggressive in doing without fear that we are somehow trying to earn our salvation? This is the importance of verses 29 and 30. There is nothing we can do to work towards our salvation because we were saved before creation. The glorification we groan for is also spoken of in the past tense. It’s like the contemporary maxim, “It’s as good as done.” Predestination is key to eternal security—it’s applicable to our security, but that’s where it stops, and indeed, that is the context of which Paul presents predestination—in the context of eternal security. We are not to draw logical conclusions from predestination in order to form a modus operandi for aggressive sanctification; it will hinder aggressive sanctification. Predestination is meant to fuel aggressive sanctification, not render it to various forms of determinism. The Scriptures are absolutely clear: healthy sanctification depends on our aggressive involvement. Predestination is clearly a paradox and a mystery that we will not understand until we reach heaven. It is the sole resident justification.
These verses emphasize the critical issue of keeping justification and sanctification completely separate. Justification is a finished Trinitarian work, and sanctification is a progressive Trinitarian work. The fact that Paul excludes our Christian walk from these verses is the foundation of our assurance. Our glorification was predetermined before creation. It is clear as well that we are to evangelize like it depends on us, and I think it does depend on us. I have seen this paradox at work in reality many times. We evangelize the way the apostle Paul evangelized. Clearly, he did so as though it depended on his zealous goal to do it right. Clearly, method matters. But yet, when one is saved, we quickly give God all the glory. Both are true. How will people be saved if nobody preaches the gospel?
Romans 10:14 – How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
That’s true before people get saved, Romans 8:29-30 are true after people get saved, but both are true. Read the Scriptures for yourselves—this is the mindset of every evangelist from Genesis to Revelation. And here is the great caution of our day: notice in the passage we just read that in verse 17 we have, “the word of Christ” (ESV). What we call the Received Text manuscripts have that as “the word of God.” We have to be careful because most translations of our day came out of the Reformation era which was heavily influenced by Gnostic ideas that resulted in a Christocentric hermeneutic. This aberration is but one of hundreds of examples. Why is that important? Because Gnostic ideas create gospels that fuse justification and sanctification together. In other words, sanctification finishes justification.
That’s a disaster because we are involved in sanctification. This makes sanctification a minefield because now the same justification that saved us sanctifies us and if we are not sanctified the same way we were justified—we don’t get glorification. Therefore, in the minds of the Reformers, we have to be sanctified by faith alone; i.e., the same way we were justified. Hence, they devised a complicated formula for what is not works in sanctification, and what is works in sanctification so that our workless sanctification can finish our justification by faith alone. Many of the Reformers believed that we are elected to get into the race for salvation, but we can be disqualified from the race by running unlawfully; i.e., running by law and not grace. Bottom line: you can lose your salvation. Be sure of this: the focus is therefore on making sure that we are running the race by faith alone and not matters of aggressive sanctification. This has always been the crux of anemic Western Christianity. Worse yet, because we are saved by the Bachman-Turner-Overdrive gospel (“we work hard at doing nothing all day”), Gnosticism is really the only thing left that can be applied because supposedly meditation is not a work.
This perpetual resalvation concept is common in many protestant denominations—the continual reapplication of the same things that saved us in order to get ourselves to heaven. Calvinism is a prime example, but there are many others such as the Freewill Baptist. Based on 1John 1:9: the same repentance that saved us also sanctifies us, and gets us safely to heaven. “If” we ask forgiveness for known sin—only then are we forgiven. You can slip a playing card between this and Calvinism’s deep repentance. However, this is debunked by Christ’s lesson in John 13. Christ taught there that we are “washed” (justification) and that repentance in sanctification is a washing of the feet. He stated that believers have already been washed. Justification is a finished work and nothing we can do in sanctification can affect that. Based on this very fact in verse 29 and 30, Paul states the following:
Romans 8:31 – What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Our salvation is sealed. We are new creatures. This world cannot touch us. We have hope. Justification is a finished issue with us. We are to move from the cross and onward toward maturity in the Spirit’s wisdom and help. In volume 2, as kingdom citizens, we will learn how Israel should be thought of in the kingdom schema and application of God’s truth to our Christian living. This is an aggressive application to our Christian walk free from the fear that we will improperly use the law in a way that will void grace.
There can be no fear in that because our salvation is sealed and apart from the law.