Sanctification: Quit Trying and Start Trusting
The Christian life is a source of great perplexity to both sinner and saint. The unregenerate man in the pew hears the gospel and has the intelligence to realize that it is far better to be saved than lost but says to himself, “I can’t live the life. If I could, I would become a Christian today. However, I refuse to become a hypocrite. Therefore, I refuse to give myself to Christ and become a Christian until I know I can live the life.” Of course, he can never live the life. Thus he rejects Christ and stumbles over the Christian life into hell.
The child of God who has had a genuine conversion can also find the Christian life very perplexing. So many (out of gratitude and in appreciation for the justification they have received through the grace of God) promise God an all-out effort to try to live the Christian life. And try they do! and fail! And try again! and fail! After a long series of efforts and failures, disappointment grows into deep frustration and discouragement [Rom. 7:24].
At this point of spiritual crisis in the Christian’s life one of two positions is usually taken. The first is the position of the quitter. He says, “I have tried and have failed. I shall quit and leave it to those who are able.” Thus some 60 percent of Southern Baptists on church rolls never attend. Perhaps many of these have never had a saving encounter with Jesus Christ, however, I do believe many have and simply failed in their efforts to live the Christian life. Now these have taken the position of the quitter.
The other position is that of the discoverer. He discovers that God’s way is not that of trying but trusting and enters into a glorious experience of Christian living. But how does one trust for sanctification as he does for salvation?
First, let me confront you with the fact that you cannot live the Christian life! The Christian life is a supernatural and miraculous life! And you cannot produce the supernatural. You cannot produce the miraculous. In fact, let me mention two other miracles which you cannot produce. The Christian life is bordered by two miraculous events: conversion and resurrection.
On the front end of Christian experience is conversion. On the back end is resurrection. Could you stand and say, “I have been converted, but I did not do it. God did it. Conversion is a supernatural and miraculous work of God! I trusted myself to the Lord, and he produced the miracle of my salvation” [John 3:14-18]. On the other hand would you dare to stand and say, “When I die and they bury me, my body shall lie in the grave until the resurrection, at which time I shall come forth from the dead, and I shall do it myself? I am going to produce my own resurrection.” No? Then what would you say? Would you not say, “I shall come forth from the grave, but God will raise me from the dead? Resurrection is a supernatural and miraculous work of God, not man. He will do it” [Phil. 3:20,21].
This being so, you are scripturally correct on conversion and resurrection. What about the middle miracle? What about the miracle of the Christian life? This life certainly is a miracle life. Should you have any doubt regarding this, just read the Sermon on the Mount which deals with the Christian life and particularly Matthew 5:44. This verse deals with a part of the Christian life which involves loving your enemies, blessing people who curse you, doing good to people who hate you and praying for those who despitefully use you. Can you do this? Is this not a miraculous reaction to adverse action?
You may try but only in vain. You have about as much chance of producing this middle miracle, the miracle of the Christian life, as I would of teaching a billy goat not to butt by instructing him in a thirty-minute lecture … Nor can you make your flesh spiritual by telling it not to be fleshly but to be spiritual.
You may discipline your flesh and lecture your flesh but it is still flesh. And Jesus said, “That which is flesh is flesh and that which is spirit is spirit” [John 3:6]. You can never spiritualize the flesh. Paul said, “In my flesh is no good thing” [Rom. 7:18]. In other words, you cannot possibly produce the Christian life by whipping the flesh into line. It cannot be produced by self-effort and will power no matter how hard you try.
Now let me hasten to say that the Christian life can be lived. It can be produced. I did not at any time say that it cannot be lived. It is being lived today. But only by one person! And who is that? The one whose life it is–Jesus Christ! Here is “the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints … which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:26-27). He will be glad to live his life in and through all who will stop trying to imitate him and start trusting him to reproduce his life in them.
Colossians 2:6 says, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.” You did not receive him by “trying” and you do not walk in him by “trying.” Faith is simply trust or reliance upon. How sad that so many Christians who have learned the difference between trying and trusting in the area of justification have not learned the difference in the area of sanctification, or Christian living. They are trying to do that which only Jesus can do by his life in them as surely as the sinner who tries to save himself by good works is trying to do that which only Jesus can do by his death for him [Rom. 10:3,4]. The death of Jesus Christ for us affords us reconciliation. The life of Jesus Christ within us affords us sanctification [Rom. 5:8,10]. Both are ours by faith [Gal. 5:5,6,22,23]…
[During a week of revival meetings, five young men–who looked more at home in a night club than a church–attended the meetings but did not respond to the invitation for salvation…]
To my amazement, the next afternoon there was a knock at my door, and there stood Ronnie, their leader. I invited Ronnie into my motel room. He said, “Brother Mike, I want to be saved.” I replied, “Ronnie, that is wonderful. I have prayed for this. Sit down.” But he stood there and said, “But I have a problem.” I replied, “What is it?” He answered, “I can’t live the life. I wanted to come forward on the invitation the first night but thought to myself, ‘I won’t be able to live it. I’ll go out with the fellows and live as I always have. I will only be a hypocrite. So I’m not going to until I can live it.’ And that is my problem.” In answer to this, I replied, “Well, Ronnie, I suppose you will never be saved.” There was a long pause. He replied in astonishment, “Is that all you have to say?” “Yes,” I said. “That is all. You will never be saved because you will never be able to live it.” He was obviously stunned and said, “Aren’t you going to help me?” “I cannot help you,” I replied. “If you have decided to wait until you can live the Christian life, it is a hopeless situation because you will never be able to live it.”
He looked almost ill. When I thought he was ready, I gave him the solution. It was necessary to say it only once. “Ronnie,” I asked, “Did you not know that if you receive the Lord Jesus, he will not only forgive your sin, save your soul, and take you to heaven when you die, but he will take up residence within you and, if you yield to him your life and trust him with it, he will live out through you the life he expects of you?” Ronnie did not reply “would you please elaborate and explain that in greater detail.” He simply said, “Do you mean it?” and before I could reply, he was on his knees. I dropped to my knees beside him and heard him pray this prayer: “0 Lord, I knew you could forgive my sin and save my soul and take me to heaven when I died. But I didn’t get this about you living in me the life you expect of me. I see it! I see it! Dear Jesus, please come into my life now. Forgive me. Save me. Begin living your life in me now. I yield this life to you.”
Forgetting that I was in the room with him and in the consciousness only of the Lord Jesus, that young man jumped up and dashed out into the street. He rushed to his buddies and told them what had happened. He told them how Jesus had not only saved his soul but how he had promised to live in and through him his own wonderful life. He encouraged them to let the Lord do the same for them. That evening all five were in the service again. When the invitation was given, all five moved down the aisle together professing their faith in Christ. They …[also] went out to lead more than twenty young people to Christ before that week ended.
…[a year later] The pastor verified that Ronnie had been the most dynamic young Christian of his acquaintance ..[and] that his life was truly a miraculous manifestation of the “Christ life.” As Ronnie had walked in fellowship with and dependence upon the Lord Jesus, the Lord had truly lived his life out through that young man.
Do you think you could trust Jesus with your life [today] as well as with your soul? If he can save your soul, can he not save your life? In this “do it yourself” generation, here is one area where that philosophy will not work. God shows us that his way for salvation and sanctification is to “quit trying and start trusting.”
This article is an excerpt from The Way of Victory, (Revival Fires), ed. Manley Beasley, p. 52-57.
Bracketed Scripture references, outline titles and italics added – JBW
The Bible Project has created many animated biblical overview videos. Here’s one surveying the Epistle to the Colossians.