Sanctification – Not Under the Law but Under Grace

by Mike Ratliff

1ουδεν αρα νυν κατακριμα τοις εν χριστω ιησου 2ο γαρ νομος του πνευματος της ζωης εν χριστω ιησου ηλευθερωσεν σε απο του νομου της αμαρτιας και του θανατου 3το γαρ αδυνατον του νομου εν ω ησθενει δια της σαρκος ο θεος τον εαυτου υιον πεμψας εν ομοιωματι σαρκος αμαρτιας και περι αμαρτιας κατεκρινεν την αμαρτιαν εν τη σαρκι 4ινα το δικαιωμα του νομου πληρωθη εν ημιν τοις μη κατα σαρκα περιπατουσιν αλλα κατα πνευμα (Romans 8:1-4 WHNU)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4 ESV)

Those who hold to a from of Christianity that does not honor God and His holiness by their downplaying the necessity of walking in repentance have abandoned humble obedience in favor of self-focused license. I saw a video of some of Brian McLaren’s unbiblical teachings all given one after the other. He has a problem with Penal Substitution. He wants Christians to believe Romans 8:1, but ignore Romans 8:2-4, which explains what Christ did for His people at the Cross and why this is the only way it could be done. This is the danger of ripping scripture out of context. For a proper understanding of Romans 8:1-4 we must also understand Romans 7:1-25.

The first thing we must understand about the nature of God’s Law and our salvation is found in Romans 7:1-6, which explains that Christians have been released from the Law.

Or do you not know, brothers–for I am speaking to those who know the law–that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:1-6 ESV)

The KJV renders v1 as, “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?” The phrase “hath dominion over” is the Greek word κυριευει. This refers to jurisdiction. No matter how serious a person’s crimes have been, he or she is no longer subject to prosecution or punishment after death. That is why if find it so strange when I read of King Charles II of England, once he was established as king, having Oliver Cromwell’s body dug up and decapitated in revenge for his father’s (Charles I) execution. Also, the Roman Catholics of the 15th Century had John Wycliffe’s body exhumed, excommunicated, and burned for the crime of publishing a Bible in English. In any case, Paul uses this analogy of a woman’s release from marriage to one man when he dies to show us that Christians have been released from the Law because they have died in the body of Christ. This releases them all from the law from κυριευει them. Why? They belong to another, the Lord Jesus Christ, who has been raised from the dead. This dying in the body of Christ and being resurrected unto this new life in Christ enables Christians to bear fruit for God. They are now enabled to serve in the new way of the Spirit instead of in the Law.

The second thing we must understand about the nature of God’s Law and our salvation is found in Romans 7:7-13, which explains that the Law convicts both unbelievers and believers of sin.

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. (Romans 7:7-13 ESV)

God’s Law teaches us what sin is. Through Paul’s example, we see how insidious the sin that lives within is when we try to keep God’s Law. This enemy within deceives us into believing we should expect life from keeping of the law. This lie tells us that we are acceptable to God because of our own merit and good works. Instead, God’s Law reveals to us His standard of holiness and righteousness and that we are completely incapable of conforming to it. This is why it is critical to preach both the Law and the Gospel together. This is used by God to plow the heart, revealing the truth about our lostness and utter depravity in light of God’s good and perfect Law. Then, as this conviction takes hold, we share the Good News.

The third thing we must understand about the nature of God’s Law and our salvation is found in Romans 7:14-25, which explains that it cannot deliver a believer from sin.

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 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. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 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. (Romans 7:14-25 ESV)

I had a seminary student berate me one day in a Christian bookstore as we discussed this passage. He was very upset with me for my stance that this passage describes a genuine believer’s desire to obey God’s Law while hating their sin. He was sure it described an unregenerate person. The following is an excerpt from The MacArthur Bible Commentary pp. 1527-1528.

Some interpret this chronicle of Paul’s inner conflict as describing his life before Christ. They point out that Paul describes the person as “sold under sin” (v. 14); as having “nothing good” in him (v.18); as a “wretched man” trapped in a “body of death” (v. 24). Those descriptions seem to contradict the way Paul describes the believer in chapter 6 (cf. vv. 2, 6, 7, 11, 17, 18, 22). However, it is correct to understand Paul here to be speaking about a believer. This person desires to obey God’s Law and hates his sin (vv. 15, 19, 21); he is humble, recognizing that nothing good dwells in his humanness (v. 18); he sees sin in himself, but not as all that is there (vv. 17, 20-22); and he serves Jesus Christ with his mind (v. 25). Paul has already established that none of those attitudes ever describe the unsaved (cf. 1:18-21, 32; 3:10-20). Paul’s use of present tense verbs in verses 14-25 strongly supports the idea that he is describing his life currently as a Christian. For those reasons, it seems certain that chapter 7 describes a believer. However, of those who agree that this is a believer, there is still disagreement. Some see a carnal, fleshly Christian; others a legalistic Christian, frustrated by his feeble attempts in his own power to please God by keeping the Mosaic Law. But the personal pronoun “I” refers to the apostle Paul, a standard of spiritual health and maturity. So in verses 14-25, Paul must be describing all Christians—even the most spiritual and mature—who, when they honestly evaluate themselves against the righteous standard of God’s Law, realize how far short they fall. He does so in a series of four laments (vv. 14-17, 18-20, 21-23, 24, 25).

I agree with this. I have found that my own personal journey to the Celestial City on the narrow, difficult, straight way can be agonizing at times as I see how far I am from the standard of God’s Law. I struggle with humility. I struggle with covetousness. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life all attack me. Because of this, I deeply desire to be free from this body of death and be in the presence of my Lord. However, then I read Romans 8:1-4.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4 ESV)

Paul makes it clear that the requirement of the Law is fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. The main verb in v4 is “fulfilled.” This is the Greek word πληρωθη. This describes a filling to a full complement, as a net with fish in a completely satisfying way. In other words, this fulfillment of the righteous requirement of the law left nothing undone. There is a participle in this verse as well that is dependant upon this verb. It is περιπατουσιν and is translated in the ESV as “who walk.” It is in present tense and active mood. This means that those who walk according to the Spirit as a way of life, that is with continuous or repeated action, are the same ones in whom God’s righteousness is fulfilled. On the other hand, those who walk according to the flesh as a way of life prove that they are not genuine Christians.

To fully understand what this is saying we must look back at Paul’s entire exposition of our Sanctification, which started in Romans 6. Paul’s personal example in Romans 7 is a very special help to us my brethren because the righteousness in 8:4 is that imputed to all who are in Christ, manifests itself in those who possess it in their walking according to the Spirit. However, as we saw in Romans 7, even Paul felt entirely inadequate in his own Sanctification. This is part of it my brethren. I am convinced that our Sanctification will never bring us to a place of self-satisfaction or to a place of believing that we have attained to ultimate perfection. No, that is not for those in these bodies of death.

Soli Deo Gloria!

41 thoughts on “Sanctification – Not Under the Law but Under Grace

  1. Mike,

    Great Post! I love it! The title is right on…. our sanctification is not under the law but under grace.

    One sentence I was having a tough time with: “Paul makes it clear that the requirement of the Law is fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. The main verb in v4 is “fulfilled.”

    The scripture of Romans 8 says that Gods son, Jesus, was the fulfillment of the law. It is the response to this great sacrifice (justification) that we have any desire to remove sin and follow God (sanctification). The sanctification is just a continuation of what He did for us on the Cross to the regenerate.

    The verses you quoted shows us that Jesus is an object of confidence to sinners who are struggling against their flesh to be sanctified in the likeness of Christ.

    Amen! Great Post!

  2. I take that back actually. :-)

    Actually to be more accurate it says Christ Jesus set us free from the law.

    And I agree it hinges on the word fulfilled. Scripture reminds us that we fulfill ourselves with many things other than the Spirit in our sanctification.

    Good Post!

  3. Jon, yes it does all hinge on the fulfillment of God imputing Christ’s righteousness to those who are in Him, but what do you mean that we “fulfill ourselves with many things other than the Spirit in our sanctification”? If you mean that we make mistakes and go after self-fulfillment rather than God’s glory then I agree…

  4. Nice going, Mike!

    I like how you bring us back to Romans 6. I particularly like the sentence right after, “By no means! How can we who have died to sin still live in it?

    St. Paul explains how it is that we have dies to sin.

    Not by our efforts. Not by imagining that we have. (because we still do sin – Rom. 7)

    But by something that God has done for us…in our baptism.

    Romans 6:3 “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”

    “…who have been baptized…” God does the baptizing. God puts our old sinful self to death in the waters of baptism.

    Verse 4 “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

    Romans 6 has got to be one of my favorite Bible passages.

    Paul shows us how God accomplishes (not us) death and resurrection in us so that we can die and be re-born again.

    Great stuff, Mike! Thanks for highlighting it!

    – Steve M.

  5. Thats exactly what I mean Mike. If your want to go a step further …past mistakes … scripture outlines many of the worldly idols that we fulfill ourselves with outside of Gods plan for us and outside of Gods Word. This process does not stop discretely once we are justified but we continue to learn to identify these idols over our lifetime till we get to heaven.

    I actually prefer to discuss sin as an idolatrous form of behavior because most Christian sin comes from putting something before God (commandment #1). Idolatry tends to discuss the heart where sin discussions, quite often, only address the behavior.

  6. Steve, yes, John Calvin said that our “hearts” are idol factories. This is why the “new way” of walking, which is by the Spirit, requires humility, self-denial, cross bearing, and following Jesus. Only then are we not in idolatry.

  7. Mike,

    Right.

    Unless are motives are tainted and we aren’t doing those things out of love, but rather out of fear.

    And I never met a pure motive yet.

    I would rather, return to my baptism daily (Luther), and trust what God has done for me, rather my efforts at cross bearing, self-denial and humility.

    I don’t know about you, but I am woefully derelict in those areas.

    Thanks, Mike.

  8. Steve, that was what our Lord commanded though. He said that the only way could follow Him is to do these things. I have never had a perfect day doing this, but I do seek to walk in repentance (same thing) by submitting myself to Him by submerging my “rights” in humility. When I am in this walk this way I do not seek my own over others. I surrender my rights to them for Christ’s sake, not mine. This is how its done. We must be forgiving and Christ focused. To simply return to ones baptism and trust what God has done without denying self, taking up one’s cross and following Jesus (all active things) we become passive and reclusive. We can’t do that. We must boldly stand firm in this lost and dying world, not obnoxiously, but in humility. I can’t try to be humble. I am humble when I act in obedience in ways that are contrary to what my flesh wants. I seek to be empowered by God’s grace. I ask Him for Wisdom, Discernment, Direction, and Vision every day and I then go forward in His strength. When I stumble, and I do, I do not retreat into passivity, but after confession and repentance I get back in the race.

    I hope that explains where I’m coming from here.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  9. I like to use the term that as Christians we are to “move our feet” (mikes point) but my definition does not go much beyond that in interpretation because the problem is our feet moving is just as sinful, in many ways, as our immature Christian ways. Our confidence is in Chirst alone and the Gospel (Steves point).

    The Gospel and cross mandate humility for our spirit-filled selves which allows us to see clearly the worldy and religious sins we partake in. As a matter fact I see humility as a by-product of the Gospel because the Gospel so clearly demonstrates mans sin. However, humility is fragile and its possible to be “smug” in our own humility. I’ve been there. The joke I have used in teaching this is, of course, is I have to be the most humble person here. :-). It makes the point. Here is an article on the advent of Humility if you want to think on this idea some more: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/december/20.51.html

    In the end, no matter how successful I am or not, I have Christ in my corner and the Victory is won (Christus Victor).

  10. “Steve, that was what our Lord commanded though.”

    He also told us to “be perfect, as our Father in Heaven is perfect.”

    I’m also not doing too well on that score.
    It’s law. Not meant to spur us on to do it…but meant to kill us off…to self…and the religious, self-righteousness project.

    Doing good comes from the heart as inspired by the Holy Spirit…not the goading of the law.

  11. Steve, you quoted Matthew 5:48, which says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” The Greek word used for the “be perfect” is τελειοι while the one used for “is perfect” is τελειος. τελειοι is used to contrast the immature with the mature. Jesus is saying that we need to mature spiritually. On the other hand, τελειος is used by our Lord to show God’s absolute perfection. Whereas our maturity (perfection) is relative, God’s is absolute. So the command to be perfect is not one to perfectly keep the Law, but to mature spiritually because God is absolutely perfect and His goal is for Christ’s righteousness to become manifest in us. Therefore, when Christ commands us to take up our crosses and follow Him, deny ourselves, et cetera, He is going to provide the spiritual potency to do it. We must DO IT.

  12. Mike
    Thankyou. I also agree with you about Romans 7:14. I have always thought Paul was referring to believers or to himself and took a lot of comfort in it. I thank God that He knows we are but dust and Jesus intercedes for us. I still need to do my part in turning away from those things that keep me acting in my own interests and turning toward the things He commands me to do–how to treat others, attitudes, etc.
    I think I need to pray that God would remind me of all He has done for me in Jesus and the Cross every single time I want to do what I FEEL like doing instead of dying to self. Living out of gratitude to Him. That is how I can be Christ focused.
    I am so grateful we can worship and proclaim His Name without the kind of persecution our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world endure. Is that not enough to make me grateful?

    God bless you today! Thank you for your teaching.
    Diane

  13. “…His goal is for Christ’s righteousness to become manifest in us.”

    Romans 6

    He succeeded for us in our baptisms.

    That is the great part of a Sacramental theology.

    It takes us off the religious treadmill, and places our focus on the work of Christ…for us.

    I love it when the emphasis is on Him…and not me.

    I mess it up, every time.

  14. Steve, you can’t walk this walk that way. You have to work out your salvation by obeying God and denying self at the same time. That is what we are called to do not “let go and let God” which is a fallacy.

  15. Is that what you are doing, Mike?

    How is it going?

    Personally, I am looking completely to Christ.

    This is why I am not a Calvinist, or a Baptist…but a Lutheran.

    The assurance (and freedom) that Christ wants me to have in the Sacraments is wonderful.

    Once you taste it, you’ll never again go back under the yoke of slavery (doing) for justification or sanctification.

    I really love it!

  16. Steve, what you are describing is religiosity. I am describing obedience and how God uses our surrender to His will to sanctify us. I obey Him and I grow. I do not seek to try to please Him through religiosity. I am not sanctified or earning my salvation by works at all. I am tell you flat out that what i am teaching here is what is commanded by God for us to do. I see no where in the New Testament where we are to neglect this and simply be religious. Go ahead and love your religion. Go right ahead. You show me your faith by your religion and I will show you mine by my works. Does that sound familiar Steve? It should.

    What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
    (James 2:14-18 ESV)

    and

    Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
    (James 1:21-27 ESV)

    I am on no treadmill. I am in the fires of sanctification and I am growing in grace. How about you Steve? Or are you just being religious?

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  17. What I am describing is freedom (Gal. 5:1)

    The projects that people engage in to better themselves in the eyes of God…THAT is religion.

    I’m glad you are not on a treadmill. But that reality is goping on all over the place in the name of Christianity. People trying to prove to themselves, to others and to God that they are worthy and that they are walking the walk.

    The Sermon on the Mount puts all that nonsense to rest, for thosae that can see that correctly as a full blown attack of the law on sinners who are bound to sin.

    But the Good News is that we can cling to the foot of the cross.

    If there was just one thing left for us to do, then that cross would have been in vain.

    “It is finished” means just that.

  18. Steve,
    Shunning evil is a basic principle of walking with Christ. Easy-believism is not the gospel. Easy-believism implies the following:

    1.) Jesus Christ suffered and therefore I will not.
    2.) Once God is in your life, you will be in cruise control.
    3.) Biblical principles are not necessary.
    4.) God always wants to give us what we ask for.
    5.) It is never God’s will that we go through things that are unpleasant.
    6.) Since God’s people cannot lose their salvation, then it is ok to do what comes natural.
    7.) The mark of a Christian is a trouble free life.
    8.) Nothing can trouble God’s people.
    9.) God’s people can never be oppressed, experience sorrow, or have any grief.
    10.) The world loves Christians.
    11.) We are never to hold our own brother’s feet to the fire.
    12.) It is judgmental to rebuke, chasten, or correct someone when they sin.
    13.) Jesus was someone who would walk in the room and instantly his appearance would make people notice him and flock to him.

    Steve, the mark of the Christian is God’s chastening because he is seperating them out from the world. If you shun those who contend for the faith when they resist evil, how are you any different than the world? Or the pagans? Or the Gentiles??

  19. Steve, the freedom Paul spoke of in Galatians 5:1 is talking about freedom from the curse of the Law and I have been teaching in this series that that in no one excludes us from obeying our Lord. It isn’t freedom to live this Christian walk on our own terms. It is finished spoken by our Lord was speaking of the Atonement. To ignore our daily Sanctification is to “let go and let God” and that in no way has the power to defeat the enemy within. Wake up Steve.

    Oh, and this is for you and Jon, I suggest a bonfire using all your Tim Keller books as fuel then get into the Word of God and do what the Master says.

  20. Who said anything about not resisting evil?

    I want to kno how you guys are doing, that’s all.

    Wake up, Mike and realize that you flat out refuse to live as God wants you to.

    Do you spend your spare time at the old foks home visiting the sick and lonely elderly/

    Do you spend your spare time visit inmates in the prisons?

    Do you live on a thin margin of income and give the rest to the poor?

    If not, then why not.?

    You’d better wake up and get with it, guys.

  21. I’m asking.

    Are you doing ALL THOSE THINGS THAT YOU OUGHT BE DOING?

    Funny how it’s always the OTHER GUY that needs to wake up and get busy.

  22. Who says we aren’t Steve? About resisting evil, I go to the throne of Grace, worship my Lord, and seek His will, then do it. That is how I do it.

    I don’t care for your insinuations Steve. You aren’t here with me each and every day. You don’t know what I am doing with my time and money. Your accusations are a logical fallacy. I don’t practice my righteousness before men for my own gain, which is for people to see and think highly of me. The work I do and way I spend my money is between my wife and I and the Lord.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  23. When I told you to wake up Steve I was saying that you had better wake up and stop following the teachings of men and start following the teachings of your Lord.

  24. Just as I figured, Mike. You aren’t doing all those things that you ought be doing as a “good Christian”.

    Not to worry, Mike. Nobody is.

    The only people that think they are doing it are delusional and have become Pharisees.

    I’ll stick to the righteousness of Christ with NO add ons.

    You guys do what you want.

  25. “When I told you to wake up Steve I was saying that you had better wake up and stop following the teachings of men and start following the teachings of your Lord.”

    I’m asking why it’s ok for you to not live by the teachings of our Lord?

    I know that you don’t. Nobody does. That is what the Sermon on the Mount was all about.

  26. Wrong. I believe in the law. But I’m not fool enough to believe that I am willing to obey it.

    I believe in the law as a mirror to our unrighteousness and for civil order.
    You, obviously think we can keep it. That is Pelagianism.
    The Roman catholics think that way, too.

    When one preaches the freedom of Christ, it doesn’t take long before people will call you antinomian and try and shut you down.

  27. You do not know me. My point is that you are accusing me of something that you have no way of knowing if it is true or isn’t. You don’t know how I walk through each day or my struggles or how I serve Him in all I do or not. You are making an accusation that has no basis in fact.

  28. All men are alike. “None is righteous, no not one.”

    If you break one commandment, then you have broken them all.

    Welcome to the club, Mike.

    “I thank you Lord, that I am not like other men.”

    Jesus didn’t think too much of that guy. Be careful.

  29. I’m not saying I’m perfect Steve. I am saying we are commanded to obey our Lord and I do that the best I can. I do not give up and do nothing. I seek to kill the sin that lives in me and obey my Lord, period. I have work to do Steve. You either don’t care for the truth or you don’t know what it is.

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