by Mike Ratliff
8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:8 NASB)
The Doctrine of Imputation is a wonderful blessing for the Christian. Christ’s Righteousness and perfect obedience to the Law were both imputed to the account of every believer at their justification. That means, in God’s sight, each and every one of us in Christ are as blameless in his eyes as Christ himself. I was asked this last Thanksgiving Day before our meal to “briefly” state that for which I was most thankful. How can I separate the atonement and all the eternal blessings that await all of us in Christ and just single out one thing? I knew that it would be very confusing for some of those in attendance to talk about the doctrine of imputation so I simply said I was most thankful for God’s Grace.
One of the most precious passages to me in the New Testament is Hebrews 12:1-2.
1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB)
Even though we have the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to our account and his perfect obedience to the Law, as is clear throughout the New Testament, we are called to mortify the sin that still resides in our flesh as we walk in repentance. I have been a Christian for a long time and learned that much of what is taught in most churches is a man-centered gospel and moralistic therapeutic deism that teaches believers that when the Bible talks about “transformation” it means that the marker for success is sinlessness. To fail, that is, to sin again, means that there must be something wrong with “us.” The problem is not “us,” but with the pragmatic system that our enemy has gladly instituted across the board in most of Protestant Christianity.
The transformation that we are continually taken through by God will never result in sinless perfection in this lifetime. In fact, the more mature in Christ we become as we become more and more knowledgeable in Christ it becomes plain just how sinful we really are, which makes grace the most precious thing for those who know their Lord well.
5 Καὶ αὐτὸ τοῦτο δὲ σπουδὴν πᾶσαν παρεισενέγκαντες ἐπιχορηγήσατε ἐν τῇ πίστει ὑμῶν τὴν ἀρετήν, ἐν δὲ τῇ ἀρετῇ τὴν γνῶσιν, 6 ἐν δὲ τῇ γνώσει τὴν ἐγκράτειαν, ἐν δὲ τῇ ἐγκρατείᾳ τὴν ὑπομονήν, ἐν δὲ τῇ ὑπομονῇ τὴν εὐσέβειαν, 7 ἐν δὲ τῇ εὐσεβείᾳ τὴν φιλαδελφίαν, ἐν δὲ τῇ φιλαδελφίᾳ τὴν ἀγάπην. 8 ταῦτα γὰρ ὑμῖν ὑπάρχοντα καὶ πλεονάζοντα οὐκ ἀργοὺς οὐδὲ ἀκάρπους καθίστησιν εἰς τὴν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐπίγνωσιν· 9 ᾧ γὰρ μὴ πάρεστιν ταῦτα, τυφλός ἐστιν μυωπάζων, λήθην λαβὼν τοῦ καθαρισμοῦ τῶν πάλαι αὐτοῦ ἁμαρτιῶν. 10 διὸ μᾶλλον, ἀδελφοί, σπουδάσατε βεβαίαν ὑμῶν τὴν κλῆσιν καὶ ἐκλογὴν ποιεῖσθαι· ταῦτα γὰρ ποιοῦντες οὐ μὴ πταίσητέ ποτε. 11 οὕτως γὰρ πλουσίως ἐπιχορηγηθήσεται ὑμῖν ἡ εἴσοδος εἰς τὴν αἰώνιον βασιλείαν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. (2 Peter 1:5-11 NA28)
5 Also, for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue and to virtue knowledge, 6 and to knowledge self-control, and to self-control endurance, and to endurance godliness, 7 and to godliness brotherly love, and to brotherly love, love 8 for if these things are yours and are abounding, you will be neither unproductive nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted unto blindness having forgotten the cleansing of his past sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, rather be diligent in making calling and election sure, for these things if you do things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you. (2 Peter 1:5-11 translated from the NA28 Greek text)
The key to understanding this passage is found in v8. As we are taken through the sanctification process, working out our salvation with fear and trembling, mortifying our sins, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds because we are becoming living sacrifices. Our minds are being renewed (Romans 12:2). That means they are taking on spiritual maturity in Christ. That means our “knowledge” of Christ by walking with him and, obeying him, as we learn to walk in repentance, et cetera, grows. In 2 Peter 1:8 we see that the goal in our spiritual growth is to become productive and fruitful in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. As we know our Lord better and we walk in joy and humility because of that, we will also do as Peter instructs in vv5-7 because what he is describing there is the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). What is our part? Do you see anywhere in here where it is profitable to be self-promoting, or self-assertive, or prideful, or antinomian? No, I did not either. Our part is to deny self, take up our crosses and follow Jesus.
Notice that those who attempt to fight the battle of self-perfection instead of total submission to God in this by dying to self, taking up ones Cross and following Jesus is like one who is short-sighted unto blindness having forgotten the cleansing of his past sins. That was subtle, but those who try to fight this battle outside of the right parameters are trying to atone for those sins that Christ has already paid for. All that comes from this is spiritual misery, doubt, and bondage to life on the religiosity treadmill of works-righteousness.
As I stated above, I have been a Christian a long time. I have served at many levels in many churches, in 1992 even at the “management” level if you want to call it that when we had no pastor. During that period, the closest I ever felt to my Lord was during that period of being without a job (I had lost my job right after being elected to chairman of the Deacon body). We had no elders so the Church Council, of which I was chairperson since I was Chairman of the Deacons, handled that function. The Pastor would normally be the chairperson, but he left so that left me. Over the next several months, we did the work that was normally done by the Pastor and since we had none that meant me and the top more mature Deacons functioned in every capacity that was called for until we found one. I remember being totally overwhelmed and out of my comfort zone nearly every day. I remember calling the other deacons to step up to the plate and be men and I just lead. It was very interesting that I found a new job and we got a new Pastor in the same week. I was out of work about 6 weeks. I grew spiritually and learned something about myself during that time that I would never have learned if that had never have happened. I was sinful and God still answered my prayers. He still used me and caused me to see that my sins were all paid for at the Cross and my repentance and ability to live in sinless perfection was unrealistic and not expected, but what was expected was my continual brokenness over those sins and my work at mortification in taking up my cross and following Jesus. In this, he answered my prayers and used me in spite of my utter uselessness unless I abided in Christ.
Now, another unexpected thing happened with this revelation. It made me an outsider in those churches, especially the one in which all that took place. We were there until 2000 then God moved us from the OKC area to Tulsa. We were there about 18 months before God moved us to the Kansas City area in 2001. We were there until December 2012 when we relocated back to the OKC area. In any case, in Tulsa we were part of a very large SBC church there that was not that much different than the one we left in the OKC area, just bigger. Then we arrived in the KC area and became part of a much smaller SBC church. I became a Deacon there and Bible teacher. However, all that God had taught me through that massive intervention was that He still was working through me and I could not be comfortable with the man-centeredness and moralistic therapeutic deism being handed out there, even though I didn’t know exactly what to call it at that time. However, God did and when the Pastor there tried to do an end-run and bring in the Purpose Driven paradigm, I knew what that was and tried to resist it, failed, and left. That was in 2006.
Since then, all of this understanding of how the Atonement works and what the Gospel is and what it isn’t and what our role as Christians is supposed to be and what it is not supposed to be in our sanctification and the evangelicalism, et cetera, has all been coming together for me into a much more cohesive and understandable form. What is surprising for me is how complicated man has made everything and how truly simple, yet profound, God’s ways really are.
Works righteousness is insidious and has invaded and polluted so much of what most people think of as Evangelicalism. Those who are in bondage to that may believe their sanctification is really up to them, and their continual failures at it keep them in despair because of that, but we are obligated to tell all who will hear that that is not the message for Christian sanctification found in the New Testament. As long as God allows me to tell the truth about this to his people, I will and I pray for all the captives to be free and those leaders who misunderstand God’s Word about these doctrines to surrender to the truth and then preach the truth.
Soli Deo Gloria!