Simul Justus Et Peccator
Simultaneously Saint and Sinner
God’s Impossible Standard
Martin Luther was a troubled soul. (You didn't think I would come up here two weeks after the 500th anniversary of the reformation and not bring him up did you?) He would spend hours lying face-down on his floor in guilt for the sins he had committed. At that time the church taught that the believer must become righteous by keeping the law. Luther continually failed at this so he spiraled in despair. How could God him accountable to a standard that he knew Luther could not meet? What sort of God was this?
Sharing Luther’s Struggle
Years later, Luther would make the same observation that Paul had.
“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.” – Romans 7:15-20
We've been talking about the fruit of the Spirit in recent weeks. And I find myself in a struggle similar to Luther. On the one hand, I see fruit of the Spirit as something the Holy Spirit ought to be producing in my life – meaning it seems like he ought to be doing it without my intervention. After all, I have no goodness of my own. There is no deep well of patience and kindness within me just waiting to get out. Even after a good night's rest and a cup of coffee, I'm still not up to the task. These things have to come from outside of me.
On the other hand, I can't possibly be off the hook. Scripture is full of instructions:
- Love God, with all your heart/soul/mind.
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
- Walk peaceably with all men.
- Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.
- Hide the word in your heart.
- Don't be a hearer only – be a doer also.
- Encourage one another.
- Take every thought captive.
This is scripture. None of these things just happen. It sounds like I’m supposed to do something.
So, if I don't see the fruit of the spirit in my life like I think I should, or like I see it other people, what do I do?
This is supposed to be a sermon on self-control. When I started to look at this topic, I tried to decide how I wanted to approach it. (Not just the topic of self-control, but the broader topic of Fruit of the Spirit in general.) There are a number of ways to approach the topic that might seem plausible. The way I approach a topic I’m researching is to tear the issue apart and look at it systematically, through scripture, and see what I find. In case there is anyone here who shares my confusion on the topic or who is interested in seeing how I approach such issues, I’m going to walk through my thinking this morning.
Engines & Salvation
If you’ve talked to me about Christianity at any length, you’ve probably heard me mention the Ordo Salutis. It means “Order of Salvation”, but Latin just sounds cooler.
For a lame analogy, using the word “salvation” is something like using the word “engine”. Everyone generally knows what I mean if I say I have a problem with my car’s engine. But on reflection, no one would really know what the problem was. A mechanic does not simply “fix my engine”. He might repair a leak in the radiator, or replace the starter, or adjust the timing. Generally speaking, all of these things could be classified as fixing my engine, but specificity allows us greater understanding.
Some might wonder why this matters. After all, I’m not planning to become a mechanic. But learning something about how an engine works will help me care for my engine better in the long run. It will help me to have more informed conversations with my mechanic. And hopefully, it will prevent me from getting myself into avoidable pitfalls down the road. Understanding the important parts of salvation isn’t that much different.
When we say that someone “got saved”, there is a lot more going on than is evident. To illustrate, if we were to ask when they were saved, what would they say?
- Would they tell you about the sermon they heard that made their heart pound?
- Would they tell you about when they felt like a whole different person than they were before?
- Would they tell you about the day they repented for their sins and placed their faith in Christ?
- Would they tell you about the fact that God in his foreknowledge has always known they would come?
- Would they talk about the conviction they had to live differently to honor Christ?
Do you see the similarity to the engine and its components? We can speak of each of those items in terms of salvation, but we can also use the word salvation as a description of the whole series of events that transpired. In the broader sense, salvation is a word that describes the whole series of events from God’s knowledge in eternity past to our future glorification in heaven. In that case, we would do well to develop a better understanding of the components that make up the salvation engine.
I won’t cover everything this morning, but I’ll work in enough bits to paint a picture that I think will be helpful in this morning’s study.
Remember Jesus’ parable about the farmer scattering seeds? There he was describing the general call. The general call is the message that goes out to all people. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” Sometimes that gospel seed takes root, and sometimes it doesn’t.
The individual call is the Holy Spirit’s unique call to a person that will result in salvation. In the parable I just mentioned, this would be the seed that lands in good soil.
The call is a crucial part of the salvation process, but the proper soil is necessary for the seed to grow. Regeneration is the name for the change that takes places when God turns our heart of gravel into soil so the gospel seed can take root. When we were regenerated, we received a new nature. No longer were we hostile to things of God. We became softened and able to respond to the Holy Spirit’s call.
Next comes conversion. Conversion is the step most of us remember. This is the point at which I willingly respond to the gospel call and place my trust in Christ for salvation. When people tell you how long they have been a Christian, this is most likely what they have in mind.
When we respond to the Holy Spirit’s call, we are instantaneously seen as righteous in the sight of God. As Luther discovered, we are not made righteous, but we are declared righteous. Justification is a legal decree. It’s like being declared not guilty. The declaration does not change the fact that we are guilty – it is a legal decree that our guilt is no longer being counted against us. In a blink of an eye, Jesus gets all my sin and the debt that goes with it, and I get credit for his sinless life. Justification has nothing to do with my actions or my abilities. It’s not about my potential or what God sees in me. It’s all about Christ. According to scripture, I am saved by God’s grace, through my faith in Christ’s work on my behalf – all for the glory of God.
While justification is instantaneous, sanctification is not. The word sanctify means “to make holy”. We are not made holy in an instant. Holiness is a process and a pursuit. We are progressively sanctified over time as part of the salvation process. Sanctification is the life-long work of God, in which we participate, in order to become increasingly freer from sin, and increasingly conformed to the image of Christ.
Since we’re on the topic, let me be pointed for a moment. There are a couple common errors here. (And by the way, I don’t say this to pick on other religions, but rather to protect you from getting hung up on bad teaching.)
Don't make the error of Catholicism which mingles justification and sanctification. Catholicism would have us be sanctified in order to be fully justified. This is what vexed Luther, but that is not the testimony of scripture. Sanctification is a fruit of justification. For those who are justified, sanctification inevitably follows. I also don't want you to confuse what I’m saying with Mormonism. Mormon doctrine would have you believe that God's grace is there to save us after we have done all the we are able to. That's not what I'm saying at all. I am saying that the true believer will obey and do good works out of love for Christ. But none of this is meritorious. That means no good work we do is credited towards our justification. However, we do have this debt which we are unable to pay, so Jesus pays it for us. He makes payment on our behalf. He doesn't pick up the shortfall – he covers the entire debt. Unfortunately, Evangelicals have absorbed these beliefs, and the burden they bring is crippling. Understanding the distinction between justification and sanctification will save you from a lot of bad teaching.
Taking a Step Back
That’s enough discussion of the nitty gritty that happens under the hood of salvation for this morning. Now that we have this vocabulary, let’s step back and define a few other terms.
As I said, we participate in our sanctification, but this doesn’t earn us any credit toward salvation. This sanctification that occurs does so under the conviction, motivation and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
Have you ever thought about his name? … “Holy Spirit”
Holy means set apart or sanctified. He could be called the Sanctified Spirit. He is also the Sanctifying Spirit. His role is to come alongside us in Jesus’ earthly absence and make us more like him. The Holy Spirit was sent to sanctify us. To help us in this process of becoming more holy.
Fruit of the Spirit
Now the words get even weirder to our modern ears, but hopefully this will make some sense.
Paul refers to the result of the Spirit’s work in our life as “fruit”. It makes sense, really – especially to the agricultural community of the New Testament.
- Earlier I mentioned Jesus’ parable of the sower spreading seed.
- Paul expands on the metaphor saying that some plant, some water, but God gives the growth
- Paul references the idea that the thing that is reaped is the same as what was sown (The seed of the Spirit was sown, so the fruit of the Spirit will be reaped.)
- In fact, Paul calls the results of walking by the Spirit “fruit”
Plants bear fruit after their own kind. If the Holy Spirit calls us, and the Holy Spirit regenerates us, and he guides the growing process, it is only natural that the “fruit” produced would look like him.
Hopefully, now you can see why Anthony has reiterated that only believers can exhibit fruit. You can’t make tomatoes without starting with tomatoes. You can’t produce the fruit of the Spirit without starting with the Spirit. In our justification, God began a good work in us. And through sanctification, he will be faithful to complete it.
Ok… But what am I supposed to do?
So what do we do with all of this? Is fruit something that just happens? Is fruit something we should strive after? I think that both are true, understood correctly. Fruit proceeds from the believer’s life as a result of God’s work in us, but that doesn't mean it is a passive endeavor. We are to be holy as he is holy. The bible says we were created for good works. The life of the believer should not be characterized by the meme, “Let Go and Let God”.
But how do we reconcile this with grace? How do we reconcile this with resting in God? This sounds like a lot of work! In fact, this sounds a whole lot like the issue that was disputed at the Reformation. Sure, grace saves. Of course, God justifies us. But how does one prove they are his? By their works! On the one hand, I am very sympathetic to this. After all, if I were to see someone who exhibited no fruit whatsoever, I would be very suspicious of their claims to being a believer. However, none of us is perfect. None of us will become fully sanctified in his life. None of us can obey the full weight of the law. And honestly, if I set up the fruit of the spirit as requirements, I am just setting us up for more failure. But does grace mean that we soften the very requirements that Jesus laid out? I'll give an answer that I think Paul would give: “By no means!” As Paul asked, “shall we go on sinning just because we'll be forgiven?” Of course not! The answer is the same because the problem is the same.
We are supposed to do good works.
We are supposed to refrain from sin.
It is our duty to execute both of these flawlessly. And yet we cannot.
This is where grace comes in.
When it comes time for me to be judged, God will not look at my sin to judge me (thank God!) but Christ's righteousness. When looking to see whether I was perfectly patient he will look at Christ’s patience. When he looks to see how I loved, he will look and see how Christ loved. In every area where I fall short (which is all of them), Jesus takes the punishment and I get his reward.
Grace did not replace the law. The law is good, but we miss the mark just like Luther. God’s grace does not eliminate God’s law – it eliminates the punishment for breaking it.
So should we do the things God told us to do? Of course we should!
And should we avoid sin? Of course we should!
The fact that Jesus has paid our price does not change our marching orders. What it changes is the why. No longer do we obey out of dread, but rather out of delight. Our obedience to Christ is not out of fear of being beaten by a brutal taskmaster. Neither is it out of fear that we might not make the cut. Rather, since we have already been justified, it is a response out of love for what Christ has ALREADY done for us.
A More Excellent Way
Much has been said about the gifts of the Spirit. As wonderful as they are, Paul seems to sweep them aside after introducing them. He says “here are a number of the ways that the Spirit has supernaturally empowered some people, but I want to tell you about a more excellent way.” Unfortunately, this statement had the misfortune of landing at a chapter break, so we lose the context. Paul’s “most excellent way” is for us to love one another.
Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God, and close behind it was to love your neighbor. He also said that people would know that we are Christians by our love for one another. Paul said to the Corinthians that if we do not have love, everything we say or do is worthless. Love identifies the believer. But what is love? How do we love? Paul goes on and writes what has become known as the love chapter in the bible.
How do we love? Paul says believers show their love for one another by being patient. They express their love through kindness. They don’t envy. They don’t boast. Believers are not to be proud or rude, because love is not proud or rude. Love seeks the good of the other. It does not delight in evil. On and on he goes, elaborating what love looks like in action.
In fact, some have observed that one way to look at this is to say that the Fruit of the Spirit is love. Period. Then we read further to see what love is. Earlier, Paul had written something similar to the Galatians, and that’s what we’ve been studying in recent weeks. He said that Christ has set us free from the law, and we should stand firm in that freedom and no longer submit to slavery. Ironically, I think our very discussion of the fruit of Spirit can lead us into that very thing. If we are not careful we may read the fruit of the Spirit as a list of rules, and gradually come to think that our salvation is determined by how closely we follow these rules.
Dead to Sin. Alive to Christ.
But that wasn’t the purpose of the fruit metaphor. If a tree is really an apple tree, and it is receiving proper nourishment, it will produce apples. If we are truly Christians, and we are receiving our nourishment from God the Holy Spirit, we will produce fruit of the Spirit. But this isn’t a passive message. It is both passive and active.
You have been given patience, so be patient. You have been given love, so love. You have been given the ability to control your actions, so control them. Not to earn your salvation. Not to keep God from being mad at you. You do it because you are a Christian. God has freed you from the bondage of sin and freed you to be more like him. Therefore, out of love, out of delight, out of thankfulness, be like him!
His yoke is easy, but there is still a yoke. His burden is light, but there is still a burden. He calls us to rest in him, but that rest isn't passivity or inactivity. The rest is from striving to do it on your own – to earn it on your own. It's a spiritual rest. A rest that comes from knowing your eternal destiny. Your hope is secure. So rest. Christ is yours and you are his. So rest. But biblical rest is not inactivity. The Harvest is plentiful, and the workers are few. Our work is in the Lord so that our labor is not vain. We rest in our justification but we work along with Christ in our sanctification. You have been freed, but don't let sin reign in you, because we are dead to sin, but alive to Christ.
You hear people say, “you’re dead to me!” That’s us to sin. Being dead to sin means we owe it nothing. We no longer respond to its call. We don’t open the door when it knocks. We are dead to sin.
But to Christ, we’re alive! We do respond to his call. We do what he says. When the Holy Spirit begins his work in us, we follow his lead, and that is called walking in the Spirit.
By contrast, Paul says the works of the flesh include sexual immorality (there’s a broad category), impurity, jealousy, dissension, etc. But “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” That’s what being a Christian is, after all: we put our flesh to death and live in the freedom Christ gives us. But this “putting to death” is a continual process. That’s why we still struggle like Luther, and like Paul.
In recent weeks, Anthony and Dan have expounded on different ways the Holy Spirit’s love is expressed through us. I want to point out a couple of ways that theologians have categorized them for you to consider. (By the way, I don’t think you have to pick one. I think these are all helpful ways for us to explore the topic.)
One way is to look at the three categories of God, other, and self.
- God-ward fruit: love, joy, peace
- Others-ward fruit: patience, kindness, goodness
- Self-ward fruit: faithfulness, gentleness, self-control
The first three show how the Spirit turns us toward God. The next three are how the Spirit orders our relationships with others. The final three are the ways in which the Spirit guides our inner lives. These aren’t perfect. I think there is some cross-over, but it’s a helpful grid.
A second way is to see the Fruit of the Spirit as a parallel of the attributes of Christ. If we want to see peace in action, love lived out, a gentleness that does not compromise – we can look to Christ. As the source of these characteristics, he is naturally the standard. One stands out to me however, making it uniquely applicable to Jesus as opposed to the other members of the Godhead, and that is Self-Control. (It only took me 20 minutes to get to my assigned topic!) Track with me here: God is good. He is perfect peace. But in what sense is he self-control? How does God need to control himself? Using Paul’s definition, he doesn’t. That is, he didn’t until God became man. In Jesus, we see the first time that God exhibited self-control. To see what I mean, let’s look at how Paul introduces the topic in Galatians 5.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” – Galatians 5:16-18
Remember the verse I started with? Paul said he found two forces acting within him. He recognized that he had competing desires. This is what Luther would refer to as being simultaneously saint and sinner. (That’s the title of the sermon, by the way.) In every moment, our actual righteousness is filthy rags, but our declared righteousness is Christ’s. We are fully justified, and we feel the Spirit’s work, yet at the same time we feel the tug of sin.
Red Pill or Blue Pill?
Here in Galatians, Paul is saying that the believer has two choices. We can either follow the desires of the flesh (sin) or the desires of the Spirit (righteousness). God cannot sin. However, in the person of Christ, that very real tension was felt. He felt the same battle Paul describes, yet he did not sin. That, to me, is a helpful way of understanding self-control, and that is why I did not belabor it with a long sermon. We know that we ought to control ourselves. You know what that looks like. I don’t need to tell you. We may all pursue different sins, but the cause and the solution are the same for each of us. The cause is our sinful human nature. And the solution is self-control. The Spirit works in us and enables us, yet we still must make the choice to choose God over sin. There is no mystery there. It’s probably one of the easiest aspects of the fruit of the Spirit for us to understand.
Even Luther knew that he was supposed to control himself. Luther’s struggle came from an inaccurate view of God and scripture. God is not a harsh taskmaster. He has given us his law as a curb, a mirror and a guide – but it is not our burden. Christ already carried that burden for us. We follow God, with the Spirit’s help, for our good and for his glory.
Jesus talked about a son who mistreated his father and ran away to revel in his sin. He described the boy’s father as sitting on the porch, looking into the distance, waiting for his son. And one day he saw him coming! The prodigal son had returned! The father ran to his son who had been far off.
This parable is about God watching for his own and pursuing him. Pursuing the very one who had no self-control when it came to prostitutes, gambling and alcohol. The joy the father felt at his son’s return was not approval of the son's behavior. The story was never about the son – it was about the father. He is forgiving. He is good. He is faithful and merciful and gentle. The point today is not to guilt you or beat you into self-control. I'm not here to squeeze fruit out of you. I'm here to encourage you. Choose the Spirit over the flesh. Don’t dread your heavenly father, but out of delight in him, be like him.
For freedom Christ has set us free. You were called to freedom. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:1,13-14
 Romans 7:15-20
 Luke 10:27
 Mark 12:31
 Romans 12:18
 Micah 6:8
 Psalm 119:11
 James 1:22
 1 Thessalonians 5:11
 2 Corinthians 10:5
 Matthew 13
 Matthew 4:17
 This distinction of “forensic” and “practical” righteousness is worth some study
 2 Corinthians 5:21
 Quick summary of the five “solas” of the Reformation, which started 500 years ago in 1517
 Romans 8:29
 Canons on Justification, Council of Trent
 2 Nephi 25:23
 John 4:20-21; James 2:14-18
 John 14:16
 1 Peter 1:16
 Matthew 4:17
 1 Corinthians 3:6
 Galatians 6:7
 Galatians 5:16-26
 John 15
 Galatians 3:1-3
 Philippians 1:6
 Leviticus 11:45, 19:2, 20:7, 21:8; 1 Peter 1:13-16
 Ephesians 2:10
 Matthew 11:28
 Matthew 5:17-20; Romans 10:4
 Romans 5:1-5
 1 Corinthians 12:31
 Matthew 22:36-40
 John 13:35
 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
 1 Corinthians 15:58
 Romans 6
 Galatians 5:19-21
 Galatians 5:24