“I am Adonai, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. Therefore you are to be holy, because I am holy.” ~ Leviticus 11:45
“Following the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in your entire way of life; since the Tanakh says, ‘You are to be holy because I am holy.’” ~ 1 Kefa 1:15-16
In this post, I want to continue to explore the connection between God’s Grace and Holiness.
God’s ultimate goal for us is that we be truly conformed to the likeness of His Son in our person as well as in our standing. This goal is expressed in Romans 8:29: “those whom He knew in advance, He also determined in advance would be conformed to the pattern of his Son, so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
All through the Brit Hadashah we see this ultimate end in view as the writers speak of salvation. For example, Sha’ul said that Yeshua “gave Himself up on our behalf in order to free us from all violation of Torah and purify for himself a people who would be His own, eager to do good.“ (Titus 2:14) Yeshua did not die just to save us from the penalty of sin, nor even just to make us holy in our standing before God. He died to purify for Himself a people eager to obey Him, a people eager to be transformed into His likeness.
So holiness or sanctification is more than just our standing before God in Yeshua. It is an actual conformity within us to the likeness of Yeshua begun at the time of our salvation and completed when we are made perfect in His presence. This process of gradually conforming us to the likeness of Yeshua begins at the very moment of our salvation when the Ruach comes to dwell within us and to actually give us a new life in Yeshua. This gradual process is called progressive sanctification, or growing in holiness, because it truly is a growth process.
Progressive sanctification begins in us with an instantaneous act of God at the time of our salvation. God always gives justification and this initial imparting of sanctification at the same time. The author of Hebrews described this truth in this way: “‘This is the covenant which I will make with them after those days,’ says Adonai: ‘I will put my Torah on their hearts, and write it on their minds…and their sins and their wickednesses I will remember no more.’” (Hebrews 10:16-17)
God promises to put His laws in our hearts and write them on our minds. That’s sanctification begun. Then He promises to remember our sins no more. That’s justification. Note that sanctification and justification are both gifts from God and expressions of His grace. Though they are each distinct aspects of salvation, they can never be separated. God never grants justification without also giving sanctification at the same time.
Sanctification in us begins as an instantaneous act of the Ruach and is carried forward by His continued action in our lives. This instantaneous act is described in a number of ways in Scripture. It is called the “renewal brought about by the Ruach HaKodesh” (Titus 3:5), making us alive with Yeshua when we were dead in transgressions and sins (see Ephesians 2:1-5). It results in the new creation Sha’ul referred to in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is united with the Messiah, he is a new creation — the old has passed; look, what has come is fresh and new!”
One of the best descriptions of this initial act of God in sanctification is found in Ezekiel 36:26-27 where God makes this gracious promise: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit inside you; I will take the stony heart out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit inside you and cause you to live by my laws, respect my rulings and obey them.”
Note the changes God brings about in our inner being when He saves us. He gives us a new heart and puts a new spirit within us – a spirit that loves righteousness and hates sin. He puts His own Spirit within us and moves us to follow His decrees and keep His law; that is, God gives us a growing desire to obey Him. We no longer have an aversion to the commands of God, even though we may not always obey them. Instead of being irksome to us, they have now become agreeable to us.
David said in Psalm 40:8, “Doing Your will, my God, is my joy; Your Torah is in my inmost being.” David found a law written in his own heart corresponding to the law written in God’s Word. There was agreement between the spiritual nature within him and the objective law of God external to him.
There is a basic, albeit, imperfect correspondence between the law written in a Believer’s heart and the law written in Scripture. This does not mean we can discard the law written in Scripture, because the law written in the heart is not self-directing – that is, it does not tell us what to do. It only agrees with and responds to the law written in Scripture.
Sanctification begun in our hearts by the Ruach changes our attitude. Instead of being hostile to God’s law, we begin to delight in it (see Romans 7:22). We find that “loving God means obeying his commands. Moreover, his commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3), but rather are “holy, just and good” (Romans 7:12). This radical and dramatic change in our attitude toward God’s commands is a gift of His grace, brought about solely by the mighty working of His Ruach within us. We play no more part in this initial act of sanctification than we do in our justification. As Sha’ul said, “All this is from God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18)
We Died to the Torah
One reason we have this new attitude toward sin and God’s law is that we “died” to the Torah. Although the Torah (God’s law) is a moral rule in the Believer’s life, the law in itself has no power to enable us to obey it.
Because the law commands obedience without providing any enabling power, it is in this sense a source of bondage. And because we were hostile to God’s law prior to our salvation (see Romans 8:7), it was also a source of provocation to us. Instead of being a means of obedience to God, the law actually provoked us and incited us to sin (see Romans 7:7-8).
But Sha’ul said we died to the law. Here is how he put it: “Thus, my brothers, you have been made dead with regard to the Torah through the Messiah’s body, so that you may belong to someone else, namely, the one who has been raised from the dead, in order for us to bear fruit for God. For when we were living according to our old nature, the passions connected with sins worked through the Torah in our various parts, with the result that we bore fruit for death. But now we have been released from this aspect of the Torah, because we have died to that which had us in its clutches, so that we are serving in the new way provided by the Spirit and not in the old way of outwardly following the letter of the law.” (Romans 7:4-6)
In verse 4, Sha’ul said we died to the Torah. In what sense did we die to it? Three passages of Scripture will help us understand what he meant: “For in his sight no one alive will be considered righteous on the ground of legalistic observance of Torah commands, because what Torah really does is show people how sinful they are.” (Romans 3:20)
“For sin will not have authority over you; because you are not under legalism but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)
“For everyone who depends on legalistic observance of Torah commands lives under a curse, since it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not keep on doing everything written in the Scroll of the Torah.’” (Galatians 3:10)
From these passages we understand that we died to the observance of the Torah as a requirement for attaining righteousness before God. We died to the curse and condemnation that resulted from our inability to perfectly keep the law. Then we see in Romans 6:14 that being under the law is the opposite of being under grace. Because of our sin against the law, being under law implies the wrath of God, whereas grace implies forgiveness and favor. Law implies a broken relationship with God, whereas grace implies a restored relationship with Him. So when Sha’ul said we died to the Torah, he meant we died to that entire state of condemnation, curse, and alienation from God.
The most important thing for us to see in our death to the Torah, however, is the purpose of our death. We died to the law in order that we might live in the realm of God’s Grace and grow in Holiness as we become more and more like Yeshua. We died to the law that we might bear fruit to God. And, according to Romans 7:6, we died that we might serve “in the new way provided by the Spirit and not in the old way of outwardly following the letter of the law.”
The new way of the Ruach is not a new and less rigorous ethic than the old way of the written code. The difference does not lie in the content of the moral will of God. Since that is a reflection of the holy character of God, it cannot change. Rather, the difference lies in the reason to obey and in the ability with which to obey.
In my next post, we will continue to explore this dichotomy between the Torah and God’s Grace as we pursue Holiness.