Summary: You become a Christian in a moment, but becoming Christ-like is a lifelong journey.
Oswald Chambers, reflecting on man’s role regarding sanctification, wrote, “Personal holiness is an effect of redemption, not the cause of it.”
Twenty years after his conversion, after having founded churches throughout the Mediterranean world, and near the end of his third missionary journey, the Apostle Paul wrote a mature statement of his understanding of the struggle all believers face:
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15).
Like all of us, as believers, Paul understood what it meant to try and keep the Law – he was a professional. Anyone who tries to attain personal holiness through his or her own efforts, willpower, or strength, will have the same problem. It is called legalism. Millions of Christians struggle with the power of legalism. Paul tells us, “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise” (The Message).
But Paul doesn’t leave us hanging – he gives us the solution:
“Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).
What is the resolution? How can we live a holy life? The solution is to live life on God’s terms:
“With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud” (Romans 8:1, The Message).
Paul tells us that knowledge is not the answer. Self-determination is not the answer. Becoming a Christian does not eliminate all sin and temptation from a believer’s life.
You become a Christian in a moment, but becoming Christ-like is a lifelong journey. We must realize that no one in the world is innocent; no one deserves to be saved. All of us must depend totally on the work of Christ for our salvation. We cannot earn it by our good behavior, good deeds, or good intentions.
You must understand that God is not angry with you as you struggle through whatever sin you are struggling with. He knows that you want to be holy, but when temptation comes, you find yourself giving into temptation. Afterwards, you despise what you have done, you hate yourself and you think that a holy God could not possibly love you. You are frustrated and think, “What is wrong with me? Why do I long for holiness, but fall short? Why do I do what I hate to do?” And you condemn yourself, but God does not. He loves you and He accepts you as a child in His family learning to walk.
Instead of trying to overcome sin with human willpower, we must take hold of the tremendous power of Christ that is available to us - the Holy Spirit who lives in us and gives us the power to overcome (Romans 6:6-8; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:3-15).
The Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee of eternal life for those who believe in Him. The Spirit is in us now by faith, and by faith we are certain to live with Christ forever (Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:14).
What great assurance and hope we receive as we begin to understand the idea that salvation is past, present and future. We were saved – justified - the moment we believed in Jesus Christ as our Savior (Romans 3:21-26; 5:1-11; 6:1-11, 22, 23). We are being saved - sanctified – in the present (Romans 6:1 – 8:39). And we will be saved – glorified - when Christ’s Kingdom is come. We will be resurrected with bodies, glorified bodies like the body Christ now has in heaven (1 Corinthians 15:25-58; 1 John 3:2).
And even in our struggle, even when we do not know how to pray, we have resolution and peace available to us:
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26).
We are not left alone to deal with our problems. Even when you don’t know the right words to pray, the Holy Spirit prays with and for you, and God answers. What great assurance!
God is able to turn your every circumstance around to fulfill His purpose – to make you like Christ! Those who are called are those the Holy Spirit convinces and enables to receive Christ. Truly blessed are those who have received this new perspective on life. They trust in God, not in life’s alluring materialism. They set their sights on heaven, not on earth. They learn to accept their present affliction and count it all joy knowing that God is with them, not becoming resentful and legalistic.