The Life of Christ By the Spirit vs. Progressive Sanctification

The New Testament tells us that the offering of Jesus Christ has sanctified us. Some people call this “positional sanctification.” They work to distinguish this from what they then call “practical sanctification” or “progressive sanctification.” However, sanctification is something that God did when He set us apart for Himself and marked us as His own. He accomplished it in the death and resurrection of Christ, and then He brought us into union with Himself through Christ. Apart from enjoying our union with Christ, which is called fellowship and renewal, there is no such thing as progressive sanctification.

Considering our union with Christ, we know that according to 1 Corinthians 6:7, “He who is joined to the Lord is One Spirit.” When we were born again by believing the Gospel, God sealed us with the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph 1:13). This is the Spirit of Christ. We were joined to HIm and became members of Him. We are now His dwelling place. It is His presence that makes us holy and nothing else.

In the Old Testament, blood sanctified the altar. Whatever touched the altar became “most holy” (Ex 29:37). That’s why Jesus asked the Pharisees, What sanctifies the altar or the gift? The altar sanctifies the gift. The gift doesn’t sanctify the altar (Mt 23:19). They were trying to look at their work as something that made them holy. When they put their gift on their altar, they were saying their gift sanctified the altar. This notion is contrary to what God presents. It is the altar that makes the offering holy.

The blood of Jesus sanctified the altar. He is the real offering, and He is the real altar. He sanctified us with His blood and presented us to God in Himself. In Christ, we are on the real altar. We are those who are presenting ourselves (in Him) as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable (which is our reasonable service of worship) (Rom 12:1-4). We are holy because of our union with Christ and our contact with the altar.

As far as “progressive sanctification” is concerned, there is no such thing in the Bible. But there is a Person who is our sanctification. Sanctification is not a thing. It is a Person!

“of God are you in Christ Jesus who is made unto us wisdom from God, righteousness, Sanctification and Redemption.”

1 Corinthians 1:30

For everything that God desires for us to have, Christ is the reality. He is our wisdom, which causes us to know God. He gives us His mind so that we can understand who He is.

Because we know Him and believe in Him, He has become our righteousness. He became sin for us to make us the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus Christ is our qualification, the righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees, which is described as the requirement for entering the Kingdom in Matthew 5:20. In Romans 3, Paul says that Christ is the manifestation of God’s righteousness, witnessed by the Law and the prophets. This righteousness is also manifested upon those who believe in Him (Rom 3:21-24).

Christ is also our sanctification. What does that look like? It comes down to Galatians 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless, I live, yet not I but Christ in me. The Life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

Christ is the Christian Life! He is my Life, righteousness and sanctification. In Paul and John’s writings, we see that this Life is not something we “do.” It is Christ Himself magnified in the believer (Gal 2:20, Phil 1:20). When Paul talked about the Spirit, he was referring to the Spirit of Life (Romans 8:2), the life-giving Spirit (1 Cor 15:45). This is the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:19), the practical expression and realization of Christ’s Life in us. That is the Spirit.

The Secret – Walking in the Spirit

Based on this truth, when Paul talks about holy living, He refers us to our union with Christ. Paul talks about walking and living by the Spirit. Galatians 3 is one of the most important Chapters about how the Spirit is supplied to us. Galatians 3 says:

This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? 4 Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.
5 He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith?

Gal 3:2-5

According to Paul, everything comes down to the Spirit. Many Christians understand they must walk in the Spirit, not the flesh. However, few Christians even understand who the Spirit is, what He is here to do, and how He is supplied.

The Spirit is the Life of Christ flowing through us to produce His fruit. The branches bear fruit from the vine. The flow of the Spirit brings us the Life of the Son of God as a gift through faith. Most Christians are confused about how this happens. I spent the first 8 years of my Christian Life among Charismatic churches. We had views and practices that I call “mystical legalism.”

The Charismatics see their need but don’t understand the Spirit as the Life of Christ supplied through faith. They see the Spirit as a “power” for miracles, exploits, and works. They separate the Spirit from Christ in their understanding. Their understanding of the Spirit comes primarily from the Acts 2 account. In Acts 2, God clothed the early church with power for demonstrations of the authority of the word. However, they usually ignore John 20, where Christ, the Last Adam who had become the Life-Giving Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45) breathed Himself into the disciples and said, “receive Ye the Holy Ghost”. They are not too familiar with the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of sonship, the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:9, 8:15, Phil 1:19)

The charismatics understood the importance of the Spirit to the Christian Life, but we didn’t understand His function or availability. To “bump” into Him, we practiced many things. We thought the Spirit would be more present in our Life if we were more obedient. We gave money and time to Church and ministry, associated with certain ministers, and went to many conferences and meetings, hoping to have more of the Spirit in our Life. This kind of activity sapped our spiritual strength and left us, which became a source of condemnation. We assumed something must be wrong with us.

We wanted an experience that would allow us to live in the Spirit. All of our practices became Law to us. We interpreted our dryness and weakness to be a failure. This was a mystical and legalistic pursuit. We were looking for an experience and viewed law keeping, behavior modification, obedience to spiritual men, and many other things as means to gain the Spirit. We didn’t know it, but we were looking to “buy God!”

Because of my disappointment in the Charismatic circles, I read a lot of the “inner life” mystics. These people were more advanced in their understanding. They said the Spirit is Christ and saw the Spirit of Christ as Christ realized in us to be Life. They knew we have the indwelling Spirit as the fountain of living water within us, and we need to learn to partake of Him. However, there was another set of practices on “how” to do that. These were a little more “quiet” than the charismatics. It was a clearer vision, but it still eluded us. We still didn’t understand how the Spirit was supplied.

So Galatians 3 has become one of my favorite chapters. I spent so many years longing for the Spirit and seeking ways to have Him in my Life. Paul’s simple question to the Galatians is, how is the Spirit supplied? Galatians 3 was the “key” that unlocked it for me.

Christ supplies His Spirit through the hearing of faith! We don’t need to go on a quest to find the Spirit. We don’t need to “buy” Him with our works. We don’t need an inward journey of “heart postures” that we need to cultivate to be compatible with the Spirit.

Paul tells us that the Spirit is supplied through the hearing of faith. He cannot be got through works of the Law. He is the blessing that we have received by believing in the Gospel. Justification qualified us, not our works. Therefore, seeking to “perfect ourselves” in the flesh will not bring us into the Spirit. Only the “hearing of faith” worked in the beginning, and that is how we must continue to receive the supply of the Spirit. I suggest reading these verses often and considering his questions and answers:

Gal 3:1-9 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth, crucified among you? (2) This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith? (3) Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? (4) Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. (5) He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith? (6) Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. (7) Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. (8) And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the Gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. (9) So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.

Gal 3:13-14 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: (14) That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Paul asks if we receive the Spirit by the works of the Law? He answers we did not. We received Him by the hearing of faith. Having begun in the Spirit, am I now going to be perfected in the flesh? Obviously not. Does He who supplies the Spirit do so by the works of the Law? Again, the answer is no. It is by the hearing of faith. Believing qualifies me just like it did with Abraham. We’re talking about justification here! The way we began the Christian Life is the way we continue it. We believe, apart from any works! The blessing of Abraham, according to verse 14 is nothing other than the “Promise of the Spirit” that comes through faith!

The hearing of faith is related to the Gospel, which announces the blessing. It announces the Person and work of Christ, telling you who He is, and what He’s done. In fact, the Gospel brings you into contact with Him through the Spirit! The focus of the Gospel is Jesus Christ, not myself and my works. The Galatians had gotten their eyes off of Jesus Christ and onto themselves and their works and had “dried up,” spiritually speaking. That’s what happened to me, and most other Christian I know. The key is to come back to the “hearing of faith”.

That’s why Paul calls the Gospel the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom 1:16-18). When the Gospel comes to you, and you believe it, it not only describes something but also supplies what it describes! It supplies the Person of Christ as your wisdom, as your righteousness, as your sanctification, and your very Life. This is all in the Spirit today, and He is supplied freely through faith. The whole thing works not by striving but by believing the Gospel.

So we must have the right apprehension of the Gospel. The Gospel is not just about forgiveness of sins but includes everything God has provided for you in Christ. We need to learn to preach the Gospel to ourselves. This is just our way of saying what the Bible says we we have in Christ. We are to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom (Col 3:16). And we are to be filled with the Spirit by speaking to one another (Eph 5:19). The word is Spirit and is Life. The Gospel is our food.

Philemon 1:6 says, “the communication of your faith becomes effectual through the acknowledging of everything that is good in you in Christ.” The word “communication” also can be translated as fellowship.

In the fellowship of faith, rooted in the hearing of faith, there is the supply of the Spirit. The Spirit, who is the Comforter, deals with our fears and assures our hearts before God, washes us, and we enjoy God and standing in His presence. Then, we are at peace with ourselves and peace with God. We know God has accepted us in His Beloved (Eph 1:6).

Hebrews calls this “rest.” Jesus said if we come to Him, He will give us rest for our souls. I spent years wearing myself out in religious labor, trying to make myself worthy to receive HIm, when I had the right to come to Him all along. I just wasn’t under the hearing of faith. I was hearing everything but the Gospel in Christianity and all the teachings were focused on me and what I should do for God!

The Gospel focuses not on me, but on Christ. The best way for the Devil to stop the flow of the Spirit in my Life is to tell me I need to focus on myself. But God brings me to the Spirit by telling me that Christ has done everything and all I need to do is believe!

By believing the Gospel, getting our eyes off ourselves and back onto Christ, we come under the hearing of faith, and there is a supply of the Spirit. This eventually produces fruit. It brings us to rest and fills our hearts with peace, knowing that we are accepted. We become assured in the Lord and joyful. This eventually affects everything about the kind of person people perceive us to be. We are not anxious, frustrated, religious, and dogmatic workers anymore. We’re not trying to “buy” the Spirit from God. We’re enjoying what we have in Christ; there’s good fruit because the root is good (Lk 6:43-45)! The Fruit of the Spirit is what we want.

There is a lot of doctrinal teaching that substantiates this simple truth. But this is the crux of it. This is what real sanctification looks like in the Christian Life.

There is no such thing as progressive sanctification. We need to walk in the Spirit. This is a walk by faith. We live by faith in what we do not see. God says I’m righteous; I believe I’m righteous. God says I’m accepted in Christ, I believe it. My response to His Gospel is to believe it, and the Spirit confirms this word in me as I agree. Then my walk is in step with God because I agree with HIm. When I was in my works, trying to perfect myself according to the flesh, I Was disobedient, and was working contrary to what God said was true. He said He wanted to give me a gift, and I said, “No, I need to work for it!” Of course, there was no blessing, no fruit, and no satisfaction in my Christian Life! I was opposing God’s word.

Paul never tells us we are not sanctified. He even says to the carnal Corinthians, “you were washed, you were justified, and you were sanctified in the Name of Jesus and in the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 6:11). However, we need to walk in the Spirit and enjoy what we have been given.

Paul says that the just shall live by faith (Gal 3:11). If you live in opposition to what God has said, insisting on attempting to build up your own righteousness and develop your own sanctification independently of Christ (even in the name of seeking Him), of course, you have no fellowship with God!

Progressive sanctification is misleading

We fluctuate in our spiritual condition and in our moods. As we grow in the knowledge of the Gospel, we stabilize, but we never become sinlessly “perfect”. It becomes more comfortable to rest in God than to struggle against Him. The taste and atmosphere of our Life can’t help but be affected by our growth in the knowledge of the truth.

This is not “progressive sanctification,” as the pastors and seminaries define it. They mean incrementally getting better at managing your behavior, with the possibility of earning a blessing or a reward and avoiding punishment. We are just talking about growing in the understanding that Christ really did everything, and we have everything in Him for free! What they are talking about is law keeping and a wage system. It is not according to the truth; it’s actually in opposition to the Gospel.
As long as we live in this body, we must deal with the flesh. The flesh did not change because we were saved. Peter Got saved and converted and did well for quite some time. But ten years into his walk, Paul had to rebuke him to his face in front of everybody because he was vacillating in fear of the Jews and the men from James (Gal 2:12). What is that? That’s religious flesh with all its fears.

Progressive sanctification gives the impression that we have the power over our flesh and can change it, and that we have overcome various things and are holier than we used to be. This can be a trap! Flesh can come out, and if you don’t get clear about that, it’ll come and surprise you. That is part of the problem with the notion of progressive sanctification.

Some people go into extreme sin because the flesh “snuck out” and surprised them, saying, “I’m still here; you thought you had ‘progressively sanctified yourself,’ and I was no longer something you needed to worry about. Well, guess what, here I am!” So the flesh is always there and has to be put down by the power of the cross. He has to be subjected to the Spirit.

Romans 8:13 says, “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you shall live.” Faith is the only way to have the Spirit flowing (we can’t control the Spirit, He is God). He has set it up so that if you are believing, He is flowing. That is the key. Get your eyes off yourself.

I don’t even like to use the term sanctification because we misuse it so much. It has become a loaded term. Walking in the Spirit and bearing the fruit of the Spirit is a more accurate way to say it. It comes not by staring at myself and reading books about how to walk in love, walk in peace, walk-in goodness, and what self-control looks like. So many ministries stay in business by spinning out the fruit of the Spirit as a works system to thirsty Christians who just need the Gospel.

We don’t need all of that garbage! We have a shortcut called the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are learning and believing the reality described in the Gospel as our provision and realizing that it is all on Jesus Christ and His Life that must be manifested. We thank the Father that has provided that Life to us, and we are at peace with Him.

We need to look away from ourselves to Jesus. What comes from that? Peace and the rest of the fruit of the Spirit! This happens without us even knowing us it is happening! If we say, “hey, I’m producing the Spirit; look at me!”, We are back in the flesh. What comes next is flesh! Either religious self-righteousness or falling back into various sins. If we look at our performance, we lose the source of our strength, Christ Himself.

That’s what it means to be “crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live but Christ in me. The Life I now live I live by the faith of the son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” My work to earn something from God is unacceptable, and God has refused it. That’s why God condemned me and put me on the cross with Christ. My Christian Life must come out of resurrection. The Spirit is Life. I need the Spirit flowing for anything to happen that is going to “count” for God.

Understanding this, we can see that the Christian Life is simpler than we have made it. We don’t need to sit and worry about whether we are in the Spirit. We set our mind on the Gospel. We Pursue the truth of the Gospel. What has God provided for me as my inheritance in Christ? The more you get that clear, the happier you’ll be and the freer the Spirit will flow. People will say, “you’re different!” Everything becomes a matter of saying, “Lord Jesus! Lord, thank you-you are with Me. Thank you, you dwell in me and I have you as my Life! Thank you that your blood cleanses me of y sin, and I am a son of God, born of God, and I can walk in the Spirit. Not by focusing on whether I’m in the Spirit, by focusing on you.”

The Spirit testifies not of Himself but the one who sent Him (John 15:26). He is here to take from Jesus and disclose who Jesus is and what He’s done, and He gives Him to us every day as a free gift! Every day, He gives us new gifts to see something of Jesus. This becomes our pursuit.

This is what it means to “pursue” sanctification, without which no one will “see the Lord.” What is the goal? Is it sanctification or seeing the Lord? It is seeing the Lord! Why don’t you just look and seek the Lord and see His smiling face? Everything else will follow from that.

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