I have been enjoyed a re-reading of Jerry Bridges’ The Discipline of Grace, a true modern-day classic work. I have come to the sixth chapter which discusses sanctification, or being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
Bridges looks at two different texts and two different ways the Bible speaks the goal of the Christian life. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says that “we are being transformed into [Christ’s] likeness” while Romans 8:29 states that God “predestined [all believers] to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” Bridges says, “Christlkeness is God’s goal for all who trust in Christ, and that should be our goal also.”
Both words, transformed and conformed, have a common root, form, meaning a pattern or a mold. “Being transformed” refers to the process; conformed refers to the finished product. Jesus is our pattern or mold. We are being transformed so that we will eventually be conformed to the likeness of Jesus. Sanctification or holiness (the words are somewhat interchangeable), then, is conformity to the likeness of Jesus Christ.
He then asks, “How can we know whether we are being transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ?” He encourages Christians to begin with studying the character of Jesus, saying
One of my favorite descriptions of Christ is that He “loved righteousness and hated wickedness” (Hebrews 1:9). Jesus did not just act righteously, He loved righteousness. In His humanity He loved equity, fairness, justice, and upright dealings with others. At the same time He hated wickedness. Jesus hated sin as sin. We often hate the consequences of sin (even if it seems to be no more than guilt feelings that follow sin) but I suspect we seldom hate sin as sin.
I can certainly testify to this in my own life. In fact, one of my regular prayers is that the Lord would let me see sin as he sees it and, therefore, to hate it as he hates it. Bridges looks also to John 6:38 and says, “To be like Jesus is not just to stop committing a few obvious sins such as lying, cheating, gossiping, and thinking impure thoughts. To be like Jesus is to always seek to do the will of the Father. [It is] to come to the place where we delight to do the will of God, however sacrificial or unpleasant that may seem to us at the time, simply because it is His will.
The heart of the chapter, at least in my estimation, is Bridges’ explanation of the role of the gospel in our sanctification. This is something we all know at one level, but something that many of us have difficulty explaining. He says, “A clear understanding and appropriation of the gospel, which gives freedom from sin’s guilt and sins grip, is, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, a chief means of sanctification.” To know the gospel and to continually apply it, is one of the means the Lord uses to conform us to Christ’s image.
To the degree that we feel we are on a legal or performance relationship with God, to that degree our progress in sanctification is impeded. A legal mode of thinking gives indwelling sin an advantage, because nothing cuts to the nerve of the desire to pursue holiness as much as a sense of guilt. On the contrary, nothing so motivates us to deal with sin in our lives as does the understanding and application of the two truths that our sins are forgiven and the dominion of sin is broken because of our union with Christ.
We need to understand that “the cleansing of our consciences from the guilt of sin must precede our efforts to deal with the presence of sin in our daily lives.” And so we need the gospel to continually remind us that our sins have been forgiven in Christ and that we relate to the Lord through grace rather than law. “Our specific responsibility in the pursuit of holiness as seen in 2 Corinthians 3:18, then, is to behold the glory of the Lord as it is displayed in the gospel. The gospel is the ‘mirror’ through which we now behold His beauty.” And, therefore, until we see him face-to-face, we need to continually preach that gospel to ourselves every day.