Jesus is the only one of us who lived undamaged by sin. He walked among the wreckage of fallen humanity as a beacon of wholeness and health.
Jesus knew no sin yet the writer of Hebrews tells us he “learned obedience” and was “made perfect” (Heb. 5:8–9). That sounds like a contradiction, as though Jesus started out as a disobedient sinner but came good in the end. Perhaps he signed up for one of those sanctification courses and sweated his way to sinlessness.
No, that didn’t happen.
What the writer of Hebrews is saying is that the full beauty and purpose of Jesus’ ministry was not realized until the cross. Before he died, Christ’s ministry was incomplete or imperfect. But on the cross everything that needed to be done to save and sanctify you was accomplished:
Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” … When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:28,30)
Look at the words used in that passage to describe the climax of Jesus’ ministry; completed, fulfilled, finished. If Christ is your life, this is the sort of language you should use to describe your own pursuit of holiness: completed, fulfilled, finished. You don’t have to work to become holy; you have been made holy through Jesus’ completed, fulfilled, and finished work on the cross:
For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14, KJV)
Jesus did an astonishing thing for you. Through an act of his will and by the sacrifice of his body you have been sanctified for all time. This was the purpose of his ministry. He was numbered among the transgressors so that you might be numbered among the holy.
In all history only one person ever succeeded in sanctifying himself, and he did it on your behalf. Jesus said “I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified” (John 17:19).
Was Jesus-as-high-priest made perfect on the cross? Yes! Then you are well and truly sanctified. In Christ, you are 100% holy. You will never be more holy than the day you met Jesus. Believe it.
You are like the newlywed who wakes up on the first day of the honeymoon and says, “I don’t feel married—this is all new to me—but because of what happened yesterday I am well and truly married.”
This is not a gradual process requiring many years of slow laborious self-improvement. Just as you are either married or unmarried, you are either holy or unholy. The moment you said “I do” to the Holy One you entered into union with him and became just as holy as he is.
“Really? I’m not sure I can believe that, Paul.”
Well the good news for you is that the unbelieving spouse is sanctified by the other.
“But I don’t feel holy; in fact, I feel most unholy.”
Stop living on the basis of your feelings and align your thinking with God’s word. Go to language school if you must and acquaint yourself with the new vocabulary of holiness. You are not a sorry sinner in need of sanctification; you are a holy saint and the holy temple of the Holy Spirit. Can you imagine the Holy Spirit living in an unholy dump? Of course not. Yet he lives in you. You must be holy.
“You have said holiness means completeness or wholeness. But I come from a broken family and a broken marriage. I feel incomplete.”
A husband or wife won’t complete you and neither will raising children. We put unholy pressure on others when we expect them to do what only God can do. “You are complete in him” (Col. 2:10, NKJV). Jesus completes you.
You were broken, but in him you are whole. You were in lack, but he who has Christ lacks no good thing. Your life was a sinful mess, but he gave you beauty for ashes. You don’t need to be made perfect because in Christ you are perfect forever.
Being holy is not trying to attain what you have already received, nor is it trying to do what Christ has already done. The exhortation to be holy is an invitation to live the holy and abundant life that is already ours in Christ.
Extracted from The Gospel in Ten Words.
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