We Need Christ All Along the Way
One of the statements I find myself returning to frequently these days as I have the privilege to preach God's Word is that no matter how far along the pathway of the Christian pilgrimage one has trod, one will always need Christ. Whether you have been a Christian for decades or have only recently come to faith, you will always need Christ. Tullian Tchividjian has a wonderful quotation from B. B. Warfield to this effect here. In other words, there is no point in the Christian's life when he or she ever outgrows the need for his or her Savior. And yet that is the way it appears some saints either theoretically or practically live. It is as if we need Christ to be justified but it is all left up to us to deal with sanctification and growth in grace. This is surely wrong and dangerous. It is Christ and his gospel that fuels the Christian life that is pleasing to God. This erroneous way of conceiving of the Christian life, where we forget about the fact of our justification as we wrestle with our sanctification, may be the result of a failure to remember that all of our life stems from our union with Christ.
John 15 is helpful in this regard. The only way we can bear good fruit (good works pleasing to God because seen in the light of the Son with whom we are united) is by being a branch connected to the vine. You see, no matter how far along the pathway we have trekked, we will never produce good works or be sanctified sufficiently to meet the demands of God's perfect rule of righteousness. It is not as though God has lowered his high and holy standard of what is right. No, not at all. What is really the case is that Christ by his perfect life and perfect death has met the requirements of the Law and that is why our feeble attempts at producing good fruit are accepted by a loving heavenly Father. God the Father looks at our good works and our painfully minimal and fitful growth in grace and accepts them because we are in Christ, we are branches that receive our nourishment by being attached to the vine.
A careful reading of John 15 shows us that we only have life in the Vine and nowhere else. It also shows us that if we are in the Vine we will produce good fruit. The point is that we ought not to think of the Christian life as one that begins with faith in Christ and then quickly outgrows that for something else. There is no "something else." If a preacher calls Christians to obedience to God's Word without reference to the Christ of the gospel he has failed miserably to represent his Lord. I pray that I would never fail to lead people to the Water of Life who is none other than Christ himself. Christ is my life and my justification, adoption, definitive and progressive sanctification and glorification are all found in him and in him alone.
Theology is immensely practical here. If we attempt to grow in the Christian life while leaving behind the glory of the gospel of Christ and the glory of the Christ of the gospel, we are attempting the impossible. We are also robbing ourselves of the sweet assurance of our salvation. John Calvin was correct when he noted that growth in the Christian life is built upon the firm foundation of knowing that we are reconciled to our heavenly Father. There can be no growth or service without the firm foundation of favor with God. Otherwise sons become slaves (in the non-biblical sense) and there is no joy in the journey. Unfortunately the terrible idea that lack of assurance of salvation fuels holiness did not die with Medieval Roman Catholicism. It rears its ugly head even in Reformed circles where it has no business to show its wretched face.
Christians are called to lives of obedience. But it is an obedience empowered by the Holy Spirit who raised our Lord from the dead (Romans 6). The same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is at work in those who believe to work in them new obedience. The Holy Spirit is the nutriment that flows from the Vine to the branches. Obedience flows from both gratitude and the sweet energy of the Spirit of Christ. It is true that Paul tells Christians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, but we ought never to forget the source of the power for that. For it is God at work in us to will and to do his good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13).
No matter where we are in the Christian life we will always need Jesus Christ who is our very life. We never are good enough to dispense with Christ. Perish the thought! Have you outgrown your need of your Savior? May it never be!!