“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8-10
I recently (and somewhat painfully) learned that order matters when you combine ingredients in a recipe.
You combine all the dry ingredients, then all the wet ingredients, and then combine the two. And if you get it out of order, the recipe doesn’t come out right.
Order matters, and when things get out of order, there are consequences.
When we look at our lives in Christ, we all have the tendency to get things out of order. But it seems to me that Paul the apostle wove a thread of the correct order throughout his writings. And the order of God’s work in and through us matters much – if we get these things out of order, we will drift away from a gospel-centered perspective into either moralism or license.
Order matters. Take a look:
Of course, you can go back further than this – the gospel must be preached in order for a person to believe it. But true life in Christ begins when someone not only hears, but hears with their heart the message of the gospel, recognizes their need, and sees Jesus as supremely valuable. That person turns from their self-lordship and embraces the new life in Christ. They believe the gospel, and they are once and for all born again into life with Him.
When someone believes the gospel, everything changes (or at least it should). Yes, believing the gospel changes where you will spend eternity. But the response to the gospel does more than just determine a person’s trajectory; it determines a person’s identity. It does more than change where you’re going, it changes who you’re becoming.
When we believe the gospel, we are made new. New identity. New desires. New goals. New Lord. New everything. And even though we are made new on the inside, the Holy Spirit continues to invest His transformative power in us so that our outer actions catch up with our inner identity. This leads to step 3.
This process of growing up in Christ happens as we time and time again embrace, through the Holy Spirit’s power, what God has done for us in Christ. Sanctification, which is the process by which the Holy Spirit makes us holy, happens as our behavior falls into line with our identity. Paul’s theology, the “believe, become, behave” model, recognizes that we have already become something new in Christ. We are already different. That means that the behavior part is not an effort to become something different; it’s about recognizing and living out the newness that is already in us.
But we have the tendency to take these things in the wrong order, and when we do, we get a misshapen view of our life in Christ. For example, a “believe, behave, become” model that implicitly teaches that if you behave in the right way, you can, at last, become something good and acceptable to God. That’s not the gospel; it’s moralism in which we are trusting in ourselves to do the work only God can do.
It matters a lot. When we understand and embrace the order of God’s work in us and others, we are prepared to grow not in ourselves, but in the gospel which prizes Christ above all things.
What is the order of your spiritual life?
Written by Michael Kelley, Guest Contributor
To read more of Michael’s writing, check out his daily blog, Forward Progress http://michaelkelley.co/