Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: The old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:17). Only let us live up to what we have already attained (Phil 3:16).
These two verses summarize all that the New Testament has to say about life after salvation. Once we’re saved, God sees us as a new creation. Note the use of the past perfect tense in these verses; the old has gone, the new has come, we have already attained. We don’t make ourselves into a new creation, we have been made into a new creation. It’s not a process we undertake through hard work and self-sacrifice. It’s not even something that happens over time through careful submission to the prodding of the Holy Spirit. It has already happened. Hebrews 10:12-14 clearly states that the Lord’s once-for-all-time sacrifice has made us perfect forever. (Has made, not is making, or will make.)
Ephesians 1:13-14 says this took place at the moment we believed, and the seal of the Holy Spirit was given to us at that time to guarantee our inheritance. 2 Cor.1:21-22 adds that from then on it is God who makes us stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come.
This is an expansion of 1 Cor. 5:19-20, where Paul said we are not our own, but have been bought at a price. It means our destiny is no longer under our own control but has been taken over by God Himself. If we try to wander off, He will hunt us down and bring us back, just like a shepherd brings back the sheep who wander off. Sheep don’t decide their own destiny. The owner determines that, and it’s the shepherd’s responsibility to make sure it happens. Read again what Jesus said about this.
I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day (John 6:38-39).
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30).
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ (Luke 15:3-6).
Don’t get the idea from this that I think God decides who will be saved and who won’t. That goes against Scripture (1 Tim. 2:3-4, 2 Peter 3:9). Remember, we don’t become sheep until we choose to become believers.
As believers, we’re part of the Good Shepherd’s flock. The destiny He has determined for us will come to pass and believe me when I say it defies description. He has been working for 2,000 years preparing the place where we’ll live with Him forever. The primary building materials for our new home are pure gold and precious gems (Rev. 21:18-20). At a time that is unknowable in advance, except that it will precede the coming end times judgments, He will call us up to meet him in the air and take us there, after which we’ll always be with Him (John 14:1-3, 1 Thes. 4:16-17).
All this is well known to long time followers of gracethrufaith.com, and is repeated here for review, to refresh our memories. The point of this study is to focus on our life as believers between now and when He takes us to our new home. If Jesus has done everything, and God has taken ownership of us to make our destiny certain, what is there for us to do?
Becoming What We Already Are.
This is where the second reference I quoted above comes in. In Phil 3:16Paul wrote, “Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” Once again, note the past perfect tense in the phrase “we have already attained.” We don’t have to work to get this. We have already attained it. So what is it we’ve already attained?
In Galatians 4:4-7 Paul said Jesus came to redeem us so we could receive the full rights of sons. This confirms John 1:12-13 which says,
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
Paul went on to say that since God has accepted us as His children, He has also made us His heirs. And that’s not all. After telling us we were formerly objects of God’s wrath, Paul wrote the following in Ephesians 2:4-7;
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
And again, please notice the past tense of these verbs. He made us alive, He raised us up with Christ. He seated us with Him. From God’s perspective these things have already been accomplished.
By saying that God seated us with Christ, Paul was making reference to Ephesians 1:20-21 where he said,
“He raised Christ from the dead and seated him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”
So that’s what we’ve already attained. We’ve become God’s children and His heirs, and we’ve been seated with Christ at His right hand, above every authority, every power, and every name.
As members of God’s royal family, we’ve been set free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). But such freedom carries great responsibility. In 1 Cor. 10:23 Paul wrote,
Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible, but not everything is constructive.
Then he said, “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others”(1 Cor 10:24).
As part of the royal family, we’re admonished to set the standard for appropriate behavior, but not because we have to protect our status. Our status has been guaranteed by God Himself. We do this as representatives of our Lord, who put the good of others above His own to the ultimate extreme. Paul said although He was God Himself, He didn’t demand to be treated as God’s equal. Instead He became the humblest of men, a servant to others, and was obedient even to death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8).
Contrast that with the attitude of some men, who can never be God but demand to be treated as if they are. The anti-Christ is the Bible’s ultimate model of that behavior, exalting himself above everything that is called God or is worshiped, setting himself up in God’s Temple proclaiming himself to be God (2 Thes. 2:4).
What If I Don’t Do It?
Now before you get the idea I’m trying to guilt you in to cleaning up your act, let me state clearly that in the ultimate sense there’s no penalty for neglecting to live up to what you’ve already attained. You may live an unfruitful life here, but there is no power in Heaven or on Earth that can ever take away your status as a child of God. Paul said even if every thing you ever do as a believer is burned up in the fires of judgment, you’ll still be saved (1 Cor. 3:15).
According to Romans 12:1, living up to what we’ve already attained is a voluntary act of worship, an expression of our gratitude for the mercy God has shown to us. Through all of Paul’s instructions on how to live a Christian life, there’s never a threat that failure to behave in a certain way will cause us to be kicked out of God’s family. We can’t ever lose our royal status. By offering His body in payment for our sins the Lord was performing a voluntary act of service to His Father. Had He refused to do so, He would still be the Son of God. In the same way, offering our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, is our spiritual act of worship. If we refuse to do it we’ll still be one of His Children.
I can’t tell you how much I wish this had become the predominate teaching of the Church in regards to Christian living, instead of the hell fire and brimstone rants so many of us grew up hearing every Sunday. To hear them talk, it seems like God loved us enough to die for our sins while we still hated Him, but as soon as we declared our love for Him, He became determined to make us toe the mark and pay for every sin we ever committed afterward. And if we didn’t we would be disowned.
Maybe some of you are thinking of verses you’ve heard that appear to refute this idea of freedom in Christ. But if they did, the word of God would be contradicting itself, something that’s impossible for God to do. We’re not saved by grace, then kept by our own works. As soon as you add work to the equation, grace is canceled out. If our behavior could be good enough to keep us saved, it would have been good enough to save us in the first place, and God would not have had to send His Son to die for us.
Why Did He Do That?
Jesus didn’t die to make bad men good. He died so dead men could live. And He didn’t just get us started on the road to eternal life and then leave the rest to us. He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6).
Some would have us believe that the presence of the Holy Spirit within us makes it impossible for us to ever sin again. But all we have to do is observe the Christians around us to see that’s not true. The truth is that the Holy Spirit came to restore our power of choice. Unbelievers have no choice about their behavior because they’re only getting input from their sin nature. Believers get input from both their sin nature and the Holy Spirit and can choose which to accept.
But even then it’s not a level playing field because our sin nature’s input is our default choice. It’s what will always feel most natural to us. We have to consciously choose to over ride the sin nature’s input to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That’s why some call following the Holy Spirit’s input making a “contrary-to-feelings” choice. It’s not natural to us. Sometimes we forget to consider our choices before acting and other times our natural inclination carries such strong feelings that we ignore the Holy Spirit’s counsel. This is when we sin.
Afterwards the Holy Spirit will convict us of our sin, we’ll feel remorse, and we’ll ask the Lord to forgive us. If we confess our sins, the Lord is just and faithful and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness(1 John 1:9). The sin will immediately be forgiven and forgotten. God can do this because His son has already paid the penalty for it.
Listen to Paul’s testimony of his own experience with sin. “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sin nature. For I have the desire to do what is good but I can’t carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no the evil I do not want to do – this is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:18-20).
Paul said it was as if his spirit and his body were at war. One delighted in God’s law, while the other made him a prisoner of the law of sin. After admitting what a wretched man he was because of this conflict, He concluded by expressing his thanks to God for rescuing him from his body of death through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:21-25). You can feel the emotions behind his words shifting from extreme frustration to extreme gratitude.
This is a remarkable testimony and explains why being saved does not mean we are no longer able to sin. Being saved means when we do sin, God no longer counts it against us. He is able to separate the believer from the behavior. He sees the believer (us) as a new creation, free from sin, and attributes the behavior to our sin nature, which is not part of the new creation. Earlier in his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote that King David understood this would be the case a thousand years before the Lord came to earth. Quoting Psalm 32:1-2 he wrote,
Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him (Romans 4:7-8).
When Paul admonished us to live up to what we’ve already attained, he was telling us to stop and think before we act and listen to the counsel of the Holy Spirit. From his own experience he knew we couldn’t completely rid our lives of sin, but he also knew that living in a manner that’s pleasing to God is the very best way of expressing our gratitude to Him for making us a new creation and giving us the incredible gift of eternal life.