Believers are not innocent of sin. In all true believers, there is an acute awareness of sin. Like David we confess, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me…Make me to hear joy and gladness, let the bones which You have broken rejoice…,” (Ps. 51:3, 8).
In addition, we are ever prone to seek righteousness by the law (cf., Gal. 1:6; 3:3). We are guilty of failing to live by faith in the Gospel, to seek righteousness and life by virtue of Christ’s death. This sin of unbelief, indeed, is our great sin.
In our more lucid moments, we know that there still remains something of a legalist/Pharisee in all of us and we are all to cognizant of our failures and lack of holiness.
Due to this ongoing struggle, we often lament the slow work of sanctification in our lives. And, as a consequence, we are often tempted to think (though we do not voice it) that Christ’s death for our sin was in vain. As such, we lose our consolation, our peace, our assurance of God’s favor toward us.
Whenever your sin seems to have the upper hand, remember these two Gospel consolations, Christ’s death and the grace of God.
The Death of Christ
It is true that sin will be an ever present fact in the believer’s life and that one’s conscience will remind him of it. But, remember this:
Though sin will be present and your conscience will accuse, Christ did not die in vain. The virtue of Christ’s death remains. He has made peace through the blood of His Cross (Col. 1:20). He has brought us near by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:13). In Christ, we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him (Eph. 3:12). Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1).
Please note all the present tense promises by virtue of Christ’s death: “He has made peace…,” “He has brought us near…,” “…we have boldness and confident access…,” “…we have peace with God.”
Do you lament the slowness and imperfection of your sanctification? Do not despair. Here is your consolation, “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.” Christ Jesus “gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds,” (Titus 2:14).
The virtue and efficacy of Christ’s death is not dependent upon our performance or lack thereof but upon Christ’s performance! If our consolation was to be found dependent upon our works, Christ’s death certainly would be in vain. As Paul writes, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
But, since our consolation is a gift of God, no present or future sins shall be able to weaken, hinder, undermine, reduce, spoil or decrease the efficacy of Christ’s death for our sin! Praise God!
Do you bemoan the fact that you are unworthy of such great comfort and blessing? Take heart. You are unworthy, but, Christ isn’t! As unworthy as you are, you can take great consolation that your righteousness does not come by the law but by faith in Christ!
There is great consolation in the fact that righteousness does not come by the law and condemnation from the law does not come to any man in Christ. “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Rom. 8:1). Christ has not died in vain. For, just as sin has made it impossible for the law to justify us, so the death of Christ has made it impossible for the law to condemn us!
In justification, the law has nothing to do with us. The law cannot help you while you are under it, it can only condemn. And, if you are in Christ, the law cannot condemn you because by virtue of Christ’s death you have been forgiven.
Feed daily upon this glorious truth, that Christ has not died in vain. For whenever the battle with sin rages, recall to your mind this consoling truth, Christ has not died in vain!
Christ’s death is our unchangeable foundation of consolation. John Newton’s hymn, “Approach, My Soul, The Mercy Seat,” captures the consoling promise of Christ’s death beautifully:
Approach, my soul, the mercy seat,
Where Jesus answers prayer;
There humbly fall before His feet,
For none can perish there.
Thy promise is my only plea,
With this I venture nigh;
Thou callest burdened souls to Thee,
And such, O Lord, am I.
Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
By Satan sorely pressed,
By war without and fears within,
I come to Thee for rest.
Be Thou my Shield and hiding Place,
That, sheltered by Thy side,
I may my fierce accuser face,
And tell him Thou hast died!
(Words by John Newton, “Approach, My Soul, The Mercy Seat,” Olney Hymns, 1779)