One of the comments put on an earlier blog pointed people to some articles on our website explaining John 2:23-25 and John 8:30-32. I went to one of the articles on John 8:30-32. I found the following section, which I think is worthy of repetition and expansion. Here is what I wrote (you can see the whole article here):
THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS NOT PRIMARILY A MATTER OF DETERMINATION TO OBEY
I don’t recall discussing the issue of the place of the will and of determination in the Christian life with Zane until long after I studied under him. When we were in church together at Victor Street Bible Chapel in Dallas, we discussed this issue. At the time, around 1992, I thought that obedience was primarily a matter of practice (i.e., the spiritual disciplines) and desire and determination, like what is needed to finish a marathon.
Zane told me he believed that my view was essentially a legalistic view. If I just determine not to do the evil and determine instead to do the good, then I am trapped in a Romans 7 experience. Focusing on the commands produces enslavement to sin, not freedom from it.
Zane explained that while we need to desire to please God and to obey God, the way in which we do that is not by ratcheting up our determination. It is by realizing who we are in Christ and then allowing God’s Word to transform us. Back then he pointed me to verses that he later championed in Six Secrets of the Christian Life, Rom 12:1-2 and 2 Cor 3:18. So while a determination to obey is a fine thing in one sense, we must recognize that in itself it is actually insufficient. We need the Spirit of God to apply the Word of God to our thinking, and to renew our minds, so that the desired transformation will occur.
I found this a radical and thoroughly Biblical teaching then. And I see now that it is rooted in the Lord’s teachings in John 8:30-32.
I believe what Zane taught me about sanctification is vitally important. Many preachers have the same confusion that I had. Since they believe that determination to obey is vital, that is what they preach. People in their churches are likely to become rules followers.
The problem is not in the goal. Desiring to please God and obey Him is a good thing. The problem is in the method of reaching that goal. The Christian life cannot be lived victoriously based on determination, dedication, and drive. Yes, our motivations are important. But our motivations are all Christ-based. We want His blessing now on us and our families. We want to avoid His displeasure and temporal judgment. We want to please Him. We want to have His approval and praise at the Judgment Seat of Christ. We want to glorify Him as much as possible in the life to come. The way we gain those things is by the Spirit of God taking the Word of God and changing us. The primary way in which we take in God’s Word is at church. That is God’s design. After all, fourteen centuries of believers did not have the Scriptures in their own language. All the Bible they received was at church.
A Spirit-transformed life is the goal. That is achieved by our realizing that the work is not really done by us. Our work is to go to church hungry for God’s Word, longing for the pure milk of the Word (1 Pet 2:2). Our work is to confess the sins of which we are aware (1 John 1:9). Our work is to watch for the Lord’s soon return, living each day longing to please Him. Our work is to pray and to ask God to transform us. But our work is not to change ourselves. He does that as we diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6).
Many people criticize the Free Grace position as promoting sin. I’ve found the opposite to be true. The Free Grace position promotes holiness. All other views, no matter how well intentioned, are legalistic at their core. Of course, even we in the Free Grace movement can have an essentially legalistic view of sanctification. I did for years. But if we are consistent, then our view of sanctification will not be legalistic.
Lord God, please change us from the inside out. Please take Your Word and renew our minds so that our lives can be transformed. We long to hear the Lord Jesus say, “Well done, good servant.”