It can be easy to think salvation is about a happy future—eternal life in heaven instead of hell. Jesus’ sacrifice does give us a sure hope of glory, but there’s much more to it than that. Salvation makes a difference now.
Jesus came to earth to save us from sin, from its eternal consequences and from its power and dominion in our lives. He purchased our redemption, and because of His saving power we can have victory today. We can have newness and holiness and goodness through the power of Jesus’ blood and the Holy Spirit in us. Although we must deal with our old sin nature, we are new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17), and we are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6:6).
God’s Purpose is for Us to be Holy
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, the whole human race fell with them. Each of us was born sinful. But God commands that we be holy (1 Peter 1:16). How can we reconcile this command with our sinful human nature? Did God ask for what is impossible?
Yes, He did—but then He made it possible. He sent His son, who became sin for us, so that we could become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Paul tells us that “He chose us in him… that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4). Peter writes that Jesus “himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
Throughout the New Testament epistles, we read that by placing our faith in Jesus’ work on the cross we are made new—re-created, born again—and that our new nature is not the fallen nature we inherited from Adam, but one that is righteous before God and equipped for good works. The first part—righteousness before God, or justification—is instantaneous. The second part—learning to live in harmony with our new nature, becoming sanctified—is a process. It’s a wondrous paradox: We are both completely holy and continuing to grow in holiness as God’s overcoming power works in us.
The Blood of Jesus
The power to be holy, to overcome sin, is first and foremost a result of Jesus’ shed blood. In Revelation 1:5, Paul writes of “Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.” The author of Hebrews speaks of Jesus suffering outside the gate “that he might sanctify the people through his own blood.” Victory—power over sin—is first attained through connecting by faith with Jesus’ sacrifice.
The Holy Spirit
When Jesus ascended to Heaven after His earthly ministry was over, the Holy Spirit came to dwell in the hearts of believers. It is He who carries on the work of sanctification (Romans 15:16). God promised through the prophet Ezekiel that He would put His Spirit in us, and thus enable us, or “cause” us, to walk in His laws (Ezekiel 36:27). He enables us to walk in righteousness. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he brings out the importance of living in accord with the Spirit. “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). There is a battle between the sin nature and our new nature, and the new nature relies on the Holy Spirit to “put to death” the works of sin nature (Romans 8:13).
Sometimes we grow discouraged, and feel like sin might be gaining mastery over us. Paul wrestled with the frustration, crying “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). He goes on to say, however, that it is sin in him that does these things, and that in his inner being, the new man, he “delight[s] in the law of God” (Romans 7:22). He recognizes there is a battle going on within, and then triumphantly points to Jesus as having already won that battle. “The law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). So we don’t need to grow discouraged, but rather we can have faith in the work Christ did, perseverance in looking to Him for victory, and confidence that He will perfect the work of righteousness in us (Philippians 1:6).
In one of his letters to the churches, Paul puts it even more strongly: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And that life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). That part of us that is sinful was taken care of by Christ’s death—it was put to death with Him—and now it is He who lives in us.
We can have great confidence in the work of God in bringing about victory in our lives, for “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (I Thessalonians 5:24). It is He who is doing the work, and His work is perfect and powerful (Ephesians 1:19).
The love of God plays an important role in this sanctification process. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Our great love for Him, born in us as a result of His love for us, makes us desire His ways. And His love for us, Paul writes, “controls us; because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Love, Romans tells us, “is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). His love brought about our redemption, and our lives are not our own. Our love for Him calls us to live for Him.
The Word of God
One key element to overcoming power is the transforming power of God’s Word (I Thessalonians 2:13). Timothy reminds us, “All scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). Jesus prayed to His father that He would “Sanctify them in the truth: your word is truth” (John 17:17). And when David asks, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” he immediately provides the answer: “By guarding it according to your word” (Psalm 119:9). He also writes, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). Reading and abiding by the word of God is vital in realizing overcoming power. James sums it up nicely this way: “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:21-22).
Sanctification is growing into the full stature of Christ (Eph 4:13); it is a process. Learning to abide in the Spirit and put to death the works of the flesh can take time. Sometimes God gives victory in an instant, but sometimes we battle with sin in a certain area for months or years. Sometimes the process is difficult. In those times, it’s important to be patient and continue going boldly to “the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16). Paul comforts us with the promise that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28-29). Even the hard struggle is something God will work together for good. The process itself is valuable. And remember: the outcome is guaranteed.
The process may involve having to receive correction from God, or having to bear the results of our sins. Not to worry. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:10-11).
James gives further comfort as we patiently wait on God for the manifestation of His overcoming power in our lives. He writes, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into manifold temptations; knowing that the proving of your faith worketh patience. And let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4, ASV). There is even joy in the struggle, for that very struggle shows the ongoing work of God in our lives.
Looking to Jesus
The reason we desire overcoming power, of course, is so that we can be like Jesus. That is the goal: to become more like Him. And the best way to do that is simply to look to Him. We look to Him for help, for leadership, but most of all to behold Him in His glory. And as we look to Him, we are changed. “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). As we follow His leadership, we discover that He “always leads us in triumphal procession” (2 Corinthians 2:14). And in the end we find that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
We can live lives that demonstrate God’s overcoming power. We are not slaves to sin any longer, for Christ won victory over sin on the cross, and we live in Him and He in us. Through His power, we are transformed into His image. Through His grace we are counted righteous. Through His victory, we too can be victorious.