Completed by the Spirit Part 21: Do Not Submit Again to a Yoke of Slavery

Ed Trefzger

Ed Trefzger

This is the 21st part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

Given all that we’ve stud­ied in this series, how do we apply what is shown to us about sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion in Scripture?

How do we grow in holi­ness or coun­sel those who are com­bat­ing sin by rely­ing on the Holy Spirit and fol­low­ing imper­a­tives grounded in the indica­tive of the gospel and the gift of the Spirit of Christ to dwell in us?

Our study has pro­vided us two answers: one pos­i­tive and one negative.

We do focus on the gospel.

We do not focus on the law.

When we set our eyes on Christ and look at His per­son and work, we behold more and more what it is that our union with Him has granted to us.

Elyse M. Fitz­patrick and Den­nis E. John­son write of the impor­tance of more fully com­pre­hend­ing our union with Christ through His Spirit:

The gospel tells us that Jesus’ life has been given for us and to us. His holy desires have been planted in our hearts. We’re one with him through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Med­i­tat­ing on these truths will ener­gize our pur­suit of god­li­ness because our belief that we are in union with Christ “is key to over­com­ing sin in our lives. … When any of us lose sight of our priv­i­leged posi­tion as a result of our union with Christ, we lose our abil­ity to resist sin.”[1]

Our union with Christ should refresh our hearts with joy and strengthen our faith to enable us to fight for holi­ness. Real­iz­ing that he has loved us so much that he has made us one with him­self should engen­der fer­vent love in our hearts, result­ing in fer­vent obe­di­ence.[2]

Fitz­patrick and John­son almost get it. But they do stop short of rec­og­niz­ing the effects of the mys­tic union we have with Christ’s Spirit and so they seem to frame it more as an intel­lec­tual or emo­tional response. It is more than that. The Puri­tan Thomas Wat­son once preached:

This union with Christ may well be called mys­tic. It is hard to describe the man­ner of it. It is hard to show how the soul is united to the body, and how Christ is united to the soul. But though this union is spir­i­tual, it is real. Things in nature often work insen­si­bly, yet really (Eccles. 11:5). We do not see the hand move on the dial, yet it moves. The sun exhales and draws up the vapours of the earth insen­si­bly yet really. So the union between Christ and the soul, though it is imper­cep­ti­ble to the eye of rea­son, is still real (1 Cor. 6:17).[3]

Jerry Bridges also acknowl­edges our union with the Spirit of Christ while express­ing won­der at its nature:

The way the Spirit oper­ates in our lives to sanc­tify us is shrouded in mys­tery. Paul said He works in us “to will and to act accord­ing to his good pur­pose” (Philip­pi­ans 2:13), but he never tells us just how the Holy Spirit inter­acts with, or works on, our human spirit. I like to know how things work, and I used to try to fig­ure out how the Holy Spirit inter­acts with our spirit, but I finally real­ized it was a futile pur­suit.[4]

We need con­stantly to be reminded of our union with Christ and con­stantly to be rein­forced in our iden­tity in Him. Thirdly, we need to under­stand our free­dom in Him. Ulti­mately, our nature will be like His; our actions will be holy because our nature will be holy. We will not need laws and rules because our glo­ri­fied selves will be by nature with­out sin and our actions will reflect that holy nature. We will be free. “[W]here the Spirit of the Lord is, there is free­dom” (2 Cor 3:17). “For free­dom Christ has set us free; stand firm there­fore, and do not sub­mit again to a yoke of slav­ery” (Gal 5:1).

But sub­mis­sion to a yoke of slav­ery – the slav­ery of sin – is exactly what those would have us use the law as the yard­stick – or more accu­rately as a night­stick – for our sanctification.

An empha­sis on per­sonal per­for­mance mea­sured by and brow-beaten by the law brings on the despair of the man of Romans 7, or the hideous and cruel self-condemnation advo­cated by oth­ers. That focus on the law pro­duces what Fitz­patrick and John­son call the “Sad Moralist:”

[T]he Sad Moral­ist really does see the law and says in response, “I can’t believe that God loves me like that; why would he?” He knows that God is tran­scen­dent, not to be tri­fled with. The Sad Moral­ist is a “seri­ous” Chris­t­ian. When he reads the com­mands in Matthew 22:37 and fol­low­ing[5] he doesn’t think for one moment he has ful­filled them. He knows his sin. But … he has a pride prob­lem. He believes that he ought to do bet­ter, so he is harsh with him­self, and he thrashes him­self with con­dem­na­tion, hop­ing that by so doing he will be able to obey and finally find rest.

He is try­ing to jus­tify him­self by his repen­tance. He is scrupu­lously reli­gious and fre­quently out­paces other Chris­tians around him. But sadly that is never enough to calm his con­science. He thinks that if he could just see his sin as it really is and be sorry enough for it, God would be pleased with him. When he reads about God’s love for us in Christ, he isn’t com­forted or enthralled. He is ter­ri­fied and con­demned. He doesn’t know the peace that Christ promises or the joy that should infect his heart.

He … is try­ing to avoid the real­i­ties of the gospel. … [H]e is try­ing to prove that he is wor­thy, thereby remov­ing the “stum­bling block” of the cross (1 Cor. 1:23).[6]

Isn’t ter­ri­fied con­dem­na­tion the response we would expect from bind­ing peo­ple under the law?

Isn’t that how we would expect peo­ple to behave when we focus them on self-improvement instead of focus­ing them on what God has done for us in Christ?

Isn’t that what we would expect to see when we focus believ­ers on the law instead of on what God has done in giv­ing His Holy Spirit to us?

Isn’t that exactly what we should expect when we focus believ­ers on exter­nal laws that are derived from love instead of focus­ing them on what God has done in us by giv­ing us the abil­ity to love Him and to love our neighbor?

Paul’s antithe­ses between Spirit and law show the inef­fec­tive­ness of the law. To expect our own selves – or those we might coun­sel – to show the fruit of the Spirit through the use of the sin-promoting yoke of the law is like the def­i­n­i­tion of insan­ity attrib­uted to Albert Ein­stein: “doing the same thing over and over again and expect­ing dif­fer­ent results.”[7]

Paul has con­demned the use of law both in our jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and in our sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion. Paul does not advo­cate Torah in any of his epistles.

To force exter­nal law upon believ­ers because of doc­tri­nal, con­fes­sional or sys­tem­atic tra­di­tion is unbib­li­cal and cruel. Paul tells us our walk should be one of free­dom, joy and love.

Self-loathing, pen­i­tence and despair have no place in Paul’s the­ol­ogy, except as the sorry state of the pre-regenerate man. To advo­cate plac­ing the bind­ing yoke of the slav­ery that pro­duces sin is noth­ing short of cruel spir­i­tual abuse and egre­gious pas­toral malfeasance.

Next: Com­pleted by the Spirit Part 22: A Summary


[1] The source quotes Bryan Chapell, Holi­ness by Grace: Delight­ing in the Joy That Is Our Strength (Wheaton, IL: Cross­way, 2001), 50–51.
[2] Elyse M. Fitz­patrick and Den­nis E. John­son, Coun­sel From The Cross: Con­nect­ing Bro­ken Peo­ple to the Love of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Cross­way, 2009), 115.
[3] Thomas Wat­son, “Mys­tic Union Between Christ and the Saints” (http://www.puritansermons.com/watson/watson3.htm), accessed July 25, 2010.
[4] Jerry Bridges, The Dis­ci­pline of Grace (Col­orado Springs: Nav­Press, 2006), 107–8.
[5] You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. [38] This is the great and first com­mand­ment. [39] And a sec­ond is like it: You shall love your neigh­bor as your­self. [40] On these two com­mand­ments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matt 23:37b-40a)
[6] Fitz­patrick and John­son, 79.
[7] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alberteins133991.html, accessed July 25, 2010.