An excerpt from “Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience" by Christopher Ash
Matt is talking to his youth leader at church. ‘I am a Christian. I have turned from sin and trusted Christ. Really. And I think God is at work in me to change me. Often it feels like “two steps forward, one step back”, or even “one step forward, two steps back”. But, taking it all in all, other people whom I trust tell me that I am gradually changing for the better. And the more I change, the closer I feel to God.’
Most of us can identify with Matt’s comments. So this is the problem: why am I expected to rejoice now about being close to God when the reality is that I ought to be struggling now to get closer to God (and maybe look forward to being very close to him in the future)?
Let’s look at a verse from that section of Hebrews 9 and 10 that we focused on earlier in the chapter: ‘For by one sacrifice he [Christ] has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy’ (Hebrews 10:14).
Notice the surprise. Christ has made perfect people who are still being made holy. How can this be? Surely it would be more logical to say, ‘Christ is gradually making perfect people who are gradually being made holy.’ But he doesn’t say that. The reality in your and my heart is that we are gradually – so, so gradually! – being made holy, godly and Christlike.10 BUT – and this is the big thing to grasp – we who are gradually being changed have already been made perfect in the sight of God by the death of Jesus Christ. By his one sacrifice for us he has made us perfect, definitively cleansing our consciences so that we can follow our High Priest into the Most Holy Place, the presence of God the Father himself.
On the face of it, it would seem more humble to say what Matt says, that we are gradually getting closer to God. But it is actually very arrogant. It implies that we can get ourselves closer to God, and this makes what Jesus did for us on the cross pointless. It is like adding our pathetic touching- up paintwork to the masterpiece of Jesus’ finished work on the cross.
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10. See Tim Chester, You Can Change (IVP, 2008).