Christ in us in our Sanctification
by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth (John 17:17).
We saw in our last study how nothing so promotes sanctification as the realisation that we are in Christ; the realisation that we are declared righteous by God, that we are justified, and that God looks upon us now as in Christ. So here we are, then, people in Christ facing a new life, the kind of life that he lived, and we realise now that we are called to live in that way. John puts it in his first epistle like this: `As he is, so are we in this world’ (1 John 4:17). We are to follow in his steps who did no wrong:’… neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously’ (1 Peter 2:22-23). That is what is meant by being sanctified—we are to be like him. Sanctification is not so much an experience, as to be like him; to be separated from the world and sin; to be separated unto God. This is the whole process of the teaching; being in Christ, we are called to live even as he lived in this world.
But then, I imagine someone saying at this point, `How can this be done? Who are we that we should even attempt to live such a life?’ And that brings us to the next aspect of the truth that we must consider, for we are told very plainly in the Scriptures that we are not left to ourselves. God does not call us to an impossible life, and command us to live it, and then leave us to ourselves to do so somehow, anyhow. That is an entirely false understanding of the scriptural teaching, for here we come to this next great emphasis, which is that the Christian is one who is regenerated. All the ethical teaching of the Scriptures is based upon that supposition. All the appeals made in the epistles for conduct and behaviour—and we must never be tired of pointing this out—are always made to Christian people.
It is a fatal thing to expect Christian conduct from people who are not Christians. The Bible never asks that. The Bible knows that the natural man, the man born with human nature as it has been since the fall of Adam, cannot possibly live such a life. The whole point of the giving of the Ten Commandments under the moral law is, in a sense, just to prove that. As Paul argues in the epistle to the Romans, the law was added `that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful’ (Romans 7:13). God did not give the law to the Children of Israel in the hope that possibly they might keep it and thereby save themselves. That was impossible. It could not be done. The `carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be’ (Romans 8:7). So the law was given in order, to use a modern phrase, to pinpoint sin, to bring home to us our sinfulness; to establish our guilt; to show us our utter helplessness.
Furthermore, if it is impossible for man, as he is by nature, to keep the moral law as given by God to man through Moses, how much more impossible is it for any man, in his own strength or power, to live the kind of life that the Lord Jesus Christ lived, or to live the Sermon on the Mount. It is utterly and absolutely impossible. On the contrary, let me say it again, all the ethical and moral appeals in the New Testament are always based on the assumption that the people to whom they are addressed are Christians; that they are regenerated; that they have undergone what is called a `new birth’.
This is great and vital teaching. We could very easily occupy ourselves for some time with this, but I do not propose to do that now. I am simply indicating here the big principles which we can work out for ourselves, and at this point I am concerned only with the doctrine of regeneration or rebirth as it has this very practical bearing upon the process of sanctification. My argument is that it is only as we know ourselves to be new men and women in Christ Jesus, that we really can be sanctified. Now that is the kind of terminology which you find so freely in the New Testament. We are told that we have become `partakers of the divine nature’, so that, as we confront this great task of following Christ, of living in the world the kind of life that he lived when he himself was here, we have no excuse. We must not say, `Oh, but who am I? I am so weak and so frail!’ The Scripture comes at once and says, `But you are born again; you are a new creature. You have been created anew. You are a partaker of the divine nature. You are not simply a natural man, there is a new man in you.’ And it is in the light of this that it presses its great teaching about sanctification.
Without going into this in detail, let me summarise it by putting it in this way. The teaching in the Scripture is that there is a new principle of life in us and that God, by the work of the Holy Spirit, has implanted this new principle in us. It is not something substantial—no new substance has been injected into us. There is, however, very definitely, a new principle at work in us which leads to a new disposition, and its effect is that we are now made capable of doing things that we were not capable of doing before.
It starts, of course, by giving us an entirely new view of everything: `. .. if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Or take it as our Lord put it to Nicodemus in the famous interview in John 3. Nicodemus was trying to understand, and he was obviously about to put a whole series of questions which might help him to grasp what our Lord was saying. But Christ stops him and says, `Verily, verily, I say unto thee. Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God … Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’ (John 3:3, 5, 6).
Our Lord is saying, Nicodemus, you must not try to understand. You need this new principle, this new life, this new power, this something must happen to you which is comparable to the effect of the wind—`. .. thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit’ (v. 8). It is a supernatural operation of the Spirit of God upon the soul of man, and a man finds himself different. He is a new creature, a new creation, and he has a new outlook, and a new attitude towards everything.
So it is obvious, surely, that this is a most potent influence in the matter of our sanctification, for when a man is born again he has an entirely new view of God. The trouble with the natural man is that his view of God is wrong. He is `at enmity against God’; an enemy and an alien in his mind, says Paul. He is outside the `commonwealth’ of Israel, `without God in the world’ (Ephesians 2:12). That is the difficulty with the man who is not in Christ, he is a God hater. Even when he claims that he believes in God, he really hates him. He does not know God and his ideas concerning him are all wrong. What the devil did to man was to insinuate a false view of God which has persisted ever since. But when we are given this new nature and when the new principle comes in, we have the right view of God for the first time; and obviously we can never be sanctified until this happens to us.
Then we also have a new view of God’s law. The law of God is no longer grievous to the Christian. ‘… his commandments,’ says John, `are not grievous’ (1 John 5:3). Christians love God’s law. They know that it is right and true. It does not go against the grain for them because now their whole attitude is changed. This is an essential part of their sanctification. Formerly they looked at the law and saw that it was against them. They wished that it was not there. But now they love it; they delight in it; they want it; they want to be conformed to it. The whole position is changed.
And in the same way they have an entirely different view of sin. Those who are born again hate sin. They bemoan the fact that there is any sinful principle still left in them. They know something about the experience of Romans 7. Have you been there? Have you been in Romans 7? Have you ever known what it is to hate the sin that is in you—this principle, this law in your members? Have you ever felt desperate about yourself? Have you ever cried out, `Oh wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ People who are born again inevitably know something about that experience. They cannot help it; they must know it. Sin has become abhorrent to them—hateful—because it is unlike God. It is the greatest enemy of their souls.
In the same way, of course, the Christian’s whole view of Christ is changed. Only the one who has been born again truly knows the Lord Jesus Christ. The princes of this world do not known him; it was they who crucified him, says Paul. And they did so because they did not know the Lord of Glory: if they had known him they would never have done it. It is only the Holy Spirit who can enable a person truly to understand and to know the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why we should never be surprised that very able, intelligent people do not believe the gospel. They cannot. `The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God … neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Corinthians 2:14). We need the `mind of Christ’, and in the regeneration, we have the mind of Christ.
And thus, the New Testament tells us, the Christian is entirely new and entirely changed, and he hungers and thirsts after righteousness. Now at the very minimum, regeneration means that, and you cannot be a Christian without that having happened to you. That is what makes us Christian—that God has worked this mighty operation upon us, and has implanted in us this new principle of life. As that other principle came in at the Fall, so this new principle now comes in, and it changes our entire outlook. But I must leave it at that and go on to what is, in a sense, another aspect of the same great truth.
We were emphasising earlier the fact that, as Christians, we are in Christ. I am anxious to emphasise now that it is equally true that Christ is in us. There are two sides to this. We have seen that we are united to Christ, and that therefore all he has done we have done. But it is also true to say that he is in us. You notice if you read John 14, 15 and 16—the introduction, if you like, to this great prayer—that our Lord keeps on saying, `I in you, and you in me.’ `The Father in me, and I in the Father.’ That is his language. We are in him and he is in us, and this emphasis, this aspect of the truth, is as vital in the matter of our sanctification as is the other truth which emphasises that we are in him.
There is great teaching about this everywhere in the Scriptures. I again commend to you those three chapters in John; but you will find it richly in all the New Testament epistles, and in particular, perhaps, in the epistles of the apostle Paul. Let me just quote to you at random some of the leading statements. In Romans 8:10 he puts it like this: `And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.’ But you notice the statement—`if Christ be in you’. Paul’s argument is that if he is not in you, you are not a Christian: but if you are a Christian, then he is in you.
Or take 2 Corinthians 13:5: `Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?’ What a tremendous statement! Then of course, there is the great statement in Galatians 2:20: `I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ Again in Ephesians 3:17 Paul prays for the Ephesians: `That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.’ Then listen to him in that great triumphant statement in Colossians 1:27: `To whom,’ he says, `God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.’ And again in the same epistle, in 3:4, he says, `When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.’ He is our life now, and he is going to appear.
I have simply taken some of these great statements at random, but you notice that they all unite in saying that if we are Christians, the simple truth is that Christ is in us. Not only am I united to Christ indissolubly and am a sharer, therefore, of all that is true of him, but Christ is in me. He turned to those disciples, who were crestfallen and heartbroken when he told them that he was about to leave them, and said, Do not worry, do not let sorrow fill your hearts. `Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me’ (John 14:1). He said, Do you know, it is a good thing for you that I am going. As it is now, I am with you, but I am outside you. My going will mean that I shall not only be with you but that I shall be in you: I am going to take up my abode in you. The Father and I will take up our abode in you through the Holy Spirit. We are going to send the Holy Spirit, and in him we will come and reside—take up our residence, dwell—within you. `It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you’ (John 16:7). That is the argument.
Christian people, is it not obvious to us all that we are living very, very much below the position which we are meant to be in? Do you realise that Christ is in you, that Christ is in your heart by faith? What is the thing we preach? asks Paul, writing to the Colossians, who, remember, were Gentiles. He says, This is the mystery, this is the marvellous mystic message, the astounding thing that has been committed to me and to the other preachers of the gospel—`Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Colossians 1:27). What hope have I of glory? It is that Christ is in me; Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith.
I wonder whether we can appropriate the language of the apostle Paul, and whether we can say, honestly and truly, `I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me’? My friends, the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world and endured all he did, and went to that agony and the shame of the cross, in order that you and I might be able to say that. You notice that I am dealing with this doctrine only from the standpoint of sanctification. It is a doctrine that can be worked out on many other lines, but we are concerned in particular about the truth that sanctifies—‘Sanctify them in [or through] thy truth: thy word is truth’—and here is an aspect of it. `How can I live a sanctified holy life?’ you ask. The answer is, Christ is in you, living his life in you. Let nobody try to say that this is a truth about certain special Christians: it is true of all Christians. The apostle Paul not only says this about himself, he presses this upon all others. His prayer for the Ephesians is that they may be `strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man’ and that `Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith’, and so on.
Therefore, as we look at this great truth it seems to me that one of the first things we must lay hold of is the solemn and simple fact that if we are believers at all in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are in him and he is also in us. This means that as you wake up in the morning and consider the kind of life you are expected to live, as you realise the sinfulness of the world in which you walk, as you know something of the attacks of the devil, the principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, the spiritual wickedness in the high places which are set against you, you must put up, against all that, your shield of faith, by which you say, `Yes, that is all true, but Christ is in me. I am not alone, because he dwells in me.’ And you live by that faith, and you go on and you conquer and you prevail.
Now, let me divide that up a little by showing how this works. And I suggest that the first thing we must do is to realise this truth. Notice how our Lord has put it in John 6:53: `Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.’ But then he goes on to say, ‘Whose, eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed’ (vv. 54-55). Then he repeats it all—`He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven … he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever’ (vv. 56-58).
The argument is perfectly plain and simple. What you and I need in order to be able to live this sanctified, holy Christian life, is spiritual life, energy and power. Where can I get these things? Our Lord tells us that there is only one way: we must `eat his flesh and drink his blood’. Is that a reference to taking communion regularly? Not at all! `The words that I speak unto you,’ he says in verse 63, `they are spirit and they are life.’ No, he means that we realise that he is in us, and that, as it were, as we partake of our food and drink, so we shall partake of him spiritually. He is speaking in a spiritual sense, not of something material. No grace can be infused by baptism, or be received in bread or wine, it comes by a spiritual partaking of him. The people asked materially, `How can we eat of his flesh?’
You do not understand, he says, you will always materialise everything; you are carnal in your outlook. My words, `they are spirit and they are life’, understand them spiritually.
In verse 57 of the same chapter it is made very clear. He says, `As the living Father hath sent me and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.’ How did he take of the living Father? Did he eat bread and drink wine? No, of course not: he partook of his Father spiritually, and we are to partake of him in exactly the same way.
To do so means meditating upon him; thinking about him; realising these truths; masticating them, as it were; dwelling upon them; taking them into ourselves; saying by faith, `Yes, I believe the word, Christ is in me, and I am going to partake of him.’ But not only that. We must not only live by him in the sense I have just been describing; we must go to him constantly and take of his fullness. John puts it in the prologue of this Gospel when he says, `And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace’ (John 1:16). What he means is, I am living by him, I go to him for everything. In him are treasures for ever more, the treasures of grace and of wisdom and of goodness. God has put all this in Christ, and all I must do is to go to Christ and I receive it.
Now this is a very practical matter. We find our Lord constantly saying it throughout this Gospel of John. For example, in chapter 7:37, he cries: `If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.’ And remember that `come’ here has the sense of `keep on coming’, so what he says is: `If any man thirst, let him keep on coming unto me to drink.’ Let us be very practical here; it is as simple as this. If you find yourself at some time, at any point in your life in this world, tired, weary, not only physically, but mentally, and perhaps still more, spiritually, what do you do about it? Well, he tells you to go to him! He is in you, dwelling in you. Go to him as you would go to a fountain or a tap to draw water—go to Christ. Tell him about your thirst and your weakness, your lethargy and your helplessness, and ask him to give you life-giving water, to give you this heavenly bread: to give you himself. He is pledged to do that, but we only know it for ourselves as we realise that he is in us, and as we turn to him and go to him.
He puts it like this, in effect, when he turns to the disciples who are troubled about his leaving them, and says, `You are so unhappy because of a weakness in your thinking. You say, “Whenever we have been in trouble we have just gone straight to him and asked him a question, and he has always been able to answer it. He has given us power to cast out devils, and to speak to people, but if he is going away, what shall we do?”‘ His answer is this: `It is going to be better, because, though I am going away, I am coming back and I am going to be in you: I will always be in you. You simply turn to me and I will give you all you need.’ So we must draw `of his fulness’. Indeed, I am not going too far when I put it like this: the New Testament tells us that there is no excuse for failure in the Christian. If we fail it is because we are not taking of his fullness and the promised grace upon grace.
Let me repeat that in another way: we must realise his strength and his power. He has already been emphasising that in the fifteenth chapter. He has compared us, in our relationship to him, to branches in the vine, and he has said categorically that `without me ye can do nothing’, nothing at all (John 15:5). A branch can do nothing except in its relationship to the trunk, the parent tree and we are exactly like that. But what power there is in the tree! Take Paul’s prayer for the people at Ephesus, in Ephesians 1. Paul prays that the `eyes of your understanding [may be] enlightened that ye may know…’, and he goes on to request three main things. I am emphasising the third here, and it is this: `What is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead’ (v. 19). That is the power that is working in us as Christians; that is the power that is working in us now. The power that raised Christ from the dead is now working in us mightily in our sanctification. Or consider again the apostle Paul’s great doxology at the end of Ephesians 3: `Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.’ This is not in the apostles only, but in all Christians. That is the power—`exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think’. Or hear him as he writes to the Colossians. He says that he is preaching the gospel, `Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily’ (Colossians 1:29); the power of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.
That, then, is the way in which we become sanctified and live the sanctified life. We must stop talking about our weakness: we must take more of his power! We must realise that Christ is in us with all this power: that the power that enabled him to resist the temptations of the devil is the power that is in us.
Lastly, I would put it like this—and sometimes I think it is the most effective argument of all. The truth about Christ dwelling in me promotes my sanctification by giving me an entirely new view of sin. I find so often, when people come to discuss with me this problem of sin, that all along they are tending to think of sin in terms of this or that particular sin that gets them down. This doctrine we are looking at gives us a new view of it, it makes you look at it like this: What is sin? Well, sin is not so much something that I do or that I should not do: sin is that which separates me from God. He is in me, dwelling in me, and my life is meant to be a life of communion and of fellowship with him. Sin is allowing myself, even for a single moment, to turn away from him.
Imagine yourself having audience with the Queen or somebody whom you regard as great in this world. What would she say if, instead of looking at her and listening to what she was saying, you were looking at someone else or gazing out of the window, patently thinking about something else? She would feel insulted, and rightly so. Nothing is more insulting than not looking at the person talking to you and not listening to what is being said. The New Testament tells me that Christ is in me, and I am meant to live a life of constant fellowship and communion with him. Sin is to look away from him; to be interested in anything that the world can give rather than in him. Oh, if it is something foul it is ten times worse; but the best that the world has got to give me is an insult to him, if I put it before him.
There are endless statements of this; Paul puts it in terms of the Holy Spirit, `Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you?’ (1 Corinthians 6:19). The argument is about fornication and adultery. Paul does not give a moral lecture on immorality; he says in effect, `What is wrong about that, is that you are joining your body, which is a temple of the Holy Spirit, to another, and you have no right to do it. The way to overcome that sin is not to pray so much that you may be delivered from it; it is to realise that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and that you have no right to use it in that way.’ Another way he puts it is this, and it is very tender: `Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God’ (Ephesians 4:30). He is tender, he is sensitive, he is holy; do not grieve him.
And if you and I would only think of our lives like that, it would very soon begin to promote our sanctification. May I again commend to you that simple morning rule. When you wake up, the first thing you should do (and I too need to do the same) is say to yourself, `I am a child of God. Christ is in me. That old self is gone: I died with Christ. “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Everything I do today, everything I think and say, must be in the light of this knowledge.’ Keep him, my dear friends, in the very front of your mind and heart. Eat his flesh and drink his blood. Be constantly living on him and dwelling on him. The world will do its utmost to prevent you. `This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith’ (1 John 5:4). That means that we should realise constantly that he is in us, dwelling in our hearts by faith, and that all that we do is done as in his presence and under his holy eye. We are in Christ.
Yes, but Christ is also in us, and as we realise it we shall cast away depression and fear of the devil. We shall realise that we are not only living like him, but living with him, for him, and living by means of his power which worketh in us mightily.
What a wondrous truth is this truth by which God produces our sanctification!
From "The Assurance of our Salvation.” by Martyn Lloyd-Jones