At TGCW21, Ligon Duncan taught from the book of Romans on the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in the Christian life to conform us into the image of Jesus.
Duncan encourages Christians to endure the work of sanctification through God’s Spirit, even when it’s discouraging. He gives five truths about sanctification that help anchor the soul:
1. Justification and sanctification both ground our sense of freedom in the Christian life, providing a way to obey.
2. God’s grace always produces heart change in the believer, which leads to seeing God’s delight in us.
3. Worldliness doesn’t subject itself to the law of God, and when we pursue worldliness, the Spirit’s work in us can feel like death.
4. Worldliness is unable to subject itself to God’s law. We are actually in bondage when we follow our own way, but when we submit, we are free.
5. It is impossible to please God in worldliness. But the Christian walking in the Spirit is at peace, subject to the law, and able to obey because of the Spirit’s work within.
Duncan closes with the reminder that God’s purpose from the beginning has always been and will always be to conform us into the image of his Son, through the work of the Holy Spirit.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Good afternoon sisters. Are you filled? You’ve, you’ve heard a lot you’ve received a lot. And I want to offer encouragement to you from an area that is perhaps unexpected. Our three messages in this post conference, focus on the finished work of Christ, the ongoing and continual work of the Holy Spirit and the unchanging character of God. And we find rest in this restless world, from all three of those glorious biblical realities. Now, generally, when people come to appreciate the doctrines of grace taught in the scriptures, they are encouraged by the truth of their justification, but are sometimes discouraged by the state of their sanctification. In other words, when you learn that you are counted righteous in Christ, that you are accepted, forgiven, and pardoned, not for anything in you, or anything that you have done, but only on the basis of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, which you have received by faith alone. So when you learn the glorious doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, that is a very encouraging truth for the Christian life. But sometimes, the state of our sanctification is a discouragement to us. We wish that we were more mature. We wish that we had grown more in grace. We wish that we were more godly. We’re disappointed that we’re struggling with certain besetting sins, and that we’ve been praying against and working against and seeking to modify those sins for days or months or years. And we find ourselves still battling with them. Struggling to trust God, struggling to be content, struggling to love, unloving and unlovable people in our lives, struggling to yield our wills, to God’s will, when God’s Will places a demand on our life. And we’re frustrated by our lack of progress in that godliness. But I want you to understand that the Holy Spirit’s work in your life, to conform you to the image of God is good news. That is justification and sanctification are good news. And they are huge motivations, both of them for the living of the Christian life. Now, Romans six to eight, is speaking to the larger theme of how Grace rains in righteousness in the Christian life. You’ve already heard that word in the talk that you just heard from Kathleen Grace rains in righteousness is a very, very important Pauline theme. And Romans six to eight basically expounds that thing. And Romans eight especially discusses the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. And let me just ask you to open to Romans eight. I want to walk you through it and outline and then we’re going to read all the way down to chapter chapter eight, verse 29. Because the word of God is more important than anything that I will say today. And everything that I say today, I will attempt to very clearly show you how it comes from the word of God. But if I get outlined the passage, it would be something like this. Paul is teaching you in Romans eight, about the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and he means that to be an encouragement to you, he’s not trying to beat you up.
He’s trying to encourage you in the Christian life and by the way in this in this chapter, especially he is trying to encourage you as you face very Maria’s kinds of suffering, weakness and trial. So he is your ally in the fight, that you live in the Christian life in this fallen world where you face suffering and weakness and trial, and he’s bringing to bear the doctrine of the Holy Spirit at work in your life in order to encourage you. And here’s, here’s sort of the steps of the argument, the flow of the chapter as he addresses that theme, for daily Christian living in nine parts, so nine points as we work through this, this chapter, by the way, the message will not be nine points. So just be be at ease. It’s not a nine point message. I’m just walking you through the chapter before we read it so you can see the flow the argument, okay, first, if you look at verses one to four, Paul is telling you there, how it is that we are able to grow in grace, despite still having to deal with our own indwelling sin. Remember, Romans seven, Romans seven, Paul addresses the indwelling sin in the life of the believer. So he comes right out of the blocks and Romans eight verses one to four, to tell you how you’re able to grow in grace, in spite of the reality of indwelling sin, then second, look at verses five to 11. There, he is going to show you the difference between worldliness and godliness. One of the things he’s going to say is that the Holy Spirit’s going to grow you in godliness. And so he wants you to know, how godliness and worldliness look, he wants you to be able to identify those things and see the difference between worldliness and godliness. And he actually has five points to explain worldliness and godliness to you in that section. Then in verses 12 to 17, he talks about how the Holy Spirit shows us that we are sons of God. In verses 18 to 25/4, he shows you how the Holy Spirit helps us in our present sufferings as they work for our future glory. So he immediately transitions from talking about us being the sons of God, to equipping us for suffering, because the sinless Son of God suffered, and we would assume that those of us who are united to him are going to experience suffering in the Christian life, how are we going to endure that the apostle Paul explains in that fourth section, then the fifth section of the chapter verses 26, and 27. There he explains to you how the Holy Spirit intercedes for you.
Then in verses 28 to 30, he explains how we are certain that God’s promises will be fulfilled to us. In verses 31 and 32. He explains how much God is for us. In verses 33 and 34. He explains how secure in your justification you are, and this is actually attempt point rather than the night point. So you got an extra bonus point here, how you can be more than conquerors, even if you feel like your sheep being led to the slaughter. That’s verses 35 to 39. Now we’re going to concentrate on verses one to 29. And really, this message is a one point message, but I’m going to illustrate it in five parts in that section. So we’re going to look at Romans one, eight verses one to 29. Let’s pray and ask for God’s help and blessing. Heavenly Father, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, the grass, withers, the flowers, they fade and they fall but your word stands and it stands forever sanctify us with truth, Your word is truth. All scripture is given by inspiration and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, training and righteousness that the man the woman of God may be equipped for every good work, so speak, Lord, Your servants Listen, we ask it in Jesus name. Amen. This is God’s word here it in Romans eight beginning in verse one. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. That sounds familiar Your Kathleen was just talking about something very similar. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of Life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law weakened by the flesh could not do. By sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who walked not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh, set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death. But to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law. Indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the spirit. If in fact, the Spirit of God dwells in you, anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead, will also give life to your mortal bodies, through His Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die. But if by the Spirit you put to death, the deeds of the body you will live, for all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. But you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God. And if children, then heirs heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him,
in order that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy, comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God, for the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope, that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption, and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know, that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now, and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies, for in this hope, we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope for who hopes for what he sees. But if we hope for what we do not see. We wait for it with patience. Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know what to pray for as we ought. but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. and He who searches hearts knows what the mind what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know 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 for new He also predestined to be connected. For him to the image of His Son in order, that he might be the firstborn, among many brothers, amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired and inerrant Word, may he writes eternal truth upon all our hearts, sisters, the work of the Spirit in you in the Christian life is good news. And the Spirits work in you is not only ongoing, it is relentless. It is continual, the spirit does not tire, falter or fail, even when we do. The Spirit never gives up. The spirit is always at work in you. And his work is to bring about the fulfilment of the purposes of God, which were set in motion from before the foundation of the world. And so I want you to see five ways that the spirits work is characterized in this great passage, the first you’ll see in verses one to four. And here’s what I want you to learn your justification by grace, that’s verse one, your justification by grace, and your sanctification by God through the Spirit’s work. That’s verse two, your justification by grace and your sanctification by God through the Spirits work, both ground, your sense of freedom, in the Christian life, it is the Spirit who enables you to live in such a way as to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law. Look, especially at verse four. The Spirits work in you does what is in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walked not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit, that is very good news. In other words, God is more concerned about your sanctification than you are. And God’s Spirit is at work in you to accomplish the fulfillment of God’s law. By the way, this is very similar, isn’t it to what Paul says, In Philippians, chapter two, would you turn with me there in Philippians, chapter two,
he says this. Look at verse 12. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now not only in my presence, but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will, and to work for His good pleasure. Now, the big picture of that little passage is simply this. Your obedience in the Christian life is all due to the work of God in you. And Paul makes it clear in Romans chapter eight, verses one to four, that is, especially the work of God’s Spirit in you. So, the good news of sanctification is God cares about your growth in Grace, God cares about your godliness far more than you do. And he doesn’t just say to you, okay, you’re safe now. Go do it on your own. Go live the Christian life. He is at work in you and your effort in the Christian life is based on what he is already doing in you. This is why Augustine very famously said, Lord, all the good in me is due to you. The rest is my fault. So every evidence of growth in grace in the Christian life is due to the work of the Holy Spirit in us and in response to the work of the Holy Spirit in this and that’s very good news. That’s the first thing I want you to see. Here’s the second thing I want you to see. Look at verses one, verses five to 11. believers live according to the Spirit, that is, God’s work of saving grace always produces heart changes in believers that are manifest in their lives. And one of the great results of that is that you are now able to revel in the pleasure of God in you just take Make that in. believers live according to the Spirit. That is, God’s work of saving grace always produces heart changes in believers that are manifest in our lives. And that means that we are able to revel in God’s pleasure in you. In this passage I told you he contrasts worldliness and godliness. And if you’ll look at verses five to eight, he tells you what worldliness look look looks like. worldliness is that which sets its mind on the things of the flesh. In other words, one’s thoughts, interests, desires, and purposes are focused on what you want in this life, not on the will of God. Second, worldliness is hostile to God. That is, it doesn’t like God’s rule. It doesn’t like God’s will. It seeks to do what it wants to do, not what God commands in his words. Third, worldliness does not subject itself to the law of God. Just like Eve and Adam, listen to the voice of the serpent, not the word of God. worldliness listens to the flesh, not the word of God. Fourth, worldliness is not even able to subject itself to the law of God, the work the worldliness, even though the worldling thinks I’m gonna do what I want to do. And what is it that feels what that feels free? I’m doing what I want to do. You are bound into slavery to the flesh when you’re living life that way. When the principles I’m gonna do whatever I wanted to, nobody’s gonna tell me what to do. Nobody’s the boss of me, God’s not the boss of me, I’m going to do what I want to do. worldliness means that it’s morally impossible to subject yourself to the law of God. And finally, the worldling cannot please God, verse a. That is, it’s absolutely impossible.
To experience the pleasure of God that way. Absolutely impossible. In contrast, believers were told again, go back through five through eight. Believers set their minds on the things of the Spirit, that is your heart, your reason, your desires, your will, is controlled by the Spirit, the purposes of your life are spiritual. You are at peace with God because of the justification that we talked about back in verse one, there’s no condemnation because of the finished work of Jesus Christ, you had been justified, there is no condemnation for you, you have peace with God because of what God has done for you in love. Third, you are the Christian mind is subject to the law of God. That is, you say with the psalmist How I love your law, Lord, you know that the word of God is not the result of God sitting up in heaven thinking, how can I ruin their lives? Now, the word of God is meant to bless you. It is a conspiracy to bless you. God never commands anything that’s not for your good and therefore you know how I love your law, Lord. It doesn’t condemn me it’s, it’s a rule for life that’s meant for my blessing. Furthermore, you are able to subject yourself to the law of God. Why? Because the spirit has changed your heart, you’re no longer in rebellion against God’s word, you love his law. And as a result, you can please God. Now, let me just pause and say, the Christians ability to revel in the pleasure of God is very different from trying to please a person who is unbelievable. To do the latter, we’ll just about kill you in life. To do the former is a joy. Let me explain. One of the godliest women that I’ve ever known was the daughter of a single mother, who was an unbeliever. And her father left the family when she was a teenager and she really she was converted as a teenager and really tried to dutifully serve her mom, but her mom was a very bitter person very, very bitter, bitter about life and consequently, was always stuck in ingratitude. And I remember one day approaching her after church on a Sunday morning and she was in tears. She had been caring for others whose health was deteriorating. And she said to me, Listen, my mother said something to me today that she has never said in her entire life. She said, thank you. And then she dissolved into tears. Now, if this this woman is Uber competent. If you came to my community, people would know her. She’s on boards, she chairs this and that she’s got a wonderful family. People would look at her and say, I wish I had her life. And here she is broken down in tears in front of me because her mother said thank you, and she had never heard her mother say thank you before. In other words, serving a bitter ungrateful person just about killed her. That is not what it is like to serve God. If you have children, have you ever had a little one? Come into the kitchen with a crayon drawing. Mommy, I drew a picture of you. And you look at it and it kind of looks like Sasquatch. And and what do you say? That’s a terrible drawing. Go back and try again. No, you know, do that. What do you do? Oh, honey, that’s so wonderful. We’re gonna put it right up on the refrigerator. Now notice that that child already knows that you take pleasure in him or her. And you do. And it is not the quality of the artistic craftsmanship that leads you to well up in love. For that little one who’s brought you the picture of Sasquatch that he thinks somehow looks like you. It’s the that he she is your own. That child belongs to you. You brought that child into the world.
You love that child. That’s what it’s like pleasing the Heavenly Father. There’s there’s a scene in chariots of fire which most of you are too young to have ever seen. Chariots of Fire is a movie about two British runners. One is an unbeliever one is a believer. One is a Jewish man. Then Harold Abram, who ran for England. One is a Scottish man named Eric Liddell, who ran for Scotland and who became a very famous missionary and died in a Japanese prison camp in China in the Second World War. And in that movie, there is actually a fictitious scene, their little sister was still alive when the movie was made. And she was really hurt about the scene because it never happened. It made it look like she was not supportive of Eric’s running in the races, and they’re having this discussion on Arthur’s Seat, this beautiful scene in Edinburgh, and she’s objecting to Eric spending so much time with his athletic pursuits when he could be doing mission work. And he says to her, Jenny, Jenny, don’t fret yourself, Jenny. God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure. Now, what was there a little thing in that statement? He was saying he knew that God is the one who gave him his athletic ability. God was the one who gave him the ability to run really fast. And when he was doing what he was created to do, he knew that his Heavenly Father was pleased. Because that’s what God made him to do. Have You Ever Have you ever seen a dog running free in a field, just doing the things that dogs were created to do? It’s almost Edenic. It’s restorative, watching a dog, do what it’s supposed to do. When we are, what God made us to be, and do what God made us to do. It is not bondage. It is freedom. And he takes pleasure in that. And all the imperfections. Don’t take away from that glorious reality. Yes, just like the little child. Everything we do have has imperfection in it. But he takes pleasure in it, because it is what He created us to be. We’re doing what He created us to do. That’s not bondage. It’s freedom. And so, yes, we don’t want to think that we’re performing to try To get God to love us. But we do want to understand that because God’s love is upon us and because God’s love for us was prior to our love for Him, He takes pleasure in our obedience. It takes pleasure in it. That’s good news, sisters, good, good news. Here’s a third thing that I want you to see in this passage. Look at verses 12 to 17. The spirits goal is that we will truly know that we are sons of God. And let me just pause and say all of you, sisters in Christ are sons of God. And what that means, especially for Paul is you are co inheritors with Christ. daughters were not inheritors. In those days, sons were and you are co inheritors sisters in Christ. That’s why you’re included in all the brethren addresses in the New Testament, you are sons of God. And the spirits goal is that you would not only know that you are sons, but that you would actually live life as God’s Son, both in freedom and obedience. In other words, sonship is not only a status, that gives us great security and comfort, though it does. To know that we have been called the children of God to know that we are joint heirs with Jesus Christ to know that we are sons of God to know that Christ by His Spirit is accomplished in us what Adam Ruins in the garden that all of that is glorious, and wonderful and true and important. But it is also sonship is also a motivation to godliness. When we realize we are God’s Son, we want to live like that. We want to look like our Heavenly Father. And even if you’ve had an earthly father, that has not accurately imaged what the Heavenly Father is like,
you can long to be like your heavenly Father who has never failed you and who is always love you and has always cared for you. To be like him. sonship is not only a status for comfort, it’s a motivation to godliness. Fourth, look at verses 2626 and 27. I want you to see that the Spirit helps you to pray in the Christian life. The Spirit helps you to pray in the Christian life, the children of God, have to intercessors you have Christ in glory ever living to intercede for you and you have the Holy Spirit with you in this earthly tabernacle, you’ve got to intercessors interceding for you. And when you don’t know what to pray, or how to pray for it, the Spirit helps you. He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God and that is so important in the Christian life. Listen to these beautiful words from James Philip. Even when, through the pressures of life, and the accompanying spiritual darkness we grope helplessly and in articulately in prayer, God still ears for confused and even mistaken as we may be, he discerns the voice of the Spirit in our prayers and he is not confused, but is interceding for the saints according to the will of God. This is an important and illuminating thought for spiritual life. In the fight of faith. There are times when pressures are such that be a wilderness, and even darkness assail the soul. And it is almost impossible to remain clear eyed. Often a horror of real darkness comes down upon our spirit and words fail for prayer and even thoughts until a hard unyielding torpor comes upon our spirits. It is then when we can do no more than grown in articulately that he groans in our groans with unutterable intensity, and the nameless, wordless agony of spirit that we sometimes endure but cannot understand. God understands the Spirit does that for you? You’ve got No words to lift up to God. He does. And he knows just the words to lift up to God. And He will hear your prayers and he will reply to your prayers. It strikes me if I’m reading Romans, If I’m reading Daniel nine, right? Gabriel tells Daniel that that prayer, which was a prayer for the children of Israel to be restored from captivity back to the Land of Israel, that that prayer was part of God’s instrumental purposes in bringing about the coming of the Messiah into the world. And it is not lost on me that Luke tells me that it’s Gabriel that goes to Mary, to tell her that she is going to bear the sun that God is sending into the world. Daniel, I think, was groaning with groans too deep for words in the Spirit took that prayer. And he used it as an instrument for bringing the Savior into this world. The Spirit helps us to pray, when we don’t know what to pray, thank God for that continual ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. And like that is not bad news. That is really good news. One last thing, look at verses 28 and 29. This very fair, famous work, God works all things for good for those who are called according to His purpose. But notice, notice what the purpose is. Verse 29, for those whom he for new, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers, listen to it again, for those whom he for new, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. In other words, it has been God’s purpose from the foundation of the world, to conform you to the image of His Son, and that the Spirit is doing here and now continually in your sanctification, and it will be completed fully then, in glorification, God’s purpose from before the foundation of the world is that you would be like his son. You remember the passage where CS Lewis says, If you could see a glorified Christian in heaven, you would be tempted to fall down and worship Him. It is the spirit that is conforming you to the image of the son. Sometimes it feels like he’s killing you. When he’s doing it. Because he’s killing sin, and sometimes he’s killing sin that is very dear to us. You know, have you ever ministered to somebody under the powerful control of an addiction? And one part of them knows that if I don’t give up this particular addiction, I’m going to lose everything. But there’s another part that says, I’ve got to have it. And when the Spirit kill something like that, controlling our lives, what does it feel like? It feels like we’re dying. But that’s his ultimate purpose is not to fake make us feel like we’re dying. His ultimate purpose is to conform us to the image of the sun, so that we look like Jesus. We believe like Jesus believes we think what Jesus thinks we want what Jesus wants, we desire what Jesus desires, we long for what Jesus longs for. We love people like Jesus loves the spirits doing that. And that was the purpose of God from before the foundation of the world. The spirits ongoing work, the spirits continual work in the Christian life is not bad news. It is very, very good news. Be encouraged sisters. Spirit is at work in you. Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, by your Spirit, make us like Jesus. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.