All this begins with the reception of the Holy Spirit by faith alone. Works have no part in this process: you receive Him by believing, not by doing (Luke 11:9–13). This has important implications for second-blessing theology, which teaches that the pathway to the Spirit’s presence is full surrender. At best, this is dangerous teaching, because a half-truth told as a whole truth is a whole untruth. Such teaching leaves the Christian wide open to the false notion that we gain the Spirit by the work of surrender, or that God is somehow waiting for us to make the first move toward Him before He will reward our effort with the Spirit’s grace. Nothing could be further from the truth. At no point in our experience of salvation, do we ever make the first move toward God. Even our response to grace is the result of grace. As the hymn writer said, “Every thought of holiness comes down from above.” From first to last, we are debtors to free grace. The Spirit’s presence is never earned or worked down; He must be received as a gift, by faith alone.
This has important ramifications for our growth in holiness and our experience of the Spirit, the driving force in sanctification (Rom. 8:1–39; Gal. 5:16). At no point can we simply “flesh” our way to God. Fleshly works are of no value whatsoever. How could they be? Nothing good dwells in the flesh, and nothing good can be done by it either (Rom. 7:18). The flesh, a prisoner to the law of sin, knows only how to resist God and wage war against His law (Rom. 7:23). By the law of sin, Paul describes the commanding and authoritative voice of the sin nature: “Don’t read your Bible. Don’t spend time in prayer. Give in to distracting thoughts at church during the sermon. If your lust is itching, scratch it!” To all these and many more such evil thoughts, the flesh simply responds with delight, “Oh, yes!” In the flesh, therefore, Paul says, “I am wretched; I cannot help myself” (Rom. 7:24, paraphrase). He feels himself strapped to a dying, decaying body. He longs for freedom.
Christ is the answer to this longing (Rom. 7:25). He receives all the condemnation God has to give the Christian. As a result, though Isaac had one blessing left for Esau (Gen. 27:38), God has no condemnation left for us. He has given it all to His firstborn Son Jesus (Rom. 8:1). Because of this, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, a new commanding authority enters the Christian’s soul, “the law of the Spirit of life” in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:2). What a contrast to the law of sin and death. What the naked Mosaic law could not do (Rom. 8:3), God has done through the gospel—a message of both justifying and sanctifying grace (Rom. 8:3–4). Without this Spirit, sanctification wouldn’t just become more difficult; it would be impossible.
When I was a young child, my mother would leave me in the car while she would nip quickly into a shop on an errand. While she was away, I would climb into the front seat and pretend to drive the car. I would turn the wheel, stomp on the brake pedal, and even change the gears. Occasionally, I would mash the gas pedal, but this tended to flood the engine, and Mom never seemed to appreciate that when she returned! Of course, all my efforts at driving came to naught because I didn’t have the key and could not start the engine. In a stationary car, you can turn the steering wheel until the cows come home, but you won’t change direction until there is forward momentum.