The Nature of the Finished Work of Christ
Because some who visit this site may be familiar with my early teachings or writings, I feel obliged to post the following document that I originally wrote in 2018, and which I have just now (February 2023) somewhat enlarged and updated. Solomon says, “The path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day.” In my case, nearly ten years ago, the merciful rising of that inward sun eventually brought me to see some significant errors that are represented in some of my previous teachings and books. (I don’t mean anything that you will find on this blog, but there are older publications and audios still available on some other websites.) And while I still believe, and increasingly experience, many of the truths represented in those earlier publications (for instance, truths having to do with the inward and heart-changing nature of true Christianity, the great gulf between the nature of Christ and the fallen adamic man, the necessity of experiencing Christ’s light or revelation shining in the heart, the types, shadows, and figures of the Old Covenant fulfilled in the person and work of Christ, etc.), there were two primary (and extremely important) subjects wherein my older writings and teachings fell very short of being helpful, and were in some cases misleading. Those two subjects were: 1) the true meaning and absolute necessity of bearing the daily cross of Christ, and 2) the nature of the finished work of Christ.
The subject I want to clarify in this teaching has to do with the latter, that is, with the finished work of the cross and how it relates to those who call themselves Christians. It was my former belief that those who had been truly born again of the Spirit, immediately entered into what I called “the finished work of Christ,” where the real work of redemption was already complete and perfect, and where the believer only lacked a Spirit-given view or understanding of what God had already done, and the automatic changes that this necessarily brought about in the heart. Though there is a measure of truth in some of these statements (when rightly understood and applied by Spirit of God), I believe the general drift of this belief is incorrect, and tends to open doors to great misunderstanding, error, and danger.
Now, to be clear, I absolutely believe in the perfect and complete work which Christ accomplished at the cross, and know it to be the foundation and bedrock of our relationship with God, and of everything He offers us in His Son. Through His death, burial, and resurrection, Christ was “set forth as a propitiation in His blood,” offered Himself for us “an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling aroma,” established “remission of sins that were previously committed” (Rom 3:25), initiated in Himself a new covenant, began a new creation, one new, spiritual, corporate man, and opened a blood-covered door for all who desire to follow Him out of spiritual Egypt into the full experience of the Kingdom of God. However, having heartily confessed and declared these things, there remains an extremely important question that must be rightly answered and understood, namely: How, when, and in what way does what Christ accomplished through the cross actually affect me? Or, though Christ has finished His work, what has actually been finished in me? Am I experiencing the efficacy, power, and intended outcome of this incredible gift? Have I been changed by it? Am I truly dead to sin, and walking in the Spirit? Is Adam truly “finished” in me? etc.
Here is where the misunderstanding (or better yet, the deception) comes in. The enemy of our souls would love for us to believe, and declare to the world, that, despite our obvious lack of spiritual light, life, and righteousness, despite the lack of holiness (“without which no man can see the Lord” Heb. 12:14), despite not experiencing the crucifixion of our lusts or the putting off of the body of sin, despite not producing the fruits of His Spirit, or knowing a conformity to His death, or walking in that love without which Paul says we are nothing, NEVERTHELESS (it is commonly said), somehow, in God’s eyes, we are as perfect as Christ is perfect, because Christ is our life; or that none of this undeniable lack of transformation, renovation, freedom, and sanctification really matters because (having said the sinner’s prayer) we have come into a finished work.
Now, as far as I remember, I don’t believe I ever went as far in my teachings as to say that we are already perfect, or that there was no need for our growth in, and transformation by, the living Word of God. I have always believed that it is the duty and responsibility of every heart to go on to know the Lord, to seek the revelation of Christ, to journey from inward Egypt to the inward Promised Land, to humble ourselves and cry out for truth, and to seek to be changed into His image from glory to glory, experiencing the inward increase of the kingdom of God. Nevertheless, the way that I described the finished work of the cross, and our immediate inclusion and acceptance in it, led many people to wrongly apply the outward work of Christ to themselves, even while their hearts and lives remained in a state of great enmity against Him. This has caused some to say “God has done all for me,” even while they have resisted and rejected what He desires to do in them. It has given room for the flesh to keep on living, reigning, thinking, willing, running, and loving the world, all under a cloak of the “finished work of Christ.” I am afraid that some, having read my books or listened to my teachings, have praised the Lord for His outward work on the cross, even while they inwardly “crucify again for themselves the Son of God, putting Him to open shame.” (Heb. 6:6)
Now, it is true that Christ has finished His work, and established and given us a gift that is perfect, powerful, living, and new. But the entire testimony of Scripture (in both Old Testament and New) declares that, though this gift is indeed purchased for us by Christ, it is sown in the heart of man as a small mustard seed, “the least of all seeds,” (Matt. 13:32) which, given the right conditions, has power to fill the garden of the heart and displace all other plants. This perfect gift of God in Christ is compared by the Lord Himself to a pinch of heavenly leaven, that must fill all three measures of meal; to a little pearl of great price, that is only obtained and enjoyed by the loss of everything else. It is like a seed that is sown among roads, birds, rocks, weeds, and thorns, where the “the noble and good heart, keeps it and bears fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15) Or, in the words of Daniel, it is like a small stone, cut out of a mountain without hands, that strikes the inward kingdom of flesh, and fills the soul with the mountain of God.
The gift is indeed perfect, but it does not immediately and automatically make men perfect. Much to the contrary, we are told to “receive with meekness the implanted Word which is able to save our souls” (James 1:21). We are told to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure,” (Phil 2:12-13) and to “to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15). Peter tells us to “lay aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and evil speaking, and as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the Word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” And Jesus Himself, both in precept and example, manifested that the only way to produce the fruits of God’s Spirit is by abiding in the narrow and difficult path of inward death to self, “denying” and even “hating” the fallen fleshly life, taking up our cross, and following Him.
Again I say, the gift in itself is perfect, complete, and cannot be improved. But the ground into which it falls is a hostile environment that would happily smother the seed in order to save its life. Because of this, the New Testament is replete with warnings and cautions and practical instructions concerning how we are to protect, cherish, and even “stir up” the gift that was sown within. We are warned by Christ (in a variety of ways) that the talent or mina is expressly given for an increase; and to the servant who kept what was given without permitting its growth, the decree of the master was, “take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.” We are warned by Paul not to “receive the grace of God in vain,” nor “insult the Spirit of grace,” “trample underfoot the Son of God,” “fall away unto perdition,” “believe in vain,” “make shipwreck of faith,” etc. And the reason for these (and many other) warnings, is that unless we give up entirely to the saving, purifying, sanctifying, and transforming power of this implanted Seed, we will find that “the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things enter and choke the Word, making it unfruitful.” (Mark 4:19)
Another way that the Scriptures declare this same reality, is by showing that we have been brought into a perfect, established covenant with God. We have been brought “into Christ”; not merely “in Christ” as a unfelt status or position, but “in Christ” as a working, operating covenant, a defined and ongoing relationship and way to walk with God. According to Isaiah, Christ is “given to us as a Covenant” (Isa. 42:6; 49:8), and this covenant (this being “in Christ”) is the way that we must walk with Him, stay in Him, experience His powerful operation upon our souls, and thereby experience His acceptance. Neither the old covenant nor the new are presented as a one-sided, static, “congratulations, you’re in!”, type of relationship. In both cases, those who enter into covenant with God are required to keep the covenant, to walk with Him in a particular way, to be faithful to the boundaries of the covenant, and allow the relationship to have its transforming, purifying, teaching, purging, enlightening, crucifying and resurrecting effect, making them a people who bear the image of their Creator. Consider God’s words to the children of Israel when He entered into covenant with them:
'You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' (Exo. 19:4-6)
In other words, the covenant is a perfect, complete relationship with God; it lacks nothing, and nothing else needs to be added or consummated. Nevertheless, this covenant is a relationship that works according to a specific way and operation, and thus brings about specific results in all who keep it. As we see over and over again in Scripture, Israel could not disobey the terms of the covenant and still claim or experience the benefits of it. They had to submit to God’s way, and thereby learn His truth, keep His statutes, offer His offerings, be purified of all sin, leprosy, and defilement, etc. In the same way, we cannot disobey or resist the inward working of this powerful, living relationship and still claim to be “accepted in the Beloved”, or “clothed in the righteousness of Christ.” We are placed into a perfect, living, dynamic, efficacious covenant, to which we must submit, and by which we must be changed.
Though spiritual and inward in nature, the new covenant has requirements, boundaries, and laws, just as the old covenant did. There is now a “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” a “law written in the heart” which is the fulfillment and realization of every jot and tittle of Moses. On the one hand we are taught by Christ in this covenant to abide in Him, to walk in the light, to live in the Spirit, to look to things above, to seek, knock, and ask for a continued growth in the Spirit of God. On the other hand we are instructed to deny self, resist the devil, flee from lusts, do nothing from selfish ambition, etc. Some might object here and say that the old covenant was “weak because of the flesh,” but the new covenant now provides all that it requires through the gift of the Spirit. This is very true; the new covenant includes the gift of grace and truth in the inward parts, and unlike in the Mosaic covenant, power is now given to become sons of God. However, the gift of the Spirit, and its powerful operations in the soul (cleansing, transforming, revealing, purging, teaching, healing, renewing, and redeeming), do not happen either automatically or immediately in the human heart. Our entrance into the covenant may be immediate, but our continuance and growth in it, and its ongoing effects in us, are according to our faithful “abiding in the Vine,” and submission to the cross of Christ, which is the power of God to crucify sin and self in every root and branch. Consider these Scriptures:
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit… If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:2,6)
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you are My disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32 NASB)
Free from what? Jesus tells them in the following verses: free from sin! And not just the guilt and consequence of it, but its power as well, and their inward slavery to it.
The human heart, when not submitting to the grace or power of God, when not abiding in the Word or Vine that is a cross to the fleshly nature, is “always going astray” (Heb. 3:10), always resisting the grace of God (Acts 7:51), always pursuing fleshly liberties (and seeking theologies and worldviews that excuse its rebellion). The first birth, or fallen fleshly nature, does not need to TRY to grieve, quench, or resist the Spirit of God. It is by nature “enmity with God,” “not subject to the law of God” and “unable to please Him.” (Rom. 8:6-8) It quite naturally “lusts against the Spirit.” The new covenant provides the perfect remedy to this problem, a perfect way to come out of our wicked, fallen, and alienated condition, by giving us a heavenly power that can destroy all of the works of the devil in our souls, and fill us with the life and nature of Christ. It offers us a mighty indwelling Spirit that can bind the strong man, enter his house, plunder his goods, and become the sole owner and occupant of our soul. But in order to benefit from this new and better covenant, “which was established on better promises” (Heb 8:6) and which has “brought in a better hope, through which we draw near to God” (Heb 7:19), we must WALK in the covenant, KEEP the covenant, submitting to the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus”, in order to be “made free from the law of sin and death.”
True, repentant hearts are visited in their slavery, and offered a door that leads out of spiritual Egypt into a perfect relationship with God in Christ. But after a short time of celebrating their initial victory on the banks of the Red Sea, the honest heart awakens in a wilderness to find that his heart is still teeming with all sorts of Egyptian desires and appetites, carnal expectations, wisdom from below, man-made and man-centered religion, self-love, distrust of God, unclean and corrupt passions, and so much more that the enemy has built and protected. The soul has found a loving God and a living covenant, but there is a long inward journey before “the reproach of Egypt is rolled away” (Jos 5:9) from the heart, until we have “laid hold of that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold of us” (Phil 3:12). The only way forward is by a careful and constant submission to the grace of God, the indwelling Seed and light of Christ, which brings about the purging and transforming effects of the covenant.
Having received the implanted Word, we must be “diligent to enter our rest” by obeying the living and powerful Word of God which is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit.” (Read Hebrews 4:11 and 12 together). Having perhaps escaped the birds, we must now be watchful for rocks, weeds, and thorns. Having come out from the darkness and hopelessness of Egypt, and entered into covenant with God, “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Cor 7:1).
To suggest that this is already perfected in us, merely because we have received a perfect gift of God, is to confuse the seed with the tree—a deception of the enemy calculated to prevent the very purpose for which the gift is given. It is the fleshly part of man, the fallen adamic nature, that seeks to sit down at ease, to make treaties and alliances with the Philistine nature in the land, and cry, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” (Jer. 8:11; Ez. 13:10). And because I was formerly confused and deceived about this very thing, I would like to try to expose some of the enemy’s most subtle and successful arguments in favor of it.
1.) Despite their often conspicuous lack of the fruits of the Spirit, or any true conformity to the image and nature of Christ, many (like me! in many of my former teachings) base their assurance of having arrived at an already finished and perfected work on the verb tenses used by the apostles in their letters to the churches. They say, “Notice how Paul says, “Through the law I DIED to the law, that I might live to God. I HAVE been crucified with Christ.” Or “But you WERE washed, but you WERE sanctified, but you WERE justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”
Again, the fleshly mind (which always seeks to avoid the cross) is quick to read these past-tense verbs and insist that, despite not feeling even remotely dead, washed, sanctified, or justified, this is nevertheless true of us, because these things are said in Scripture to have already taken place. But there is a glaring and inescapable problem with this kind of reasoning: namely, it presupposes that what Paul says with respect to himself (“I have died”), or with respect to a particular person or church (“you were washed”), automatically applies to everybody, in every condition, who might be reading this letter. But why would we assume that these sorts of statements apply to us, and yet, so many other critical statements (written with respect to other conditions) do NOT apply to us. The same author, in numerous other places, tells his recipients that they are “still carnal,” that many are “enemies of the cross,” that they have “begun in the Spirit but are seeking to be perfected in the flesh,” that they are “bewitched by a false gospel,” and he fears to have “labored for them in vain,” etc. James addresses some readers as “adulterers and adulteresses” “double-minded” men who have “fattened their hearts as in the day of slaughter.” Peter and Jude have even stronger words of warning and censure. Why do we not automatically apply THESE verses to ourselves, and assume that they relate to our condition? I think the answer is obvious. It is far more preferable and comforting to assume (despite all internal and external evidence to the contrary) that we are in the condition of those who have submitted to the transforming power of the cross, and so deserve to be praised and encouraged.
The apostles knew to whom they were writing, and their letters were written to different people in a variety of different spiritual states. John writes to “children, young men, and fathers” in the church, and encourages them according to their various conditions. Paul writes to heavenly-minded Ephesians, carnal Corinthians, and backsliding Galatians, and has warnings, counsel, or praise depended upon the states of his recipients. As we read Scripture, I think we should be careful not to determine for ourselves which words best apply to our condition, but rather allow the Spirit of Truth (the true author of all Scripture) to apply His words to us according to His understanding of our state.
2.) Another common reason why people believe and teach this view of the finished work of the cross is because, having begun to see (rightly!) that Christ Himself is the substance and reality of salvation, they run into a false conclusion or assumption, asserting that because Christ is perfect, their salvation by Him is also perfect and complete. These often quote 1 Corinthians 1:30, and similar verses, insisting that “Christ is made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” Now, there is no doubt that Christ IS salvation, that He is perfect, complete, and unmixed in Himself, and that he is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. But the important question (which few consider) is HOW? Is He made unto us these things in an indiscernible, unfelt, outward imputation... where we read some verses and claim to possess what we do not actually experience? Or is He made unto us these things by the actual birth and increase of His nature, power, and government in our souls? I believe Scripture insists emphatically upon the latter. Christ is most certainly the sum of all spiritual things—the life, power, substance and reality of all righteousness, wisdom, and salvation. And apart from Him being given to us, and working in us according to His power, we could have none of these things. But the general idea in the church today is that Christ is somehow automatically, kind of magically and instantaneously (poof!!) made these things unto us, regardless of whether or not we have given up to follow Him, bearing His cross, in the way of regeneration.
Some people like to use the word imputation, saying Christ's righteousness was imputed to sinners. There is truth in this statement, but again the important question is how. I believe the Scriptures unanimously testify that Christ is made unto us these things according as the body of sin, the first, fallen nature, is put off, and Christ’s life is put on; or, in other words, according as we submit to His fiery baptism which “thoroughly purges His threshing floor;” or according as the Seed of His life puts down roots, sprouts upward, and brings forth the fruits of His Spirit in our soul.... but not otherwise. Again, it is an attractive idea to the fleshly mind to somehow possess a righteousness that we don’t need to experience, or to be considered sanctified without having to change, or to be redeemed in the sight of God even when we are clearly NOT redeemed from sin, vanity, foolish talking, lust, and the love of the world. I have been made to see and feel that (contrary to my former beliefs and wishes) God sees through all of these false, fig-leaf theologies, sewn together in an attempt to hide our nakedness from His all-seeing eye. It is good and right to recognize Christ as the substance and reality of all spiritual things (i.e. wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption). But it is shameful and wrong to use this incredible truth as a cloak or an excuse for continuing to live in the very nature that Christ came to destroy.
Some have taken this doctrine as far as to say that Christians shouldn’t expect to experience a true transformation of nature, or that it is not important whether we do or not, because “only Christ is perfect, and though we are placed in Him and counted perfect because of Him, we will always be fallen, miserable sinners in ourselves.” But though this idea carries an illusion of honoring Christ, it greatly dishonors the purpose for His coming, denies and opposes His own words, and blatantly contradicts the consistent testimony of all of His apostles and prophets. We are most certainly not meant to stay miserable sinners all of our lives! We are meant to “behold as in a mirror the glory of God and be transformed into His image.” We are supposed to “put off the old man” with his deeds and desires, and “put on the new man,” being “conformed to the image of Christ,” “sanctified entirely, in body, soul, and spirit,” “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” We are commanded by our Lord to “be perfect, even as our heavenly Father is perfect,” and are warned that “if our righteousness does not exceed the Pharisees, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” We are joined to the Vine in order to bear His fruit, fruit that lasts and glorifies the Father, and though we indeed begin our journey as miserable sinners, we are meant to be “washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” We are supposed to “purify our souls in obedience to the truth” (1 Pet. 1:22), because “if we live according to the flesh we will die; but if by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body, we will live.” (Rom 8:13). Thus we become “dead to sin” (not just positionally or legally, but experientially), “crucified to the world,” “slaves of righteousness,” “no longer walking as the Gentiles do in the futility of our mind,” and no longer “grieving the Holy Spirit of God.” For, “This is the will of God, your sanctification... for God did not call us to uncleanness, but to holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit,” (1 Thes. 4:3,7-8). And the apostle John goes as far as to say, “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” (1 John 3:6, 9).
To any who believe that the finished work of Christ immediately and automatically perfects them in the sight of God, I humbly and lovingly entreat you to read Revelation chapters 2-3, and consider the way that Christ Himself deals with His own churches, by His own Spirit. Tell me if there is anything in Christ’s words or dealings that would lead any unbiased reader to conclude that these believers were already perfect and complete in the sight of God. Here we see that Christ both encourages and strongly reprimands and warns His seven churches, saying things like, “I have not found your works perfect before God... hold fast and repent,” or “I could wish you were cold or hot, so then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth,” or “You say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked,” etc. These Christians are warned to “be zealous and repent”, to “buy white garments that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed,” to “repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand,” etc. And the promises of the covenant, in each individual case, are extended only to those who “overcome.”
None of these remarks take one ounce of relevance or importance away from what Christ has accomplished for mankind through His death, burial, and resurrection. In fact, I believe that my motivation in sharing and clarifying these things arises from a desire that none of us mishandle the gift and somiss the intended effect of His incredible sacrifice. Through the work of the cross Christ has “tasted death for every man,” that “through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” In this way He has become “the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him”, and “by that one offering he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” This is an incredible gift, but by these same verses we can also see that He is NOT the author of eternal salvation for those who do NOT obey Him, nor does His one offering perfect forever those who are NOT being sanctified.
Therefore (says nearly every page of the New Testament in its own distinct way), let us follow the Captain of our salvation in the way that He has opened for us. Let us draw near “in the new and living way He has consecrated for us… having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” “Let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.” Let us “deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Him.” And “today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness... Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, ‘they always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways.’ So I swore in my wrath, ‘they shall not enter into My rest.’”
Now, to any who would suggest that what has been described here is works religion, legalism, or old covenant Christianity, let me say very plainly that I am not talking about man changing himself, or pleasing God by works of the flesh, or offering up to God a righteousness that does not come from God. No, all is by grace, that is, by the working of God’s power in man. All transformation and righteousness comes from God’s working in man both to will and to do His good pleasure. Nevertheless, this grace or power of God must be received, loved, and submitted to. It is easy (and common) to “resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51), and “insult the Spirit of Grace” (Heb. 10:29), even when we have correct doctrines in our head, and an accurate belief in the historical death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. I have written about this extensively elsewhere, and so will just conclude with a short quote from William Penn:
However people may mistake, misconstrue, or misrepresent our views on this important subject, I pray that they would not deceive themselves in the great business of their own salvation, and while happily declaring that Christ has done all, be found disowned by Him on the last day. Read the 7th [chapter] of Matthew: it is the one who hears Christ—the great Word of God—and does what He enjoins, commands, and recommends by His own blessed example, that is compared to a wise builder with a strong foundation. No other house will stand in the final shaking and judgment. For this reason we are often plain, direct, and earnest with people to consider that Christ came not to save them in, but from, their sins.
Those who think to dismiss themselves from His yoke and burden, His cross and example, and secure themselves by praising Christ for His having done all for them (while He has wrought little or nothing in them, nor have they parted with anything for the love of Him) will finally awake in a dreadful surprise, at the sound of the last trumpet, and this sad and irrevocable sentence, “Depart from Me you workers of iniquity, I do not know you.” May all avoid this terrible end by timely hearkening to wisdom’s voice, and turning at her reproof. For surely she will lead you in the ways of righteousness, and in the midst of the paths of judgment your souls will come to inherit substance—even durable riches and righteousness in the kingdom of God.