This is a brief excerpt from the article by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt which appeared in Modern Reformation magazine, May-June 2003, vol. 12 Number 3. New Reformation Press has "The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church" in MP3 or PDF format by Dr. Rosenbladt on the same topic.
The article addressed the mistaken "higher life" teaching that the remedy for sin in the life of the Christian is deeper surrender. The assumption is that normally, a Christian does not sin; if he does, he falls out of favor with God because self is on the throne.
Dr. Rosenbladt corrects this misapprehension with the truth of the gospel - that Christ saved us when we were sinners and clothed us with his righteousness, and now we are simultaneously justified and yet still sinners. God's favor toward us does not now depend on our growth in godliness.
Good thing! In the Assembly, when my behavior lined up fairly well with the expectations, I experienced 'peace'. Good progress in sanctification, right? Wrong! I suspect what I was feeling was actually self-satisfaction - which shows the sneaky, ubiquitous nature of sin.
Dr. Rosenbladt says,
[Christians] tend to think that their standing before God -- now that they are Christians -- is based on their own obedience and their own righteousness. They have forgotten the fundamental fact that the gospel is "outside of us." It was "outside of us" when we turned to Christ for salvation and it is "outside of us," now, as we progress in our sanctification.
This "alien" nature of the gospel is a primary theme in the New Testament: Christ's death was outside of me and for me. After one has been declared righteous by grace through faith, this grace will begin to change us (sanctification). Nevertheless, its changing us is certainly not what justifies us. In Roman Catholicism, and in some forms of American Evangelicalism (like John Wesley's work), however, the accent falls on actual moral transformation. In other words, what makes us acceptable to God is not his external declaration of justification, but his internal work of renovation within our hearts and lives.
Dr. Rosenbladt (Ph.D., University of Strasbourg) is Professor of Theology at Concordia University in Irvine, CA. He has contributed to several books including Christ The Lord (Baker, 1992), from which this article was adapted. He is an ordained minister in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Dr. Rosenbladt is also a co-host on the White Horse Inn radio program.