LTRP Note: Harry Ironside wrote his book Holiness: The False & the True after spending his first six years after conversion in what is called “the holiness movement.” Lighthouse Trails published his book after seeing the role that legalism has played in the lives of so many Christians, causing many to swing to the extreme other side into the emergent church (via contemplative spirituality) or to leave the faith all together. We also published a booklet called Legalism or License Versus the Treasure of Living Water. If you know someone (or you yourself) who is caught in the unbiblical and dangerous trap of legalism, send us your name and mailing address (which will remain confidential) to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will send you a free copy of that booklet so you can give it to that person (or to yourself) (or you can print a copy freely from the link above). With the Gospel being the true North point that will lead us to truth, freedom, and peace (and His righteousness), we have seen the devastation that happens when Christians veer away from that true North point into extremes (e.g., holiness movement, Calvinism, contemplative, hyper-charismatic, etc.) that seem to be so prevalent in the church today. We appreciate Ironside’s contribution in helping point people back to the simplicity of the Gospel. The following is a chapter from Holiness: The False & the True:
By Harry Ironside
From his book Holiness: The False and the True
And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. (1 John 4:16-17)
WHAT is it to be dead with Christ, dead to sin, and to the rudiments of the world? Upon the answer to this question hangs the truth or error of the “perfectionist system.”
In commencing our inquiry, I would remind the reader of what we have already looked at (in chapter 2) as to the distinction between standing and state. Standing has reference to what I am as viewed by God through the work of His Son. State is my actual condition of soul. “That I may be of good comfort,” says Paul, “when I know your state.” He speaks elsewhere of “this grace wherein ye stand.” The two things are very different.
Death with Christ has to do with my standing. “Reckon yourself dead” refers to my state. It should readily be apprehended that no one but the thieves on the cross ever died with Christ actually, and one of them was lost. Thomas on one occasion said, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” He referred to a literal death with Lazarus and with Christ, for whom to go into Judaea seemed to the disciples to be imperiling His life.
But Christ is now living in glory, and it is nineteen hundred years too late for any one to die with Him, so far as experience is concerned. Supposing the “death” of Romans 6 were state or experience, therefore, it could not be properly described as dying with Christ or for Christ. To many it may seem needless to dwell upon this, but no one would think so who is familiar with the misuse of the expression in the holiness preaching and perfectionist literature of the day.
In these, death is made to be experience. Believers are exhorted to die. They try to feel dead, and if in measure insensible to insult, deprivation, and praise or blame, they consider they have died with Christ never realizing the illogical use of the language in question. When did Christ have to die to these things? When was He ever annoyed by blame or uplifted by praise? How then could stoical resignation be likened to death with Him?
One verse of tremendous importance puts the scriptural use of the term beyond all cavil: “In that he died, he died unto sin once” (Romans 6:10). If it be said that I have “died with Him,” it must be in His death and to the same things to which He died. What then are we to learn from so solemn a statement?
Notice one thing very carefully. It does not—could not—say, “In that He died, His death was the end of inbred sin”! Yet this is what it should have said if my death with Him is the death of my inbred sin. But this could never be for He was ever the Holy One in whom was no sin. Yet He died unto sin. In what sense? Manifestly as taking my place. As my Substitute, He died unto sin in the fullest possible sense—sin in its totality, the tree and the fruit—but all mine, not His! “He loved me, and gave Himself for me,” and in so doing He died unto sin, bearing the judgment of God due to me, the guilty one. God “hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And having been made sin in my room and stead and died for it, He has done with it forever—He has died unto it once for all, and in His death, I see my death, for I died with Him!
When and where did I die with Him? There on His Cross, nineteen centuries ago, when He died, “the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” There, I and every other child of God died unto sin with Him, henceforth to live unto God, even as it is written:
And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. (2 Corinthians 5:15)
Who that desires to be taught of God and to learn alone from Scripture need stumble here? Christ’s substitutionary death is accounted by God as my death and the death of all who believe in Him, and through that death we are introduced into our new standing as risen from the dead and seen in Christ before His Fathers face. “He hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). This is my new and glorious position because I have died with Christ. I need not try to die, or pray to die, or seek to feel dead (absurdity beyond expression!), but Scripture says, “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). The practical results of this are many. Learning that I have died with Christ, I see at once the incongruity of denying this in my practical walk or in any way owning the right of sin, which indwells me still, to exercise control over me. It was once my master, but Christ has died to sin—root, branch, and fruit, and His death was mine. Therefore, I must in faith reckon myself to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ my Lord (Romans 6:11). I do not reckon the sin to be dead, or uprooted, or anything of the kind. I know it is there, but I am dead to it. Faith reckons with God and says, “In Christ’s death, I died out of the sphere where sin reigns. I will not obey it therefore any longer.” And while walking by faith, “sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). What folly to speak of sin not having dominion if it be dead! The very pith and marrow of the apostle’s teaching is that though it remains in my mortal body, I am not to let it reign there (Romans 6:12).
While I live in this world, I shall never be actually free from sin’s presence, but I can and should be delivered from its power. God has “condemned sin in the flesh” not rooted sin out of the flesh, and as I condemn it too and refuse all allegiance to it, walking in the Spirit with Christ as my soul’s object, I am delivered from its control.
I reckon myself dead unto sin because in Christ I died to it; but it is only as I keep the distinction between the two phases of death clear in my mind that I am freed from confusion of thought.
Hoping I have been enabled of God to make this plain to any troubled one, I pass on to consider a question often asked at this point: “If what has been taught is the truth, how can I be perfect in love with sin still dwelling in me?” For an answer to this, we must turn to 1 John 4:15-19. To avoid one-sidedness, we shall quote the entire passage; and may I ask the reader to weigh every word:
Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. 17 Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. 19 We love him, because he first loved us.
Now, with the passage before us, allow me to ask the reader four questions:
- Whose love is it which we have believed? See the answer in the first part of verse 16.
- Whose love is it in which we are called to abide? Read the latter part of the same verse.
- Where do we find perfect love manifested—in me, or in the Cross of Christ? Note carefully verses 17 and 18.
- What is the result in me of coming into the knowledge of love like this? The 19th verse supplies the answer.
Is it not plain that there is no hint of that perfect love being developed in me, and thus my reaching a state of perfection in the flesh? On the contrary, perfect love is seen objectively in the Cross of Christ and enjoyed subjectively in the soul of the believer.*
*Editor’s Note: God’s perfect love for us, as accomplished in the Cross, is “perfected” in us in the sense of giving us an assurance of salvation. But perfect love, in the most literal sense, is what God has demonstrated through Christ—the perfect love being in God, stirring us to love Him in return.
(photo taken from cover of Holiness: The False and the True; from alamy.com; used with permission; design by Lighthouse Trails)