Jude tells us that there were those who came in amongst God’s people and turned the grace of our God into sensuality (Jude 4); the Greek word translated as “sensuality” or “licentiousness” is aselgeias, which has been defined as “a disposition of the soul which does not possess and cannot bear the pain of discipline” and also “the spirit which knows no restraints and dares whatever wanton insolence suggests”. It came into the Church in apostolic times and has been there ever since, seeking to deceive and corrupt the work of God’s Holy Spirit amongst His people.
It is a fleshly disposition that leads to an unwillingness to accept the cost of discipleship, which is crucifixion of the flesh. Christians typically skirt around the cemetery, avoiding the death of self at all costs, refusing God’s command to die; but there can be no sanctification without death and the death that God demands is one that must be marked by a resurrection – a resurrection into the life of Jesus Christ.
The work of God in the life of man begins in the spirit, but it must find its way into the soul, the seat of the senses, and finally overcome, and manifest in, the flesh. This is the progressive path of sanctification, leading to “the holiness without which no-one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). The ultimate goal, of course, is not death but life; life in Him, that is, not life of self; God doesn’t want us to sacrifice our lives by ending our mortality; He wants us to be “living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1). He asks us to give up our own life so that He might then be able to give us that which, alone, is worth having – His life; but we must let go before we can take hold; there is always a “coming out” before a “going in”; a “letting go” before a “taking up”. This has always been God’s way, whether in the dispensation of Law or that of grace; “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth became through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
This is not to say that grace is not found in the Old Testament, nor Law in the New Testament; many of the saints of the Old Testament found grace in God’s sight, including Noah, Abraham, Jacob and Gideon; moreover, Jesus came not to do away with the Law, but to accomplish it (Matthew 5:17). The grace of God enabled the Old Covenant saints to be sanctified in the same way as that grace is able to produce holiness in God’s people of the New Covenant; and the Law, being an expression of God’s desire for the moral conduct of His people, is just as relevant today as it ever was. The difference is that the great source and wellspring of obedience to God’s will under the New Covenant is the love of Christ Jesus; when that love is taken hold of and properly understood and applied, it will stimulate and produce the moral response that God desires of those who are truly His. The Law – being God’s desire – and grace – being His enabling power – are the two wings that enable the eagle believer to rise up and soar in the heavenly places with Him.