December 8, 2019 The Means of Sanctification

The Means of Sanctification

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.1

Recently, we learned about the necessity of righteousness. We saw that there were two kinds of righteousness. There is an imputed righteousness that we must have in order to face God on the final Day of Judgment. It is the actual righteousness of Christ applied to us, imputed to us. If we have the righteousness of Christ then we can face Judgment Day with confidence.

There is also a personal righteousness that we must have. That is, our own righteousness. Although our own righteousness is completely inadequate to stand on the final Day of Judgment, we must have it in order to receive blessings from the Lord in the here and now. We must also possess a personal righteousness in order to avoid the hand of the Lord against us; because God has made it abundantly clear that he hates sin and will take measures, sometimes drastic measures, to rid our lives from the power of sin and even the presence of sin.

We also saw that a personal righteousness is a necessity if we wish to enter the kingdom that is coming in the next age. Only overcomers will enter the kingdom and not all Christians will be overcomers. I refer to the age that follows the Lord Jesus’ return to the earth. It is an age that is between the present age and the New Heavens and the New Earth when all is made perfect and sin is completely eradicated.2 

Holiness is a synonym for righteousness. The words in the original languages are different and even have somewhat different meanings but both refer to the kind of living we have with respect to God’s commandments.

From Hebrews 12:14 we see that unless we possess a personal holiness, we will not see the Lord. I believe this refers to seeing the Lord in our glorified bodies as a part of his kingdom, because everyone will see the Lord, even the wicked will for judgment.

I think we all recognize, do we not, that we need more righteousness than we have? We need more holiness than we have. Sanctification is the name of the process by which we gain it. We are called to forsake sin and gain holiness. 

Sanctification takes our cooperation with the working of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is not instant. It is not instantaneous in this life and neither is it instantaneous upon death.3 In other words, the spiritual and moral state we are in when we die is the state we will be in as we enter the next phase of our living. Do you see how crucial it is that we take our sanctification to heart?

I am going to use the words righteousness, holiness, and sanctification interchangeably. Their meanings are slightly different. Righteousness is both living righteously, that is, according to the commandments of God, and being in a right relationship with God.4 Holiness is being separated from the world and unto God as evidenced by our living. And, sanctification is the process by which we are made holy or practically righteous. You see that their senses are close enough that we often substitute one word for another, or define sanctification in terms of righteousness just as much as in terms of holiness.5 In fact, the biblical authors do this.6

We may add another synonym that the apostles use. That is transformation. I will us this word, along with the others.

Seeing how important sanctification is, we may ask, “What are the means of sanctification?” How may I pursue it? We are commanded to pursue righteousness.

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.7

We must actively flee sin and pursue righteousness. The normal Christian life is not one in which we just mosey along going to work or school then just pursuing personal interests or hobbies. No! Yet, this is the way many Christians live. Rather, it is a life of actively denying temptation and seeking to live as Jesus and the apostles did.

Let us answer this question, “How may I be sanctified?”

[1.] First, we must exercise our will to seek it and pursue it.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;8

Your sanctification is God’s will. Is it yours? If it is not your will then you are not even saved. A person who has been born again desires to live for their Lord. If you do not desire God’s will to be carried out in your life then get on your knees and pray something like this: “Lord, I am helpless and hopeless! I do not even have the will to obey you. I ask you not to leave me in this condition. Perform a work in my heart and show me mercy! Change me for I am a filthy sinner deserving of your wrath and I do not want to go to hell. Amen” Pray that prayer often, every day, and keep knocking on God’s door until he opens it!

Yet, when I say that we must exercise our will, I do not mainly mean just desiring something. I mean that, as followers of the Lord Jesus already, we choose to flee sin and pursue righteousness. 

See what the apostle has written: “you abstain…” Abstaining is something that you must choose to do. “You control your body…” Controlling your body is something that you must choose to do.

This matter of choosing extends to making wise choices in order to avoid temptation altogether. If there is a particular sin that causes you to stumble then you must avoid not only the sin but you must avoid situations that will provide the opportunity to sin.

When we lived in Washington State there was a couple who were active in our local church. I remember that together they completely remodeled the Sunday School room for the young children. When they were done it was beautiful. They jointly taught the children with the husband taking the lead. They had a son the same age as our two oldest and they would often go to their house, which was only two blocks away, to play. Unbeknownst to us, the husband was addicted to pornography. Eventually his wife divorced him over this sin. From what he told me, physically he remained faithful to her although, obviously, he was unfaithful to her in his mind. Thus, I do not think she had scriptural grounds for divorce. Nevertheless, the marriage was ruined and dissolved because of this sin. What this man should have done was get rid of the internet service at home (he worked outdoors, so he did not have internet at his job), even his smart phone (if he had one), and simply remove himself from all avenues of access to pornography. His failure to make wise choices resulted in the loss of his marriage.

First we must exercise our will to pursue righteousness and flee from every sin, especially those that sorely tempt us. But, do you know what? If that is our main line of defense against the wiles of the enemy then we are doomed to failure! Will power alone cannot consistently resist temptations. The Lord knows your lack of power. So, the primary means of our changing from being personally unrighteous to personally righteous is a Person.

[2.] The agent in effecting sanctification is the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in the follower of Christ when he or she is born again.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 9

The Holy Spirit is in us if we have been born again!

 By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. 10

The Spirit lives within us, and gives us power to live the Christian life, to resist temptation, to joyfully live in Christ’s commands!

 …according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 11

We are strengthened with power! Praise Him!

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.12

Even though the Spirit grants us power, our will is still involved! We must choose to walk by the Spirit. We must choose to pursue righteousness and we must also choose to live by the Spirit. I tell you, choosing to walk by the Spirit is easier than choosing to pursue righteousness and choosing to flee sin. To “walk by the Spirit”  simply means to turn to the Spirit who is already in our inner being (Eph 3:16). Once we turn to the Spirit the power flows! It is like a light switch. If electricity is available – if you live somewhere besides California – then all one has to do is turn on the switch and the electricity flows into the bulb and you have light! Once we turn to the Spirit in our spirit the power flows and we will not gratify the desires of the flesh! Hallelujah! This is truth and this is also my experience!

[3.] The third means of sanctification is the Holy Scriptures.

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 13

Here, as plain as day, Jesus prays to the Father and acknowledges that we are sanctified through God’s word.14 I tell you, if you do not spend time in the Scriptures then your sanctification will either be greatly curtailed or the Lord will use one of the other means…two of which are disagreeable. (We will look at those next.) Reading the Bible is pleasant because it shows the will of our good God. He is good and what he wills is good. Studying the Bible is exciting because you learn new things that will help you in this life and the next.

The Spirit works best in conjunction with his own word to sanctify us. One powerful tool in this regard is memorizing Scripture. When we recite a verse, the Spirit will enliven it to us and make it effective.

Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You.15

[4.] The fourth means of sanctification is chastisement. Every believer is familiar with this. We have all read Hebrews 12 but the author of the book tells us we tend to forget the lesson!

  And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? 
        “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, 
nor be weary when reproved by him. 
    6     For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, 
and chastises every son whom he receives.” 
7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 16

See the result of chastening: holiness (vs. 10), and the peaceable fruit of righteousness. When we have a personal righteousness there is peace that comes with it!

Chastening is painful (vs. 11). We have experienced it. We would prefer to have less of it. Well, we can. If we make use of the other means, especially the word, then we will not have to suffer so often. The problem with many is that they will not spend time in God’s word. They will watch television, surf the web, talk about worthless things, but they set aside so little time to seek God’s will in his word. This shouldn’t be news, but if you don’t know much of his will then you won’t do much of his will. Knowing has to come before doing.

[5.] The fifth means of sanctification is the fellowship with other disciples. We read this verse a short while ago, but let us look at it again.

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.17

We are to pursue righteousness – yes. But how? With those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart.  It is very difficult, if not impossible, to pursue righteousness alone. We must pursue it with those who are likewise pursuing it. In other words, we must pursue righteousness in the local church.

Every means of sanctification is made more available and intensified, in a good way, through the church. 

* The speaking of the Holy Spirit is often seen through the words of counsel and wisdom heard from the lips of fellow disciples. 
* the Scriptures are taught and expounded in the church. 
* Did you know that shame is a kind of chastisement? Many times God’s own people have been kept from sin by the fear of the brothers and sisters finding out and knowing the shame that would follow.  Thus, the fellowship of the saints is a kind of protection.
* Besides all these, our spiritual family encourages us and we are able to see what it means to live the life that we have been called to live, as we observe the lives of more mature brothers and sisters.

There was an eagle that had been captured when it was quite young. The farmer who snared the bird put a restraint on it so it couldn't fly, and then he turned it loose to roam in the barnyard. It wasn't long till the eagle began to act like the chickens, scratching and pecking at the ground. This bird that once soared high in the heavens seemed satisfied to live the barnyard life of the lowly hen. One day the farmer was visited by a shepherd who came down from the mountains where the eagles lived. Seeing the eagle, the shepherd said to the farmer, "What a shame to keep that bird hobbled here in your barnyard! Why don't you let it go?" The farmer agreed, so they cut off the restraint. But the eagle continued to wander around, scratching and pecking as before. The shepherd picked it up and set it on a high stone wall. For the first time in months, the eagle saw the grand expanse of blue sky, the glowing sun, and it saw other eagles soaring above. Then it spread its wings and with a leap soared off into a tremendous spiral flight, up and up and up. At last it was acting like an eagle again.

Oh, we need the eagles in our midst! As we see how they live, we recognize our own calling more clearly. The local church is a means of sanctification.

[6.] The sixth means of sanctification is providence. This can be related to chastening, but not necessarily. Providence is the ordering by God of the events, situations, and people in your life. These are all employed by the Lord to transform you. Things like:

* your job, even though you may not like it; 
* your education, even though you have grown weary of it; 
* your neighborhood, even though you don’t like your neighbors; 
* your house or apartment, even though it is too small or too old; 
* your income, even though it is definitely too small; 
* your friends, even though none are loyal; 
* your family, even though you would like to trade them in at times, are all used by the Lord to transform you into the person you need to be.

Do you want a better job, a better neighborhood, a better dwelling place, better friends? (Sorry, you are stuck with your family. But the Lord can change them, too!) Then live rightly! Because, the more we are sanctified, the less the Lord will have to use the negative circumstances and negative people to change us. The more we are sanctified, the more that positive things will be instrumental in changing us.

The Lord uses some other means as well.18 But these are the main ones. 

Do you see how much the Lord has provided to you to facilitate a change in you? He has provided so much that if we fail to be sanctified we have no one to blame but ourselves. I plead with you, brothers and sisters, do not be content with your current state. Pursue righteousness! Use the means that the Lord has given you!

What ought we, then, to do? There are things for us to do. Do not be a hearer of the word only. Be a doer. 

Resolve this very hour to pursue righteousness. Have done with lesser things!

Choose to walk by the Spirit, not by the flesh, not by appetite, not by convenience. 

Commit to spending time in the Scriptures daily. Memorize God’s words.

Receive his discipline. That is, do not murmur about it, but examine yourself. When chastisement comes, ask why.

Do not miss the meetings of the church. Attend as many as you can, including Sunday School and home meetings. The church is a God-ordained means of your transformation.

Be grateful for everyone and everything in your life. The Lord is using your circumstances and the people in your life to effect change in you!

All things are for your good. The bad things as well as the good things. They are all in their proper time.

See how much the Lord has provided so that you will not stay the way you are! Let us prepare ourselves for both blessings in this life and the age to come. “Lord, help us to cooperate with you in our transformation! Amen.”

 

1 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 12:14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
2 The phrase, the New Heavens and Earth, may refer, in some places, to the entire era following the Lord’s return, that is, both the Millennium and The New Jerusalem following it without distinction. The way I am using it here is as the final and completely glorified state of perfection as found in the final chapters of Revelation.
3 At the first resurrection (Rev 20:5; I Cor 15;23; Phil. 3:11) the overcomers will receive their glorified bodies. These will experience, in a sense, an instantaneous leap in sanctification because our celestial bodies will have neither corruption nor carnal appetites. However, the very participation in the first resurrection (and receiving of our new bodies) is contingent upon our holiness.
4 The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary.
5 And so, the 18th century theologian, John Brown of Haddington, writes that there is a “sanctification of life, in which we are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and to live unto righteousness.” And, “To live unto righteousness is more and more to love and abound in inward holiness, and in the practice of good works proceeding from it.”(John Brown, Systematic Theology, Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, MI; 2015; p. 405, 423.)
6 See Hebrews 12:10 & 11; I Thes. 3:13; 5:23.
7 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Ti 2:22). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
8 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Th 4:3–5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
9 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 14:15–17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
10 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Ti 1:14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
11 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 3:16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
12 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ga 5:16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
13 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 17:17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
14 There are many passages that testify to this truth: John 6:63; 8:32; Psalm 119:9, 11, 50, 93, 104; I Peter 1:2, 3, 22; Hebrews 5:12-14)
15 The New King James Version. (1982). (Ps 119:11). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
16 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 12:5–11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
17 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Ti 2:22). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
18 E.g., prayer, calling upon the name of the Lord (out loud), and blessing.