July 19, 2020 Bringing Holiness to Completion Part 2

Bringing Holiness to Completion

Part Two

 

Our scripture reading this morning is 2 Corinthians 7:1.

 

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. [1]

 

We saw last time that these promises are that God dwells in us, that he walks among us, that we are his sons and daughters, and that he is our Father. Because these things are true, we must be motivated to cleanse ourselves and to bring holiness to completion.

 

The author of Hebrews also writes about the necessity of personal holiness:

 

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.[2]

 

Both of these passages refer to our own personal holiness. Holiness means a life that is separated unto God and separated from the world. It is made known by an aversion towards sin. Even more, it is characterized by freedom from sin. Not in an absolute sense, for we will still stumble. We will sin on occasion despite our best intentions and efforts. But, if we have come to Christ for salvation, then we are being sanctified. More and more, we live sin behind and we find delight in the ways of the Lord. We discover that the Lord’s ways are better than our ways. They bring peace and fulfillment.

 

We are commanded to bring holiness to completion. We are commanded to strive for holiness. This means that to obtain holiness takes effort on our part. There is no effort on our part to receive the gospel. We simply trust in Christ and the merits of his death and resurrection are applied to us. We are made righteous as a free gift of God! It is wonderful and takes no effort of our own. All the effort was made by Jesus.

 

But to be sanctified takes effort on our part. The process of being made holy is called sanctification. The word “sanctification” comes from the word “holy” in Greek. Holy is hagios and sanctification is hagiasmos. They share the same root.

 

How do we bring holiness to completion? We will answer this question by going to the only source that can give us a sure answer: the word of God. But, we can get a bird’s eye view by looking at one of the Confessions. There is, of course, what is known as the London Baptist Confession of 1689. This is a marvelous resource for all the fundamentals of the Christian faith. It has three short paragraphs on sanctification (Ch. 13) that are quite good. But, I would like us to consider The New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833 that has a paragraph on sanctification that encapsulates the Bible’s teaching on the subject:

 

 

 

We believe that sanctification is the process by which, according to the will of God, we are made partakers of his holiness; that it is a progressive work; that it is begun in regeneration; and that it is carried on in the hearts of believers by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the Sealer and Comforter, in the continual use of the appointed means – especially the Word of God, self-examination, self-denial, watchfulness, and prayer. (Article X)

 

 

By looking at “the means” that are listed here we will have our answer how we bring holiness to completion. First, though, take notice that it is “begun in regeneration.” In order for sanctification to really take place, a person must be born again. I tell you, there are many who make a profession of faith and may even outwardly follow Christ for a time by attending church or even being active in ministry. Their lives may get better because they are outwardly following God’s commands. Yet, if they have not been born from above, they are doing all these things in their own human energy and that will soon give out. They will eventually stop attending church and be more and more conformed to the world. Indeed, the apostle John gives the neglect of meeting with other Christians as one of the signs of a false conversion:

 

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. [3]

 

Some do not want to believe this verse because they know people who may have attended church for years. They were baptized. They are pleasant people. Maybe they are friends. Maybe they are likable. So, it doesn’t sit well with us to think that maybe they have not been born again. But, this verse is too plain. And, we must receive our knowledge not from what we fell, not from what we want to be true. We come to know what is true by God revealing it to us. John says that if you truly belong to the household of faith then you will continue meeting with the church. When someone forsakes the church, they have forsaken Christ. You cannot love a person’s head while hating their body. That is weird, unnatural, and impossible.

 

In order for sanctification to actually happen we must first be regenerated.

 

Notice also that the Confession says that it is carried on in the heart. Because our hearts are changed, we find that it is a joy to follow Christ. It is not a burden to obey the Lord’s commands. It is something in which our hearts rejoice!

 

Then, see that it is carried out “by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.” We do not bring holiness to completion by our own human energy. We do not do it by will power. It is the very Spirit of God working in us that accomplishes it! If we use the means that He has provided, then the Lord brings it about. If it depended solely upon us, it would never happen!

 

[1.] The first means by which we bring holiness to completion is through the word of God.

 

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.[4]

The words of God are the means by which we are transformed and sanctified.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”[5]

One of the most dramatic examples of the Bible's divine ability to transform men and women involved the famous mutiny in 1789 on the "Bounty." Following their rebellion against the notorious Captain Bligh, nine mutineers, along with the Tahatian men and women who accompanied them, found their way to Pitcairn Island, a tiny dot in the South Pacific only two miles long and a mile wide. Ten years later, drink and fighting had left only one man alive--John Adams. Eleven women and 23 children made up the rest of the Island's population. So far this is the familiar story made famous in the book and motion picture. But the rest of the story is even more remarkable. About this time, Adams came across the "Bounty's" Bible in the bottom of an old chest. He began to read it, and the divine power of God's Word reached into the heart of that hardened murderer on a tiny volcanic speck in the vast Pacific Ocean--and changed his life forever. The peace and love that Adams found in the Bible entirely replaced the old life of quarreling, brawling, and liquor. He began to teach the children from the Bible until every person on the island had experienced the same amazing change that he had found. Today, with a population of only 67, nearly every person on Pitcairn Island is a Christian.

 

When the Spirit is operating, the word of God has both the power to convert the lost and to sanctify the redeemed!

 

Would you be free from the oppression of sin? Then you must know the truth. And, truth is nothing less than the words of Jesus. More, the apostle’s words are the words of Jesus too. Because the apostles were given the mind of Christ by Christ Himself (I Cor. 2:16; John 14:25-28). Thus, the entire New Testament and the entire Bible are the words of Christ, not just the red letters.

Our minds need to be renewed. Since they are renewed through the word of God, we must receive the word of God. We do this in two ways. We must set aside the time to take in his word in daily. (If one cannot read or has great difficulty in reading, then the Bible is available in audio formats and one can listen to God’s word daily.) The best time is first thing in the morning. If your work schedule does not permit that then let that be the first matter to attend to upon coming home. Or, perhaps right after supper. Many have found that waiting until bedtime is not the best time since, often, drowsiness curtails the best intentions.

The second way is by attending all the meetings of the church. The Lord has given the gifts of teaching to certain ones in the church (Eph 4). You will receive insights into God’s word when you put on listening ears at church. You will see things that you would not otherwise have seen. And, if you apply what you learn, you will be transformed.

Peter tells us that we should long for the word! (I Peter 2:2)

[2.] The second means by which we bring holiness to completion is through self-examination.

Paul writes to the Corinthians later in this same letter and tells them to examine themselves to make sure that they are in the faith:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! [6]

What is the test to determine whether we are truly in the faith? There is more than one. We have already mentioned two. One who has genuine faith longs for God’s word (Psalm 1:2; 119:40, 131; I Peter 2;2). One who has genuine faith meets with the church on a regular basis. To these we may add what Paul writes right after this verse:

For we are not able to do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. [7]

This is in the context of passing the test of self-examination. One who has genuine faith loves the truth and supports the truth.

We could also add that genuine faith loves the brothers and sisters (I John 5:1-2).

So, we ought to examine ourselves to ascertain whether we are really in the faith. But, we must also examine ourselves for the purpose of purifying ourselves.

Take care then, that the light in you is not darkness. [8]

Jesus here is telling his disciples to see if there is darkness in them. Listen! We need to check ourselves for darkness. “Darkness” is a metaphor for moral impurity.

So a man should examine himself; in this way he should eat the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 This is why many are sick and ill among you, and many have fallen asleep. 31 If we were properly evaluating ourselves, we would not be judged, 32 but when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord, so that we may not be condemned with the world. [9]

Here, in Paul’s first letter, he is referring to the Lord’s Table. The examination in verse 28 is discerning the representation of the Lord’s body when we partake. It is a solemn occasion. But in verse 31 he tells us to evaluate ourselves, that is, determine if there is sin in our lives. Then we are to turn away from it with then power of the Spirit.

Zeng Shen was young enough to be Confucius's grandson, yet he won high praise from the old sage. One of the sayings for which Zeng Shen is famous goes something like this. "Every day I ask myself three questions. The first is, 'Have I sinned in my thoughts and actions toward others?' The second is, 'Have I broken faith in any of my friendships?' The third is, 'Have I tried to teach anything to others I have not fully learned and understood myself?'"

If Zeng Shen asked himself these three questions every day, resolving to make no mistakes, then, young as he was, we can well understand why Confucius praised him. Here is someone who was not even a Christian and understood the importance of self-examination!

We see, then, that self-examination is integral to bringing holiness to completion.

The first two means of sanctification are the word of God and self-examination. These two things go hand in hand. We sometimes do not know what we ought to do until we read or hear the word of God. Then, when we consider our life (self-examination), we see that we have neglected something. Sometimes we do not know what we should not do until we read God’s word. Then, when we consider our own actions, we know there is something that we need to cease practicing.

The one who loves the Lord also loves doing the Lord’s will! It is not a burden to give up sin. It is an enjoyment!

How can we put these things into practice? I have already mentioned one: we must set aside a time each day to abide in the words of Christ, which is just the whole Bible. It is essential!

Our self-examination will simply go along with our reading of God’s word. If we are in the spirit when we are reading, we will be convicted about our own shortcomings. Then we will be glad to give things up that we should and we will be happy to begin doing things that we have neglected. It might also be wise to practice what Zeng Shen did. At the end of the day we might consider our day and whether we have treated everyone in a right way.

Lord willing, next week we will conclude our study of bringing holiness to completion.

 

 


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 7:1). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 12:14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 2:19). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 17:17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 8:31–32). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 13:5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] The Holy Bible: Holman Christian standard version. (2009). (2 Co 13:8). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.

[8] The Holy Bible: Holman Christian standard version. (2009). (Lk 11:35). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.

[9] The Holy Bible: Holman Christian standard version. (2009). (1 Co 11:28–32). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.