July 26, 2020 Bringing Holiness to Completion Part 3

Bringing Holiness to Completion

Part Three

 

  1. 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. We are commanded to bring holiness to completion. We must do it! To be sanctified is not an option for a follower of Christ. Those who pay no attention to their own walk before the Lord give evidence that they have not been regenerated, that is, they have not been born again.

 

We have been looking to this verse and we asked the question, “How can we bring holiness to completion?” We began to answer that question with specificity last time. Our answer comes from the word of God because it is the only certain guide of faith and practice. However, we also looked at a very good paragraph on sanctification from the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833. It is good because it accurately summarizes what sanctification is and reveals the means by which we are made holy.

 

Let us review that statement:

 

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)

 

 

The first two means are the word of God and self-examination. The disciple of Christ must spend time in the Scriptures and, while they do so, it is appropriate and helpful to consider how their lives cohere with what they read or hear. We also saw that the two main ways that we receive the word of God is through our private study of the Bible and by regularly attending and participating in the meetings of the church. We must set aside a specific time to daily delve into God’s word. If we do not set aside a specific time it is too easy to get sidetracked to less important matters and then we neglect his word and our own transformation.

 

We must also commit to a local church. For there we will hear and learn things that we would not see on our own. These two ways of receiving God’s word are essential!

 

 

In addition to examining ourselves while we read his word, it is also good to examine ourselves when our consciences are touched by a certain action that we are considering, or if our consciences are bothered by a certain thing that we have been neglecting.

Using the paragraph from the Confession as a guide, the next means that the Spirit uses to sanctify us is self-denial. People get uneasy when they hear that word because, obviously, it communicates that we must deny ourselves certain pleasures and desires. It may even bring visions of a dreary, oppressive life. But that is not what happens if we belong to Jesus. We discover that the joy of living for Him overpowers and prevails over any sense of loss that we may have because of “missing out” on some desire.

 

Another reason some are apprehensive about the concept of self-denial is because they were presented with an incomplete gospel when they were converted. The true gospel calls for a surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ. It calls not for a partial surrender, but a complete surrender. Self-denial is included in this surrender.

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” [2]

Denying oneself is the call of every would-be follower of the Lord Jesus. Jesus says if anyone would come after him, they must deny themselves. “Taking up his cross” means being willing to receive reproach, because the cross was a reproach in the days of our Lord. But, it also hints that one may be asked to give up their very life for the sake of Christ. The great commentator and pastor, William MacDonald, writes that in effect Jesus was saying this:

“I am going to suffer and die so that men might be saved. If you desire to come after me, you must deny every selfish impulse, deliberately choose a pathway of reproach, suffering, and death, and follow me. You may have to forsake personal comforts, social enjoyments, earthly ties, grand ambitions, material riches, and even life itself.”[3]

I do not think that this means that we deny these things at all times. It is not as if the Lord does not grant us comforts and enjoyments and, for a few, even riches. Rather, these things are “for the sake of the gospel (vs. 35).” In other words, we must know that we are called to proclaim the gospel. When the opportunity presents itself, we ought not put our own comfort or convenience above the opportunity to share the gospel. If we do this then we are not denying ourselves and neither are we faithful. We are unfaithful.

As far as bringing our holiness to completion is concerned, if we have a heart that is positioned towards self-denial, then it will not appear burdensome to us to deny passions nor comforts in order to pursue sanctification. Remember that sanctification takes effort on our part; therefore, self-denial makes a path for the (usually) small sacrifices that we must make.

The next means for our own sanctification is watchfulness.

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. [4]

Here, Jesus tells his disciples to watch and beware. Watchfulness has to do with being alert to danger. What does it mean to beware? (The English word “beware” is a good translation of the underlying word in the original language.) To beware means to be wary. And to be wary means to “be on guard against danger.” There is spiritual danger in heeding false teaching.

In our Sunday evening fellowship we recently watched a. documentary entitled, “American Gospel.” This was a well-done expose’ of two false gospels that are promoted in America. One is a gospel of works. This is the gospel that is advocated by Catholics, Mormons, and Jehovah Witnesses. Of course, none of them says that works alone saves. They all say that faith plus our works saves us. The other is the prosperity gospel, also known as the health and wealth gospel, or the name it and claim it gospel. It sounds right sometimes because its proponents are some of the most popular preachers on television and they use biblical phrases. But this teaching is destructive and this documentary reveals why it is.

So, we must be watchful for false teaching. We must also be watchful for temptation. The most dangerous kind of temptation is one which you do not recognize as temptation until it is almost too late. Jesus said this to Peter in the garden:

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.[5]

 

We should be on the watch for temptation. When you are faced with a decision to make about taking a job, moving to a new area, or just where you will go on a particular night, think about what temptations you may face if one place is decided upon over another. Do not enter into temptation if it can be avoided.

In 1822 in Brookline, Vermont, a stranger who called himself Dr. John Wilson sought and secured the job of schoolmaster. Having this handsome bachelor among them so pleased the villagers that they also granted him permission to erect a new one-room schoolhouse. As the structure was built round, instead of square, the doctor explained—and was believed by all—that he had chosen the shape because it allowed for more windows and, therefore, more light.

But the real reason why he wanted the windows to face in every direction was disclosed upon his death some years later. Through certain marks on his body, he was identified as Captain Thunderbolt, a notorious British criminal who had long been wanted by the London Police.[6]

 

Smart criminals, like Thunderbolt, go to great lengths to be watchful for the authorities. How much more ought we to be watchful for the righteous endeavor to flee temptation!

Watchfulness, then, is enjoined upon us to beware of false teaching as well as avoid temptation.

The last means that we will consider today is prayer.

Prayer is a great privilege! We have the opportunity to speak with the Creator of the universe, our God, our Lord, the One who loves us and desires that we commune with him. Although this privilege is wonderful, many Christians do not pray as often as they ought. I am ashamed to admit that I am one of those. I enjoy reading and studying the Bible. I do so for hours on end. It is enriching beyond measure because, when we read the Bible, we are reading the very mind of God. Our thoughts begin to be conformed to the Lord’s thoughts. But I cannot pray for hours on end. I pray each morning and I pray throughout the day, but I confess that my prayer times are short compared to the time I invest in the Bible.

By neglecting prayer, I know that I forsake a source of great strength and an amazing means of seeing the Lord’s will accomplished in my life and for his kingdom.

I just finished a book on prayer. It is the best book on prayer that I have ever read. It is entitled Fearless Prayer by Dr. Craig Hazen. This book has helped by prayer life quite a bit. Whereas before I often felt my prayer time was a duty, now I look forward to it with great expectation. This book has vitalized my prayer time.

Although the book uses many passages of Scripture to support the author’s premise, it focuses on one verse: John 15:7.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. [7]

This is an amazing promise, is it not? Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you! Dr. Hazen points out that when he read commentaries on this verse, what he found was that most writers gave reasons why we may not expect to have our wishes granted through prayer! Isn’t that interesting? Most commentators tried to explain the verse away because it seems to good to be true. Dr. Hazen calls this the death of the verse “by a thousand qualifications.”

Well, it is true! We need to start believing this promise!

There are, of course, two qualifications. We must abide in Christ. The phrase, “abide in me,” is a little mysterious. Abide, of course, means “to live in,” but what does that mean? I appreciate what Hazen says about it:

“One of the best descriptions that I have heard that captures the notion of abiding in Christ is ‘to be at home with him.’ You love him, you trust him, and you invite him in as you would a faithful friend who always has your best interests in mind. You learn from him and know that following his advice or directions will always lead you down the right path, even if they are difficult words to hear sometimes.”[8]

While it is possible for a believer not to abide in Christ, Dr. Hazen goes on to say that most followers of Christ do abide in him. Therefore, this divine qualification is fulfilled for most Christians.

The second qualification is that his words abide in us. We do need to receive and love the words of Jesus. We do this, as I have said before, by knowing his words. But this qualification is not difficult to maintain in our lives, either. This is available for all who follow him.

When his words abide in us, we will find ourselves asking for those things that are in accordance with his will. Those prayers will be answered!

If we pray for our own growth and our own transformation, then it will happen!

Let me ask a question. What are the best prayers? Answer: the best prayers are those that are already found in Scripture. They are the best because they are composed by the Spirit himself!

I want to encourage you to use the prayers found in the Bible and make them your own prayers.

 

Let’s use Paul’s prayer in Colossians chapter 1 as an example. [READ Colossians 1:9-14.]

This is, of course, Paul’s prayer for the saints in the church at Colossae. But, we may use this prayer for our own prayers on behalf of others. Even more, we may use this as a prayer for ourselves. How might this sound?

Lord, I pray that you would fill me with the knowledge of your will.

May I come to know your will not just in an outward way, but with all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

When I understand your will, may I live it. May I live a life that is worthy of you!

May I fully please you, Lord! Let me fully please you!

May I bear fruit in every good work and increase in the knowledge of God!

Strengthen me with all power, according to your glorious might so that I will have endurance and patience.

Fill me with joy! I need more joy, Lord!

I thank you, Father, that you have qualified me to have a share of the inheritance of the saints in light. I ask that you not allow me to squander my inheritance as Esau did. Let me love it and seek it.

I thank you that you delivered me from the domain of darkness and transferred me to the kingdom of your beloved Son.

In Him I have redemption and the forgiveness of my sins. Amen.

 

If you simply kneel down, in spirit, with a prayer of the Bible open before you, you can read a line and turn it into your own request.

The three means of bringing our holiness to completion that we looked at today are:

  • Self-denial. This is a frame of mind that is ready to deny our own satisfactions and comforts in order to see the will of God carried out in our lives and for the sake of the kingdom.
  • Watchfulness. We must be on guard against false teaching. We must be wary of temptations, taking courses of action that avoid temptations rather than presuming we can overcome them.
  • Prayer. Pray the prayers of the Bible. Make them your own. Then, expect with full confidence that the Father will answer what we have prayed!

When we use these means, along with reading and meditating upon the word of God, and self-examination, we will see our lives transformed and we will experience the enjoyment of the Lord.

“Lord, empower us to use the means that you have provided! We ask this in the name of our Lord Jesus. Amen.”

 

 

 

 

 

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

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 8:34–38). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary New Testament (A & O Press, Wichita, Kansas, 1989), p. 157.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 16:5–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 14:38). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (pp. 1588–1589). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 15:7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] Craig Hazen, Fearless Prayer (Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR; 2018) p116-117.