We have been discussing the doctrine of salvation.
Last time we began our conversation on sanctification; and today we continue on.
As we said last time, sanctification is a vital part of the Christian life.
Many are talking today about conversion, and “coming to Jesus,” but not many pastors talk much about sanctification. All that matters, in practice, is “becoming a Christian.” There is a massive emphasis on being born again, but very little talk in the area of increasing, personal holiness.
However, we mentioned last time that true, saving faith will always result in a life that is increasingly conforming into the image of Jesus. It is a person who is completely devoted to follow Jesus in all of His teachings.
Again, there are many who think you merely need to say a prayer, or raise a hand in a service, or conform to certain behaviors of a church culture. And when they do this, they think it is evidence they have been truly saved.
They have experienced emotion in worship times.
They have experienced connections with other Christians during prayer times.
They have experienced friendship, and acceptance, within a community group.
But none of that is sanctification, nor is it evidence that one has been truly converted.
And yet, on the other side of the spectrum, others are content to simply say they believe in Jesus, and yet, nothing ever changes in their life. This is that “cheap grace” we have been talking about.
They’ll take the death of Jesus to cover their sin, but they have little to no interest in actually following him, other than to state their profession of “believing in Him.”
But again, this is not sanctification, nor is it the mark one has been truly converted.
Indeed, it is evidence to the contrary.
So as we have been saying, true Christianity necessitates true sanctification. That is our point, and that is the point of these episodes.
Last time we begin by looking at the terminology the Bible uses for sanctification; and so today we want to talk about some additional items that are related to this doctrine.
When it comes to sanctification, the mind-set is central.
Now from God’s perspective; the Scriptures are clear that God is the ultimate worker behind the heart’s inclination.
1 Kings 8:57-58 “May the LORD our God be with us, as He was with our fathers; may He not leave us or forsake us, that He may incline our hearts to Himself, to walk in all His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances, which He commanded our fathers.”
Psalm 119:36 - “Incline my heart to Your testimonies And not to dishonest gain.”
Yet from man’s perspective; we are expected to set our minds in the right direction. There is no sense of passivity in our sanctification. It always starts in the mind/heart.
We see this in the OT:
Joshua 24:23 - "Now therefore, put away the foreign gods which are in your midst, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel."
1 Chro. 22:19
We see this in the NT:
We see that there is a need for the renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23).
Rom. 12:2 - “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Eph. 4:21-24 “But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”
Along with this, there is a need to properly understand oneself (Rom. 12:3; Phil. 2:3).
There is a need to practice setting your mind on proper objects (Rom. 8:5-13; Col. 3:2).
Rom. 12:3 - “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”
Phil. 2:3-7 “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself…”
There is a need to help others to set their minds on proper things.
In fact, there are many passages that use the term noutheteo, which literally means ‘to put in mind,’ and speaks of instruction, admonishment, warning, and counseling.
(Acts 20:31; Rom. 15:14; 1 Cor. 4:14; Eph. 6:4; et. al.)
Sanctification; and the place of fear and faith.
“The fear of God is the soul of godliness… We are advised that what the Scripture regards as knowledge or wisdom takes its inception from the apprehension and emotion which the fear of God connotes. If we are thinking of the notes of biblical piety, none is more characteristic than the fear of the Lord… Lest we should think that the religion of the OT is in this respect on a lower level, and that the NT rises above that which is represented by the fear of the Lord, we need but scan the NT to be relieved of any such misapprehension… The fear of God in us is that frame of heart and mind which reflects our apprehension of who and what god is, and who and what God is will tolerate nothing less than total commitment to him” (John Murray, Principles of Conduct).
There are many passages: Matt. 10:28; Lk. 12:4-5; Acts. 9:31; Rom. 11:20-21; 2 Cor. 7:1; Col. 3:22; Heb. 4:1; 1 Pet. 1:7.
Matt. 10:28 - “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
2 Cor. 7:1 - “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
1 Pet. 1:7 - “so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
The point, though, is that faith is not merely something we exercise once, to enter salvation. Rather, faith is a continuous process that we are commanded to practice, day-by-day, moment-by-moment.
J. Barton Payne, rightly notes that “successful ethics cannot exist independently of faith in the redeemed of God… Genuine faith cannot long exist independent of ethic commitment…” (Payne, Theology of the Older Testament).
“We must be thoroughly aware that in shifting from justification to sanctification we are not withdrawing from the sphere of faith… Christian activity is certainly not to be excluded, or belittled, or condemned: but if this activity is to be sound it must never be severed from its relation to the mercy of God…. The doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit is designed precisely to prevent us from viewing man as an independent, dynamistic unit. This doctrine does not make man self-sufficient, but rather underlines his perpetual and inherent lack of self-sufficiency… All views which end up with some simplistic theory of regeneration will deprive us of the wonderful mystery of the work of the Holy Spirit--- wonderful because it turns man from a study of his own condition to the life of faith in which he feeds on God’s grace alone and seeks to continue in the sanctification he has received… Faith is the pivot on which everything revolves. Faith, though not itself creative, preserves us from autonomous self-sanctification and moralism… for progress in sanctification never meant working out one’s own salvation under one’s own auspices; on the contrary, it meant working out one’s own salvation with a rising sense of dependence on God’s grace” (Berkouwer, Faith and Sanctification).
Sanctification; and the centrality of love.
“The theme of love is particularly characteristic of the Johannine literature. As a desirable Christain virtue it has its roots in God’s love for his Son… On many occasions he [Jesus] pointed out that love for himself was to be a motive for ethical behavior. There can be no doubts that the new life as Jesus conceived it centered on love...Moreover, man’s love for God comes more to the fore in the epistles than in the gospel as a motive for the Christian life… They [the love passages of 1John] set a high target, but are not expected for that reason to deter people from reaching towards it. Indeed, for Christians, loving is not an option but an obligation” (Guthrie, NTT).
“The content of the new obedience, in the epistles of Paul too, finds its most central and fundamental expression in love…. This central significance of love in Paul’s preaching of the new life can be shown in various ways. Just as faith can be called the mode of existence of the new life… in the first place this love derives its central significance from the fact that it is the reflection of the love of God in Jesus…. In the second place this love constitutes the vital element of the church. It is in love that the body of which Christ is the Head, is built up (Eph. 4:15), in which believers together are rooted and grounded (Eph. 3:17). For this reason love can be called the bond of perfection (Col. 3:14); indeed it its own way it forms the unity of the church (Col. 2:2). The application of the commandment of love consequently has in Paul the clear effect of stirring up the strong awareness in the church of mutual responsibility…. Here again there is the clear relationship between love and sanctification. As a fellowship sanctified and appropriated by God to himself, the church is bound together and set apart by love” (Ridderbos, Paul: an outline of his theology).
- Some theological tension related to sanctification:
“Old man” and “new man” also “old nature” and “new nature.”
There is a strong corporate connection, along with an eschatological emphasis with the “man” terms.
For instance, in Rom. 6:1ff, the term “old man/self” is introduced, but it is vitally connected with the Adam theology of chapter 5. Listen to our justification episodes for “Adam Theology.”
In the same way, the concept of “old” and “new” fall into that eschatological truth of the “now but not yet” that is seen throughout the NT.
It is important not to frame these terms exclusively in anthropological or soteriological terms. As Doug Moo points out, “...This term [“old man/nature”] has frequently been taken to refer to a part of each believer which is either destroyed or conquered at conversion. But Pauline categories encourage us to consider this as a corporate term. The term occurs twice elsewhere in Paul (Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9), in both of which cases it is contrasted with “the new man.” This term is clearly implied to be a corporate one in Col. 3:10-11, because Paul asserts that religious, national and social distinctions are not relevant in this “man.” Similarly, Eph. 2:15 asserts that God has made “one new man” out of Gentiles and Jews. When we recall that Christ himself is called “the second man” in contrast to Adam, the “first man”, we are well on our way to showing that ‘the old man” is a term which describes mankind in Adam. Our old man would thus refer to the believer, in so far as he belongs to Adam, the head of the ‘old age’ dominated by sin and death” (Moo, Exegetical notes on Romans).
There is an individual aspect to this term as well, but it is important to always remember that the primary aspect is corporate and eschatological.
This term, along with the ‘new man,’ is not describing some schizophrenic quality of a redeemed person. It is not valid in any way to describe that there are two ‘men’ within each believer. However, this is a common view and is due to being too casual with the text. Often it is confusing the ‘flesh’ with the ‘old man.’
The ‘old man’ is the human person as seen from his unregenerate state. He is a slave to sin, he is dead in sin, he is an unreconciled man, and he is an enemy of God.
Here, we see the description of the redeemed as what they are in Jesus Christ
(c.f., 2 Cor. 5:17).
2 Cor. 5:17 - “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
As Ladd says in his NTT, “The idea of newness is distinctly eschatological… The Pauline statement that in Christ the old has passed away and the new has come, is an eschatological statement… The underlying idea is that while believers live in the old age, because they are in Christ, they belong to the new age with its new creation (indicative), and they are to live a life that is expressive of the new existence (imperative).”
“Old nature” and “new nature”
So here, we move into theological categories that describe the presence of the flesh, or sin nature.
The previous two categories were biblical terms/categories, but these are theological.
So whereas the old man is crucified and gone in the believer because he is “in” the new Man (Christ), here we have the reality that though we belong to the “new,” the “old” still clings to us and we move and live within a corrupt world that is imprisoned in the “old” (Rom. 7:14ff.; 1 Jn. 1:8-10).
So what is the meaning of “nature?”
Remember this not an explicitly biblical term. Rather, it is a theological one that theologians have developed.
It does not mean "person."
It can mean "dispositional, capacities, etc."
**When reading theology, or Christian books, take care in how you read. Often, books will start out with ‘nature’ and somewhere along the way, switch to ‘old man.’ And here they inadvertently are confusing two sets of terms that are not interchangeable.
It is important to understand that all of this is the tension of the now and not yet of every believer.
“The strange thing about the new life claimed by Christains is that they have it and have it not: they have yet to become what, as they claim, they already are. Not surprisingly, this causes tension… The Christian claim, if taken seriously, means perplexity for the historian, disturbance of the ethicist, and pain for the believer. He has been delivered from the dominion of darkness and transferred to the King of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13); and yet,.... He remains vulnerable to what in Galatians, is called ‘the present evil age’ (Gal. 1:4). So he is torn in two directions. The preacher tells him that what he could not do for himself has already been done for him by God; and that he has only to accept with gratitude the finished work of Christ. And yet, the same preacher is always exhorting him to do better, and telling him that his performance does not match up to his calling. In a nutshell, the christian command is a perplexing one: ‘Become what you are!’... It is paradoxical. It is tension-causing… If the growing-pains are never felt, it is doubtful whether the new life has begun…” (C.F.D. Moule, “The New Life’ in Col. 2:1)
So that’s probably enough for today.
The big takeaway, is to understand that the Christain life is one that increasingly conforming into the image of Jesu Christ. There is a great connection between a Chrsitains growth, with the concepts of faith and love.
Additionally, there will always be a tension between the now-and not-yet.
There is a sense in which, while freed from the old, we still live in it. There will always be a struggle with sin.
So, while a person grows more into the image of Jesus, and they are increasingly putting away sin/ and putting on holiness, there is also a sense in which they will be more aware of their sin. They will see it more and more; and see it for what it is.
It is not uncommon for a person to become born again and feel like they are untouchable-- that sin is like water off of a duck’s back. But then, the longer they walk with the Lord, they almost feel like they are moving backwards in their holiness.
Well the reality is, often, that they are not so much moving backward, as much as, they are becoming increasingly aware of how sin-filled they truly are. They keep turning over new rocks, so to speak, and they see sin that they never saw before.
It is not so much that they are moving backwards, as much as, they are becoming more aware of what was always there, but that never saw it.
While it can be discouraging, it is also the reality of every growing Christian.
Each day, they simply pick up their head, they set their eyes on Jesus, and they keep fighting their sin as they press on.
As they look back over the years, they will see they have grown. So, while they are not what they hope to be, they are certainly not what they once were.
That is just the great tension of the now and not-yet. We remain in the “old,” but as we press on toward the “new.”
So next time, we will finish up sanctification (and STII), Lord-willing, and talk about the idea of assurance/eternal security, and perseverance of the saints.