This folly has been derived from the following message:
One year ago, we started a verse-by-verse, sequential exposition of Philippians. As new themes are introduced, I will occasionally preach a more general, topical sermon (or two) by way of introduction. This is one of those messages. Due to the shift in arrangement, our typical “folly” format will be replaced with a transcript of the message.
At this time, I invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn to Philippians chapter 2. Philippians chapter 2.
One day, a group of tourists were visiting a picturesque village when they happened upon an old man who was sitting by a fence. In a rather patronizing sort of way, one of the tourists asked him, “Were any great men born in this village?” To which, the old man simply replied, “Nope… only babies.”
Yeah, I know. It’s pretty bad. I’ll let it sink in, though. It’s rather silly, but it’s a profound answer, right? Because great men are not born, they’re made. With much time and patience and growth, a baby becomes a child, and then a child becomes an adult. The same can be said for the Christian life.
I mean, we all begin as spiritual babies. No one is born into the family of God as a full-fledged adult. We all have to grow into maturity. We all start out with very little when it comes to our knowledge, when it comes to our understanding of God’s Word, of His purposes, and His plans, and His promises for us… but over time, we grow. We grow.
As we transition back into the book of Philippians, let me remind you that this church is a good church. This is a growing church. This is a church that has been maturing for some time. Unlike so many of Paul’s letters, this one gushes over the readers and it contains no doctrinal correction at all… no direct confrontation like we find in so many of his other letters. Instead, we receive hints that disunity was starting to become a problem.
In chapter 1 verse 27, he tells them “stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving [together] side by side for the faith of the gospel.” In chapter 2 verse 2, he says, “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” In verse 14, there in chapter 2, he says, “Do all things without grumbling or complaining.” The implication being that maybe some of them were starting to. Some of them were starting to complain and grumble and maybe even dispute about things amongst themselves. In chapter 4, he mentions two women, by name, who are having a hard time getting along.
If there was ever a concern for the Philippian church, at least from what we have here in Scripture, that concern would be for their unity above all else. And Paul keeps bringing that up because disunity is the most dangerous threat to an otherwise healthy church. It happens to the best of them and it’s something that we all need to look out for. It’s something we need to work at and be diligent to apply ourselves to. It happens to the best of them.
But overall, I mean, the tone and the tenor of this book is incredibly positive. It’s incredibly uplifting. It’s an encouraging book. You could possibly even look at it as that Christian radio version of an epistle, right? It’s safe for the whole family. There is nothing offensive here in the book of Philippians.
Well, next week, we will jump right back into the text itself with verse 12. But for now, I want to finish what we started last week, and that’s an introductory look to this doctrine of sanctification.
Let’s go ahead and read the text, though, from Philippians, so we have a feel for where we’re headed and why it’s important for us to wrap our arms around this important doctrine. So please, follow along as I read verses 12 and 13 from Philippians chapter 2. He says…
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
These two verses are small, but they are dense with doctrine. They tell us a lot about spiritual growth and more specifically about sanctification. So, if you weren’t able to join us last week for part 1, let me just kind of bring you up to speed really quick. We already looked at two aspects of this doctrine. We looked at the definition of sanctification.
The Definition of Sanctification
We saw that sanctification is the process of real biblical change. That’s as short as I can make it. There are a lot of longer, more developed answers than that, but there’s the basic definition that I want you to walk away with this morning. Sanctification is the process of real biblical change.
It’s not simply doing the right thing. It’s not having the right experience. It’s not keeping the right rules. It’s not gaining the right knowledge. It’s not joining the right church and it’s not avoiding the right pitfalls. We looked at each and every one of those things last week. As good as those things are, true sanctification is a slow incremental process of change in a person’s life as they are conformed more and more into the image of Christ over time. That’s sanctification and Scripture presents this process of change in three different ways.
First of all, it’s positional. It’s positional in the sense that God has set us apart for the purpose of serving Him. This is something God does, and He does it just once in the life of the believer. This isn’t something that He keeps doing over and over again. He doesn’t keep shuffling His children in and out of the Kingdom. He doesn’t say, “Okay, you’re in one day and you’re out the next.” This is something that He does one time for the life of the believer.
If you have been united with Christ, you have been released from the power and the penalty of sin and you have been given a new heart to love and serve God with. That’s positional sanctification. God does it for every believer. It’s in the past and it marks the inauguration of your new life in Christ.
There is also perfected sanctification. That’s the other bookend. It’s in the future when we are finally glorified with Christ and that’s something that doesn’t happen here. It doesn’t happen now. That is something for us to look forward to. When we will be perfected. When we will be the spirits of those who are made righteous who have been perfected. And we looked to that day.
But our focus is primarily concerned with progressive sanctification. Progressive sanctification, that is the active, ongoing, present tense form of the word. And we see that all throughout the pages of Scripture. It includes all of the dynamic commands that we are to obey incrementally and to follow over time as we become more and more like Christ in our pursuit of holiness. So that’s the basic definition. Sanctification is the process of real biblical change. We also looked at the nature of sanctification.
The Nature of Sanctification
And this is so important because the process of real biblical change can only occur in a transformed heart. They used to tell us in school whenever we would take biblical counseling classes, “All counseling before a person comes to faith in Christ is pre-counseling.” You cannot biblically counsel an unregenerate heart. God’s Word will not have the same effect. Instead, you have to evangelize that person. You have to evangelize them before you can bring God’s truth to bear on their lives, to see them grow in holiness. They’re not going to do it on their own. It requires a transformed heart.
Remember, you can change your behavior, but you can’t change your heart. Only God can do that. That’s something that only God does, and He does do that. And that change looks like new affections and new actions. True biblical change starts on the inside and it works its way out. So that over time through informed and active obedience to the Word of God, you find yourself sinning less and serving more. That’s what sanctification looks like.
Well, today we are going to look at two more aspects of sanctification and we’ll spend the bulk of our time exploring the means of sanctification.
The Means of Sanctification
What exactly causes Christlikeness to happen? What makes it happen. What are the methods and the instruments and the channels of sanctifying grace that God uses to grow a Christian? I want to give you five – five means of sanctification. First of all, sanctifying grace is channeled through studying God’s Word.
1. Studying God’s Word
That should be no surprise to any of us, right? Where else would we start? If we are God’s people, that means we live by His book. And Jesus Himself prayed to the Father in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is [what?] truth.” Sanctify them in that truth and your Word is truth.
The bible testifies to its own power and purpose. 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17: “All Scripture [you guys know this verse] all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
The source of all Scripture is God Himself. He breathed it out. Many turn to this passage for justification of the biblical doctrine of inspiration, but really what we have here in the text is a biblical doctrine of expiration, because God breathed out His truth. He has breathed it out of His mouth.
Notice, that the value of this God-expired Word is its usefulness, its teaching, its reproof, its correction, and its training in righteousness. And its purpose is to make the man of God complete, complete. This word “complete,” it’s not the word that you might expect. I was expecting it to be the word “telios.” In fact, I even asked Pastor Stephen a couple days ago, I was like, “I’m in a hurry, I’m running to get something else, do you happen to know off the top of your head… uh, does it say in Timothy 3:16 and 17… is that “telios” for “complete?” And he was like, “Ah, I don’t know… let me look it up real quick on my phone.” And so he did and he’s like, “Nope, it’s a hapax legomenon… you’re in trouble!” I was like, “Great.” And so, I had to go back and look it up myself. No, it’s an interesting word.
This word “complete” it means, “to be well-fitted for some function” or “to be able to meet all demands.” The bible works in a person’s life until they are proficient in doing everything that is required of them. Everything that God demands of them. That’s the idea. And by being well-fitted to rise to the occasion, to meet all of God’s demands, they find themselves equipped with everything that they need to accomplish every good work that God has prepared for them to do. In other words, the living and active word of God breathes life and activity into the man or woman of God. This Word teaches us, it reproves us, it corrects us, it trains us in righteousness to make us usable, to make us well-suited, and well-equipped.
The Christian who doesn’t study Scripture is like a guy who goes hunting without a weapon. Or that kid that shows up on the first day of school without a pencil. What’s that all about? Why are you even here? You’re not equipped. You’re not ready for the task in front of you. What did you come expecting? Who wants to be that guy? Who wants to be the Christian that’s useless, that can’t do anything because he’s not equipped?
Psalm 19 verses 7 through 11—I love this portion of Scripture. It’s so packed, he says…
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
So, if God spoke it and you accept it, His Word will revive your soul, fill your heart with joy, enlighten your eyes, fulfill your desire, warn you of danger, and reward you greatly. That’s what God’s Word does for you when you accept it. It sanctifies the believer.
But like we saw last week, you can gain all the right knowledge and still remain far from sanctified. You could memorize the entire bible cover to cover and be no closer to Christ than Judas or Hitler. Because again, it’s the transformed heart that makes the difference and [the Word] changes the heart into something that God can use, and only God can do that. And Scripture is the tool that the Holy Spirit uses to make that change happen.
Louis Berkhof writes…
The truth in itself certainly has no adequate efficiency to sanctify the believer [it doesn’t], yet it is naturally adapted to be the means of sanctification as employed by the Holy Spirit. Scripture presents all the objective conditions for holy exercises and acts. It serves to excite spiritual activity by presenting motives and inducements, and gives direction to it by prohibitions, exhortations, and examples.
You see, when it comes to the Christian life, good students make good servants. You don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you have to spend time in God’s Word with His Spirit in order for there to be change in your life. That’s the first and primary means of sanctification. Sanctifying grace is channeled through studying God’s Word. Number 2, sanctifying grace comes from praying God’s way.
2. Praying God’s Way
Turn with me, for a moment, to Ephesians. Ephesians chapter 3. The New Testament is full of prayers and this is one of my favorites. It’s so good. Ephesians 3, starting in verse 14. He says…
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father [so this is why I pray], from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
When’s the last time you prayed a prayer like that for someone else? Or even for yourself? I mean, this is the kind of prayer that changes a person from the inside out. It’s a prayer of power and strength and comprehension and experience and fullness. And all members of the Trinity are involved in this prayer. It’s from the Father, through the Spirit, and for the sake of Christ. This is an incredible prayer. It’s so good, Paul can’t help himself but follow it up with another brief prayer of benediction. Look at what he says next. He says…
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Notice that God is working within us according to His power. And even though Paul recognizes that God’s ability to empower the believer far exceeds anything that we could possibly ask for or even think about asking for, he knows that God uses the power of prayer and the prayers of His people to sanctify them.
And so he says in verse 14, to start everything out, he says, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Lord.” This is why I pray. Because he knows that the Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous (Proverbs 15:29). He knows that there are many who do not have. They don’t have what they need because they don’t ask for it, and when they do ask for it, they ask with all the wrong motives (James 4:21 [should be James 4:2]). And God is only able to change the heart. God is the only one who is able to do that. But beyond that, He is also willing to. He wants to. Jesus said in Luke 11:9, “I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
Too often, our prayers are all about us and what we want, and rarely about God and what He wants for us. We fall into these patterns of praying so easily, where we simply say, “Thank you Lord, you’re great, here’s what I want, thanks again, amen.” If we aren’t careful, our prayers will become meaningless, predictable, and repetitive. But when we move beyond that “Now I lay me down to sleep” sort of methodology and we start praying God’s way like the Holy Spirit inspired prayers that we see here in Scripture, God uses those prayers to sanctify us as well as sanctify the people that we pray for.
Even the very nature of prayer itself has this sanctifying effect on those who humble themselves and turn to the Lord for help. B. B. Warfield observed that…
Prayer by the nature of it is a confession of weakness, need, and dependency. It is a cry for help. And “no one can take this attitude once without an effect on his character,” for in it we learn to look away from ourselves to one higher and greater and acknowledge our utter dependence on God.
He then asks, “What is prayer [what is prayer] but the very adjustment of the heart for the influx of grace?” Prayer is essential. If we are to grow in Christlikeness, we must be men and women of prayer. Number 3, sanctifying grace is channeled through prioritizing God’s people.
3. Prioritizing God’s People
The church isn’t a club or a social gathering. You know that. It’s not your weekly pick-me-up or a family obligation. No, the church is the New Covenant blood-bought people of God. That’s the church. In Ephesians 5:25, Paul says that Christ loved the church so much that He gave Himself up for her. He didn’t die for a building. He didn’t die for a club or a self-help center. He died for a people. A people, a group of people, joined together with one mind, one heart, and one purpose. If you’re still in Ephesians 3, look at what Paul says next in chapter 4. He says…
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call.
Notice, he’s talking about the church. And this becomes clear in the very next verse when he says…
One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of [us] all, who is over all and through all and in all.
He’s not talking about the brotherhood of man. He’s talking about the church. This one sanctified, set apart, group of people that Jesus loved and that He gave Himself up for. He goes on, starting with verse 11, to tell us how the church grows spiritually. He says…
And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for [the] building up [of] the body of Christ.
Now, let me pause there, just for a moment. Look at this list in front of us here, this list of human gifts that Jesus has given to the church. You have the apostles and the prophets who were carried along by the Holy Spirit in writing the Bible. You have the evangelists who are specially gifted for the spread of the Gospel. And you have the shepherds and teachers who are here to care for, correct, and educate the church. And they all work together. But I want you to notice that they all work together for one function… one function, one primary objective. Verse 12: “To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
So, whatever you think my job should be as your pastor, I have one objective on my Holy Spirit inspired job description. You want to know why I am here? You want to know what my primary goal is? My goal of ministry is to equip you for the work of the ministry.
Let me tell you this. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen occasionally. And this happens in every church everywhere you go, but I just want you to know that it really does hurt. It hurts the elders and it hurts myself, whenever we hear about people complaining (especially to other people) about how the pastors or the elders didn’t do this or that for them. I hate that. Because when I hear that it tells me that I really have failed as a pastor. Not because I forgot to call so and so on her birthday, or I didn’t do everything that everyone expects of me… but because there are still people in the church who expect the pastors and the elders to do everything for them. That grieves me. It really does.
Look, if you are in the church, you are called to ministry. Period. You are called to do the work of ministry. My primary job is not to do it all for you, but to make sure that you are equipped for doing the work―to see you built up as a functional member of Christ’s body. That’s my job. That’s the task that God has appointed for me and for all of the other elders. I mean, sure, we do have several duties and responsibilities beyond Ephesians 4. That is not what I’m saying. I’m not giving myself a pass from anything that I would ever call you to do. Okay? I have duties and responsibilities beyond Ephesians 4 as well, but this is our purpose. This is my purpose for being here. This is why we are here in the first place.
Church leadership exists to equip for the sake of building. That’s our purpose. That’s why we’re here. For how long and to what end? Look at verse 13. He says…
Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, that from the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, [what does it do? It…] makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Friends, spiritual growth, sanctifying grace, is found in a complete functioning, a whole functioning, of a whole body of Christ. When we come together and sit under the ministry of the Word, when we lift our voices in praise, edify each other with our gifts, confess sin and help others deal with sin, when we share in communion and rejoice in baptism, and reflect on the transforming power of God, when we see other people and we spend time with other people and we fellowship with other people and we make God’s people our priority, when that happens we grow and the church grows so that it builds itself up in love. That’s why it’s so important.
And friends, that is what we have been missing here during this short period of this pandemic. I know that it has grieved so many of your hearts like it has grieved mine to not be able to see each other, to go for a period of time where we have not been able to gather, at least weekly and regularly. But I hope that this pandemic has not cut you off from the body of Christ. I hope that during this time, you have still been actively working, putting in the work, for the work of the ministry, putting in the job. I hope that you’re still reaching out to people. I hope that you’re still caring for people.
I know that the elders and I, we have been doing our best to reach out to as many people as we can and we still hear of people that we’ve missed and people that we haven’t reached out to and again, for that I apologize. I greatly apologize. We keep trying, but I hope we’re not the only ones. And I know we aren’t. I know that several of you are doing the work. But it’s so important, so important, for us to never lose sight and never lose focus of who we are and what our job is. Sanctifying grace is channeled through studying God’s Word, praying God’s way, and prioritizing God’s people. Number 4, sanctifying grace comes from filtering God’s providence. This one’s a real challenge.
4. Filtering God’s Providence
This one’s hard. One of the most popular and all-time favorite verses within the New Testament is Romans 8:28. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together [for what?] for good [right, they work together for good], for those who are called according to His purpose.” So everything that we go through, it doesn’t matter what it is, is being providentially ordained by God for our good. And Paul defines that good for us in the next verse. He says, “For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.”
In other words, God providentially uses every experience, everything that we go through, all things, to sanctify us and to make us more like Christ. That includes disasters, disease, discouragement, divorce, disappointment, defamation, depression, and even death. All things, especially the bad things, come to us from God for the good purpose of making us more like Jesus. And when we maintain that perspective, when we see that for what the Bible clearly says that it is, then all of a sudden, we have a different attitude. We look at things a little bit differently than those around us, than our neighbors, than those people we work with.
It’s amazing, it’s amazing how quickly we forget this truth when trials actually do come, when things get uncomfortable, when we’re asked to do things we don’t like. We cry, “Isn’t this fair?” or “How is this fair? I don’t deserve this!” Long before we ask that question, what should we be asking? We should be saying…
God what are you trying to teach me through this? Why is this getting to me in the first place? I know that you love your children. I know that you only want good things for your children, so this has to be for my good. Why? Why am I going through this?
Instead of saying, “I don’t deserve this.” Instead, ask yourself, “how is this situation likely to make me more like Christ?” Again, the Bible tells us over and over again that pain and persecution and suffering yields good things for the believer. When those things happen to us, even though it’s so counter cultural and so counter intuitive even in our own thinking, we have to remind ourselves of what Scripture tells us. In that, ultimately, these things are good for us. They’re good for us.
Psalm 119:71 says, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” The psalmists says, “My afflictions are surprisingly really good for me, because they teach me how to follow the Lord.” Romans 5:3-5 says, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured [out] into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Paul says we should rejoice while we are suffering because we know that good things come from it.
Peter says the same thing. He says something very similar in 1 Peter 1 verses 6 and 7. He says, “In this you rejoice, [Now again, he is writing to people who are suffering intense persecution under the emperor Nero. And he’s telling them in this, in this trial, this severe trial that are enduring, in this you rejoice] though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” James says it too at the very beginning of his letter. He says…
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds [Maybe like me, you memorized that as a child and so it just kind of rolls off the tongue. It’s something that’s just there in the back of your head and maybe you don’t quite think about it. I don’t think about it like I should. Wait a minute! Are you telling me that I need to count it all joy when I meet trials of various kinds?], for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness [you know this]. And let steadfastness have its full effect [give yourself to it], that you may be perfect and complete, not lacking anything.
Paul, Peter, and James (all three of them) make it clear that sufferings and trials should be a cause for joy. Why? Why? Because trials have a sanctifying effect on the believer. They force us to rely on God and to apply what we know from Scripture. They prove our faith and they push us to grow up spiritually.
Unfortunately, when trials hit us, instead of rejoicing many of us act like the man who was washed upon a small uninhabited island. He was a sole survivor of a shipwreck that had cut him off from the outside world. So he cried out to God. He said, “God, rescue me! Please! I will do anything for you, just rescue me!” And he cried out to Him every day. He would scan the horizon, but no help came. Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a small hut and fill it with whatever possessions he had.
Then, one day, the worst happened. Just when you think it can’t get any worse than being marooned on a desert island. As he was returning home from a long day of hunting and scouring for food, he saw his modest hut burning to the ground. Somehow, it had caught fire and now everything he owned was lost forever.
Needless to say, the man was stricken with grief and he thought about ending it all that night. However, the next morning he noticed the reflection of a ship in the distance. It was sailing closer and closer to the island until. at long last. the man was saved. Once aboard, he asked the crew, “How did you know that I was here?” To which, they replied, “We saw your smoke signal.”
You see, the believer experiences the same sufferings, the same pain, and the same disappointment as anyone else and then some. But we shouldn’t react to our struggles the same way everyone else does, because we know better. We know that God is in control and that He is worthy of all praise when it hurts. We know that He loves us, and we know that even those painful things that come our way, they serve a purpose. They have a reason behind them in that they are here to make us more like Jesus, to make us more like His Son.
Listen to this… this prayer from a blind Scottish preacher, George Matheson. The man who wrote, O Love That Will Not Let Me Go. He cried…
My God, I have never thanked you for my thorn. I have thanked you a thousand times for my roses, but not once for my thorn. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensated for my cross, but I have never thought of my cross as itself a present glory. Teach me the value of my thorn.
Friend, when we filter God’s providence through a biblical worldview of suffering that produces Christlikeness, we discover the joys of spiritual growth. All of a sudden, our perspective changes. But more than that, our heart changes. And we are able to receive these things from the Lord in the way that they are intended. Sanctifying grace comes from studying God’s Word, praying God’s way, prioritizing God’s people, filtering God’s providence. Finally, sanctifying grace is channeled through obeying God’s commands.
5. Obeying God’s Commands
Now, you might be thinking…
Wait a minute, Hans. Last week, you said that doing the right thing isn’t the same as sanctification. Now, you’re telling me that one of the primary means of sanctification is doing the right thing? It’s obedience? How does that work?
Well, it works so long as we don’t confuse holiness with simply doing the right thing. Remember, we also saw last week that good fruit comes from a good root―that a transformed heart will prove itself by what comes out of it.
Obedience is commanded and expected and rewarded all throughout the pages of Scripture. Last Fall, when we were still in chapter 1, I mentioned that the Old Testament Law contained 613 commands. If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. Many of us, we read the Old Testament and we think…
Whew, wow! Thank you Lord for making me this side of the cross. Thank you for birthing me when you did because… wow! I would not want to have to submit to 613 commands.
And yet, the New Testament contains over 1,400 commands aimed directly at you, directly at you believer. That’s at least 1,400 second person imperatives that the Spirit of God commands you to obey.
Church, it’s a good thing to come to church, listen to sermons, and study the Word throughout the week. But if you are simply a hearer and not a doer, then what good is any of it? What good is it? Listen to this. I want to give you a lengthy quote from Jerry Bridges in his book, The Pursuit of Holiness. It’s an excellent book. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone here. It’s so good. Listen to this, he says…
It is time for us Christians to face up to our responsibility for holiness. Too often we say we are “defeated” by this or that sin. No, we are not defeated; we are simply disobedient! It might be good if we stopped using the terms “victory” and “defeat” to describe our progress in holiness. Rather we should use the terms “obedience” and “disobedience.” When I say I am defeated by some sin, I am unconsciously slipping out from under my responsibility. I am saying something outside of me has defeated me. But when I say I am disobedient, that places the responsibility for my sin squarely on me. We may, in fact, be defeated, but the reason we are defeated is because we have chosen to disobey.
Look, if you have truly been saved, if you have been joined with Christ, and you have the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit of God Himself, then you don’t lack the ability to say “no.” You don’t. You can’t say, “I’m not strong enough” or “that temptation is too big for me” because it’s not.
You can and should obey. Because every time you obey, whether things go your way or not, you’re going to be blessed. You’re going to be blessed through obedience. No one is ever cursed or judged for obeying God. That doesn’t happen. Only blessing comes from obedience. Whether we see it, whether we experience it in the way that we think we should here and now or not, it still comes.
These are the means of sanctification. The Philippian jailer is known for that famous question, “What must I do to be saved?” For those of us who are saved and have been saved for a while, we might ask the question, “What must I do to be sanctified?” The answer is to pursue holiness through these means of sanctification.
But before we call it a day, let’s break it down just one more step and then we’ll be done. We’ve seen the definition of sanctification, the nature of sanctification, and the means of sanctification. Lastly, we have the dynamics of sanctification.
The Dynamics of Sanctification
As we employ God’s means by God’s power to accomplish God’s purposes, how does sanctification actually work? To answer that question, we need to turn our spiritual eyes back to Jesus. We need to look to Him, right? The author and the finisher of our faith. We need to focus on Him.
1 Corinthians 3:7 – a tremendous verse, powerful verse. Er, 3:8… [should be 2 Corinthians 3:18] excuse me, says…
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
So as we behold the glory of our Savior, we become transformed into His image. That’s another way of saying that we become progressively, incrementally sanctified. As we study God’s Word, pray God’s way, prioritize God’s people, filter God’s providence, and obey God’s commands, we behold more of His glory and, as a result, we become more like Him.
Now, within each and every one of those means, we have two active realities or action items for the believer. I’ll give those to you really quickly here. First of all, beholding His glory, we must mortify the old self. There’s a good old English word for you.
1. Mortify the Old Self
Mortify means “to destroy the strength, vitality, or functioning of something” “to subdue or deaden.” You’ve got to kill the sin in your life by draining it of all of its vitality that it tries to overpower you with.
Romans 8:13 says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die [Now again, he’s writing to Christians here. He says, “If you live according to the flesh, you will die”], but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” So you have a choice. You can live according to the flesh and die or you can kill your sinful habits, put them to death, and live.
Colossians 3:5 states the same thing only as a command. He says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry [that pretty much covers everything else].” Again, this is something that you can only do by the Spirit. You can’t do this on your own. John Owen writes…
The Spirit alone is sufficient for this work. All ways and means without Him are useless. He is the great efficient. He is the One who gives life and strength to our efforts.
Puritan Pastor John is right. He’s absolutely right. Our efforts are completely insufficient without the Spirit. But, at the same time, let’s not forget that sanctification is a two-sided coin. It requires both God’s effectiveness and our effort. Once again, Jerry Bridges draws out this fact well. He says…
Though mortification must be done by the strength and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, it is nevertheless a work we must do. Without the Holy Spirit’s strength there will be no mortification, but without our working in His strength there will also be no mortification.
You see, unlike justification, which is totally a work of God―it is completely monergistic… mono + erge… it is one work and it is God doing the work, sanctification is synergistic. Okay? Two working, two of us, we work together to accomplish this end. Sanctification requires work. It requires effort on our part to be effective and we’ll talk a lot more about that next week. I promise.
But that’s just half of it. That’s just half. You have to mortify the old self, but you also need to fill the hole that is left behind with something better. It’s not enough to put off and remain empty. You have to put on. So we mortify the old self and then we also vivify (how’s that for a word – vivify) the new self. It’s V-I-V-I-F-Y in case you’re taking notes. Vivify the new self… that’s our last point for the day.
Beholding His glory, we must…
2. Vivify the New Self
It simply means “to enliven” or “to animate.” It’s a good compliment to mortify, but on the positive side of things. In Romans 13:14, Paul captures both ideas when he says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” In Ephesians 4:24, he says, “to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
In other words, actively pursue holiness. Be a hearer and a doer. Be both. Don’t be one or the other. Don’t just sit on the bench. Get in the game. Start mortifying your old self and vivifying the new self. Charles Hodge says…
Sanctification, therefore, consists in two things: first, the removing more and more the principles of evil still infecting our nature, and destroying their power; and [then] secondly, the growth of the principle of spiritual life until it controls the thoughts, [and] feelings, and acts, and brings the soul into conformity to the image of Christ.
These are the dynamics of sanctification. So let me leave you with this and ask the question, the question that is probably on some of your minds right now. And that is, “How?” How do we mortify sin? How do we destroy its strength and vitality in our lives and how do we put on the new self? Well, are you ready? Here it is, real quick. Here are five sure-fire ways to activate sanctification in your life. Are you ready? I’m going to go through them really fast. Here we go.
If you want to mortify the flesh, try studying God’s Word, praying God’s way, prioritizing God’s people, filtering God’s providence, and obeying God’s commands. There you go. Do that. I mean, these are, after all, the means of sanctification.
If you want to grow in Christ, if you want to think and act like Jesus, you have to be in the business of killing sin and pursuing holiness. But you can’t do either by yourself or in your flesh. You can’t will yourself out of sin and into righteousness. You can’t do it. No one is able to spiritually pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make it happen. But you can give yourself entirely to Scripture, give yourself entirely to prayer, to fellowship, to faithfulness, and obedience. You can do that and when you do, as you employ these means of sanctification, the Spirit will effectively sanctify you over time. Because friends, that’s how it works. It’s that simple and it’s that hard.
Well, as we do close here, let me encourage you with one last quote from J.C. Ryle and his book Holiness. Listen to this and I give this to you as a word of encouragement. He says…
Many admire growth in grace in others and wish that they themselves were like them. But they seem to suppose that those who grow are what they are by some special gift or grant from God and that, as this gift is not bestowed on themselves, they must be content to sit still. This is a grievous delusion and one against which I desire to testify with all my might. I wish it to be distinctly understood that growth in grace is bound up with the use of means within the reach of all believers and that, as a general rule, growing souls are what they are because they use these means.
Christian, everything that we need, everything that you need, for life and godliness has already been given to you. We have been united with Christ, released from the power and penalty of sin, and given a new heart to love and serve God with. And He has provided everything that we need to see real biblical change in our lives.
Look, you didn’t go from being a baby to an adult in one day. That’s not how it happened. But with much time and patience and growth you got there. You got there. So long as you keep your eye on the prize, so long as you keep beholding the glory of your Savior, and you channel God’s sanctifying grace through the means that He has provided, you will, Christian, continue to grow and grow and grow. That is a guarantee. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, Lord, again we thank you for the promises that we have received in your Word. Lord, thank you for not leaving us to ourselves to discover these truths, but for saturating your Word with them. Thank you for making it so clear, as bright as day, that we are called to grow in holiness, to pursue holiness, and this is an active ongoing thing. Lord, I pray for each and every person in this room. Lord, I realize that we are all over the map. There are people in this room who have been walking with you for years and have been growing through these means of sanctification. And they are so mature and Lord… it’s just amazing that you would still allow them to be here with us, because they continue to grow, and they continue to prove themselves time and time again through the good fruit that comes out of their hearts. And Lord, we thank you for those people.
And yet, we have others too, that have just started their journey, that are spiritual babes in Christ and that’s exciting. As they begin to develop and grow and devour truth from your Word, as they begin to put these things into practice and step-by-step begin to obey and walk in the Spirit―that’s exciting, Lord, and we thank you for that. We thank you for the work of sanctification in all of their lives.
But Lord, there is also another group and we know that there are those who know you, know the truth, have been with you for a long time, but maybe they aren’t growing, Lord. Maybe, they’re sliding backwards. God, I pray that you would rescue them now, that you would grab their attention either through this message or through some other means by your Word, that your Spirit would speak to their hearts, that that uncomfortableness that they feel in their gut or in their chest, that they would not push it away or drown it in fast food this afternoon, but that they would take some time to really search their souls and to pursue these means of sanctification. Because this is your will for us, Lord. This is your will for us, that we would grow, that we would be sanctified, that we would set apart, but that we would also be cleansed, that we would continue to grow in holiness and Christlikeness.
Lord, I pray for those here this morning in a fourth category who don’t know you at all. If there is anyone here who hasn’t bent the knee, who hasn’t proclaimed that Jesus is Lord, hasn’t placed their faith in the sacrificial death on the cross, I pray that you would prick them. I pray that you would pull the blinders off of their eyes, unstop their ears, give them understanding and I pray that you would help us as a church to come alongside them and present the Gospel, present the Gospel in all of its glory, in all of its good news. And I pray that they too will be saved.
Lord, again, I thank you for this church. Thank you for these people. Thank you for making us a people and not just a building, or a social club, or a weekly activity. Thank you for calling us together, for calling us out of the world, for making us who we are in you. Lord, I pray that you would continue to work in each and every one of us. I pray that we would continue to grow in Christlikeness. And I pray that you would bless our time in Philippians as we turn our attention back to that precious book. We pray all of these things in your holy and righteous name. Amen.
Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
J.C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, & Roots (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2017).
Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1978).
John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, eds., Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017).
Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938).
Michael Riccardi, Sanctification: The Christian’s Pursuit of God-Given Holiness (Sun Valley, CA: Grace Books, 2015).