On Sanctification

A couple of weeks ago I was in a plane flying back from my visit to our medical clinics in Africa and I was seated next to a woman who was flying back to her home in France.  We got to talking and when she heard about our projects in Mali to build these health clinics, she began to talk about when she was younger she wanted to change the world.  Now, she said, she has a job that she doesn’t like, even though she has made a lot of money doing it.

She said, I am affluent, but I hate my life.  I used to want to change the world.  What happened to me?  And she was expressing something that I think is intrinsic in all of us – put there by our creator – it’s a desire that our lives matter.  That they count.  That our days be useful and helpful.

What a joy to be able to say that I belong to an organization that is building health clinics in Africa, and feeding the poor in Haiti, and caring for orphans, and helping children be adopted into loving homes, and assisting people who are down on their luck be able to keep their lights on in their house.  And you know you belong to that organization too.  All of that is happening here at Journey.  And we are just one small church in the universal church that is doing so much good for so many people.

And on top of all the good – the really good – we are proclaiming the good news that through faith in Jesus our sins are forgiven, and we are given a fresh start with Jesus.

We live in a world that wants to convince you that faith is stupid and that there is nothing more than the material, but we don’t believe that one bit.  We are far more than the material.  We are far more than particles and protons.  And our desire at Journey is that you will become a follower of Jesus and live life to it’s very fullest.  Wherever you might be on your own spiritual Journey, you will be treated with respect and dignity here at Journey Church.  You might be an agnostic or atheist and I’m quite sure you feel you have very good reason for believing it.  My hope is that I convince you otherwise, but be sure that Journey is a safe place for you to investigate the claims of Jesus for yourself.

Since January started we have been talking about how to change the real me.  As one writer put it – how to become the person my dog thinks I am.  And to do that we must address the inner life.  We are more than just flesh and bones.  We have an inner life as well.  I have on outer life that everyone sees, and I have an inner life – a soul.

Last week we talked about the components of a soul.  And in case you weren’t here I will put up the illustrations we used to describe the components of a soul.  We said that in our innermost being, the Bible uses the term ‘heart’.  The heart is like the control center of our life.  It is the CEO of my soul.  But the heart, or as it is also often called – our will, or our spirit (small s)- is the weakest component of our soul.  It is the weakest kid in the playground, and the will is often easily bullied.  So that’s why we might, for instance, wake up and say, Today I will eat right.  And by lunch we are polishing off a bag of Funyuns asking ourselves, what happened?

Well the will – the heart – wanted what was right but the body – with it’s appetites and desires and habits, still armed the will – get away from me kid you bother me.

So we have a will, but the will is weak against the other components – and the second component of the soul we talked about was our mind.  the Mind includes both our thoughts and our feelings.     And we used the imagery of an angry mob of stick figure thoughts and feelings.  

Sometimes our thoughts and feelings work against us.  And so even though we know better sometimes our emotions get the best of us, right?  And we talked about the weird truth here that, from the outside you might look like an upstanding christian.  But if one were to be able to read minds, well that would make things really uncomfortable.  If you suddenly were given the ability to read minds – I have a strong feeling you’d lose a few friends.  No one wants you seeing what I’m really like.

I said that churches are filled with people who appear righteous on the outside yet inwardly, there would be bodies on the floor in the morning if they had their way, because they are consumed by hate.

Jesus ran into these kinds of people all the time – they were often the religious leaders – called pharisees – who had perfected behavior but whose hearts – whose thoughts and feelings – were far from God.  So far, as a matter of fact, that Jesus called them white-washed tombs.  They looked great on the outside – just don’t lift the lid – you aren’t going to like what you see in there.

Remember the sermon on the mount?  Jesus is aiming much of the sermon away from behavior and into the realm of thoughts and feelings.  You have heard it said, thou shalt not murder, but I say, that you are subject to judgment if you are angry with them, in your heart you wished they were dead?  Or when Jesus says you have heard it said thou shalt not commit adultery, but I say that if you lust after someone you are guilty just the same.

What’s Jesus doing?  He is showing us that our thoughts and feelings can be just as sinful as our behavior.  And so for Jesus the desire is NOT behavior modification – it’s actually a complete transformation from the inside out.

But too often all we think about it the outside of us.  That’s the third component of our soul.  It’s the flesh – or the body.  And we used the illustration of a cavemen for the flesh.  The body with it’s appetites and habits – often bullies our will around – as the aforementioned Funyun story illustrated.

Now just to be clear – there is nothing inherently evil about the body.

The Bible actually places a high value on the body.  Adam and Eve had a body before the fall of man in the garden, for instance.  And one day at the end of it all – the bible teaches that we will be resurrected- we will be placed into a new body – one that isn’t as delicate and broken as the one we have now – and that’s not reincarnation – it’s resurrection.

We are coming up on Easter where we celebrate the risen Christ – and he was risen with a resurrected body.  So the body isn’t evil itself.  As a matter of fact the body can be very helpful, if directed correctly, in helping us be transformed on the inside.

But if left unchecked – and it is given free rein, then the body can be a source of great trouble and sin.  And we talked about the sins of the flesh – obvious to all – drunkeness and debauchery and wild living the like.  It includes a tongue that is untamed and speaks all kinds of ill – which is really just an extension of the thoughts and feelings that are out of control on the inside of us.

Last week we spent time reading through Romans chapter 7 – which is often called the wretched man passage – which, I believe, beautifully illustrates a soul that is dis-integrated.  Our soul is either integrated, working together to move forward in the same direction, or it is dis-integrated, working against itself.  Like kids fighting in a sandbox- the biggest bully often makes the decisions.  We want an integrated soul.  Our heart/will/spirit – making the right decisions that the mind and body follow naturally and easily.

The wretched man passage of Romans 7 describes a dis-integrating soul.  Romans 7:15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.

A dis-integrated soul will be a miserable person.  But Paul ends this passage by asking and then answering the most important question in the entire book of Romans.

24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So let’s turn the page – from Romans 7, to Romans 8.  And let’s continue to read about how Paul describes the process of being rescued by Jesus.  And I am going to show you from this chapter three very important theological terms – three important seasons for every believer.  This is an amazing chapter, and it starts like this. 8 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature.  So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

These verses describe what in theology we call “Justification”.  Simply put justification means that I have been made right with God.  I was condemned for my sins.  The penalty of sin is death.  The wages of sin – death – is found in Romans 6.  But, praise the Lord, God did something about it!  He sent his son Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins. We often talk here at Journey about stepping across the line of faith.  That there comes a time in our lives when we move from being skeptical or unsure about Jesus – to reaching the point where we believe he is who he says he is.  And that he really is the God in the flesh.  That he really did die for me in order to take away my sins – and that all he asks of me is to place my confidence in him.  Step across the line and believe.

For me I remember the day I decided to become a follower of Jesus.  I was only in middle school.  I had this idea that God was disappointed with me – but that night I heard the pastor tell me that God loved me – enough that he would die for me – and that even if I were the only person to ever believe in Him he would still have died for me.

And I was convinced – so I made a decision that night to become a follower of Jesus.  I’m yours Lord.  thank you for dying for me.  Teach me how to live for you.  Amen. That moment, I was saved.  That was the moment I crossed the line of faith.  That was the moment I was justified.  Now maybe you don’t have a moment in time that you say that was the day.  Sometimes people walk past that line and look around and say, I’m not quite sure how it happened but I’m definitely a follower of Jesus.  But in many evangelical churches like ours, the great temptation is to push really hard for that moment where – like the disciples, we turn and follow Jesus.

When I was in college I attended a baptist church in Georgia.  At the end of every message there was a moment when the pastor said, I’m going to pray a prayer and if you want to accept Jesus in your heart, you pray along with me.  And then check that box so we can update our records for the annual report.  I’m being facetious.  It was a great church that cared a great deal about helping people cross the line of faith.  To experience the joy of justification.

And look – that first verse there is plenty to celebrate – there is now no condemnation for those in Christ.  No more sin will be held against us.  God has tossed everything he ever held against us – tossed it into the ocean.  Blotted out our debt to him.  Fresh start.  It’s wonderful.  But there’s more to the Christian life than justification.  Let’s jump down a couple of paragraphs to verse 18. Now let’s skip down to these verses

18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved.

These verses describe what in theological terms we call “glorification”.  Someday God is going to hit the re-set button on all of creation.  New heavens and new earth.  New bodies for us.  Ones that will not decay or get all rusted up.  Someday, everything will be made completely new.  If justification is the first stage in our theological timeline, then glorification is the last.  One day, we will be new.  Praise the Lord.

But let me ask you – what happens in between these stages?  What happens in between justification and glorification?  And the painful answer is that for far too many people the answer is – nothing.  Nothing happens in between justification and glorification.  We pray a prayer – we ask Jesus to forgive us our sins.  And then far too many people – just end up spending their days waiting to die and go be with Jesus.  There is little change.  Little growth.  Little progress.  For too many people we turn into a forgotten construction project.

Well, what should be happening here?  And why isn’t it?  Well, what should be happening here, after justification and before glorification is a process that also has a theological term – and the term is sanctification.  The transformation of our innermost being is the goal.  It is the process of Jesus being formed inside of us.  It is the process of growing in our faith.  Becoming more like Jesus and less like our old natural selves.  So what do we learn about sanctification in the verses here in Romans 8?

Let’s read.

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.

Well the first thing we notice is that after we are justified – we are given the Holy Spirit to come and dwell on the inside of us.  Our soul needs a tender.  It needs another player to come into the scene and bring order to our soul.  And the Holy Spirit of God is that person.

You and I – once we cross the line of faith, are filled with the Holy Spirit, who resides within us.  And what is the job of the Holy Spirit?  The Holy Spirit, according to Jesus in John 14:26, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. Or again in John 16:13, Jesus tells us that When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. The job of the Holy Spirit is to form Jesus inside of us.  To remind us of Jesus’ teachings.  To guide us into the truth, to empower us to obey Jesus.  Sometimes that means he must convict us of sin – get us back on the right track.  Which is great – we need him – like a referee to our soul – he calls foul – when our mind or body starts to bully our heart. So it’s great news that we have the Holy Spirit within us.  But I think we also learn that this middle phase of sanctification is a real battle.  And it’s a battle for the mind.  Who is in control of our thoughts?

See the most perplexing issue we have to deal with is – why – after I become a follower of Jesus, do I still have sinful thoughts in my mind?  Sinful desires in my body?  Why is there still a battle?  Am I a new creation or not? Well the answer is yes, clearly we are a new creation.  But yes, clearly the battle rages on.  As Peter puts it in 1 Peter 2:11 there are forces that are waging war against your soul. We still live in a broken and sinful world.  We still live in the same bodies that were once slaves to our sinful nature.  We still have residual influences – habits, attitudes, beliefs, that need to be redeemed for God.  And we still have an enemy that would love to see us fall on our face – and rob us of the joy and abundant life that Jesus promises.

So yes we are justified.  But right now we are in a battle.  And notice how Paul says it is a battle for our thoughts.  Where will we direct our thoughts. But Paul then goes on to talk about our bodies.

11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

So this process of sanctification involves the redemption of our souls – the redemption of our thoughts and feelings, the redemption of our bodies.  this process of sanctification frees us from the prison of self and frees us to live the abundant life that Jesus promised. 12 Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. This period – in between praying to accept Jesus, and dying and being with him in heaven – is the construction project – the period of time where Jesus is being formed inside of us.  It’s the re-making of our soul – the integration of our minds and bodies into the image of Christ.

2 Corinthians 3:18 describes this process.  And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 

This is what is supposed to happening to us.  Which means that the description of the miserable person in Romans 7 should becoming to those of us who have trusted Jesus, a distant image in our rear view mirror.  Our lives now should look differently than the miserable conflicted person of Romans 7.

But sadly, for many people, many followers of Jesus, they are missing this important stage of their maturity.  They only have justification and glorification, and are not entering into sanctification.  And so – even as Christians then, can read Romans 7 and say, yup that’s totally me.  I want to do right but simply cannot. It ought not be this way, friends.  So what is happening?

For one thing I think that there is a misunderstanding of how this process works.  I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding of our role in this process.  And I understand why.  I mean when we look at justification, who does all the work in making us justified?  God does all the work.  I just believe.  I don’t do anything to earn it.  It is by grace we have been saved, not works, lest any man should boast.  God does all the work. And when we look at glorification – who does all the work there?  God does all the work.  We die and he takes care of the rest.

And so, many people, especially protestants who have a keen awareness of anything that resembles works related righteousness – have misunderstood how sanctification works.  See this process requires our effort. It is a work of the Holy Spirit to transform us but it requires our own efforts as well – working with the Holy Spirit in the process for transformation.

See many people are frustrated with their lack of progress on their spiritual journey – but they aren’t doing anything to change.  Why?  They are waiting for the lightning strike from God to automatically change our desires.  We are waiting for revival to – for tongues of fire to fall from heaven to bring change to us automatically.  And you know sometimes that does happen.  Some of you might be abel to stand up and say God changed me in an instant and took away my desire for …. fill in the blank.

But far more often the truth is that the process of becoming more like Jesus requires us to put energy and thought into it.  Look at Jesus – he spent time in prayer – he spent time alone with God -he spent time memorizing scripture – he spent time worshipping -he spent time on his spiritual life.  He modeled for us some of the time-honored tools of spiritual formation. Let’s go back and look once again at these verse in Romans chapter 12.  Last week I asked you to pray these verses every morning when you woke up.

12 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Do we see in these verses the two way nature of sanctification?  Verse 1 – Paul says he is pleading with us to offer our bodies to God.  Verse 2 then says God will transform us.  I offer God my body and my thoughts – and he works the transformation.

Romans 6:6 We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. (Justification) 11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. (Reckon yourselves dead to sin – this is addressing our mind – our mind needs to be trained that it no longer is controlled by sin) 12 Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. 13 Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. 14 Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.

Once again, a picture of sanctification – and it involves more than a lightning strike from God to make us more like Jesus.  It’s a process – it involves giving yourself to him – offering our thoughts and feelings and bodies to Him – so that Christ is formed in us. Next week we are going to talk at length about different types of spiritual disciplines.  these are activities that are aimed at our minds or our bodies that will help our souls be integrated and framed into christlikeness.

We are going to explain how activities such as solitude, silence, fasting, prayer, service, celebration— disciplines for life in the spiritual kingdom of God and activities in which Jesus deeply immersed himself— are essential to the shaping of our inner lives.  So it will be much more practical than today was…. But this is how I’d like to close – we are in a season of lent.  It started Wednesday but I’m going to say it’s never too late – I’d like to challenge you to consider one way to help train your body to rely on the power of God.  Teach your body that man doesn’t live on bread alone.

The tradition of giving something up during lent is a good tradition.  Fast from something – make it something that you might feel everyday.  Something your body will feel – and when it feels it you must rely on the Holy Spirit.  What can you give up that will force you to pray? And secondly – commit to doing something to help your mind grow in it’s knowledge of Jesus.  Perhaps you can commit to reading a book.  Jim has been giving out these Soul Keeper books – as a matter of fact I was meeting someone last week in Scooters and I was reading the Soul Keeper book and the guy said, he Jim Warren gave me that book.  It’s great!  And then on the way out of the coffee shop I met another person from Journey and she looked at my book and said Jim Warren gave me that book to read!

So maybe you need a new book?  Maybe you commit to a time of quietness?  Or solitude?  What can you do to help your mind grow in grace and wisdom?  Binge on something other than television.  Leading up to Easter – make a decision to join in with the work of the Holy Spirit.  And see what God will do differently in your life?  See if you don’t find yourself progressing in your walk with the Lord.

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