Sunday 18th of April 2021
Pleasing Christ in pursuing sanctification.
Grab your Bible and head to Titus chapter 2. Last week we considered who the Church is and what she is for. The Church is the bride of Christ and we've been made so in order to please Him. The Church is not to busy herself with seeing how attractive she can be to the world, or how much like the world she can look and sound in order to appear appealing and non-threatening to the world... rather, we are to busy ourselves with seeing how attractive we can be to Christ, which, incidentally, does make us attractive to those whom God is calling out of the world to Himself, but that's for later consideration.
If we are not anchored by the central truth that we are Christ's bride and are therefore to spend our lives pleasing and submitting to Him, then we may easily be carried off by trends, fads, and cultural inertia which will seek to coax many churches away from Christ in the name of reaching people, all the while missing that incidental asserted a moment ago- it is our faithfulness to Christ, not our laxity in obeying Him, that He uses to reach people.
The syncretism with which we have busied ourselves in the Western Church is but a banal recapitulation of what the world already offers, but often in a B rated form that only makes the world laugh at, rather than be attracted to us. Are you all familiar with the phenomenon I'm describing when I reference syncretism? Syncretism, as it relates to Christianity, is the assimilation of foreign modes of thought, practice, or patterns from outside the Christian faith into it.
When I was growing up the church's syncretism was playing itself out in the arena of music. All of the parents of those of us in youth group were desperately trying to convince us that Relient K was as cool as Blink 182 and that KJ-52 was as cool as Eminem. Of course the effort failed because Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit to become more like Christ and less like the world... He does not assist us in applying the veneer of Christianity to our process of being conformed to the patterns of this world.
So the church always produces lack luster versions of what the world offers because she was never intended to offer what the world is offering. This is why the church is a byword in todays culture with regard to our cultural production. The Church was once at the very center of cultural production. With robust doctrine, theology, and biblical literacy we had no shortage of creativity and in fact, we drove and created culture particularly in the area of the arts for centuries.
Today, with a thin theology and a veneer version of the Christian faith, what we produce is a mere parody of what our secular culture produces. We've become a microcosm, that just imitates and seeks to Christianize what the world does and then we call it "contextualization," or being "culturally relevant." Pagans create musical forms that become wildly popular...Christian artists then scramble to sound like them in a desperate attempt to make Christianity cool.
But we are nowhere called to be imitators of the world, rather, we are called to be imitators of God, and God does not borrow from the pagan in His creative endeavors, rather, it is Satan who always does the borrowing...or the counterfeiting as it were. A recovery of theology will mean a recovery of real Christian culture and production which means that the Babylon Bee will no longer be able to make memes that say, "Holy Spirit empowers man to make it through Christian movie." The joke being, that we now produce B rated versions of secular forms of entertainment because rather than being the particular people that God has called us to be, we have, in an attempt to be liked by the world, become a low quality version of it.
We have an allergy toward being set apart, and yet, as we'll consider today- that is the very thing that we called to be. As prologue this morning, let's revisit our closing text from last week, Titus 2:11-14
 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,  training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,  waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Christ gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself (remember we're His bride) a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works. We're Christ bride, we exist to please Him; and His pleasure is found in our becoming what He died to make us... godly, liberated from worldly passions, self-controlled, upright amidst wickedness, obedient to God's law, pure, and given to good works. This list in Titus chapter 2 is an itemized, long form way of describing what, in Christian theology has been called sanctification.
Sanctification is the process by which followers of Christ become more like Christ. That is what is most pleasing to God. In short, Christ is pleased to see you and me become less like you and me and more like Him...He is the perfect One after all. He died to make us, over time, as He is, so that we will be what God originally created us to be namely, accurate image bearers of Him who reflect His glory back to Him. So, in the coming weeks and beginning today, we'll consider sanctification as it is the path to pleasing Christ, and that is why we are here...that is why He saved us...to make us fit citizens for His Kingdom who will be upright ambassadors for Him.
Now if you would turn to 1 Thessalonians 4. Just head backwards, to the left, through 2 and 1 Timothy, then through 2 Thessalonians and you'll land in 1 Thessalonians. As you turn there, we'll set the table for our consideration of sanctification. Sanctification is part of our salvation. Salvation is taught in the NT as a comprehensive work of God that can be understood under three headings: justification, sanctification, and glorification.
Justification, properly understood, has nothing to do with our work or effort. We were dead in our sins and trespasses, enjoying them, exulting in them, and reveling in our rebellion against God. When we say that we were dead in our sins, what we mean is that we had no sensitivity to the fact that we were sinning. Think of it like dead nerve endings. If you've got dead nerves it doesn't mean that your body won't function, it just means that you'll constantly be destroying yourself without knowing it because you can't feel the harm that's being done.
Why did God give us the sense of touch? In large part, so that we would know when to stop doing something. Just this week Harper, our middle child, put her hand on the stove while she was making macaroni and cheese. You know how long she left her hand on that hot stovetop? Under a second. Why? Because the nerves in her hands are alive and they told her brain to get that hand out of there before some real damage was done.
If her nerves in that hand were dead, placing her hand on the hot stove would be just as damaging to her flesh, she just wouldn't have felt it. That's us in our unjustified and unregenerate state, putting our hands on all sorts of proverbial stovetops without detecting all of the damage its doing, because our spiritual nerve endings died in Adam at the fall. This problem, this deadness, is intractable; irremediably. Nothing can be done by you or by me to fix it. And what's more, we're culpable for it because we chose our deadness, in Adam. That is to say that Adam was our representative in the garden of Eden. His rebellion against God, which led to our spiritual deadness, is representative of the rebellion that Heather and I would have committed if we'd been the couple in the garden of Eden.
So we're dead in our sins and it's our doing. The penalty for our having chosen death over life by rebelling against God is that He finishes the job of killing us by letting us persist in our sin without intervention. But, in overwhelming mercy and kindness, God the Father, sends His Son, the Lord Jesus, into the world to fix our deadness by raising us to life. Romans 5 tells us that Christ is the second Adam. In Christ, we get a new representative such that after we place faith in Him, it is no longer Adam's rebellion and spiritual death that defines us, rather it is Christ's obedience and spiritual life that defines us. In Adam we're declared dead in our sins and trespasses; in Christ we're declared righteous and made alive to God. Justification is all about the work of Christ and nothing to do with the work of man. Our work is simply what makes Christ's work necessary.
Sanctification, the second aspect of this great salvation, is the process by which the Lord Jesus saves us from sinning. In justification we are declared righteous; in sanctification we actually become righteous. God does this by regenerating us. We are born again by the Spirit, made alive in Christ and now we can feel what we previously could not, and have sensitivities to things to which we were formerly callous. Now when we put our hand on the proverbial stove, it hurts...we feel it. We snatch our hand back and thank God for the pain of it because it is a sign that we're alive! Sanctification is a gracious salvation, because as many of you already know from much personal experience, sin destroys. Always and without exception, sin destroys.
The Lord Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Abundant life cannot coexist with entrenched patterns of sin. So if Jesus is going to give us what He promised, abundant life, then He must save us from that which chokes out life- sin. Not sin in the abstract, but sins...the ones we commit. The ones that burden our lives, wreak havoc on our relationships, and hamper our children. Abundant life as promised by Christ is incompatible with entrenched patterns of sin, because sin breeds death, not life. So God, in Christ justifies us, then He sets Himself, by the Spirit, to the work of sanctifying us. He saves us from the penalty of our sin in our justification, and then He begins to save us from sinning in our sanctification.
Glorification, also called the eternal state or consummation, refers to that time after the second coming of our Lord wherein he brings with Him, what He did not bring the first time, namely the fullness of his kingdom, applying all of the benefits that His redeeming blood secured. Every sin...sin itself, with all of its effects on the world and on human beings will be reversed, and every stain that it left on God's good creation will be removed. So, when we talk about salvation in the New Testament, we're talking about that comprehensive reality that was just outlined. The powerful blood of Jesus bought us all of that, not some of that.
He paid for your justification. He paid for your sanctification. He paid for your glorification. If you are in Christ, these are not points of uncertainty, they are our reality. Now, here's where we often trip: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And it is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."- Eph. 2:8-9 We're saved, that's justification, sanctification, and glorification, by grace. It's not our doing, it's the gift of God, not the result of works.
Here's the potential point of stumbling..."I guess that means I don't have to do anything..." "I reject works based salvation and the pastor just said that our sanctification is a necessary part of our salvation, so I suppose I have no work in that either." False. Here's what you and I contribute to our justification: precisely nothing. We were dead when it happened, remember? Scripture speaks about justification and regeneration in terms of birth..."you must be born again to enter the Kingdom of Heaven." Nicodemus is perplexed when our Lord says this to him because he's trying to figure out how he can accomplish such a feat as new birth.
How much did you have to do with your first birth? Okay, we've got the same amount of participation in our second birth. But, you know what we contribute to our sanctification? A tremendous amount of blood, sweat, and work. Why is it that we don't contribute to our justification and regeneration but we do contribute to our sanctification? Because of this glorious truth: we aren't dead anymore, so now we can get to work. And it is this work, the work of sanctification to which every Christian individual and every Christian church is preeminently called, because it is our sanctification which pleases our Groom. I trust that by now you've arrived in 1 Thessalonians 4. We'll read verses 1-8.
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.  For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.  For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;  that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor,  not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;  that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.  For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.  Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
Did you catch the absolutely massive question that text of Scripture just answered? It is one of the foremost questions that a Christian asks throughout his or her life.. What is God's will for my life? What is God's will for this church? Ever asked that? Ever wondered about it? Now, when the average Christian poses the question, "what is God's will?" We usually mean, "Does God want me to take this job or that job?" "Should I marry this person or that person?" "Should I start a new Church or stay where I am?"
I don't want to downplay those questions; they're important, but they aren't fundamental. Look back to verse 3. "For this is the will of God..." What is it Church? Our sanctification. If we are pursuing sanctification- identifying, confessing, and repenting of sin and chasing holiness, then we are in God's will. And frankly, those other questions that we generally have in mind when we think about God's will would become far more clear to us is we were prioritizing sanctification. Often, God's more specific will for our lives is veiled to us because we've shown ourselves uninterested in walking in obedience to that which He has already revealed.
If we demonstrate indifference to and put no effort toward abstaining from sexual immorality, bridling the passions of our flesh, and living uprightly, why would God be in a hurry to reveal more wisdom for us to ignore? Look down to verse 8, "whoever disregards this (that being the call to sanctification, holiness, etc...), disregards not man, but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you." the idea being, that God has given us His Spirit for an expressed pursued, to sanctify us. So we don't get to disregard the purpose for which we were given the Spirit and then pretend that we are interested in hearing from His Spirit at precisely the moment that we want a specific question answered.
It seems to me that we have a tremendous amount of freedom within the boundaries of holiness. You want to pursue holiness married to this person- do it. You want to pursue holiness married to that person- do it. You want to pursue holiness in this job field- do it. You want to attend this biblically faithful church and pursue holiness there, while this other person wants to attend that biblically faithful church and pursue holiness there- do it. What we don't get to choose is whether or not to pursue holiness, it is God's will for our lives, and it is that which pleases our groom. It is the purpose to which He has called us.
Also notice in the text that this sanctification means work for us. we're active in this, not passive. Remember, we're alive now. Verse 3, "you abstain..." Verse 4, "control his own body..." Verse 6, "no one transgress of wrong his brother..." These are imperatives to be obeyed. That is to say that we are active participants in our sanctification. Christ is pleased to see His people fighting for holiness! And it is a fight is it not? Do not your passions war within you seeking to carry you off into all kinds of sin and error? Mine do!
Christ is pleased to see us renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, because it sends the message to Him and to the world that we love Him more and we choose Him instead! When sin and temptation abound and we, with eyes fixed on Christ say, "I see the worlds pleasures glimmering in the periphery, but it is only that- a peripheral glimmer as compared to the absolute glory of He who is my Savior. I want Him." What a witness to the world that would be. And that is why it is through our obedience, not our "cultural relevance" that we actually reach people. Because it is our obedience to and pursuit of Christ that declares His value to the watching world. So, we were saved for this, we are called to this, it is God's revealed will for our lives that we be conformed to image of Christ, and because we're now alive and not dead, we are to participate in the process of it happening. So, how?
How do we take personal responsibility for our sanctification?
Read your Bible often.
Pray a lot.
Assemble with God's people.
Remove superfluous things from your life that hinder those first three pursuits.
Let's take the first three as a group. Read your Bible, prayer, and go to church. Some of you are thinking, "wow...thanks for the insight." Listen, do not despise the ordinary means of grace, because it is by means of ordinary, everyday faithfulness that God means to shape extraordinary followers of Christ. And let's be honest, these things aren't ordinary in that they are not ordinarily done. They are ordinarily ignored. You ask the average Christian if they spend 30 minutes a day in Bible reading and prayer...it isn't ordinary. It's uncommon. You ask the average Christian family if they spend 30 minutes a day in Bible reading and prayer together...it isn't ordinary. It's uncommon.
But what is this Word but the double edged sword that God intends to use to cut off of us that which displeases Him and put into us what He wants!? What is prayer except an invitation into the presence of the One who can actually change us!? Most people's commitment to Christ is erratic, if not fleeting, because it is not feed by the Word of God, anchored in the presence of God, and cheered on by the people of God. There is a beautiful text in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that I'll read to you:
 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.
Did you hear Paul's principle for sanctification in that text? "We become what we behold." Look long into the glory of the Lord and you'll be transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another. So the question becomes, what are you beholding? What do you keep before you eyes? What do you entertain in your heart? What do you allow to stir your affections? There are barriers that are blocking your view of Jesus' glory and those barriers need to be destroyed or your sanctification will be slow.
You need sanctification. Your family needs your sanctification. Your God commands your sanctification. Your Savior purchased your sanctification. Let's pursue sanctification. Read your Bible, pray, assemble with serious believers, and remove the superfluous glimmering trifles of the world that routinely keep you from doing the first three things. Next week we'll discuss the role of the Spirit and the role of the Church in this process called sanctification.