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Sanctification Requires Effort
Sanctification isn’t just “believe the Gospel.” It isn’t just “be filled with the Spirit.” Sanctification also requires effort.
In Galatians 5:16, Paul says “Walk by the Spirit.” He says it again in Galatians 5:25 “Let us also walk by the Spirit.” How many of you know – walking requires effort? Walking is not a passive activity. The older I get the more I realize this.
Paul’s vision of Christian sanctification is very clear. It’s believers steadfastly focused on Christ, filled with the Spirit, striving with all their energy to obey God.
Puritan Walter Marshall writes:
“Do not believe either of these two extremes–the extremes of sanctification by doing nothing at all or sanctification by your own efforts.”
Here’s the bottom line: With hearts motivated by grace and empowered God’s Spirit, we obey God’s commands. Strong faith in the gospel issues forth in obedience.
Galatians has many commands! Here are a handful of them.
So you can see, the necessity of faith and the Spirit’s power in sanctification don’t render effort unnecessary.Rather, in sanctification, God calls us to
Sanctification Is Spirit-Powered
In Galatians 5, the commands to obey God are given in the context of faith in the Gospel and living by the Spirit. This signals two things: First, we dare not pursue sanctification apart from faith in the Gospel. Secondly, we dare not pursue sanctification apart from the Spirit’s power. If we are to daily put to death sin and model godly attitudes and behavior, we need the Spirit.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
(Galatians 5:16 ESV)
Paul goes on to say in the same section-
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)
“….let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
(Galatians 5:25 NIV )
Paul makes it clear, if you read chapters five and six — there is a way we ought to live and a way we ought not to live. There are things we ought not to do and things we ought, indeed must do. That said, here’s the key point. Don’t miss this. In order to live the way God has called us to live, we need the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit to empower us.
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.
(2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV)
What Paul says here is that the Spirit continually illuminates the gospel to our hearts and as a result – we are changed.As I thought about this…(and I’m gonna stop the car analogy after this, because it only works so far)…the Holy Spirit is like the fuel pump. He takes the fuel of the Gospel and he gets it into the engine of the car to make it run.
So on Sunday, when we sing the Gospel, when the gospel is preached, we are counting on the Holy Spirit, the fuel pump, to transfer the gospel to our hearts, to get the car moving.
Commenting on the Spirit’s role in sanctification, Owen writes:
There is no good that we receive from God but it is brought to us and wrought in us by the Holy Spirit. Nor is there in us any good towards God, any faith, love, obedience to his will, but what we are enabled to do so by the Holy Spirit. – John Owen
Similarly, Gordon Fee writes:
All truly Christian behavior is the result of being Spirit people, people filled with the Spirit of God, who live by the Spirit and walk by the Spirit. – Gordon Fee
So from beginning to end, our sanctification is the Spirit’s work. Therefore, we are fools to depend on our own self-powered, self-sufficient – even fleshly- efforts to grow. We are fools to place our confidence in strategies for growth. I am not saying strategies can’t be helpful. I am saying, we shouldn’t place our faith in strategies, principles, good advice. Rather, our faith, our confidence needs to be oriented to the Gospel and the Spirit’s empowering presence. That’s what we must depend on.
This is why we must seek daily to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). If you go back and read Eph. 5:18 – you’ll see that command comes within the context of ethical exhortation, just as the command to walk by the Spirit in Galatians comes in a section of ethical commands.
Here’s the bottom line: To obey God, to grow in godliness – we desperately need the Holy Spirit. We desperately need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We absolutely cannot do the Christian life in our own strength. Have you been praying for God to fill you lately? Or have you been depending on your own efforts to grow?
We’ve seen – sanctification has a lot more to do with faith in the Gospel than at first we might realize. Now we’ve also seen – sanctification has a lot more to do with dependence on the Spirit than we could have imagined.
Sanctification Is Faith-Driven
Another way to say the same thing is sanctification is faith-fueled.
Christians know, we must believe the gospel to get in the door of Christianity. We know faith is necessary for justification. It’s necessary to gain right standing with God. However, after conversion most Christians fail to realize the need to continually believe the gospel, to orient again and again to the gospel, to remember our justification and allow it to fuel, to empower holy living. Once saved, serious Christians can obsess over what they done wrong, done right, and how to improve. Their Christianity often morphs into a continual self-improvement project. Meanwhile, faith in the gospel is left at the door. Believers overlook their right standing with God. We forget that in Christ, we are totally and unconditionally loved. We forget we are totally clean, totally justified, totally righteous in God’s sight.
This is the Galatian error. Their focus shifted from the gospel to Old Testament law observance. Tragically, they left the gospel at the door. So in this letter, Paul calls them back to the Gospel. He underscores what we often miss – the importance of post-conversion, ongoing faith in the Savior.
Let’s look at a few places in Galatians where we see this.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh [remember Paul is already converted] I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20-21 ESV)
You see what Paul is saying? After conversion, as we continue in the Christian life, we don’t leave faith at the door. We don’t move on to more important, more spiritual matters of obedience and discipline. No – Paul says “I live” (note the present tense) – “I live” – meaning “right now” – I live by faith. Here we see – the Christian life-from first to last-is fueled by faith in the One who loved us unconditionally & sacrificed His own life for us!
Let’s look at another text a little further down.
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? (Galatians 3:1-6 ESV)
Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:11 ESV)
Theologian – GK Berkouwer – says the following. I think his words happen to summarize what Paul says in Gal. 3 so well.
….there is never a stretch along the way of salvation where justification drops out of sight. Genuine sanctification–let it be repeated stands or falls with this continued orientation toward justification and the remission of sins.
Did you get that? The Galatians certainly did not. If you want genuine sanctification, if you want to grow–know that your continued growth in godliness stands or falls with this continued orientation toward justification–toward the fact that you are right with God, you stand righteous before God, not on the basis of your own performance, but on the basis of Jesus perfect performance for you.
This is an insight most of us overlook. We go to the Cross for forgiveness, when we sin or when we feel condemned. But we otherwise fail to orient ourselves moment by moment, day by day toward the gospel-toward the love of God for us displayed in the Gospel, towards justification and the remission of sins. Consequently we lack the fuel we need to pursue holiness. We lack love for God, because we lack awareness his love for us. We lack patience with other people because we lack awareness of Jesus’ patience with us. We covet what we don’t have rather than rejoice in what we do have in Jesus because we’ve ceased to be amazed by the spiritual riches that are ours in Christ. We become sinfully angry when others fail us, because we’ve lost sight of the vast amount of sin we personally have been forgiven. We become anxious because we fail to realize the One we must trust is totally worthy of our trust. Through His death, Jesus has proven His compassion and kindness. Through His resurrection, He has proven He is the sovereign powerful God of all who is worthy of all trust. However, because we lose sight of Jesus – sometimes we can be like a car…just putzing along the side of the road… we don’t have enough Gospel filling our tank…we put the foot on the gas, expect the car to go, expect godly heart attitudes and behavior…but it just putters along.
This is so important. When you perceive even a small degree of your sinfulness – and look to Jesus – His life, His death, His resurrection- by faith – that’s where the fuel for spiritual growth comes from. When we realize that in Christ there is nothing I can do to make God love me more and nothing I can do to make Him love me less 1 – that’s where the fuel comes from. This mindset is totally contrary to both legalism and license.
We look to Jesus and out of gratitude and love for God – we obey Jesus — NOT because we want to be moral people, not because we want God to like us, and NOT because we fear God’s wrath…BUT because we want to please the One who has been so kind, so generous, so merciful to us. That’s where the fuel for holy-living comes from. When we steadfastly see and savor Jesus Christ by faith, our “tanks” if you will get full
2 Cor 3:18 “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.”
My passion – longing – is that we’d be a people totally captivated by and obsessed with Jesus Christ and what He’s done for us. That is where the fuel for holy living comes from.
One theologian writes: “speaking of sanctification can be very subtle and dangerous business.” 1I agree. To teach on this process we call sanctification, the process whereby believers become progressively more like Christ in character and conduct is dangerous and subtle business. Why? Well because seemingly small and subtle errors in one’s understanding of how sanctification takes places can have serious consequences.
For example – many Christians unknowingly view sanctification as a kind of self-improvement project. Their functional belief is get better, “do more, try harder” and God will approve of you. This subtle message of legalism is sometimes reinforced by passionate pastoral exhortations to godliness with little to no focus on the gospel of grace. This inevitably leads God’s people to either pride or despair. 2On one hand – it leads to self-righteous, arrogant pride. When we improve in some way we pat ourselves on the back. We think highly of ourselves and may even look down on those who’ve been unable to attain our perceived level of godliness
On the other hand this mentality leads to despair. When we don’t see the growth we desire, when we don’t get better as fast as we like, when we fail yet again, we lose heart. We think “In light of what I’m like, God must not love me or approve of me.”
Legalism is one trap Christians regularly fall into. Here’s another: believers adopt the mindset that says “God is so gracious, so kind, so forgiving, obedience isn’t all that important. At the end of the day God loves me anyway, so if I sin, it’s no big deal. Why exert energy to grow anyway?” That’s called license. It leads to worldliness. It leads to carelessness about sin and temptation. Believers who have slipped into license often denounce any pastoral exhortations to obey God as “legalistic” and lacking grace. This also is a serious error.
Ironically, often believers swing wildly from legalism to license – and then back to legalism again. A big part of the problem, in my view, is they don’t understand sanctification biblically. And they don’t understand Galatians. So how are believers sanctified? The answer of Galatians - through Faith-driven, Spirit-powered effort.
(this is the first of a four-part series)
I was glad to come across this article on the Middletown Transcript Website the other day:
The Middletown Friendly’s, which was gutted in a blaze June 27, is slated to reopen in March, said franchise owner Brian Myers. The Dove Run Shopping Center restaurant will be rebuilt, he said. The building is under construction and preparation work is planned to start this week. Myers said that rebuilding the popular family restaurant has taken longer than expected due to things out of his control. At around 3:31 p.m. June 27, a fire started outside of the building in the mulch along its exterior. The Delaware State Fire Marshall’s Office ruled the blaze accidental.
My sons and I have enjoyed many a “Man-time” breakfast at this Friendly’s, so as a family we were sad when this little restaurant burned down. The owner and management did a great job creating a fun, family friendly (no pun intended) environment. We look forward to another “man-time” in the near future at Friendlies!
by Cherylee Deitrich, written 10.23.2012
It’s very late in the day, but it’s still October 23rd! I love this day and look forward to it every year. 10:23 . A day to think on and celebrate God’s amazing faithfulness (see Heb. 10:23 at end of post). Faithful to the promises He has made in His word, and there are many.
What God has said, He will do. He does not change. We can trust His word. He will do it.
He will keep us from stumbling and present us blameless,
He will forgive us and cleanse us when we confess,
He will return with the sound of God’s trumpet,
He will give wisdom when we ask,
We will appear with Him in glory,
He will supply every need,
We are new creations in Christ,
All things work for our good,
His grace is sufficient,
There is a room being prepared for us in the Father’s house,
We shall live though we die,
He will wipe every tear,
There will be no more death,
His work in us will be brought to completion,
We are being transformed,
As His sheep we do hear His voice,
The Lamb will be the lamp in that Great City,
We will be kept firm to the end and presented blameless on that Day,
He hears us,
He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,
His plans for our lives are for our good,
He will be found when we seek Him.
He heals all our diseases.
His name is Faithful and True.
God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
Be encouraged as you read His word. Look for the promises and know, without a doubt, that He is Faithful.
Let us hold fast to the confession of our faith without wavering,
for he who promised is faithful.
by Tim Shorey
I have been much in meditation in this past year on apple seeds. Apple seeds have become this means of me seeing the glory of God.
An apple seed is really, really small, but it’s a lot bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Put it in the ground and what happens? A tree happens. And then what happens? Hundreds and thousands of apples happen on that tree. Then what happens? Millions of apples end up eventually growing out of those apples as their seeds fall into the ground. If you’re so inclined you can take the wood from apple trees and you can warm houses, or you could build houses, or you could build sky-scrapers if they made sky-scrapers out of wood. You could also build boats if they made boats out of apple tree wood. I’m not sure they do that, but you get the point. Inside an apple seed there is a world of existence. There are millions of apples and thousands upon thousands of trees and houses. What is on the inside of an apple seed is far bigger than what’s on the outside of an apple seed.
The same is true of every true church of Jesus Christ. Every local church is far bigger and far more magnificent on the inside than it is on the outside. There is no such thing as an inconsequential local church. There is no such thing as an unimportant local church. The local church is part of God’s plan for his kingdom. Your church matters in the purposes of God.
* Adapted from Tim Shorey’s sermon 10/21/2012 “The Local Church: A Hidden Wonder.” Posted here with permission.
Hey folks -
We have two “Guest” Speakers coming to preach here soon. Tim Shorey will preach this Sunday 10/21. Two Sundays later, 11/4, my dad Bill Patton will bring us God’s Word. Tim and Bill have both preached here before and have a deep affection for our church. Many of you know them. Tim is the founding pastor of Trinity Fellowship Church in Toms River, NJ and is currently a Pastoral Assistant at Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, PA. Bill is the founding pastor and a current member of Covenant Fellowship.
Tim plans to answer the question “What Is A Local Church?” from 1 Corinthians 1. Bill plans to preach on the subject of regeneration from John 5. I think you’ll be edified and encouraged by these men and the messages they bring!
From Ray Ortland Jr at the Gospel Coalition Website
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Exodus 20:8
Let’s not dictate Sabbath observance today. The point of the Sabbath is a dress rehearsal for a future eternity of glad rest in God. So, for now, every one of us can work out the details personally. But in our frantic modern world, the Sabbath offers wisdom that has lasted since the beginning (Genesis 2:2-3). It is not written on our calendars as much as we are built into its calendar. It seems to be part of the God-created rhythm for weekly human flourishing.
If we did set apart one day each week for rejuvenation in God, we would immediately add to every year over seven weeks of vacation. And not for doing nothing but for worship, for friends, for mercy, for an afternoon nap, for reading and thinking, for lingering around the dinner table and sharing good jokes and tender words and personal prayers.
How else can we find quietness of heart in today’s world? If anyone has a more biblical (and more immediately beneficial) place to begin, I’m open. But raising hermeneutical objections to the Sabbath principle doesn’t in itself actually help any of us.
I wonder if the very concept of “the weekend” is biblical. It seems to me that “the weekend” turns Sunday into a second Saturday. Home Depot may gain, but we lose. It turns Sunday into a day to catch up on what we didn’t do Saturday or a day to ramp up for what’s ahead on Monday. It hollows out our whole week, because it marginalizes God and church and sermons and all the other vital things that happen in our lives only when we make the vital things also the central things. If we accept the concept of “the weekend,” we risk “fitting God in” rather than centering our every week around him. We risk living soul-exhausted lives, and wondering why God isn’t more real to us, why we’re grumpy.
If we want to find our way back into quietness of heart and reality with God, the first step might be simple. Bold, but simple