Video Lesson Transcript:
Sanctify: 1. to set apart to a sacred purpose or to religious use; Sanctification: 2. the state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after baptism or conversion. (Merriam-Webster, 2013)
Welcome to Lesson Nine in our video series, “My Walk With God.” I’m your host, Phil Stroud. Today’s lesson is entitled “Pursuing Sanctification,” and, in this lesson, we’re going to consider the life, and the lifestyle, to which God is calling all His Children; and why it is so important that we listen to, and surrender to God’s will concerning how we are to live our lives. You know, all around us, in this old world, there are these great “culture wars” raging.
These culture wars include matters of morality that directly impact virtually every child of God on a daily basis: persistent sexual immorality and violence in the public media and entertainment industry; the constant pursuit of wealth and materialism, and the ensuing greed and idolatry it generates; the desecration of marriage and the rising percentage of single parents and children with no meaningful father figure in their lives; increasing domestic violence, child abuse, human trafficking, and the exploitation of women and children at every level of society; the ever rising tide of illicit drugs and substance abuse sweeping western civilization and many other parts of the globe; war, repression, the abuse of human rights and the ensuing poverty and pestilence it promotes; and even the wide-spread propagation of atheism, agnosticism, humanism, evolution, and one lofty philosophy after another seeking to malign the truth of God’s word; and, just, that whole “me first” mindset – the arrogance and pride that seems to permeate and characterize a large part of humanity in today’s Western society. With all of the political, social, and moral upheaval going on today, is easy to see how that, at every turn of the road, our “adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8, NASB).
But the children of God are called to live lives of righteousness, sanctification, and holiness that are in stark contrast to the darkness, iniquity, pride, greed, and immorality that we see going on all around us in the world today. And, we do it because we love the Lord. We do it because we want to honor the Lord, worship Him with our lives and, as the Apostle Paul said, “present our bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1). We do it because it is the natural response to saving love for God and saving faith in Christ. It all begins with our commitment to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Jesus said:
Therefore, everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.
(Matthew 10:32-39, NASB)
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.”
(Matthew 16:24-27, NASB)
We see, from these passages of scripture, that Jesus knew and understood that it would be sometimes difficult to live as one of His disciples. He knew that the lifestyles and attitudes that characterize the world are in direct opposition to His holiness; and that calling people to follow Him and live holy lives, while still living and functioning in this world would sometimes result in heartache and hardship. Still, He calls us to become His disciples because He knows that, ultimately, it is all worthwhile.
From these passages we see that, to experience the intimate, personal relationship that Jesus is calling us to requires that our relationship with Him becomes the highest possible priority in our lives. Our relationship with Him must take priority over all our attachments to any physical possessions or competing relationships; and even over our own mortal lives. Only when we are willing to give up anything and everything else, as necessary for the sake of preserving our relationship with Jesus, will we find the mindset and motivation necessary to “pursue the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14); and live as a true disciple of Christ. Here are some passages of scripture that help us understand something of what it means to pursue sanctification:
Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty.
(2 Corinthians 6:14-18, NASB)
For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.
(I Thessalonians 4:1-8, NASB)
These verses are a good orientation to the concept of sanctification. They show that our Christian walk, as a reflection of our union with Christ, must extend to a life of holy living. When we accept the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins and surrender to the Lordship of Christ, we acknowledge that we have chosen to set aside our sinful desires and to live the way that God wants us to live. Our very lives have become perpetual acts of sacrifice and praise that give glory to God. According to these verses, this is not something that is optional for God’s people; to choose otherwise is to reject the commandments given directly from God, to turn from grace, and to walk in rebellion against God.
Now, I want us to understand the seriousness of this matter. We need to know that the pursuit of sanctification—holy living—is not something that is optional. It’s not something to be toyed with. We can’t just, “take it or leave it!” You know, there are certain modern day denominations, steeped in Calvinism, that teach a salvation by “faith alone,” even though the Bible says, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). And coupled with this false teaching of salvation by “faith alone,” is the doctrine of “the perseverance of the saints,” or “once saved always saved.” The idea is that, if we are saved by faith alone, then regardless of what we do in the flesh, or how we choose to live our lives, we will still be saved because of our faith. But that is simply NOT Bible teaching, beloved. Jesus told a little story about what it’s going to be like for some people on that great final day of judgement; these are people who toyed with the Christian faith, or paid “lip service” to Christ, but never really surrendered their hearts and lives to the Lord. He said:
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”
(Matthew 7:21-23, NASB)
And so, what is God looking for from us? Well, He’s looking for authenticity. He’s not interested in people playing the “religion” game, or toying with the Christian faith. He’s not interested in people simply going through the motions, or saying the right words, or even participating in all the right religious ceremonies and observances. He’s looking for hearts that are truly dedicated to Him, hearts that are authentically pursuing the sanctification to which He is calls us, and hearts that will remain faithful to Him to the very end. Listen to these serious warnings from the Word of God concerning our need for perseverance and commitment to righteousness:
Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, while it is said, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.”
(Hebrews 3:12-15, NASB)
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame… But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
(Hebrews 6:4-5, 9-12, NASB)
For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
(Hebrews 10:26-31, NASB)
In these passages of scripture, the Hebrew writer expresses much concern over the possibility that some Christians would choose to turn away from the life to which Christ calls us and go back into a life of sin and rebellion. These passages can be frightening because the danger is very real. We’re not talking here about losing our salvation because we are sometimes weak and we happen to stumble and fall along the way, or because we don’t get all the “doctrine” right and practice every facet of the Word of God exactly as prescribed in scripture. Remember, the Apostle Paul told us that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB). I have certainly taken some hard, hard falls along the way; and I rather suspect that you probably have, too.
Well, the Apostle John tells us that, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8, NASB). It is not sinning in ignorance, or sinning in moments of weakness, that destroys our life-giving relationship with God. We need not live our lives in fear of consequences of past mistakes and failures. We need not live lives of anxiety or worry that maybe we’re not doing enough, or being good enough to warrant a continued walk with God. Of course we’re not doing enough! Of course we’re not ever going to be good enough! But remember, Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, NASB). Jesus wants us to walk with Him in the joy and confidence of knowing that, if our faith in Him and love for Him is real, our relationship with Him is secure.
However, the continual practice of sin hardens people’s hearts; so much so that, eventually, they even give up their faith and turn away from Christ altogether. And it is for THIS reason that we as Christians should never relax our guard against sin and the iniquity that assaults us. Rather, we must pursue sanctification. That is, we must prepare ourselves for the struggles that lie before us and strive to make holy living a priority in our lives; because this sinful world around us can be very pervasive. Consider these warnings from scripture:
Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
(I Peter 4:1-5, NASB)
This passage emphasizes the striking contrast that exists between the Christian lifestyle and the lifestyle of the world all around us. Holy living and worldly living are based on competing interests—one wanting to serve God, the other wanting to serve the flesh, or our own sinful desires. And the actual content of our hearts, what we really want the most, will be clearly seen by the choices we make and how we choose to live our lives. The way we live our lives won’t look like it used to. Have you ever had that happen to you, where somebody in your past says, “Oh wait, I knew you when, oh yea… and now you claim to be… yeah!!!” Well, that can surprise people—what repentance really looks like, what a new life in Christ really looks like—-surprising to those who do not share our faith and do not share our spiritual values. This may even lead people to mock us, to ridicule us and our holy lifestyle. The Apostle John gives us a similar admonition when he says:
And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.
(I John 3:3-10, NASB)
The Apostle John teaches here that those who desire to be holy, and who claim to be children of God, cannot make a practice of sinning any longer; as habitual sin is the practice, or the lifestyle, of a child of the devil, while holiness is the practice, or the lifestyle, of a child of God. Note, again, that John is talking about a “lifestyle” here, a perpetual practice of sin and iniquity, as opposed to a lifestyle of sanctification. And make no mistake about it, practicing righteousness, or pursuing sanctification, involves acknowledging our weaknesses, our failures, our sins when we do stumble and fall short of God’s glory; rather than trying to deny our sins, or hide them, or justify them so that we can continue to embrace them and practice them. A person is not practicing righteousness, or pursuing sanctification if they are full of “self-righteousness,” or if they are convinced that they have no sin; and therefore, they cannot, or will not, confess their sins to God.
But, you know, God knows our hearts, and what He requires from us is an authentic, heartfelt commitment to holiness—to the pursuit of sanctification. The Apostle Peter admonishes us, saying:
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
(I Peter 1:14-16, NASB)
And so, the way we act, the things we say and do, the stands we take, or refuse to take, even the way we treat other people reveals our faith and allegiance to Christ, as well as our love for God. That’s why Jesus says, “I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds” (Revelation 2:23, NASB).
We are not fooling the Lord by professing one thing while practicing another. And, you know what, there is no “middle ground” with regard to our commitment to Him:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.”
(Revelation 3:15-16, NASB)
So, while it is true that all people are weak at times, that we all stumble and fall along the way and, therefore, cannot claim to be without sin; still, we must decide which path we are going to follow—do we want to pursue the path of light, holiness, faithfulness, and commitment to righteousness, or do we choose the path of darkness, wickedness, sinful indulgence, and habitual rebellion toward God. Jesus said:
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
(Matthew 7:13-14, NASB)
In closing, I want us to look at one more passage of scripture from the book of Revelation; and, this time, Jesus is speaking to the Christians who lived in the city of Smyrna. He says:
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
(Revelation 2:10-11, NIV)
I like how the New International Version of the Bible reads in this passage of scripture; where Jesus says, “Be faithful, even to the point of death.” (verse 10). Some modern versions say, “Be faithful until death.” But that is not the intent of the original Greek language in which the book was written. Jesus is not saying to Smyrna, or to us, “be faithful until the day that you die.” Rather, what He is saying is, “be faithful to me even if it means that you have to die.” Some of these people to whom Jesus was speaking were about to be thrown into prison for their faith. And some of them would even be put to death for their faith. But, avoiding hardships and tribulations, or even escaping death, is not a good reason to deny Christ.
What we stand to gain by being part of God’s chosen people—His forever family—is far greater, especially in light of eternity, than the temporary struggles we may have to endure in this life or any sacrifices that we may have to make. If we endure and remain committed to Christ, even to the point of death, should it ever come to that, then we will have nothing to fear on that great day when all will stand before God in judgment.