The Doctrine of Sanctification
The Doctrine of Sanctification
Welcome back from our Sabbath break! I hope you were able to make it a restful weekend. It is our annual reminder that we can do ZERO things, and the kingdom still advances, we are still loved as God’s children, and that our right standing with God is based on Jesus’ work not our own. So I pray that the break was a blessing to you.
Our family had the opportunity to visit a church in another state, and while it was all fine and well and good, I really missed you. I would rather have been here. So just know that as your pastor, I love you, my family loves you, and although the break was nice, it is good to be here again.
If you’re new to River City, we want to welcome you to the middle of our sermon series, called Do You Believe? where we are exploring 12 core doctrines or beliefs or teachings of the Christian faith, and today we are studying the Doctrine of Sanctification, another one of those big words we don’t use very often. But before we dive in, Please pray with me and for me as we ask for the Lord’s help here today.
Last time we met, we talked about the doctrine of justification, which is where God the Judge who demands holiness from us, sent Jesus to be our second Adam, a new human representative, a new table leader who would represent us, not in rebellion, but in obedience!
Jesus was the human we all were supposed to be. Every word, every thought, every motive, his will and his ways completely 100% sinlessly honoring God for his entire life. That’s what God wanted from you and me. Romans 3 says none of us are hitting that mark, all of us are guilty of sin.
But justification is where God by his grace, in a split second, takes everything Jesus earned for us, applies it to us, and when he does, he moves us from “you are guilty and sentenced to death row” to “it is finished, and you are legally declared righteous.”
So then, those who are in Christ are no longer enemies of God under his wrath because of sin, but are his adopted children and are under grace because of Jesus. And Romans 8 that we read last time says that for those who are justified, it’s as good as if they are already in heaven because Christ’s perfection has been applied to them.
But the question is, okay great: now what? What happens between now and heaven?
There are a couple possibilities:
- Jesus saved you, but it’s up to you to keep that salvation, that righteousness intact. He bailed you out, but now your salvation is yours to maintain. Don’t mess this up. I grew up believing that, I’m sure some of you did as well.
- Another option is just “Hey, God sees you as perfect now with Jesus’ life applied to yours, so just finish out this life as best you can, don’t really worry about messing up or trying too hard… your salvation is secure, can’t be lost, so do whatever you want and we’ll see you on the other side”. Even the apostle Paul sensed some tension here. In Romans chapter 6, two times he asks the question that maybe you’ve wanted to ask: If God counts me righteous, right now, and the more I sin, the more grace he gives… then why even bother to make any changes in my life at all? Why bother to watch my language, or guard what I watch or listen to or control my temper? Why bother try and live sexually pure? Why bother to be honest in my business dealings, or on my taxes, or with my friends and family? Why bother to get rid of the addiction to painkillers or alcohol? Shoot… why bother to read the Bible and pray? Sounds like everything’s a done deal already!
So two ditches on either side of the road are, you have to carry the maintenance of your own salvation and try not to lose it, or eh, you’re safe, it’s all under grace, do whatever. Neither of those reflect the message of the Bible at all. And that’s where the teaching or the Doctrine of Sanctification comes in, because while God has legally declared you to be holy, he now intends with the rest of your life to actually make you what he has already declared you to be.
DYLAN GOES TO WALMART
Think of it like this… Dylan, who was just up here playing drums, loves to steal things. This is not a true story. I’m making this up for the illustration. Maybe. You can ask Dylan later. No, I’m making this up. To the best of my knowledge.
Dylan goes to Walmart once a week or so, and has found a way to steal something every time he goes. It started with a pack of gum, then a Snickers bar, but over time he’s found ways to steal even bigger things, and to the point where it became a game to see how expensive of an item he can walk out with that he hasn’t paid for.
This has gone on for long enough that sometimes he doesn’t even want the thing he steals. He’s given things away to friends or even the homeless guy on the corner, because he doesn’t really want them. He has just been doing this for so long now, he just can’t go to Walmart without stealing something. Again, I’m making this story up.
Well, one day, the cameras figure it out. They realize that it’s him. He’s caught, found guilty of grand theft, and is sentenced to do time in prison.
But as he’s sentenced, someone else graciously steps in and says I’ll take the penalty. I’ll do the time… Dylan just got married, let him go be with his wife. So Dylan is free to go home, no longer charged with the crime, record clean, no longer serving any sentence.
Now, that’s justification in some respect. We are guilty of sin, God sends Jesus to stand in for our punishment, his perfect life is applied to ours, and we are not only free to go, but righteous. Tracking with me so far?
If this is where the story of redemption stops, what do you suppose Dylan will probably do next time he goes to Walmart? STEAL SOMETHING! Right?! Maybe not the first time, second time, or even the third time, but unless something replaces the thrill of stealing in his life, he’ll go right back to what his heart loves to do.
So God decided to not be satisfied to simply declare Dylan righteous. He aims, now, by his grace, to make Dylan righteous. He aims by his grace to make Dylan look more like the very same Jesus who purchased his salvation. Which means
- For the rest of Dylan’s life, God is going to work with Dylan to erase his love of stealing, and turn him into someone who wants to be generous (6:30), because Jesus was generous.
- He’s going to work to change Dylan’s rebellious attitude into one that wants to submit to God’s will, because Jesus was submitted to God’s will,
- He’s going to change Dylan’s arrogance in his ability to cheat the system into one that loves humility and patience, because Jesus was humble and patient…
God is going to take the rest of Dylan’s life working in and with Dylan to make him more like Christ. That process is what we call sanctification. So how does this work?
HOW DOES IT WORK?
This is largely the work of the Holy Spirit. God ordained our sanctification, Jesus purchased it, and now the Spirit works in us and with us to make it happen:
- The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. It’s not an act of judgment on us, but an act of the Father’s love, so that we walk closer and closer to him! So we humbly and honestly confess and repent of our sin.
- The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to God’s word (John 16:13 says the Spirit guides us into all truth). As we commit to study God’s word, and invest time and energy into our study, the Holy Spirit turns the lights on in places and ways we could never have seen before.
- The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to do what God commands. That same Spirit that empowered and filled and strengthened Jesus’ life and ministry, helping him to overcome temptation, is in those who believe!
- The Holy Spirit translates our prayers for us (Romans 8:26). We don’t always know how to pray, or have the words to pray, or the strength to pray, and the Spirit carries all of our cries, our tears, our sighs to the throne of God.
- The Holy Spirit reminds us of what is true. It’s easy to get caught up in our circumstances, especially when we’re being tempted to sin, but the Spirit continues to whisper reminders of God’s word and his will, encouraging and strengthening us to do what is right. We’re told in scripture that you won’t face a single temptation in your life where there is not a way out. God will never trap you.
There are so many things we could say about sanctification, so many scriptures, so many applications we could look at, but I’ve narrowed it down to three things that I think are broad enough to address what sanctification works out in the life of a believer:
- Sanctification is exchanging kingdoms: In Romans 6:11-13, Paul says we should “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God. Do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But, instead, as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness.”
Sanctification is about who/what governs your life. In Genesis four, God told one of Adam and Eve’s two boys, “sin is crouching at your door, and its desire is for you. YOU MUST RULE OVER IT!” Either you rule over sin, or it rules over you.
See what people don’t realize is that before a person is saved by grace, they have no free will at all. People with no regard for God think they are choosing to do whatever they want, however they want, with whomever they want, whenever they want, and they think they are choosing how to live their own life… and they’ll call it freedom. But their will is not free at all.
Unless you are set free from sin in Christ, you are a slave to sin. Sin is your master and you are its errand boy. Everything you do, no matter how good it looks on the surface and how many people it helps, or how many people applaud you and give you trophies for whatever you did,, everything you do, even putting money in the offering at church, is sin because unless you are in Christ by faith nothing you do comes from any interest in worshiping, honoring, or bringing glory to the Father.
It’s only when God opens a person’s eyes to see the gospel and he gives them the ability to respond in faith, and the Holy Spirit regenerates them, bringing them from spiritual death to spiritual life, it is only then where we are rescued from the mastery of sin by the power of God. Colossians 1:13 says He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. --
Our will is released from the slavery to the kingdom of self, and set free so we can use our body, our time, our skills, our sexuality, our intellect and reason as weapons for the kingdom of heaven instead of for sin, and sanctification is the life-long process where the Holy Spirit teaches and trains us how to do that.
- Sanctification is a change of desires. Romans 6:17-18: “You who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”
You may remember from our 1 Peter sermon series, or the women’s bible study last year, where Peter talks about how God works through suffering in our lives, in order to live the remaining time in the flesh no longer for human desires, but for God's will.
So another one of the Spirit’s goals in sanctification is to change the desires of a person’s heart from wanting to do whatever feels good, sounds good, seems good, to a desire to do God’s will… even when it means suffering.
Sanctification is the process where people who have lived their lives shaped by the love of self, grow to become people whose lives are shaped by a love for God (Tripp, 372).
- Sanctification is about obeying God’s law. Romans 6:19 says Just as you offered the parts of yourselves as slaves to impurity, and to greater and greater lawlessness, so now offer them as slaves to righteousness which results in sanctification.
The whole reason we are born with a sinful nature, the whole reason we carry sin guilt, the whole reason we are needing rescue at all, is because Adam disobeyed God’s law. But then grace comes along and says, here's’ the good news: Jesus stood in for us in his obedience: he obeyed God’s law perfectly, took the penalty for our disobedience; you are forgiven and free and your sin-guilt is washed away by the blood of Jesus. But grace doesn’t say you never have to pay attention to God’s law again.
If you get stopped by a police officer for speeding and he lets you off the hook without giving you a ticket, that does not mean you are free to ignore all speed limit signs from then on. I know that’s news for some of you. You may want to write that down.
No grace doesn’t erase God’s law, it helps us obey it! The law of God never was and still is not about what you have to do to get God to accept you. Just like a parent gives rules to their kids, or a coach has rules for her players, or a teacher has rules for their class – God’s law is given to us because he loves us, and chose us, and the way he defines what is right and good and true and false is where our lives will thrive the most! What a marvelous grace to us that he would reveal to us the best way to live our lives!
Every time the Spirit convicts you of something, he is pointing out God’s law that he has written on your heart, and we can be so grateful for that grace to us. Otherwise, how would we know what it is to live a righteous life?!
And a heart that is changed to love God will see that his commands and his law aren’t a ball and chain! Jesus said come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest! Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly 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).
A yoke is the beam that goes across the shoulders of a team of oxen or horses as they work a field. Jesus isn’t saying “come to me, and you don’t have to lift a finger for the rest of your lives.”
No, he’s saying there is work to do in the kingdom and I want you right here with me, close as can be, and the goals that I’m working in the kingdom, I want you right alongside me working toward those same ends. What you’ve seen me do… that’s what you should be doing. Take up my yoke. Learn from me the best way to do life. The Holy Spirit will help you with this.
But here’s Jesus’ guarantee: you will never get stuck with all the weight of your own sanctification. It is not up to you to maintain your own salvation for the rest of your life, and just hope you do it right. His yoke is easy. His burden is light.
Oh that doesn’t mean it’s easy to be a Christian. There may be times it feels heavy. Phil 3:13-14 – Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Sometimes sanctification will feel like straining forward with all your might just to move an inch. It might feel like you’ll never conquer that anger, or that pride, or that fear, or that sadness you’ve always lived with. Your sanctification might include really painful sickness or even trauma in your life, and it feels like straining just to keep your head above water.
There are days even for me when I feel like it would be easier to just go back to swinging a hammer or making videos for a living. Church work can be really hard. It can feel like a lot of straining. But when it feels like life is harder than it’s ever been, the Lord Jesus is right there in the yoke with us, inviting us to watch him, and learn from him, and rest in the fact that we are not straining to earn his approval, or earn our way into heaven. We don’t have to ever worry that God will change his mind about us, or think Jesus’ blood was wasted on someone who can’t get it right.
HOW IT LOOKS
This process of sanctification looks different for all of us. For some of you, God calls you to be married as one of his tools to sanctify you. God uses all of those little annoyances, those big disagreements, those compromises on preferences, learning to forgive and show grace, all as tools of his sanctification. For others of you, God calls you to stay single and sexually inactive as part of sanctification. All of those lonely nights and lonely mornings and meals alone and trips alone and deep longings for pleasure or companionship are tools he uses to make you more like Christ.
For some, God brings children into your life to help change you. For others, God keeps children out of your life to help change you. For others still, losing your health, losing your job, losing a loved one, bringing a difficult person into your circle at work or in school…one summer God used our neighbor messing with our property to sanctify me – all of these can be situations where God works to make us more like Jesus. But as one author writes, what he gives you is always infinitely more valuable than what he takes (Tripp, 374).
Paul writes in Ephesians 4 that God uses the Church to sanctify us. That as we read, and sing, and pray, and listen to God’s word, we are being reminded of what we’ve been called to do. As we watch the example of other believers, as we listen to the wisdom they’ve gained through their own sanctification, as we hear rebuke and encouragement… God has given us the gift of the local gathered church so we learn from each other and from God’s word how to live in a broken world, and forsake our little kingdom for the greater work of the kingdom of God.
- Sanctification is about death and life. Romans 6:21-23 So what fruit was produced then from the things you are now ashamed of? The outcome of those things is death. 22 But now, since you have been set free from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification — and the outcome is eternal life! 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. -- .
Sin continues to bring death, but the gift of God is his saving, redeeming, sanctifying, and glorious grace that is eternal life in Christ.
If you are a believer, you can expect this process to carry on all through your life. Your sanctification won’t be complete until the Lord returns, when Phil 3:21, “he will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body”. Our bodies will one day be made new, perfected and glorified, and we will be able to see and know and walk in the presence of almighty God without any of the pain, suffering, decay, or breakdown that we know all too well on this side of eternity.
So, here’s the conclusion of the doctrine: Sanctification is not optional for the believer. God’s will is that you are not just declared righteous, but that you are progressively saying no to sin and yes to God for the rest of your life. Which means two things are true of every believer:
- No one can ever say “I have no more sin to get rid of! I made it! I am now able to live a sinless life!” But at the same time, there is no situation in your life where God is inactive, no moment that God is not using as a tool of his heart-transforming, and life-transforming grace – even if nothing seems particularly “holy” about what he is using (Tripp, 370).
- And secondly, no one can ever say “well, that’s just the way I am. I’m an angry person, or an anxious person, or a shopaholic, or an alcoholic, I took some classes once, saw a counselor, it didn’t work, I guess that’s just the way I am. I have sort of a potty mouth, so I hope you can tolerate it because that’s just who I am.”
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God[.]. You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Because the Holy Spirit is in you, your very life is holy ground (Tripp). Your body is a sacred place. Your work is sacred, your sexuality is sacred, your relationships are sacred, your mental capacities are sacred, your body is sacred. It is the workshop of the King of kings, as he makes us more and more like Jesus.
And his promise is this: Philippians 1:6 says, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Lord speed that day we pray in Jesus’ name.
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994)
Paul David Tripp, Do You Believe? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021)