These last issues have dealt with grace in the process of sanctification as taught by the Apostle Paul in Romans 6-8. By way of conclusion, lets explore exactly what the believer can expect in the process of sanctification. As we grow in our relationship with Christ, what kind of change in our lives can we anticipate?
Every believer has two problems as he relates to God. First, how can a just God bring a sinner into fellowship, with Himself without requiring the sinner to pay for his crimes? This problem is solved by justification: God imputed to Christ our sin and executed justice on Christ on the sinners behalf.
Second, how can a holy God take up residence in a filthy vessel? This problem is solved by sanctification: God imputed the righteousness of Christ to the believer. Thus we see that a person is sanctified in the same way he is justified: it is a legal transaction whereby the death of Christ as just payment for sin, and the holiness of Christ, are both imputed to the believer. It is an act of grace.
Sanctification, however, is more than the legal act of imputation. It is also a process whereby the believer, in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit, is conformed day by day to the image of Christ. We see this dual use of sanctification as both a declarative act of God and a process of change in the life of the believer throughout the whole of the New Testament.
The believer receives the grace of God: first in justification, a past event; second in sanctification, both a past and present event; and third in glorification, a future event.
HOW MOST VIEW SANCTIFICATION
As I have listened to people discuss the process of sanctification, they seem to view ft in two major ways: 1. Victory over personal hurt due to unfulfilled expectations (e.g. neglect of a child by the parent or a husband falling to pay adequate attention to his wife); and 2. Victory over sinful habits (e.g. alcohol abuse or impure thoughts). By victory I mean the ability to completely gain mastery over it, to put it behind me so as to never have it bother me again.
I have the impression that most Christians believe they can experience victory in the second sense, but not in the first. They can control, under the influence of Christ, the presence of one kind of memory (e.g. unpin thoughts aid sinful acts), but not the hurt and anger that comes from the memories of people who have hurt or
I suggest that the Bible teaches the opposite. We cannot control the presence of any kind of memory from the past, but we can control our attitude toward those memories.
I can read a book or watch a movie that has a sex scene and can forget the plot but not the illicit scene. The thoughts return again arid again throughout the years. Sinful habits formulated early in life may be brought into check by the power of the Holy Spirit, but victory in the sense of never being bothered by them again is not possible this side of eternity.
Conversely, I can after my attitude both toward my own sins and sinful acts committed against me. Romans 12:2 says, ‘Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind…’ I can view both 1 and 2 from God’s perspective, renouncing 2 (the sin present in my life), and giving God thanks for 1 (the hurtful experiences that flow through my life). This is the practice of I Thessalonians 5:18, ‘In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.’
Christ changes my worldview, but not my propensity to sin. My character is changed in the sense that I hate and renounce sin. In Romans 7:19 Paul verbalizes the experience of the committed follower of Christ: ‘For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.’ Obviously the non-Christian does not share this attitude. As noted in an earlier study on this issue, Paul expresses the heart of the believer, for the unbeliever does not renounce sin and seek God. ‘There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.’ (Romans 3:11)
CAPPING THE VOLCANO
The ‘old man’ does not improve in the process of sanctification. Let me use the analogy of a volcano. As I grow in Christ I am able to develop an elaborate system for capping the volcano, but the pressure of the volcano never abates. All of its latent power to explode and destroy lies just below the surface.
Christ does give me an awareness of the horror of the volcano and the implications of allowing ft to go unchecked. Our Savior also gives an ever-increasing desire to eradicate the volcano’s existence. Sanctification produces an increasing hatred of sin and a corresponding bye of righteousness.
This combination of awareness and desire motivates me to develop a relatively secure cap on the volcano. One way that I do this is by building restrictions on my liberties in those areas in which I am weak. For example, a friend of mine is an alcoholic. He calls himself an alcoholic even though he hasn’t had a drink in many years. He came to Christ through Alcoholics Anonymous and continues to attend their meetings. But he realizes that the propensity to relapse is ever before him.
A second way to develop a ‘secure cap’ is commitment. Another friend feels that he is addicted to TV. So he committed to his family that he was going to cease watching ft. With all of his family aware of the pledge, and knowing that they will hold him accountable, he built a cap on the volcano.
Changing metaphors, controlling the ‘old man’ is like a physical weakness. A basketball player has weak knee and wears a brace to compensate. I am aware of areas in my life where I am weak and prone to sin. In these areas I must compensate with ‘braces,’ defenses that I build around me as added protection. For example, there are certain kinds of movies that I refuse to watch, not because I am strong, but because I realize that I am weak.
CHANGE OF ATTITUDE
Just as my attitude towards sin changes because of the presence of Christ in my life, so also my attitude towards others. As noted in an earlier issue, there are no accidents or victims in the Bible. I can destroy my own life, but God does not delegate my destiny to others.
This is why you can obey the command to honor your father and mother, irrespective of the kind of parents they were: They were God perfect choice for you, even though they may have inflicted terrible hurt upon you. This does not mean that God will not hold them accountable, but it does mean that you are to thank God for them.
Paul says in II Corinthians 5:17: ‘Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation; old things are passed away, all things are become new. We are new in Christ ii the sense that our minds are renewed; we are in-dwelt by the living God. We are not new in the sense that there is a once-for-all conquering of a particular sin in our lives. A friend once said, ‘No victory is final, and no failure is fatal.’
In one of Paul’s earliest epistles, I Corinthians 15:9, he says, 9 am the least of the apostles.’ Later in his ministry Paul says in Ephesians 3:8 that he is ‘the least of all saints.’ At the end of his life he writes to Timothy, ‘I am the chief’ of sinners (I Timothy 1:15). This is sanctification. The longer the saint lives, the closer he grows to Christ and the less he thinks of himself. Paul did not see any appreciable change in his character, quite the opposite. What he saw was the contrast between himself and Christ and the deplorable condition of his sinful nature.
CHANGE OF PERCEPTION
It is precisely this change hi your perception of reality, or your worldview, that forms the heart of the sanctification process. Maturation in your walk with God should result in an alteration of your value system, your understanding of your purpose, and your perception of why hurtful circumstances enter your life, which are all anchored in your view of God.
This in turn should after your hope and your attitude. As your hope gradually shifts from the temporal to the eternal, you learn that the tragedies of life are ordained by a loving God who is preparing you for an eternity with Him. For this reason you give thanks to God, even for the hurt inflicted upon you by the sin of others.
This is not to say that the believer can expect a good attitude towards crushing blows that come his way. Hurt may, and probably will, produce a negative reaction because of the “volcano” that rages unabated just below the surface. But when the believer takes inventory of what transpired and reflects on the program of God, he will give God thanks.
HOW TO CAP THE VOLCANO
Twice in his epistles, I Corinthians 14:20 and Romans 16:19, Paul says in essence, ‘Concerning the things of God I would that you be mature and understanding; but concerning evil I would that you be imbeciles.’ The believer does not need to be experienced hi the evil of the world.
In Ecclesiastics Solomon warns that although the path to intellectual growth is experimentation, this same path, when applied to the moral realm, produces destruction. Goerte once said that with the slightest change in his character there was not a crime he was incapable of committing. Every thinking Christian realizes that this is so.
There are, however, many sins in the Bible that are reprehensible to me, such as homosexuality and murder. I also know that ft is possible to awaken such appetites, thus adding to the pressure of the ‘volcano.” Three times in Song of Solomon the author says, ‘I adjure you 0 man that you awaken not bye until ft please.’ ‘There is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing” (Ecclesiastes 3:5). When we awaken appetites be-fore the God-given time we have hell to pay. We are best served when ignorant or imbecilic regarding sin!
Conversely, there are things that I can do to ‘renew my mind.” These are in the form of Christian disciplines such as prayer, Bible study and Scripture memory. Also, the believing community can assist in keeping a cap on the ‘volcano” by provoking me to godliness.
I watched a couple, who I had known for years, grow old and die. In the last years of their lives they did and said things that shocked me. As I reflected on this, it occurred to me that a child speaks and acts completely uninhibited. When he feels like defecating, he does it whenever and wherever he pleases. His family teaches him that such behavior is unacceptable. Society joins in the task of conforming him to what is considered civility, proper decorum, etc. If he wants to get along and do well, he learns that he must meet the expectations of the environment in which he lives.
This elderly couple returned, as it were, to childhood. It wasn’t that they were suffering from dementia; they simply no longer cared what people thought.
As I reflected on this, I despaired for fear of becoming like them in the closing years of my life. Will there come a time when I no longer care what people think and allow the cap on my volcano to dissipate? If I trust in the improving of my nature, I am without hope. If sanctification has to do with the changing of my mind, then there is hope.
Yours for a life of obedience,