Posts Tagged ‘sanctification’

God Is Working! Are You Becoming?

“God’s will has far more to do with who you are becoming than it has to do with what you do for God.” –Afshin Ziafat

At my church this weekend, we continued our study of the Crimson Thread through the Old Testament by discussing the Passover story in Exodus 12. While there are many clear parallels between what happened at Passover, the Passover seder held by practicing Jews, and the death of Jesus Christ, one thing stuck out to me as I was reading, and the original language of the text bore an awesome discovery.

Exodus 12:5 (NASB) says thus: “Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.” Now the easy way to read this is to point to the “unblemished male” and parallel it to Christ that way, because Christ is “the Lamb, unblemished and spotless.” (1 Peter 1:19) Only a man without any blemishes (i.e. sin) could be the sacrifice needed to bear the sins of man. This makes perfect sense.

However, what I found goes a step further, and I hope it makes sense to you, the reader, as well. The Hebrew word for “unblemished” is tamiym, which means “complete, whole, entire, sound.” This hit me as rather striking, given Christ’s final words on the cross, “It is finished.” (emphasis mine) Christ had made His purpose and sacrifice complete, the same way the Passover sacrifice was to be complete.

I pointed this out to WIFE, and she took it one step further by pointing out Philippians 1:6 — “…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (emphasis mine) This same completion, this unblemishing that was true of both the Passover lamb in Exodus and of Jesus Christ as He became the sacrifice for all mankind, is being worked out in us! What an awesome picture of both the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and the ultimate glorification we will see upon passing from this life into eternity. We are being made “unblemished” and “complete.” How can you say anything but “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” to that kind of awesome promise?

So when we are seeking out God’s will for our lives, let’s take to heart both the quote above and the promise that follows. We should make it our aim to focus less on doing and more on becoming, so that God’s sanctifying work is evident in us.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” — Ephesians 3:20-21

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Ephesians – Beginning of a Bible Study

So I’ve decided to start going through the book of Ephesians and do a study, taking it slowly and really trying to digest what God’s Word says. So I may end up posting all of my learnings on here, or I might just post from time to time when I think something is really cool. I was impressed with God pointing me to this book by what my NIV Study Bible said regarding the theological message of Ephesians: “Unlike several of the other letters Paul wrote, Ephesians does not address any particular error or heresy. Paul wrote to expand the horizons of his readers, so that they might understand better the dimensions of God’s eternal purpose and grace and come to appreciate the high goals God has for the church.” While I know I definitely have sins in my life that need working on, this sounds right up my alley based on where I am spiritually.

I decided to take it super slow and start with just Ephesians 1:1, and I was amazed at how much I was able to get from this seemingly innocuous verse.

Ephesians 1:1 (NIV)
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.”

The first word that caught my attention was the word “apostle.” An apostle is to be one who not only follows, but also does the work of; there is not reason I can’t be an apostle of Christ in the same way that Paul was. However, in doing so I must admit great responsibility and great failures in sin, because I can’t be ready to do the work unless my own heart is prepared.

The phrase “of Christ Jesus” is also important. We, as apostles, must align ourselves with Christ. This is what separates us from everyone else, because plenty of other religions and cults, even worldviews, believe in some form of God. But it is our understanding that Jesus Christ is also God and worthy of the same type of honor as the Father that sets us apart. We are Christians because of Christ, so to talk about who God is to someone who doesn’t believe is too broad, because I can talk to someone about God and a Muslim can talk to someone about God, and that person will be confused because “how do you separate the two?” It is Christ, the mediator between the Father and man, that is the difference, so we must be firm in our alignment with our Savior.

Now the phrase “the will of God” is an all-encompassing phrase, but when I read it in this context it was just another affirmation that nothing can be done outside of God’s purpose and plan. God will only call apostles as He has intended to call them for all of eternity. What’s more sobering is that if we have that responsibility placed on us, there’s really no way of getting out of it. I guess that’s what I’ve been trying to do, and basically all I’ve done is run away from God. But if it’s like a game of tag, I can’t forever avoid being “it.” God will catch me, because He is so much greater than me. But if I let myself be tagged, or even run to God to let Him tag me, how much sooner can I start the work, and how much greater could the potential benefit be?

Those in Ephesus are called “saints.” The study notes in my Bible say that this word carries the idea of dedication to a deity. A cross reference to Romans 1:7 and I get this description: “The basic idea of the Greek for this word is ‘holiness.’ All Christians are saints in that they are positionally ‘set apart’ to God and are experientially being made increasingly ‘holy’ by the Holy Spirit.” It is interesting that all of this connotation of Christians happens before Paul explains sanctification, and it looks like the words “sanctification” and “saint” probably come from the same root in the Greek. So those in Ephesus were already on the journey down this process of being “set apart” for God’s purposes, and I can relate. It is living within the will of God and separating yourself for the relationship with Him. I guess it’s also this separation that allows us to clearly understand what it is we’re supposed to do, since we are focused on God and not on the world, so it’s easier to hear His voice.

These saints are “faithful” and also “in Christ Jesus.” We studied the word “faithful” in Bible study last week as it relates to God’s character, and it is a statement of keeping the promises made, or keeping the covenant. So in a sense, Paul is applauding the Ephesians for continuing to hold fast to God’s promises, although what’s interesting is that the covenant God makes with us doesn’t really get affected by us. God will keep His promises, whether we act or whether we rebel. But the Ephesians were demonstrating the “confident hope” laid out in Hebrews 11, and only in doing that does it seem like we can develop serious spiritual growth.

As part of being “in Christ Jesus,” they have the privilege of being included into the reward of His inheritance through the death of Christ. Notice the difference between “of Christ Jesus” and “in Christ Jesus.” The phrase “of Christ Jesus” means we are to be aligned with Him, just like President “of the United States” shows where the President’s allegiance lies. However, “in Christ Jesus” means that we are not just aligned with Him, but part of the family. It is an inclusive statement, meaning we share in His joy, His love, and all of the things that make Him God. This includes the holiness and graciousness that are a part of His nature, so it ties right back to the idea of the “saints” and a common theme that runs through this book.

My application: I really think God has called me to this position to discuss with atheists. While it is probably the most unenviable task, I feel like I am supposed to do this. In a way, I have been sort of frustrated with God, because I’m having to use arguments that have the potential to swell up my pride, and as I read last night in “Mere Christianity,” “Pride comes directly from Hell.” It is the devil’s sin, and it is my greatest weakness. From this all of the other sins I fail at daily arise. God, I need Jesus to lean on in these discussions. I need to make sure I see these people through His lens, and He loves these people so dearly that He has a deep desire to see them be exposed to His truth. I know that I’m supposed to be a part of that, but I feel so weak. But the verse God keeps reminding me of is that “Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness.” So I will answer the call, but God please grant me the humility I need to not stumble in the face of your work.

A Circle of Trust

WIFE has recently been going through Romans 8, and that is the inspiration for this blog post.

Anyone who has seen the movie “Meet the Parents” starring Ben Stiller remembers that a common theme running through that movie was the “circle of trust.” While initially this meant the group of people which the father-in-law (Robert DeNiro) trusted with key information, it ended up being a perfect phrase when describing the wedding ring Stiller’s character gave his girlfriend.

Now, I love how the Bible not only shows consistency when it comes to names, dates, locations (I recently discovered a great consistency involving Genesis 6:3 and Psalm 90:10), but also when it comes to Biblical principles, and in this case, it does so in a completely circular way so as to tie all of these principles together. God revealed in the Bible His own little “circle of trust.” Let me explain.

Romans 8:1 says this: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,…”. Christians have taken this a variety of ways, but the simplest way to look at this verse is to say that those who have accepted Christ as their Savior are not condemned to an eternity away from Him in hell. We have been redeemed.

But how is this reprieve from condemnation achieved? 1 Corinthians 10:32 gives us a good piece of the answer: “When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” This could be thought of in terms of sanctification, where the discipline is not necessarily punishment, but more in terms of instruction to help set us apart through the process of making us holy. This is to allow us to step into this perfect holiness upon death and be fit to enter the kingdom of God. This discipline keeps us from condemnation. It’s very evident how these two principles (discipline and rescue from condemnation) fit together.

Now the word “discipline” triggered another verse in my head during discussions with WIFE. I looked it up, and you find it in both the Old Testament (Proverbs 3:11-12) and in the New Testament (Hebrews 12:5-6). It says this: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” So according to these verses, the discipline of the Lord is done because He loves us, and it ties in well that in love He would want to make us holy through sanctification.

This is where it all gets tied up so beautifully. The Bible, in one of the most famous verses, explains why we are able to get the rescue from condemnation that comes from discipline. John 3:16-17: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” It was God’s love that caused Him to send Jesus Christ as a means of salvation and a rescuing from condemnation!

So these three concepts (rescue from condemnation, discipline, God’s love) are all interwoven so easily and with the same terminology in God’s Word. It’s not like these things are rocket science, or even hard to find. But the fact that God makes it so clear that salvation comes through the effect of sanctification and as a result of His love that it makes believing in this truth that much easier.

Thank you Lord so much for loving us in spite of ourselves. We turn away from you to our own way so often that we don’t deserve to be even recognized by you, let alone disciplined in love. We are completely unworthy of your salvation, but you made a way by sending your Son to suffer for our sakes, so man cannot say that God doesn’t know how to suffer like man does. I praise You for the ability that You alone possess to offer salvation and sanctify such an unclean heart, so we can spend eternity praising your matchless name. You are a great and loving God, and you reveal that every day through your Word and by sustaining us and supplying all we need. I love you, Jesus.

The Concept of Salvation

So I finally read the book “Easy Chairs, Hard Words” and have to say it was definitely an interesting read. Lots of real-world examples that make very compelling arguments. At the end of it, I had to sit back and think about whether or not my theological perspective had changed. I came to the conclusion that mostly it had not. However, as I started thinking about one particular position, it led me to an interesting idea, and one that I’ve tried to defend: that salvation only affects us as we cross from this life into eternity.

Here’s my thinking. If salvation is a gift from God (as is explained in Ephesians 2:8), then it seems like if we have free will we have the choice to open the gift or not. However, God has predestined some to open that gift, and others not to. This allows for the idea of unconditional election while still giving credence to unlimited atonement. I’ve been thinking that if salvation is really being “saved from our sins,” it doesn’t really take affect while we’re still on the earth, because it doesn’t really stop us from sinning. In that sense, salvation is the removal of our sins from us when we die, so we can be made perfect (the concept of glorification) and fit for heaven.

However, WIFE brought up a good point earlier this week. She said that salvation isn’t necessarily just from our sins, but from being enslaved to past sins and tied down to them. Another friend, who we’ll just call Theology Man, said something similar in a brief text discussion. I tend to think this is more in line with the concept of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, the point at which we accept Jesus as Lord in our lives and the Holy Spirit begins to work in our lives (sanctification). This is how 2 Corinthians 5:17 becomes a part of our lives, as the old is gone and the new has come.

Interestingly, I was surprised that Paul addressed this very issue of salvation vs. sanctification in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, which says, “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren, beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.” It seems evident from this verse that salvation and sanctification are tied together with faith. So what is the relationship between salvation and sanctification? The relationship between salvation and glorification?

In short, my theological perspective has changed slightly. I now believe (which I assume is not an uncommon position) that the 3 big Bible words (sanctification, justification, glorification) are encompassed by the overarching concept of salvation. Salvation includes these three things, which is why God is able to use the past, present and future tenses in the Bible when discussing the salvation He has given us. I still believe that salvation is an eternal decision that is extended to all men, but I think at least now I better understand why.

Is WIFE correct? Yep. Is Theology Man correct? Most definitely. Am I correct? I think so now. What once was a belief that salvation is tied to glorification has now turned into glorification as the final step to salvation. Thank you Lord, for providing a Word that gives us a glimpse into Your awesome ability to do such works in us, and what exactly that means in the course of eternity!

A Simplified Explanation of 3 Big Bible Words

Are you one of those people that likes to throw out big words to make yourself seem smarter? I definitely am, but I still get frustrated if someone throws one out that I don’t completely understand. Sometimes this happens to pastors, too. Often there are views on doctrine that require certain belief systems, and often those systems get big words. So here I’m going to attempt to give a simple explanation of three key Bible buzzwords.

1) Sanctification – There are many different ways to describe this, but the simplest way I can think to describe it is the process of being set apart by God through His grace. It is the way by which God has cleansed us of sin, so that we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). It seems evident that among Evangelical Christians that there is nothing we can do (i.e. works) that can make us sanctified. That power resides with God alone. However, among many people this is deemed as a process, as sanctification is seen as making us more and more holy over time.

2) Justification – According to Wikipedia, justification is God’s act of declaring or making a sinner righteous before God. I heard a John Piper sermon on this topic, and at a root level it made sense to me. When Adam sinned (remember from my earlier post that sin was the fault of the man, not the woman), the only way we could be made righteous and worthy of heaven was to have someone pay the price for that sin we are born with. So Jesus’ death and resurrection justified us in the eyes of God, so when we have faith (Ephesians 2:8) and believe in Jesus as God, we are justified. This is different from sanctification in that we have to act on faith (or more commonly, give your heart to Christ) in order to receive justification.

3) Glorification – Again referencing Wikipedia, glorification is the completion, consummation, perfection, the full realization of salvation. This one seems to me to mean that before we actually enter heaven, God makes us perfect, for only can a perfect being be fit for heaven. It does seem that Romans 8:30 allows for glorification to be placed on us while we are still here on the earth, so there is probably some kind of a placement of His glory on us, so as we go about our lives others can see His glory as part of that. (Interesting aside: maybe this is why even if some Christians aren’t living an “on-fire” life for God, they can still cause non-believers to seek God – that’s my own personal thought and there is no factual basis for it).

I hope these explanations helped to make sense of these big words. I hope one day to lay out the arguments for Calvinism and Arminianism here, simply because I don’t know what they are. I was told once that I’m a 4-point Calvinist, so I’m curious to see where I fall in that sliding scale.

Anyway, have a blessed day everyone, and may God either justify you through new faith or sanctify you by the grace you have already received!