Sanctification: The Process of True Biblical Change - Part 1

Selected Scriptures

Tom Pennington  •  February 12, 2006
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Tonight, we come to what is imminently practical for every believer – the issue of sanctification or as I've subtitled it, "The Process of True Biblical Change". One of my best friends in the world is Phil Johnson. He and I worked together for twelve years at Grace to You. I have so much respect for him. One day I was browsing through his library, and I came across a book that I did not have and found it quite fascinating. It's a book written by Cotton Mather. Cotton Mather studied medicine, and in 1724 here in the U.S., he wrote a book called Angel of Bethesda, based on, of course, the reference in Scripture to the angel of Bethesda that would come down to the pool there and supposedly the first one in would be healed. And this was a book that really recorded standard medical views in New England in the early 1700's. In other words, this would have been considered as a textbook. It was used as a textbook on medicine in early America.

Let me just give you a few examples as I browsed through the Angel of Bethesda. You can be grateful that we live today. Take for example the remedy Cotton Mather suggested for a toothache. He said, "If you took the thigh bone of a toad and applied it directly to the tooth, you would gain some relief." I have no idea who first thought, you know, who first thought of putting a toad's thigh bone on your tooth for relief? But that's, that was one of the remedies in early New England.

What about insomnia? Some of you have problems getting to sleep at night. The remedy for insomnia made you stand out. Everybody knew who had insomnia because you needed to shave your head, and then you would take a napkin dipped in a mixture of water and vinegar and a little spirit of wine and put that on your head, and as it absorbed it would help cure your insomnia.

Warts, you would take a bit of beef or bacon and rub the warts with it and then bury the flesh in the ground or hang it up to dry in the air. Hmm. There was an entire chapter that I will not go on into on the uses of urine, both internal and external, including as a cure for chapped lips.

Remember now, this is standard medical practice in the early 1700's in the U.S. I would really like to know who first decided to try some of those cures.

Now, as I read this book, several things came to my mind. The first thing was, what was Phil Johnson thinking when he bought this book. The second one, if you know Phil Johnson, was has he tried any of these? The third question that came to my mind was a little less humorous and a more sobering question, and that is what are our doctors doing to us that in two hundred years they will look back and laugh just as you and I laugh tonight.

How could anyone think that those treatments would in fact be remedies for those problems? It's hard to believe that anyone ever embraced that kind of diagnosis and treatment. But in the spiritual realm, this is a huge problem. We often diagnose our own problems, and we come up with treatments for our spiritual problems that are far more dangerous and far more damaging. We try to concoct our own formula for overcoming the sin that is resident within us. And what we end up doing is creating our own grossly deficient version of sanctification or the process of biblical change.

We sit, and we laugh at these remedies, folk remedies really, present in the early 1700's in America. And yet, if I were to ask each person in this congregation to stand and get you to explain what you believe is the process whereby we are made holy, whereby we come to understand and appreciate and comprehend the fullness of Christ, some of the answers would be every bit as humorous and many troubling. I cannot tell you the difference that understanding what we're going to talk about over the next several weeks has made in my own spiritual life and experience.

When I came to Christ as a senior in high school, I went off to a Christian college. And there I was exposed to a panoply of suggestions as to how exactly to grow in Christ. We'll talk about some of those in a moment, and we'll talk about some others next week. None of them were helpful, and in fact they all ended up absolutely frustrating me and making me wonder if there was in fact any holiness to be found for me. Maybe that's where you find yourself tonight.

If you're in Christ, there is hope, but it only happens in the way God designed. And if you try to create your own treatment as it were, your own concoction to deal with indwelling sin, then you will fail. But if you use the path, if you set out on the path that God has put in place, then you will be able to arrive at true biblical change.

Now you've heard me say this before, but I think it's helpful as my mentor whom I have never met but wish to meet when I get to heaven, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, whose ministry has had a great influence on me, he often began a discussion like this by asking the question what is it not. And that's where I want us to begin tonight.

Let's talk about what true biblical change or sanctification is not. It's crucial that before we build that we tear down the old structures, the old ways of thinking, the old ideas of what sanctification is, of what growth in holiness is, of what true biblical change is. Here are some of our false conclusions, and I have experienced some of these in my own life, and I have experienced some of these vicariously in counseling others who have embraced forms of what I'm going to share with you tonight. You may find yourself in this list.

What true biblical change is not: first of all, true biblical change or sanctification is not participating in spiritual activities. There are so many people in the church who come in and they sit in the pews, or they attend a class, and they leave, and they think by that participation that they have somehow by osmosis picked up spiritual growth and holiness. Listen, there's nothing in the air in this building or any classroom that you go that is somehow going to change you. Participating in spiritual activities is not sanctification.

Let me show you a clear example of this. Turn back to Isaiah 1. The prophet Isaiah is concerned with the unrighteousness, the wickedness of the people of God, but it wasn't for lack of participating in spiritual activities. In Isaiah 1: 10, he writes this. Let's go back to verse 5. I have to do this because Jackie said that I do this all the time. Verse 5, here the prophet says,

Where will you be stricken again, as you continue in your rebellion? [And here, listen to how he describes the nation of Israel.] The whole head is sick, … the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head There is nothing sound in it, Only bruises, welts and raw wounds, Not pressed out or bandaged, Nor softened with oil. [That's his description of the spiritual condition of the people of Israel.]

Now go to verse 10. "Hear the word of the LORD, You rulers of Sodom." [Now this is tongue-in-cheek, he's actually writing to Israel, but he's referring to them as if they were Sodom and Gomorrah.] "Give ear to the instruction of our God, You people of Gomorrah. What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?"

God says listen, do you think I'm impressed with your spiritual activity? Do you think I'm impressed with the sacrifices that you bring Me?

"I have had enough of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; and I take no pleasure (in the bull of) in the blood of bulls and lambs or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies - I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen (because) your hands are covered with blood."

You know what God is saying to the people of Israel? Your incessant sacrifice, your incessant spiritual activity is not what I'm after. And if you and I think that participating, as important as participating in the worship of the Lord is, if we think that that somehow in and of itself, our mere attendance somehow transforms us or pleases God or launches us forward in spiritual progress, we are sadly deceived. True biblical change is not participating in spiritual activities, whether you're talking about church attendance or fellowship groups or weekly Bible studies or devotions or whatever it is you want to include in the list. Those things can be valid tools toward our spiritual growth, but they are not in and of themselves spiritual growth nor are they signs that you are growing just because you do them.

A second thing that true biblical change is not, and this is a big problem in our day, is having an emotional experience. There are a lot of people in Christianity today who believe that if they feel God, if they feel close to God, if they're driven to tears, and if their heart is warmed and moved, that somehow this is contributing to their spiritual growth and development. Well it may or may not be, but it is not inherently sanctification, it is not inherently the process of biblical change. Emotional experience does not mean that you are growing in holiness. You can tingle to your toes and remain unchanged.

In fact, there's a graphic illustration of this back in Exodus. Turn to Exodus 19. Now when you come to Exodus 19, realize that you are talking about people who have seen some miracles. These people within the last year, by the time we get to Exodus 19, within the last twelve months, they have seen God put Himself on display. They have seen the plagues that racked the land of Egypt. They have seen miracles that you and I will never see this side of heaven. And now they see something even more profound.

In Exodus 19, and notice verse 16, they come to the Mount Sinai and on the third day after they arrived there,

… when it was morning, there was thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and then there was this very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. [Now God had already prescribed that they could only come to the foot of the mountain and not touch it or they would die. So now they're gathered at the base of the mountain.] Verse 18, Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. And the sound of a trumpet grew louder and louder.

Get the picture here. Imagine if you were one of these people gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai. What an unbelievable experience your last twelve months would have been: the plagues that brought you out of Egypt, you leave with all the wealth of those who were your slave owners, you come to the Red Sea and God parts the waters. And now, three months later you come to the foot of Sinai and you stand there, and here is another unbelievable momentous spiritual experience because God comes down in visible form and a cloud forms over the mountain. The mountain starts shaking with a violent shaking of an earthquake. A trumpet begins to blow, and it gets louder and louder until you have to put your hands over your ears. And in the midst of that, notice chapter 20:1. God speaks, and all the people hear Him speak what we call the Ten Commandments, ten Hebrew words that lay out His requirements for the people.

Now folks, that's a spiritual experience, but what I want you to see is that that spiritual experience or that series of spiritual experiences in the lives of the nation of Israel was not equipping them in and of itself in holiness because less than forty days later, let me show you what happens. Turn over to chapter 32. Less than forty days later after all of that wonderful experience, 32:1,

Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, they assembled about Aaron and said to him, "Come, make us a god who will go before us; and as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we don't know what's become of him." [So] Aaron said …, "Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." [… all the people did this, brought them to Aaron.] He took … from their hand, … fashioned it with an engraving tool and made it into a molten calf. [Now watch what they do.] … they said, "This is your God, O Israel, who brought you from the land of Egypt." … when Aaron saw … [it], he built an altar before it; and … [he] made … [this] proclamation, … "Tomorrow shall be a feast to … [Yahweh."] [In other words, Aaron and the people say this golden calf, this is Yahweh. This is the true God.] So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings; and they brought peace offerings; [and then, notice what happened]; … the people sat down to eat and to drink, and they rose up to play [a euphemism for the worst kind of debauchery]."

Listen, emotional experiences are not sanctification. They do not constitute spiritual change. They may or may not bring you closer to likeness to Jesus Christ. Don't for a moment assume that spiritual activities or emotional experiences contribute to your sanctification in and of themselves.

Now, let's look at a third example of what true biblical change is not. It's not keeping a set of rules and regulations. You know what I'm talking about, everybody has their own set, the sort of "I don't smoke, and I don't chew, and I don't run with girls that do." This is very common in every age of Christianity. There are people who think that somehow if they can keep a list of dos and don'ts, usually ones they have fabricated, ones that have been passed on to them from their parents, or the pastor of the church where they grow up, that somehow that's going to produce true holiness. The problem is, it changes dramatically depending on the times in which you live.

D.L. Moody for example, the famous American evangelist, preached against men wearing ruffled shirts. Billy Sunday preached against women chewing gum. Some of you are in sin right now as I speak. There's a Christian college that will remain nameless that my brother actually visited one time, and they made a rule while he was there that the young people, the college students now, could not share hymn books anymore because they were touching each other under the hymn book. How titillating.

So, the rules vary, but the basic idea that somehow a set of rules and regulations are going to produce inward holiness, that idea remains forever constant in the Christian circles. It's popular today. The list changes depending on where you go, but the concept doesn't change. Now there's a great problem with this. We have our own set, you know, perhaps for some people it's hair or dress or, I'm not talking about immodest, that's obviously outside the scope of what the Scriptures prescribe, but I'm talking about different kinds of dress. There are people, there are Christians who go to movies and others who don't, and all of the sudden we set up a list, whatever that list is to you, usually external to the Bible, and if I do those things or don't do those things, then that means I'm holy, that means I'm sanctified.

There are three problems with this kind of approach, this keeping a set of rules and regulations. It tends to focus on the least important issues. Look at Matthew, Matthew 23. Jesus is here exposing the Pharisees for all of their hypocrisy. And in Matthew 23:23, he says,

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites [mask-wearers, pretenders]! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin [all household spices], and you have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, you strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!" [That's a powerful picture our Lord gives. You're so concerned about getting something unclean that you strain your water to make sure you don't swallow a gnat and in the process, you swallow a camel.]

This is how legalism always works, the idea that somehow my list is gonna impress God. The list the Pharisees were keeping was a biblical one, but they were so consumed with the minutia that they neglected the weightier matters. And when it comes to non-biblical sets of rules and regulations that Christians tend to set up, the problem is even greater. It always focuses on unimportant issues.

I love what Carl Henry wrote, listen to his insight into this situation. He says,

Arbitrary legalism is a poor substitute for inner morality. Not only this, but such legalism emphasizes the less important issues in life and ignores or excuses the weightier matters of the law. Smoking can be the subject of legislation, pride cannot.

Very insightful. There are a lot of Christians who think because they don't smoke, and I'm not purporting smoking here, don't misunderstand me, but they think because they don't smoke, that makes them holy. At the same time, their heart is filled with pride.

There's another problem with having a set of rules and regulations as the path to holiness. It's that the law doesn't control the flesh, it awakens the flesh. And those places where legalism is rampant in Christian circles are the very places where sin is the most rampant because you make rules for the flesh and the immediate response of the flesh is to rebel against those rules.

Romans, Paul makes this point in Romans 7. He's talking here about the law of God, and he says in verse 8,

… sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came [in other words, when I comprehended God's command not to covet], sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me. [External rules, even the perfect law of God, has no capacity to change the human heart. It merely awakens the flesh.]

And a third problem with keeping a set of rules and regulations is that the flesh in and of itself has no power to control itself. I'll never forget when I was sitting at my desk in my office as a graduate student, and I had the radio on, and I heard John Macarthur make this very point. It was sort of the beginning of time when these truths that I'm going to share with you over the next several weeks were dawning on me. And he said, just that clearly, he says if you make rules to move you toward sanctification, you need to understand that the flesh that you're putting in charge has no power to control itself. It has no power to control the flesh.

This is what Paul says in Galatians 3. He says have you who began in the Spirit, do you really think that you're going to be perfected by the flesh? Do you really think that you can manipulate this, that you can arrange it, that you can accomplish it in and of yourself? So, these are not ways to accomplish true biblical change – participating in spiritual activities, having emotional experiences, keeping a set of rules and regulations.

Let me give you a couple of more. True biblical change is not avoiding overtly sinful actions. There are people who believe that if they don't murder and they don't commit adultery and they don't steal, then that means they must be holy, they must be sanctified. Let me show you what people like this are like. Turn to Luke 18, Luke 18:11. The resemblance is not a flattering one. Verse 9,

… He … told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: "God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector."

Now here is a man who has avoided, and there's no reason to believe he hasn't avoided, these overt, external sins. And he thinks because of that, that puts him in a greater position of conformity to the law of God, a greater position of holiness, a greater position of as we would call it, sanctification. But of course, this isn't true at all. You see, people can avoid murder and adultery and stealing and yet accommodate in their hearts anger, which is, Jesus says, the mental equivalent of murder. They can accommodate lust, which Jesus said is the mental equivalent of adultery. And they can accommodate envy of other people's things, which is the biblical equivalent of stealing. Avoiding overt, external sins doesn't mean you're holy before God.

In the same passage, we learn that true biblical change is not performing the right actions.

Notice how this Pharisee continues in verse 12. "I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get." Here's a guy who there's every reason to believe he did these things. He didn't do those terrible overt sins, and he did some right things, some things that were commanded by God, but performing the right actions in and of itself does not mean that you are holy. It does not mean that you are growing in your walk of holiness. You can pray, you can witness, you can give to those in need and still make no progress in spiritual holiness.

One final example of what true biblical change is not, and this is a big problem in a Bible church like ours. Accumulating knowledge about spiritual things is not the same as growth in personal holiness. Some of the most fleshly people I have ever met were some of the most knowledgeable in Scripture. The two do not necessarily coincide. Of course, you're familiar with 1 Corinthians 8 where Paul is dealing with the issue of Christian liberty. And he says, "Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge." In other words, he's saying to the mature believers there, we know that it doesn't matter these things are not what they appear to be. But he says knowledge alone makes arrogant.

Even the correct biblical knowledge makes arrogant. We need to mix the knowledge with a true growth and love, love for God and love for others. So, you may be growing, you may be reading, you may have the best library in our church, you may be the one who understands the deep theological manners, but that is not in and of itself indication that you are growing in personal holiness. Knowledge is essential to growth in holiness, but knowledge is not the same as growth in holiness. We'll see that as we go along in our study.

Now look at that list for a moment, the list you wrote of all of these six things that I gave you. Nothing in that list excludes unbelievers. Unbelievers can do all of those things. So, what is true biblical sanctification? Well that's what I want us to look at in great detail over the next several weeks. And I want us to use as our starting point John 17. Turn there with me, John 17. In John 17, Jesus introduces us to an outline of the topic of biblical change.

Let me just give you the background of John 17. You have in verse, in chapters 13 to 17 a record of Christ's ministry to His disciples on the night before His crucifixion. Later that same night, Judas would bring the temple guards and Roman soldiers to arrest Christ. In chapters 13 and 14, Jesus is in the upper room at the Last Supper. Then in chapters 15 to 17, He's apparently sharing these things with His disciples somewhere between the upper room and the Kidron Valley where the Garden of Gethsemane is on the east side of the city, so en route somewhere between the upper room and the Garden of Gethsemane.

John 17 is the Lord's Prayer. We call what we've been studying on Sunday morning the Lord's Prayer, but in reality as I told you that's the Disciple's Prayer. The true Lord's Prayer, the longest prayer of our Lord recorded in Scripture, comes in John 17 from the night of His betrayal. In this prayer, John 17, we get a glimpse into His frequent prayers and into His intimate communion with the other members of the Trinity.

Now when you look at this prayer, let me give you an outline of John 17. When you look at His prayer, you see in verses 1 to 5, Jesus' prayer for Himself; then in verses 6 through 19, Jesus' prayer for the apostles; and then in verses 20 to 26, Jesus' prayer for all New Testament believers. Now that's kind of a neat and tidy outline. The truth is, as we'll see, John 17:17, which is the verse we're going to be looking at, applies not only to the apostles but to us as well.

Let me read you this monumental verse in this prayer of our Lord's. He says in verse 17, remember this is a prayer to His Father, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth."

This verse is a complete summary of spiritual growth, of biblical change or what we call sanctification. It is absolutely rich and profound. In an economy of words, our Lord introduces the entire process of true biblical change. And tonight and at least next week and maybe the following week, we're going to look in detail at this verse and at the profound, far-reaching concepts it presents. John 17:17 will serve as a kind of outline for our discussion of sanctification.

Now, let's start by asking ourselves what is the nature of true biblical change. It comes in the first word in verse 17, "sanctify". We've looked at this word over the last several weeks in different ways. The word "sanctify" simply means "to set apart, to make or declare holy". It has two primary senses. First of all, it means to consecrate, to set apart from a common to a sacred use, to set something apart for God's service. It's used of things, like places can be sanctified, vessels, furniture, utensils in the tabernacle and temple can be sanctified. So, things can be sanctified or set apart to God's use. Even Christ, we're told in John 10 and in John 17, was sanctified or set apart for God's special use.

It's used often however of Christians in general. We are set apart. We looked at that when we looked at definitive sanctification. Positionally, we are regarded as holy at salvation. This is a description of our position at the moment of salvation. We have been separated from the world, freed from our slavery to sin and wholly devoted to God's use. All of that happened at the very moment of our conversion.

But there's another sense of this word. Not only do we have the sense that we just described – to consecrate, to set something apart, but a second use is to actually make something holy, to purify, to render clean in a moral sense. Let's look at a couple of these verses, one in particular. Turn with me to Ephesians 5. Ephesians 5:25. Of course, this falls in the context of the commands to husbands.

"Love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her [now watch in verse 26, Christ did this, He sacrificed Himself for the church], so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word." [Here, obviously, the word sanctify has this second sense, to actually make holy, to purify. And the other words that are used around it makes that clear. To render clean in a moral sense, this is what it means.]

It's a work that God does in us. It's inside of us. Positional sanctification that we looked at, or definitive sanctification, is a declaration God makes when He sets us apart for Himself at the moment of salvation. But progressive sanctification is a work that God does within us. He actually purifies us; He actually makes us more like Jesus Christ. Practically, we are made holy in an ongoing process.

Now, which of these senses does Christ intend here? Does He intend the first, that we, is He praying, "Father, set them apart for your service", or "Father, actually make them holy'? Well Christ has already established that His disciples were set apart for God's service back in John 17. Notice in verse 6, He says, "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me; they were Yours and You gave them to Me." Verse 9, "I ask not on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those You have given Me; for they are Yours." Verse 14, "I've given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world." Verse 16, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." So, He has already established that positionally, we have been sanctified, that is set apart at the moment of salvation to the use of God, to the service of God. He has identified their position.

Now Jesus is asking, when we come to verse 17, He is asking that they be made increasingly fit for that role. We're talking about practical sanctification, or being made holy. Scripture and theologians call this process sanctification. Here's a definition.

"Sanctification," says Louis Berkhof, "is the work of God's free grace by which His Spirit continuously delivers the justified sinner from the pollution of sin, renews his whole nature in the image of God, and enables him more and more to die to sin and to live unto righteousness."

That's what we're talking about when we talk about sanctification. The work of God's grace by which His Spirit continuously delivers us from the pollution of sin, renews us in the image of God, and enables us to die to sin more and more and to live more and more daily unto righteousness. That is sanctification.

Now let me just remind you of our "ordo salutis". It's important that you be reminded of this. At the moment of salvation, several things happened, you see in our little chart here. At the very moment of salvation, there is our effectual calling, we talked about that.

Then there is regeneration. This is a logical order remember and not a chronological one; all of these things happen at one moment in time. Our regeneration: regeneration is pictured in some profound ways we saw when we studied this. It's pictured as birth, John 3. It's pictured as a new creation, 2 Corinthians 5:17, if any man be in Christ, he is (what?) a new creation. And it's pictured as resurrection. In Ephesians 2, we're told that we were dead and God made us alive. Those are the pictures. It is the implanting of a new nature, a new principle of life. And that regeneration, notice in our chart here, is followed by faith and repentance.

And then comes positional sanctification, justification, and adoption.

But justification, while it deals with our sin, it does not remove all our sinful tendencies from us nor does regeneration. Our new nature is incarcerated in what the Bible calls our flesh or our unredeemed humanness. So we now have two problems. We have the presence of sin, and we have the lack of positive holiness, even though we've been declared righteous. Sanctification is the process that gradually delivers us from the pollution of sin and that renews us in the image of God or Christ's likeness. Regeneration is our spiritual birth, sanctification is our growth. Let me say that again. Regeneration is our spiritual birth whereby we come to life, and sanctification is our spiritual growth whereby, for the rest of our lives on earth, we grow in holiness.

Now, let me move on to give you some basic propositions. When I studied this topic a number of years ago, I tried to condense everything that I learned in, as I studied this issue, to nine basic biblical propositions about the nature of the process of this change. And we're going to work our way through these. We may not get very far tonight, we'll pick up next week where we left off. Nine biblical propositions, if you can get your arms around these nine biblical propositions, then you will have a grasp of what the Scripture teaches about what sanctification is. Lord willing, next week we'll get into how it happens, how we can actually see that process work in our lives. But this is what it is; this is the nature of the change that occurs.

First of all, it's important to recognize that sanctification is made possible only by the work of Christ. If you look at John 17, even down in verse 19, He says, "For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in the truth." Jesus says, through My work, they can be sanctified. Through My being set apart specifically for the act of death, they can be personally made holy.

In Hebrews 10, the writer of Hebrews makes this point. Hebrews 10:10, "By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." Here is a reference to our positional sanctification, and notice that our being set apart for God is also through the sacrifice of Christ. The only reason you and I can have any hope of being made like Jesus Christ, of being holy, without which no one will see the Lord, the writer of Hebrews tells us, the only hope we have is through the work of Christ. He is the One who accomplished every good thing, who bought every blessing that you and I receive. It's founded in His death and in His work. First Corinthians 1 makes this point as well concerning our personal holiness. First Corinthians 1:30, "By God's doing you are in Christ Jesus, who has become to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption." Our hope of sanctification is founded in Jesus Christ and in His work, in the cross work of Christ.

Now let's move on to our second biblical proposition. And this is crucial. Sanctification is completely a work of God. You see it; each member of the Trinity has a part in this process. First Thessalonians 5:23, the Father is involved, "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely…." This is a prayer from Paul for the Thessalonians that they would be truly made holy and he says it's going to be God the Father who accomplishes this in your life. "May the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely."

The Son is also involved in this work. In Hebrews 2:11, "For both He who sanctifies [that's Christ] and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren." In Hebrews 13:12, "Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate."

The Father is involved in the process of sanctification. The Son is involved in the process of sanctification. And we find as well that the Spirit is involved in this process. First Corinthians 6:9 Paul writes,

… Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor reviler, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed … you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

He says the process of sanctification with your definitive, your positional sanctification was a work of the Spirit. And then when you get to Galatians 3, he says you're going to be perfected (how?) through the Spirit.

This is a work of our triune God. It is completely and wholly a work of God. We cannot produce true biblical change. Remember the context of this verse "Sanctify them in the truth." It's a prayer. And so, therefore, He is praying to the Father saying God, I want You to accomplish this. Charles Hodge writes,

The mere power of truth, argument, motive, persuasion or eloquence cannot produce holiness of heart and life nor can these effects be produced by the power of the will [you can't just decide to be holy] or by all the resources of man, however protracted or skillful in their application. [In other words, I don't care how hard you work, how hard you exert yourself. You do not, and I do not have the capacity to make ourselves more holy. He goes on to say,] They are gifts of God, the fruits of the Spirit. Paul may plant and Apollos water, but it is God who gives the increase.

I have to give you one more point because while it's important that you understand that sanctification is completely a work of God, that you cannot change yourself, God alone can do that, the third biblical proposition is that true biblical sanctification involves maximum human effort. It is not something to be received. It's all of God, it's all God's work, but God does not zap you. There is no spiritual zap. Sanctification involves maximum human effort.

In Romans 6, Paul lays this out for us. In the interest of time, what I want us to do though is turn to 1 Timothy 4. First Timothy 4, Paul tells his young son in the faith something that's really very profound. He says in verse 7, "Have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness." If you've been a Christian any time at all, you understand that word "discipline" is the Greek word from which we get the word "gymnasium". It means to train, to exercise, to discipline yourself.

He's saying, Timothy, I want you to exert the same sort of self-control, the same sort of discipline, the same sort of energy that an athlete would use preparing for the Olympics. I'm sure you have tuned, as I have, to the opening of the Winter Olympics. Here are athletes who have spent literally thousands of hours preparing for this event. And Paul says to Timothy, listen. Timothy, I want you to use the same amount of effort, the same amount of discipline, the same amount of exercise not for something that's fleeting like a human trophy, a gold medal, but instead I want you to do it for the purpose of godliness.

Listen, spiritual holiness does not happen by sitting on your couch hoping it will happen. There are no sanctified couch potatoes. It instead involves maximum human effort, but keep in mind that our effort, as important, as absolutely crucial as it is, does not earn or achieve our sanctification. God has so designed sanctification that we have to expend the maximum effort, but our effort doesn't earn our sanctification nor does our effort achieve it. It is still a work of God. It is still a gift of God's grace. What am I saying? I'm saying that we expend the effort, and God produces the change. This is biblical sanctification.

Turn to Philippians 2, and I'll stop here. Philippians 2:12. We studied this in great detail as we worked our way through this wonderful letter. Philippians 2:12,

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Here is that blend of maximum human effort, "work out your own salvation," but understand that if that was all there was, you would never take the single smallest step toward spiritual holiness if you were the only one involved. But thankfully you aren't. As you expend the maximum effort, God does what you and I can never do, and that is He changes us, not because we earn it, not because we deserve it, not because we achieved it, but because He's a gracious, good God who has promised to make us like His Son. We expend the effort, but God produces the change. Understand your sanctification is something God has to do, but He expects you to expend the maximum effort. And then in His great grace, in His great goodness, He responds and He changes us. What a good and great God we have.

Let's pray together.

Father, erase from our minds all of the flawed views we have of sanctification. Lord, we live in confusion as new believers, and I pray that You would sweep away that confusion from the minds of many here tonight. Lord, help us to see what sanctification is not.

And then Lord, as we frame up a biblical grid for understanding this work that You do in our hearts, Lord help us to grasp it, help it to really sink deep within our souls, the fact that You must produce the change, and that all we do is expend the maximum effort. And then, irrespective of what we do, You step in in grace and mercy and goodness and produce genuine, lasting change in our lives.

Father, our lives from beginning to end are grace. We thank You for Your great mercy toward us. Lord, I pray that something we've discussed tonight would open up the minds of Your people, Lord, that there would be great illumination, and that there would be those who have been clouded in the fog of contemporary Christian teaching that would see that fog swept away and understand that this is something You do, and that what You require of us is the maximum effort.

Father, help each of us pursue personal holiness. You've told us that without holiness, no one will see You. Lord, I pray that You would help us to take this seriously as Your children. Help us to pursue this holiness, to expend the maximum effort, to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness even this week.

We pray in the name of Christ. Amen.