Sanctification: The Process of True Biblical Change - Part 3

Selected Scriptures

Tom Pennington  •  March 5, 2006
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Well, let's go back to our study in the great doctrine of sanctification. When we talk about sanctification, we're talking about the process of true biblical change. Now I'm going to do a little bit of review tonight. As you know, I usually don't do much review because I want to move on. I have more material probably than I'll be able to cover tonight, but I want to do more review than I usually do because I think this is so foundational to our Christian lives and experience. And it's also so frequently misunderstood. So, let me just cycle back through, and I want to give you just a brief exposure.

We began by talking about what true biblical change is not. It's not participating in spiritual activities. It's not having emotional experiences. It's not keeping some set of rules and regulations which tend to be hung up on, the less important issues. It is not, true biblical change is not, avoiding overtly sinful actions (the Pharisees do that) as well as performing the right actions, which many people do. And it is certainly not accumulating knowledge about spiritual things. Instead sanctification, as Louis Berkhof put it, "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."

Now with that definition in mind, we began to look at what I identified as nine biblical propositions. These are condensed from my own study, what the Scriptures teach about sanctification. We said that sanctification is made possible by the work of Christ. It is completely a work of God. It involves maximum human effort, which seems like a contradiction in terms, but as we explained it, it's not. God is the One that produces the change, but He calls upon us to expend the maximum effort in the pursuit. We expend the effort, but God produces the change.

Sanctification is a process; it doesn't happen overnight. We saw last week that it is a process very similar to the process of physical growth. Just as there is a child and that child slowly but inexorably grows toward adulthood, the same is true spiritually. It is a slow, tedious process, but it does happen. It continues in the life of a believer.

We discovered that it's a constant war within the believer. I found many of you came up to me last week after we studied this and said this point was such a comfort to you because so many Christians have been so badly taught about this. We think the struggle itself means there's something wrong with us. If I were truly a spiritual Christian, then I would be beyond this. No, the Scripture's clear that the struggle with sin, the war with sin, is a lifelong war.

And number six, it's only complete when you die or when Christ returns.

Number seven, sanctification is a means to an end. We are not merely made holy for holiness' sake; we are made holy to have fellowship with our God, who is holy, and to bring honor and glory to His great name, to reflect His Son for all eternity.

Number eight, sanctification is a renovation of the heart. It is not merely a change in some external behavior, nor is it simple self-reformation like so many unbelievers do.

And number nine, and very encouraging, we discovered that our sanctification is guaranteed. It is the goal for which God saved us, and Christ, in John 17:17 where we were looking, is praying this for both His apostles and for those who will believe through His, their word, which is us. And the Father always hears Christ so we can be assured that it'll happen. We rehearsed all of that last time.

And I gave you this picture. When you look at a biblical model, a graph, if you will, of biblical sanctification, this is what it looks like. Now here on the chart I borrowed, it's called the Reformed perspective, but I think as we've studied it together it's the biblical perspective of sanctification. There is the cross, which represents regeneration, salvation, the moment of salvation. And then begins a lifelong process with its ups and downs of growth in holiness by use of the spiritual disciplines. There are ebbs and flows, but you can see if you look at the span of a person's lifetime, there is a general upward trend in sanctification, in spiritual growth and development.

Now, we continued our sort of look at John 17:17. In fact, turn to John 17:17, and let me remind you of this text because this is where we're centering our study of this great doctrine. It's in the Lord's Prayer, the true Lord's Prayer. John 17 is the longest recorded prayer we have of our Lord's, prayed after the upper room discourse somewhere between the upper room and the Garden of Gethsemane, we're not sure exactly where this prayer was prayed. But as a part of this prayer in John 17:17, Christ prays this: "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth."

Who exactly are we talking about when Christ says "'them"? Well, obviously, if you look at verse 9, verse 12, you see that He's talking about His apostles, the disciples. But then in verse 20, He says, "I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word." That's us. What is the word of the apostles? It's the New Testament; it's recorded here for us. And this is how you and I came to faith in Christ; this is how we believed. And so Christ here in this great High Priestly Prayer is not only praying for the eleven, of course the twelve minus Judas, but He is also praying for you and for me who have believed through the word of the apostles. And He's praying that we would be sanctified.

We looked at Ephesians 2, where we're told that we are the masterpiece of God, created unto good works which God foreordained that we should walk in. And of course, that's connected to those great verses about the gift of God in faith that enables us all to believe.

So, the objects of biblical change: all of us. Jesus prayed for us in this prayer. He prayed for you, and by the way in His high priestly ministry, He continues to pray for you. He continues to seek for you and for me on the Father's behalf that we would be sanctified by means of the truth.

Now, that brings us to where we left off last time. We were talking about the means of true biblical change. Christ has introduced us to the "nature" of true biblical change, this doctrine called sanctification. "Sanctify them", that is, make them really and personally holy. He's introduced us to the "objects" of that change, "them", meaning every believer.

The rest of verse 17 answers the crucial question of "how". How is it that God produces this radical change in people? What are the "means" of true biblical change? Notice the little preposition "in the truth". The word "in", the little preposition that's translated "in" can mean "through" or "by means of". It's translated that way in a couple of passages that we looked at briefly last time. The point is: this little word "in", accurately translated here "through" or "by means of" (in fact some of your translations may have that translation, it's an accurate one), gives us the bottom line truth that in the process of making us holy, in the process of making us like Jesus Christ, God uses means. We really have to camp here as we ended up last time doing. This is crucial for us to understand.

There are common, unbiblical views that are often taught about sanctification that deny the use of means. They believe instead that God acts directly, completely without our effort. The first one we looked at last time was Wesleyan perfectionism, held by John Wesley, by John Fletcher, by Methodism, by Nazarenes, the Salvation Army, Holiness Pentecostals. And this view says that when you're saved, you see the cross there representing what they call a first work of grace, faith in Christ, then there's a flat line for a period of time in which you continue absolutely non-sanctified.

Then there comes a second work of grace, a moment of spiritual crisis when God suddenly and radically delivers you from either all your sinful tendencies or for one particular dominating sin. At a moment of total surrender, you are catapulted from a flat line, non-sanctified Christian to a new high level in a state of Christian perfection, that is, perfect love toward God and man. Just as you received, they say, salvation by a simple act of faith, so you receive sanctification or perfection as a simple act of faith. You receive spiritual victory just as you received salvation. You reach in your pocket, and you pull out the coin of salvation and you become saved, and sometime later you realize you have a second coin in your pocket. It's the coin of sanctification, and you pull it out and cash it in, and you are sanctified. And that happens through total surrender of yourself to God. That's what Wesleyan perfectionism teaches.

A second flawed view that we looked at last time was Keswick teaching (looks like Keswick), Keswick teaching. Hannah W. Smith, Andrew Murray, Watchman Nee are a few of the names that are often associated with this version of sanctification. Here you have the same sort of thing. At conversion you accept Christ, but then you continue for a period of time as a defeated Christian, these are the key words they use, you're a defeated Christian. The problem is you're trying to do it, so just stop it. Stop trying to do it, "let go and let God". Those are the catch words you'll often hear with the Keswick movement. The first major step, the Keswick teaching would say, toward sanctification is total abandonment or surrender to God. I must recognize my own inability and stop trying to change. I must pray for God to change me.

You can see here that again, a very similar picture. There's a defeated Christian moving along until you reach a point of letting go and letting God. You understand you need to surrender yourself to God and then you're catapulted to a new level called the victorious life, in which you have inward rest and outward victory.

Another flawed approach that bears some resemblance (although it's not exactly like these, to the Wesleyan and Keswick models) is the Chaferian method - that is, Lewis Sperry Chafer, one of the co-founders of Dallas Theological Seminary. Charles Ryrie embraces this view as does John Walvoord. And this view teaches that at salvation, and by the way, this chart, I want you to understand this, these charts come from a book by Wayne House who is a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is accurately representing the view. He's not antagonistic to the view at all. He's simply representing it in graphic form. As he represents it here, you have salvation, and at that moment, that comes, salvation comes by accepting Christ as Savior, but then for a period of time ranging from a short period of time to perhaps years, in some cases even an entire lifetime, you are a carnal man, pulled from 1 Corinthians 3 and the references to carnality there. They say that that represents not simply Corinthian believers behaving in a fleshly way, but rather a category of believers. The carnal man, those who have accepted Christ as Savior, but have not yet accepted Him as Lord. And then at some point in their lives, they come to the point where they accept Christ as Lord. And at that moment, they don't catapult to a new level, but rather they begin the growth toward holiness. They begin to be a spiritual man, and they begin to grow toward holiness.

So, those are the views of sanctification. There's one other, there's a fifth view that you'll sometimes read. If you're interested, there's a book called The Five Views of Sanctificationwhich develops five different views, but I didn't include the other one because it bears some resemblance to the ones I already have up here. Alright, so those are the basic views.

Now, the Reformed perspective, the third one there on our little chart, the biblical view, it represents I think a totally separate perspective than the other three. You can see the similarities between the other three. Those other three have some common denominators. Two of them believe that God does something directly without means or human effort, the Keswick and the Wesleyan approach. All of them say that something happens suddenly that produces, that begins to produce radical change in me. In a moment of crisis, I go from spiritual defeat to victory. They assume a lack of power. We looked at that last time, that the real issue is man's relationship to the truth, either a lack of knowledge to the truth or a lack of obedience to it.

And I left off last time with this quote, and again, thank you for humoring me. I hope as we've gone through it again, you've gotten even a little more from those than you did last time, but I think it's crucial to understand these distinct methods of spiritual growth. J.C. Ryle in his classic book Holiness writes this:

Many admire growth in grace in others and wish that they themselves were like them, but they seem to suppose that those who grow are what they are by some special gift or grant from God, and that as this gift is not bestowed on them, they must be content to sit still. Growth in grace is bound up in the use of means within the reach of all believers and as a general rule, growing souls are what they are because they use these means.

This is how God normally operates. This is the way God normally works. He normally in our world uses means.

Take physical healing for example. Let me ask you a question. Can God heal people without the use of means? Absolutely, God has the capacity to do that. When He does that, we call it (what?) a miracle, divine intervention. God can do that if He chooses, but in the normal flow of life on this planet, is that the approach God chooses to take? No. Most of the time, God uses means. He uses doctors, He uses medicine, He uses the healing system built into the body. God uses means in the natural world.

What about growing a crop? Could God, if He so chose, skip the growth process? Could He skip all the intervening steps of a farmer and simply cause a full crop of corn to grow in his field? Well of course, God is God. He can do whatever He wants, but is that how God normally works? No, typically not. You don't plant one day and harvest the next. God uses the process of plowing and wheating and sun and rain and time and all of the processes that are part of that for us to reap a harvest and have food.

God, our God, is a God of means. In the same way, sanctification is God's work, but He uses means to accomplish that work. Now, even as we say that there are means involved, there are those who agree that God uses means - they're not like the Keswick view for example that say that God doesn't use means, that you just simply pray and God directly acts on your soul and makes you holy without any means at all - but there are some who agree that God uses means, but they are misled about what means God uses.

Here are a couple of common, unbiblical means of sanctification. There are some who say isolation is the key. Your real problem is the influence of the world around you. And if you can remove yourself from the influence of the world around you, then you can grow. The extreme form of this is monasticism. It still goes in our world, became popular during medieval times for those to withdraw themselves from the world and in so doing, isolate themselves, build a cocoon around themselves, and in hopes of becoming holier, becoming purer because they were uninfluenced by the world around them.

Martin Luther in his life tells the story and recounts his life as a monk. Before he came to faith in Christ, he served as a monk in the Augustinian Order. And he was in a particular monastery where they hated to see Martin Luther coming to the confessional because Martin Luther discovered in the monastery that sin was not on a holiday, that he was not isolating himself from sin, that in fact his wicked heart was finding ways to express its sinfulness even in isolation from the world around him. He spent hours a day in the confessional. His superior eventually told him to give it a break. You know, how much trouble can you get into in a monastery? But Martin Luther understood the Spirit of God was at work in his heart, and he understood his own sinfulness, and he realized that isolation was not going to accomplish spiritual holiness.

A common form of this approach is simply staying away from unbelievers. I was a part for a long time of a group of believers who were, who were true believers in Christ, that loved Christ, but who have this mindset that the way to stay away from sin, the way to develop in personal holiness is to simply isolate yourself from unbelievers, stay away from them. That isn't what Scripture teaches. In fact, notice here in John 17:15:

"I do not ask, Father, that You take them out of the world, (simply) keep them from the evil one." Verse 18, right after He says, "Sanctify them", He says, "As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world."

This sanctification has nothing to do with cutting ourselves off from unbelievers. I wonder what kind of response I would get tonight if I asked you what contact you have with unbelievers apart from that that is completely and totally forced. You may have been influenced by this mindset without even realizing it.

Look at 1 Corinthians 5. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul makes it clear that he expected we would associate with unbelievers. Verse 9,

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people." [Well they had misunderstood, and he says in verse 10,] I didn't at all mean with the immoral people of this world or with the covetous or swindlers or idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother, [somebody who says he's a believer,] who's living a pattern of open, flagrant sin.

The implication here is Paul fully expects that we will live our lives associating with, connected to, unbelievers. So, isolation from the world is not the right approach to sanctification. That is not a means to keeping yourself from sin.

Another unbiblical means is "asceticism". Asceticism basically is depriving yourself of God's good gifts or inflicting pain or discomfort on yourself. The extreme form is causing bodily pain. You can read stories even today of those who inflict pain on their bodies, wear rough clothes next to their skin, actually strike themselves with whips or other things in hopes of somehow purging themselves of sin. There are men who have plucked out their eyes or castrated themselves to be rid of lust, only to discover that their real problem was not a body member but the depraved heart.

A common form this takes, I doubt there's anybody here who practices that extreme form of asceticism, but a common form this does take is that the Christian shouldn't have a good time or enjoy life. Don't enjoy good food, don't enjoy the beauty of God's world, don't enjoy humor. In fact, I love the story that Spurgeon tells of one time a lady came up to him and she was well intentioned, but she said, "Pastor Spurgeon, I'm very much offended." And he said, "Well ma'am, what is, what's the problem?" She said, "You use too much humor in your sermons." And he said, "Ma'am, you should only know how often I'm tempted to use more." There's nothing wrong with God's good gifts and enjoying those good gifts.

In fact, this kind of mindset of asceticism had taken hold in Colossae, in Colossae, in Colossians 2:21. In verse 20 he says,

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch'… in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?" [This was a form of asceticism that had rooted itself there - that the way to be holy was not to enjoy these things, was not to benefit from the material world that God had created. But notice what Paul says.] Verse 23, "These are matters which … to be sure, have the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but [they] are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

Asceticism benefits nothing. Now, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't discipline our bodies. That doesn't mean that as Paul says in Corinthians that we shouldn't bruise, buffet our bodies in the sense of bringing them under control, bringing our bodies under control, not giving them free reign to do whatever they want. But asceticism is not the means God uses to produce holiness.

So, what is the primary means God uses? Well look back in John 17. "Sanctify them by means of the truth." The truth, what exactly do we mean? Well look at Ephesians 5:26. There we're told that "Christ gave Himself for the church, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word." This spiritual cleansing, this process of becoming holy occurs by the washing of water with the word. In John 8:32, you will know the truth [by the way, the context here is slavery to sin, he says], "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free [from that slavery you have to your sin]."

What is the means God uses to produce holiness? What's the tool, what's the primary scalpel that God uses to change us into the image of Christ? It's the truth. You say, now wait a minute, well what about, what about trials? What about life circumstances? What about the spiritual activities that I engage in? Do those have any sanctifying effect in my life? They can, but they are only useful, listen carefully to this, all of those other means: like trials and circumstances and spiritual activities. Those are only useful in sanctification when they are properly mixed with the Word of God.

Take for a moment the death of a loved one. Many of us have experienced that. We've had someone close to us die. Is that event in and of itself sanctifying in the life of a believer? Not necessarily. I have counseled and dealt with believers who have allowed the death of a loved one to turn them to anger and bitterness, causing God's name to be sullied by the way they handle themselves. So, you can choose in a life circumstance, and this becomes very important because all of life's circumstances God intends to use to make us into the image of Christ, but they don't in and of themselves change us into the image of Christ because you and I have a choice in each of those circumstances.

In the case of the death of a loved one, we can choose to be angry and bitter, or we can choose instead to allow our minds to be renewed by the Spirit so that that death creates a greater desire for heaven in our own hearts, and rejoicing that God has done a good thing in the life of our loved one, that He's preserved and protected them and brought them to Himself. So you see, I can respond either way. The difference is in interpreting the experience through the Word of God.

R.L. Dabney in his Systematic Theology puts it this way, listen carefully: "The Word is the means after all in all other means. Where the Word is not, there is no holiness." Now this becomes very important because all of a sudden, we realize that all of the things we face in life that God intends to use to shape us in the image of Christ may or may not be used for that purpose, depending on our understanding of God's ways and God's Word and God's will as it's recorded in His Word. If we allow our minds to be renewed, to think properly about those circumstances, then it can shape and mold us, but it may not.

I was struck. As many of you know, John Piper has prostate cancer. He's written a letter about his cancer and about what's going on on his website. And I read that letter several weeks ago, and I really appreciated what he had to say, the way he handled the circumstance. But there was one particular section at the end of his letter in which he said how can you pray for me. And one of the prayer requests said this. It was: pray that I will receive the maximum sanctifying effect that God intends this circumstance to have in my life. You see, Piper was recognizing something very important, and that is that that circumstance was intended by God to sanctify, but that he can either encourage that process or absolutely discourage it by his response. And his response comes back to: is he thinking like God, is he thinking like what the Word records? So the Word is the primary means God uses, and no other means are effective without a proper understanding of the Word.

Now when we say the truth here, what are we talking about? And this is important as well. We are not talking about some wonderful secret teaching, some key truth that transports you from lower to higher the moment that you understand it. This is another trap that I fell into as a young Christian. Perhaps some of you have read so and so's Spiritual Secret. It's not that either. It's no spiritual secret. They're selling you a book, but they're selling you also a flawed view of sanctification. There is no secret; it's right here in the Word of God. The means God uses is the truth and it's not some hidden, secret truth. It's not, you know, sort of the Star Trek approach to sanctification. Beam me up, Scottie. It doesn't happen like that.

The truth is explained in the rest of the verse. John 17:17 says, "Sanctify them by means of the truth," and then Jesus, just to make sure we got it, says, "Your word is truth." What does he mean? Well obviously He means His own teaching; you see that in verse 14. But as we looked earlier, it means all of Scripture. Second Timothy 3:16, we're talking about all of Scripture. So truth and the Word means the whole truth, the entire teaching of Scripture. That is the means God uses. Listen, you don't need a book that gives you some secret. What you need is the truth of God contained in the Word of God in its entirety, as a whole, as you come to understand God, as you come to understand yourself, as you come to understand the process of sanctification, that is the truth that God uses to change you. There's no shortcut.

There's one other important point to make here, and that is that the truth or the Word of God is the means God uses, it is not the cause. You see, truth by itself has no more power to change your heart than light has to allow a blind person to see. The Bible is not a magic book. This is the mistake a lot of Christians make as well. They think okay, if I plan to spend a certain amount of time every morning just passing my eyes over the words on the page, allowing the Word of God to enter my mind. If I memorize Scripture, and there's nothing wrong with memorization, that's an important tool, but it doesn't stop there.

Scripture is not magic. You don't get holy by osmosis, by having it in your head. Some of the most biblically knowledgeable people I know are in prison. Some of the most biblically knowledgeable commentators who ever lived were liberals who rejected the truth and will spend eternity in hell. The truth is a means God uses; it is not the cause. It's a tool in the hand of God and unless God causes it to work, it won't produce holiness any more than light will cause a blind person to see. But this is the tool God uses.

The nature of sanctification is progressive growth in holiness. The objects of sanctification are every believer. The means of sanctification is the Word of God. But what's the "process"? What is the actual process of sanctification? What does it look like in your life and mine? How do you use the means of the Word of God? This is the key question we all want to know, isn't it? We know it's the Word, we know that's the tool God uses, but how does He use it, and how can I cooperate with God in the process?

Well it's not explained in John 17:17, but it is explained in Ephesians 4, and I want you to turn there with me in the time we have remaining. We'll see if we make our way through all of this this evening. We may have to come back next week. Ephesians 4, beginning in verse 17 through 5:1. Now let's look first at the context here. You'll notice in 4: 1, Paul is beginning the practical section of Ephesians. In the first three chapters, he's laid out this great plan of God in saving sinners and in the church. And he begins 4:1 with "Therefore [as a result of all you have learned about God's great plan] I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called."

He says look at what God has done in your life. He said, I want you to make sure that your habits of thinking and acting match the position that you have in Christ. You have an amazing calling. Walk in a manner, live daily in a manner, worthy of the calling with which you have been called.

Then he comes back to this issue in verse 17: "So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk." Here he says, don't live like the Gentiles, in other words, those who don't know God. In the rest of verse 17 down through verse 19, he describes the way that Gentiles or those that don't know God live, and more importantly why. Notice what he says. He says,

"I … affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer [that you don't live in a pattern or a lifestyle] [that] the Gentiles … walk, [and they do this] in the futility of their mind, [the emptiness of their minds], being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God [why?] because of the ignorance that is in them [they're ignorant of God, they're ignorant of His ways, but it's not God's fault. It's, their ignorance is] because of the hardness of their heart."

R.C. Sproul preached on Friday night about this reality from Romans 1 out at the Shepherd's Conference. He said listen, God has put Himself on display. No one has any excuses, and yet God is angry with the wickedness and ungodliness of men for what they do. What do they do? They suppress the truth, they hold it down. That's what he's saying here. It's because of their hard hearts that they're ignorant, it's not God's fault. God has shown them what they need to know. He's written His law on their hearts. He's put Himself on display in the creation, but because of their hard hearts, they're ignorant of God.

and they [verse 19], having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. [He says this is how Gentiles live, this is how they walk, which is a metaphor for the habits of life. These are the patterns of their lives. He says stop living like that.] Verse 20, But you did not learn Christ in this way. [Now when we come to verses 20 and 21, here Paul documents the change. That's what we used to be. Verses 17 through 19 describes the reality of our lives before Christ, but in verses 20 and 21, he says here's the change. You learned Christ,] you heard Him, and you were taught in Him. [All of those are references to salvation. So here's the pivot. This is what you used to be, verses 17 to 19. Verses 20 and 21, but you were saved. God gloriously saved you, He changed you,] you learned of Christ. You learned Christ, you heard Him, you've been taught in Him.

Now let's look at verses 21 to 24 because here's where we get to the heart of the passage and the process of biblical change, the actual process of true biblical change. Notice when you look at those verses that the phrase "just as the truth is in Jesus" is parenthetical. So what you have here, you have heard Him and have been taught in Him. That is then followed by three infinitives in the Greek text that summarize what exactly it is they've been taught. Here's what you've been taught in Christ. You've been taught, verse 22, to "lay aside"; there's the first Greek infinitive. You've been taught, verse 23, to "be renewed"; there's the second Greek infinitive. And verse 24, you've been taught to "put on". Now folks, there you go. That is an overview in those three expressions, in those three Greek infinitives translated in English as "lay aside, be renewed, and put on". You have summarized for us the process, the actual process by which God takes His Word, uses it by His Spirit in our hearts to change us. This is how it works. This is how it always works. No believer every makes process in spiritual growth without these three realities happening.

Think for a moment about specific sins in your life, sins that perhaps you have struggled with since you became a believer, and perhaps even before, probably before. How is it that you will be able to set those sins aside and pursue God in obedience? How is it that you will see real progress in putting to death those sins and growing in holiness in those areas? If it happens, it will happen just like this. You will "lay aside", you will "be renewed", and "you will put on". Those things must happen for us to make progress in any sense in our Christian lives and experience. Those are the steps of biblical change.

Now let's look at each of them individually. First of all, Paul says I want you to put off, to lay aside is the way the New American Standard puts it, to lay aside your old self. Now what exactly is the old self? Well it's defined for us back in Romans 6, and we need to turn back there. Romans 6:1. Now stay with me, this is crucial to understand. He's going to give us the big picture and then he's going to apply it. We probably won't get there till next week, but he's going to, he's going to flesh this out for us so you can see exactly what it looks like, but get the big picture first. He says I want you to put off or lay aside your old self.

Now chapter 6 of Romans, verse 1,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? [He's just talked about the wonderful reality of our justification. We've been declared righteous, and he says so does that mean we ought to just keep sinning so that grace can increase.] May it never be! How shall we who died to sin [this is true in the past, we died to sin, how can we]still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus [by the way there's no water in this verse, this is a dry verse. This baptism is the idea of being immersed into Christ; this happens at the moment of salvation]. … do you not know that all of us who have been immersed into Christ Jesus have been baptized [or immersed] into His death?" [Baptism is, by water is merely a picture of this reality, but this is speaking of the spiritual reality itself. He says listen, there is a way in which I can't fully explain to you that those of us who have come to faith in Christ, we in the mind of God literally died with Christ on that cross. We died, and in dying, we died to sin. We died to the old person that we were. Then he goes on to explain that.] Verse 4, Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. [You see how we are united to Christ in that event that happened two thousand years ago? In His death, we died. In his burial, we were buried. And in His resurrection, we were raised to walk in new life.] Verse 5, For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this [here we get to the crux of the matter, verse 6, knowing this], that our old self was crucified with … [Christ], in order that our body of sin might be done away with (made powerless), so that we would no longer be slaves to sin."

Now what's he saying here? He's saying that on the cross, the old person that you used to be died with Christ and you have been raised in new life. You are a new creature in Christ. You are a new man, you are a new woman, created after the image of God in Christ. You're not the person that you used to be, we looked at regeneration in detail. You're not the person that you used to be. Your old self, that person that you used to be before Christ, that person died.

Now go back to Ephesians. In Ephesians 4, Paul then with that knowledge gives us a little more input here. He says, verse 22, "… in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self [the person you used to be], which is being corrupted in according with the lusts of deceit." [Now what's the point here?] Lay aside is the image of removing clothes. It's used that way in Acts 7:58 of Saul, later to be called Paul, who laid his coat, or they rather, those who were stoning Stephen, laid their coats at the feet of Saul. They laid them aside. Lay aside your old self.

Now what's Paul's point? He's calling us to do something and here's what he's saying. Your old self, the person that you used to be, is dead. So take off the clothes that belong to that old person. Lay aside all that remains of the old life: its thinking, its desires, its self-will, its sinful habits of thinking and acting, lay those aside. This is where the process of sanctification begins. You and I have to understand what those habits of thinking and those desires and those habits of acting are that are contrary to the will and purposes of God, those habits of thinking and acting that are associated with the person we used to be before God saved us. And we have to put them aside, lay them aside, just as we would a piece of clothing.

But there's a second step to biblical change. This in and of itself will never change you into the image of Jesus Christ. We have to put off, but secondly, we have to be renewed. Notice verse 23, "and [here's our second Greek infinitive] that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind." [He says when Christ came, you were taught to put off and you were taught to be renewed. What does this mean? Well literally it says in the Greek text "go on being renewed"; it is a continuous process. He says put off and go on being renewed.

Now notice also that "be renewed" is passive. It is something the Holy Spirit does to us. Lay aside and put on are our actions. The Holy Spirit doesn't lay aside. The Holy Spirit doesn't put on, we do. But be renewed is passive, it's something the Holy Spirit does to us. And yet it's a command. Paul says to us be renewed. What does that mean? If I'm passive, how can I hear the command and do anything about it? Here's the implication. God does the renewing. God the Holy Spirit does the renewing, but you and I can either hinder that renewing, or we can promote and encourage it. Be renewed, he says. Let the Holy Spirit do His work. Don't hinder the work the Holy Spirit wants to do in your heart and mind. Be renewed.

Now what is this renewal? Well this renewal produces in us a total transformation. Look at Romans 12, Romans 12:2. Paul writes: "… do not be conformed to this world [literally don't allow the mindset of our age to push you into its mold], but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Be, the Greek word is the word from which we get the word "metamorphosis", what happens to that little bug that becomes a beautiful butterfly. Be metamorphosized by the renewing of your mind.

But when we're renewed or transformed, in what sense are we renewed or transformed? Well, the renewal is explained for us a little more over in Colossians. Look at Colossians 3, which is a parallel passage to our Ephesians passage. Colossians 3:8. Be renewed. What do we mean, be renewed? Verse 8,

But now you also, put them all aside: anger, malice, wrath, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and you have put on the new self (watch this) who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him…. [So, what is this renewal? Well first of all, he says we're renewed to a true knowledge, that is, to a deep and thorough knowledge of God and what He wants from me. And we're renewed, verse 10 says, according to the image of … [God]; in other words, Christ's likeness. [So, this renewal is not merely calling for some outward change of our actions and our habits, but inward change. And if we're changed inside, if we're truly renewed into the image of God, into a thorough knowledge of God and His will, then our outward actions will follow.]

Hodge in his Systematic Theology says this: "Sanctification in its essential nature is not holy acts (we talked about that before; sanctification isn't doing the right things), but such a change in the state of the soul that sinful acts become more infrequent and holy acts more and more habitual and controlling." This is the renewal we're talking about. God does something in your soul. He changes you at the most basic level so that sinful acts do become more infrequent and holy acts more and more habitual and controlling.

But it's not just about your actions. Being renewed is something that's inward, something that happens in your heart, something that happens at the most central core level of desires and thoughts, affections. It's a total transformation, but how does this renewal take place? How exactly are we renewed? God says through Paul, "be renewed." Okay, how?

Well, there are two ways. First of all, through the Word. First Peter 1, turn with me there, 1 Peter 1:22. "Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart." [Since you have in obedience to the truth purify your soul, purified your souls – this renewal, this deep level change happens through the Word of God and through obedience to that Word.]

Second Peter makes this same point. Second Peter 1"3, "… His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness [how do we get those things, those resources that have been granted to us?], through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence."

Well how do we get a true knowledge of Him? Verse 4, "For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises," Where do we have His promises? In His Word, so we're back to the Word of God. "so that by these [recorded and revealed promises] you may become partakers of the divine nature…." It's back to the Word of God. The renewal at the most basic level of our being takes place through the Word of God. The renewed mind is one saturated with and controlled by the Word of God, Colossians 3:16.

But it also happens by the Holy Spirit. We saw that in Colossians 3. The Holy Spirit renews our mind, listen carefully, the Holy Spirit renews our mind through consistent studying and reading and meditating on Scripture. This renewing of the mind, by the way, is the hinge on which our sanctification swings because putting off and putting on without this work of the Spirit called renewing is merely a change in our external behavior. It's the same kind of self-reformation that unbelievers do all the time.

Let me say that again. If all I do is put off certain behaviors that were associated with the person I used to be, and if I all do over here then is put on some new behavior that's associated with Christians, but I am not renewed in my mind, I'm not changed at my deepest level of thinking by the Word of God, then I have merely done self-reformation, the same thing unbelievers do. This is why Christ prays, "Sanctify them through the truth" because it's that truth, it's the Word of God that the Holy Spirit uses to renew my mind, to change my thinking, to take my distorted thinking about myself and about my behavior and about my attitudes and about my desires, and to show me what God prizes in desires and attitudes and thoughts.

And finally, the final step. We're not only to put off or lay aside and be renewed, but we're to put on the new self, and we'll talk about that next time. Now folks, I hate to stop here, and I'll tell you why, because you're sitting there thinking what does he mean? And Paul understood that because next week we're going to get to the practical application. We're going to get to, okay, give me an example, give me an illustration. What does this look like? And we're going to get very, very practical next week. So this is important. Paul thought it was important. The Holy Spirit thought it was important. This, can I say tonight, is part of the work of the Holy Spirit in renewing your thinking. And if you will grasp these truths, if you'll stay with this, if you'll come back next week, if you'll ponder this and meditate on it, it'll be part of what, the truth that the Holy Spirit will use to put you solidly on the path of sanctification.

Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for Your truth, thank You for this time tonight. Lord, these truths are so foundational. I pray that Your Spirit would do what I cannot do, and that is illumine the understanding of your people. Lord, help them to grasp, help them to see these deep and rich truths. Help them to give thought to it this week, to meditate on it, to cry out for Your Spirit to open their understanding.

Help us next week, Father, as we look at the very practical illustrations of what this looks like in real life with real sins that we all struggle with.

Father, I pray that You would use Your Word, that You would use Your truth to change us. As we lay aside those things that are associated with what we used to be, with the old self that died with Christ on the cross, as we're renewed in our thinking by the Word of God, and as we then put on new habits and new attitudes and new actions.

Father, do what we can never do. As we struggle to obey, change us, not merely in our external behavior, but at the deepest level of our hearts.

We pray it in the name of Christ and for His glory. Amen.