Sanctification: The Process of True Biblical Change - Part 4

Selected Scriptures

Tom Pennington  •  March 12, 2006
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Tonight, we come for the last time to the subject of sanctification, our practical growth in holiness, or the process of true biblical change. When my father-in-law was dying of cancer, there were a lot of well-meaning Christians and others in California, the land popularly known as the land of fruits, nuts, and flakes. And there were lots of people who came up with solutions. Now remember, he has terminal cancer and some of the solutions were interesting. Others of them were downright ridiculous. Our personal favorite, my wife was reminding me recently, was the person who suggested that what my father-in-law should do was simply visualize his good cells eating up the bad cells, a lot like a Pac-man game. And that if he would just do that, that that would solve his problem and that his body would defeat the cancer that was raging through it.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of Christians who approach the issue of sanctification very similarly. They try to deal with the sin within through a number of homemade, and, in some cases, ridiculous remedies. We all have been influenced in our Christian life and experience with some of those homemade remedies. And they're not helpful, they're downright dangerous. And they distract us from the true process of biblical change. So, it's been important for us to sort of understand what sanctification is not, and we spent a lot of time on that, and then build a biblical understanding of this great doctrine.

We were taking John 17:17 as kind of our outline for the doctrine of sanctification where it says, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." First of all, looking at what does Christ mean by sanctify them. Sanctification, we learned, is nothing other than the work of God's free grace by which His Spirit continually 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.

I gave you a picture from Wayne House's Charts of Christian Theology which pictures the biblical model. We looked in depth at what the Bible teaches about sanctification in terms of how it happens and what it is. And we learned that it looks a lot like this graph. Beginning at the moment of salvation, we begin a process of upward growth. It's not uniform, there are periods of decline, there are periods of sin and difficulty and trouble, but generally the pattern is upward. There is a decreasing pattern of sin in our lives and an increasing pattern of righteousness.

Jesus says, "Sanctify them." This is what He's describing. Father, make this process happen. For whom? Who are the objects of Biblical change? Well Jesus says them. We learned that He was speaking of His disciples, but He wasn't just speaking of His disciples. He was speaking of all of us because later in that great High Priestly Prayer, He says I'm not just praying for these eleven, but I'm praying for those who will believe through their word, which is us. So, all of us are the objects of God's change, of that sanctifying process that He was praying would be accomplished.

Now how exactly does it happen? John 17:17 goes on to say, "Sanctify them (that is, all of us) in the truth," in the truth. "In" can also be translated "through" or "by means of" as it is in several other passages in the New Testament. And the point here is that God uses "means". We looked at some very common, unbiblical views of the means God uses, or the denial of means.

And we looked at this chart at length. Now remember that the third row, the Reformed perspective, is the one that we've learned from the Scripture is the biblical perspective. These other three are aberrations. The Wesleyan perfectionism sees a believer living for many years non-sanctified after his first work of grace. And then he reaches a point of total surrender. In a moment of crisis, he's catapulted to a state of Christian perfection.

Similarly, the Keswick teaching is that a Christian is made at the, at the point of conversion, he accepts Christ, and then he lives for a period of time as a defeated Christian until he learns the basic secret principle of "let go and let God". And then he is catapulted to a new level: the victorious life, not perfectionism, but a new level of victory in which he lives above his sin. Not perfectly, but generally.

And then the last row you see is the Chaferian perspective, championed by Lewis Sperry Chafer, Charles Ryrie, and John Walvoord, which says similarly that there is a period of time that goes by after a person accepts Jesus as Savior in which he's a carnal man. And then at some point in the future, in some cases a few days, in some cases a lifetime, in fact some of them would say you could live your whole lifetime and this never would happen, you accept Christ as Lord and then you begin the process of spiritual growth.

But those are not the biblical pattern. Instead, instead of a moment of crisis, instead of a prayer you pray, instead of this, this spiritual event that brings you holiness, the Bible teaches it is a slow, gradual process very much like physical growth. And we looked at that at length.

I love the quote, and I'll share it with you again, of J.C. Ryle in his book Holiness. He says,

"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." [In other words, they're waiting for God to zap them with something.] "Growth in grace," [he says,] "is bound up in the use of means within the reach of every believer, and as a general rule, growing souls are what they are because they use these means." [There's not some great deep spiritual secret. He says,] "Sanctify them by means of the truth."

We find this in several passages, and he's not talking here about some wonderful secret teaching or some Christian secret of some famous Christian. "Your word is truth," He says, speaking of course of His own teaching as well as all of Scripture. So, when we say that we're to be sanctified by means of the truth or the word, we're talking about the whole truth, the entire teaching of Scripture. This is the means God uses; it's not the cause, it's the means. Unless the Spirit energizes that word, it's not going to produce change any more than light produces sight to a blind person. There has to be a cause, and that's the Holy Spirit.

Now that brought us to where we were last time, and that's to look at the actual process. So how does this flesh out in the life? And this is where I really want us to spend our time tonight. Turn with me to Ephesians 4 again, and let's practically see how this works out in our lives. Now in Ephesians 4, beginning in verse 1, we're introduced to the fact that our habits of thinking and acting should match our position. He's laid out our position in Christ in the first three chapters, and beginning in chapter 4:1, he says now I want you to walk, or I want your daily habits of living, to be "worthy of the calling with which you have been called." In other words, I want you to act like a Christian. I want you to live like one who's been redeemed.

Then he goes, and he comes back to this theme in verse 17 after a little bit of a parentheses. He says listen, we shouldn't live like those who don't know God. That's how we used to live. And then in verses 17 to 19, he describes the way unbelievers live, the way we lived before we came to Christ, the way unbelievers live now. And more importantly, he explains why, and we went through that in some detail last time so I won't do that again.

After explaining how unbelievers live, he says but that isn't true of you. In verses 20 and 21, he documents that a genuine change has happened in the lives of these Ephesians. He says you have learned Christ, you have heard Him, you have been taught in Him. All of those are references to salvation. He said you used to be this, verses 17 to 19, but verses 20 to 21, you are now something entirely different. You have been saved, you have been changed. You have learned Christ.

Now, that brings us to verses 21 to 24. Just as the truth is in Jesus, you notice that phrase, it's a parentheses, so here's what he says. You have heard him, you have been taught in Him, and then he follows that with three Greek infinitives that summarize what it is they have been taught now that they have been saved, now that they're in Christ. He says you have been taught, verse 22, "to lay aside." You have been taught, verse 23, "to be renewed in the spirit of your minds." And verse 24, you have been taught "to put on." That in a nutshell is the process of sanctification. This is how it happens. Put off or lay aside, be renewed, and put on.

Now, he goes on to develop that and to explain what it means. Let's look at it together. Here are the steps. First of all, put off. He says I want you to put off. What are we to put off? And we looked at this in detail last time, our old self - that is, the person we used to be before we came to Christ. That person died with Christ. We're now a new creation, and what he's saying is because of that reality, I want you to lay aside. It's the image of removing clothes. As I mentioned last time, it's used of those who removed their coats and laid them at the feet of Saul as they stoned Stephen. Paul's point is this. Your old self, the person you used to be, is dead. So, take off its clothes. Stop acting like that old person. You're not that person anymore.

In other words, lay aside all that remains of the old life: its thinking, its desires, its self-will, its sinful habits of thinking and acting. Put it off. Lay it aside. Lay aside all those things that are a part of who you used to be, all those sinful attitudes and actions and words that are who you used to be. You know what that's like, you remember. You remember the kind of person you used to be. You remember what you used to say, how you used to act toward people. You remember what you used to think inside before Christ saved you. And Paul is saying you have been taught in Christ to put those things off, to lay them aside as you would a garment. Stop it!

Now there's a second part of this biblical change. Not only are we to put off, but we're to be renewed, which is a fascinating way to say it. There are several things I observed last time about this infinitive, "to be renewed". First of all, it's "continuous". It's in the present tense. "Be being renewed" would be an accurate translation. Be being renewed. So, it's to be ongoing in our lives. It's not something that happens once; it's something that continues.

Not only that, it's "passive". He doesn't say renew yourself, renew your mind. He says be renewed. It's passive. That means it's something that the Holy Spirit does to us. We don't renew ourselves. The Spirit renews us. And yet it is a command. Implied in this is that God does the renewing, but you and I can either hinder that renewing or encourage it. Be renewed. Don't get in the way of the work the Spirit wants to do in your life. Encourage it, do those things that cultivate that work.

Now what is this renewal? This renewal, this middle infinitive here between put off and put on, is absolutely crucial. And so, I spent just a little bit of time on it last time. Let me remind you, we turned to Colossians 3. And here we learn in a parallel passage that we are to be renewed to a true knowledge, that is, to a deep and thorough knowledge of God and what He wants from us, according to the image of God; in other words, Christ's likeness. He says I want you to be renewed, and I want this to be an inward change, and of course in Ephesians 4 he says in the spirit of your minds or in the grid of your mind, in the way you think at its deepest level. Be renewed! Let the Holy Spirit change your thinking at the deepest level. Charles Hodge writes,

"Sanctification in its essential nature is not holy acts, 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."

The key phrase there is it is a change in the state of the soul. Be renewed.

You say how can I participate in that? How in the world can I be involved in encouraging the work of the Spirit in renewing me? Well it happens through the Word. We looked at that last time. It happens through the Word and by the Holy Spirit using that Word in our lives. Folks, the renewing of the mind is the hinge on which sanctification swings. Listen carefully to this. If all you do, we're going to get very practical tonight in terms of how this looks and what this looks like with individual sins, but if all you do is put off the habits and attitudes that are a part of your old life, and all you do then is come over and put on or begin to try to practice some new attitudes and some new actions, you are doing nothing more than unregenerate people do when they try to reform their persons and their characters.

The key is that hinge in between; between put off and put on is be renewed, because that is the place in which sanctification, true biblical change, differs from self-reformation. Unbelievers can put off certain behaviors and put on certain other behaviors. You read about it all the time, but true biblical change happens only when the mind, when the thinking, when the grid through which you look at the world is changed. And that's what the Spirit does through the Word. Now that catches us up to where we left off last time.

The Holy Spirit, listen carefully, the Holy Spirit renews our minds through our consistent reading, study, and meditation on the Scripture. And this renewing of the mind is absolutely crucial.

Now, let's go to the third ingredient. Not only are we to put off - or the third step I should say - not only are we to put off, not only are we to be renewed, but we are to put on those things in keeping with the new self. Look at Ephesians 4:24. After he says be renewed, he says "and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth." Now we're already a new person. At the moment of salvation, you were made new. You're a new person, a new creature in Christ. So, what does it mean to put on the new self?

Again, it's the opposite of lay aside who you used to be. He's saying put on the clothes or put on the attitudes and the words and the actions that match the new person that you are. Put it on. Think and act in a way in keeping with your new self. Or simply put, start acting like Christ. This happens when we simply respond in obedience to Scripture. To put on merely means to say I realize that what I have been doing is wrong, that the Scripture teaches me otherwise, and I need to start pursuing this attitude. That's what it means to put on. It simply means to pursue obedience.

Let's say that you struggle with craving things you don't have. You come to a point when you understand from the Scripture that what you're doing in craving that which you don't have is sinful. You understand that instead you ought to be content with what God has given you. And you begin to practice or pursue putting on that attitude of contentment, forcing your mind to think of God's provision for you, forcing your mind to reckon with the reality that God has given you everything you need. That's what it means to put on the new self.

Lloyd-Jones puts it very practically. In a little book that I think is still available and I highly recommend to you, it's a book on the High Priestly Prayer of Christ in John 17, this particular one is called Sanctified Through the Truth. And he writes this:

The whole manner of putting on the new man is, in essence, the application of truth to ourselves. It is the most important thing that one can ever discover in the Christian life. [Let me just stop there and say he's absolutely right. When you understand this principle, it will revolutionize your life.] To put on the new man is simply to apply the truth to yourself. We must talk to ourselves, we must preach to ourselves and we must take truth and apply it to ourselves and keep on doing so. – [The doctor, as he was affectionately called, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, was very practical on this front. Some of the most profound advice that I ever read of his was this:] "The problem with most Christians is they spend far too much time listening to themselves and not nearly enough time talking to themselves."

It's true. We listen to ourselves. We listen to our own way of thinking, our own mindset, our own ideas about how things ought to be rather than taking the Word of God and talking to ourselves and saying no, self, that's wrong. That's not how I should think in this situation. That is how I want to react, sinfully and in a fleshly way, but that's absolutely contrary to the will of God. Here is how I should respond.

Do you ever do that? If you never do that, I can tell you this. You struggle seriously with holiness and with sanctification because this is the only way it happens. Lloyd-Jones is absolutely right. If you can grasp this simple truth tonight, it will revolutionize your life. If you will stop listening to yourself and start taking the Word of God when you catch yourself in a pattern of sin and say that's wrong, here's what God says. Preach to yourself. Say that I'm not going to respond that way. God, help me to obey Your Word. I have no right to be angry. It's sin. Talk to yourself. It's absolutely revolutionary. And as he says there at the end, you take the truth, you apply it to yourself, and you just keep on doing so. This is what it means to put on the new self.

Now, let's move on to take a look at how this fleshes out in life. In verses 21 to 24 we just looked at, Paul summarizes the process of change. And change comes with those three actions – "lay aside", "be renewed", and "put on". Lay aside, be renewed and put on. Lay aside, be renewed and put on. As we continue to do that, we grow in holiness. You say well that's great. That sounds great in theory. What does that look like? Well the Scripture's always imminently practical. And after it lays down the theology, it often gives us the very practical outworking of this. And in verses 25 down through verse 32, we have an illustration of exactly, a number of illustrations of exactly what this looks like in real life.

Notice verse 25, Paul's first example is lying. Verse 25 begins, "Therefore". This is a hinge on which this text turns. He's just laid down the very deep theological truths that we've looked at. The fact that our old person died with Christ on the cross, that we've been raised to a new life, that we're to be renewed in our thinking by, in taking of the Word of God and allowing the Spirit to change our minds about life and about ourselves and about God, and then we're to put on new actions and new attitudes and new ways of speaking. And now in verse 25, he says, "Therefore."

Let me show you what that looks like. "Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another." First of all, notice he speaks about laying aside. He says I want you, and he uses the same expression actually, I want you to lay aside falsehood. Falsehood is a word that's all encompassing. Now remember, this is just an illustration. You have to think as we go through this about your own particular sins. Maybe lying is one of them; maybe it's not, but think of yourself. Here's the illustration. Lay aside all falsehood. Understand that that has no place in the life of a Christian.

Then he says, "be renewed." Let the Bible speak. The Bible has much to say about our words, absolutely filled with information of God's mindset about our words and what they ought to be. So, be renewed in your thinking, let the Word of God inform your thinking about your speech, and particularly lying or all forms of sinful deception.

Then he says "put on," "speak the truth each one with his neighbor." Now this is a crucial part of sanctification, this "put on," because listen carefully. A liar who is not at this moment lying is still (what?) a liar. So simply to stop doing something isn't change. There are lots of liars who go through periods of time without lying, but that doesn't mean they are radically changed. It just means that, for the time being, the person isn't lying.

So, that raises the question of how can we ever truly be changed and know that we've changed. Well Jay Adams gives us some very practical help here. Some of you have read some of his works. Jay Adams asks a question that we used to ask each other as children, and that is, "When is a door not a door? When it's ajar." Now, what's his point? His point is that a liar only stops being a liar when he becomes something else. Let me say that again. A liar only stops being a liar when he becomes something else. And what is that something else? When he becomes known for telling the truth, even at great personal cost, he's no longer a liar, when he becomes something radically different. The principle here folks is one of replacement.

I often use the illustration in counseling of asking the person, and I want you to do this, we'll do some group counseling here tonight, I want you for a moment to draw the number "8" in your mind. Just draw the simple number "8". I want you to picture it. Picture it in whatever color you want to picture it. Picture it with whatever background you want, but get the number "8" in your mind. Everyone have the number "8"? Alright, now I want you all to stop thinking about "8". Whatever you do, don't think about the number "8". Get that number "8" that you drew out of your mind. Don't think about "8".

You see that you can't do it that way. This is how a lot of Christians try to accomplish their sanctification. They just try to put off, just try to stop. They live in a vacuum. They're trying not to think about "8" all the time they're thinking about "8", or whatever it is their particular sin is. Then I'll say alright, you want to stop picturing "8"? Think about the number "2". Draw the number "2" in your mind. Get that "2" there in your mind, and now all of a sudden what happened? You're not thinking about "8" anymore. It's the principle of replacement.

And that's a basic illustration of the process of sanctification. The only way to put off the vices of the old life is to get the Word of God, let the Holy Spirit renew your thinking, and then help you identify the virtues that you should put on. Here's the key point. Every vice, listen carefully, every vice, every sin that you struggle with has a corresponding virtue. And if you want to put off the vice, you must identify that virtue, and you must put it on. If all you try to do is stop thinking about lying or fear or anxiety or lust or whatever it is that is the sin that is your propensity, if all you try to do is put that off and stop doing that, you will find the same struggle that you did forgetting the number "8" when I kept repeating it. The only way to deal with sin is to replace the vice with its opposite virtue. You must identify what the opposite virtue is, and then you must replace that vice with that opposite virtue.

Now, let's move down to another example, look at verse 28. Here he uses stealing. Again, this may or may not be your propensity. In our day, it's, sometimes it's overt shoplifting among people who really don't need to, just for the thrill of it, down to taking things from the office that don't belong to you. I mean it takes a lot of different forms, but perhaps it is or perhaps it isn't your problem, but notice how Paul instructs us here. Verse 28, "He who steals must [stop stealing] steal no longer." There's lay it aside, stop stealing.

And then understood here, you are to be renewed in your thinking. Remember he's illustrating the process that he's just laid out. How can we be renewed in our thinking about stealing? Well, we can learn that the Scripture says God sovereignly distributes property to whomever He wishes. We can learn that He expects me to care for my own property as well as that of others. We can learn from Scripture that my resources are to be given to the church, they're to be used to support my family, they're to be saved for the future, and they're to be given to others in need. And when I come to understand this, my mind, by the Holy Spirit, is renewed. I come to a fresh understanding about property and about what God expects of property, mine and others. My mind is renewed. I'm thinking now like God thinks and not like a sinful man thinks.

But again, a thief not stealing is still a thief. He must put on the positive virtue to become something else. So, notice what he must put on. Look at verse 28, "He who steals must steal no longer [there's putting off]; but rather he must labor [he needs to get a job, he needs to work], performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he will have something to share with him who has a need." When is a thief not a thief? When instead of taking from others, he works hard so that he can give to others and be generous with others. You see, there's the opposite virtue. The opposite of stealing is working hard to give to others. This is how you deal with sin. This is how we're all supposed to deal with it.

Now maybe your sinful propensities aren't lying and stealing, but the process is always the same. Let me give it to you very simply. This is a very practical way that these three infinitives work out in life.

Number one, identify the vices that you know need to be put off. If I ask you, if I gave you a piece of paper tonight, and I said we can't deal with all the sins in our lives at once, but let's start with the big three. You could make a list pretty quickly of the three sins, the three propensities that are the most damaging to your life, to your relationships, to your relationship to God. Start with a simple list. Identify those vices, make a list. And let me encourage you, use biblical language. It's not frustration; it's anger. It's not that you have a tendency to shade the truth; you have a habit of lying. Understand what the Scripture calls it and call it the same thing. Make a list of those vices, those sins that are your own propensities. Use biblical language, and don't just deal with the obvious external acts of sin, like lying for example.

Also, work to identify what sin in your heart drives you to that external sin. There's always sin in the heart that expresses itself in actions. So many Christians spend their time lopping the branches off the tree instead of digging out the root. You know, they see fruit in their lives they don't want and they keep plucking the fruit, and the tree keeps growing it as fast as they can pull it off. Yes, deal with your lying if that's your struggle, but then ask God to help you search through the Scriptures and see why it is that people lie. What are the reasons? I've talked to you about this before. Why did Abraham lie? Why did he say, like we saw this morning, that Sarah was his sister? Out of fear. He was afraid, he was afraid for himself. Fear of man was the sin in Abraham's heart that caused him to lie. Why did the other person we looked at this morning who lied, Ananias, why did he lie? He lied for pride. He wanted to look good.

So, if you're going to deal with the outward expression of sin, lying, you also need to deal with the heart attitude that feeds that external sin, the root if you will. So, in the case of lying, let's say, you might have to deal with lying on your list, and you might also have to deal with fear or you might have to deal with pride. The same thing is true with every other external sin. Don't just lop off the branches. Don't just pluck off the fruit. Dig out the root. What is it in your heart that's expressing itself in that external sin? What is the idol of your heart?

Secondly, not only do you have to identify the vices you know you need to put off, but secondly you have to identify the opposite biblical virtue. For example, with lying, we've already seen it's truth telling. It's being known as a person who always tells the truth. With stealing, the opposite of that is generosity, working with your hands to help others. With craving, let's take lust for example, sexual lust, what's the opposite virtue that that's to be replaced with? I think really two biblically. One of them is "thankfulness", thankful to God for the gifts God has given you as well as "contentment". Contentment, understanding God in His sovereign purposes has given you what He's, if you're married for example and you still struggle with lust, being grateful for the joys of married love and rejoicing in God's goodness to you in that and the goodness in giving you your wife. Every time you're tempted to run off in that channel of lust, turn it instead to praise and thanksgiving to God for what He has given you. You see what I'm saying is: in every case, we have to identify the opposite biblical virtue.

Thirdly, not only identify the vices and identify the opposite biblical virtue, but we must thoroughly study what Scripture says both about the vice and its opposite virtue, and then meditate on what you find. Now why is this important? Because this is the process in which renewing of your mind takes place. As you understand what God says about the sin that is capturing your heart, and as you understand what God says about the opposite virtue that you ought to put on, the Holy Spirit does what you could never do. He begins to change the spirit of your mind, to renew the spirit of your mind, where instead of thinking like a sinful human being, you begin to think like God, your Creator. He renews your mind as you meditate on what Scripture says about these things. Changes how you think.

Number four, do your homework. We have to exercise maximum capacity. Now some of you, you students are on Spring Break, and you're just wincing when I throw this up here. I thought I had a week without this. I'm talking about a different kind of homework. Do your homework. In other words, understand all of the factors that play into your temptation and your propensities. For example, keep a journal. Keep a journal for several weeks detailing when you sin in those areas. Detail the incidents. I often encourage people to do this even in counseling. Keep a journal. Understand yourself better. Often times, one of the keys to dealing with our sin is understanding what's really going on.

Paul David Tripp, in his excellent book that we're going to be using quite a bit this fall here in our church and I encourage you to read it, it's called Instruments in the Redeemer's Hand, He encourages us in our journals of the sins we struggle with to answer five questions about every incident that occurs. Let's say you struggle with anger, outbursts of anger. Every time over the next several weeks you have an outburst of anger, keep a journal and answer these questions.

What happened? What exactly happened?

Secondly, what did you feel during that time? And that's important, I'll share that with you in a moment.

What were you thinking during that event?

Fourthly, what did you want? Why is it that you sinned? What was it you wanted? What was your desire for?

And fifthly, what did you do?

Now, as you analyze that journal, you're looking for unbiblical goals, unbiblical feeling, unbiblical thinking and unbiblical acting. You're trying to see trends in your thinking, trends in your behavior, trends in your emotions that are contrary to the revealed will and purpose of God. You're coming to an understanding of your own heart as much as we can, humanly speaking. Do your homework.

And number five, then create a plan to put off and put on. Expend the effort, and as you expend the effort, God changes you. Create a plan. For example, I've talked to some people who struggle with laziness. They really struggle with getting to work on time, etc. because they sleep in. They just stay in bed until, until it's too late to make it to work on time. Now that's a pretty simple issue, but it does show a character flaw. It shows a sin, the sin of laziness, the sin of lacking in self-control. So how do you deal with that? This is a very practical one, how do you deal with that? I tell them, look. This is really simple. Create a plan. Put your alarm clock across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off.

Create a plan to deal with your sin. If you struggle with, with watching things you shouldn't watch, put the television where everybody else sees it, or if you're tempted to do it when everyone else is gone, get rid of your cable. Create a plan to deal with your sin, to put off those old behaviors and to put on something else, to put on the opposite virtue. God's not going to zap you. He expects you, as we've learned, to expend the effort, and here's the amazing thing. As you and I expend the effort to try to obey God, He does what we could never do. He changes us at the deepest level of our hearts.

God sanctifies us by means of the truth, that is, the Word of God. How does He do that? Well it identifies and convicts us of our sin. The Spirit uses that to renew our minds, to teach us about the virtues that should replace our sinful habits. Listen to Lloyd-Jones again:

What happens in sanctification is that God takes His truth, this Word of His, and by the Holy Spirit opens our understanding of it, enables us to apprehend it; so that after we have received the truth and apprehended it, we then proceed to apply it to ourselves, and the whole time God is enabling us to do that.

There's no mystery here, folks. Don't wait for the zap. Don't wait for the magic prayer. Don't wait for the spiritual secret. It requires work and effort on your part, and then God enables that work, enables that effort and changes you as a result.

Now one final question we need to ask, and that is what does God do, and what am I responsible to do? Well the biblical data teaches the following order about the process of sanctification. First of all, God acts. At the moment of regeneration, He gives us a new nature. And then, God unites us to Christ in His death and resurrection, that is, we die with Christ. It's as if we died with Him on the cross, and we're united with Him in His burial, and we're united with Him in new life as we saw in Romans 6. Then God frees us from sin's dominion in that process we talked about of definitive sanctification, the moment of salvation; we are set apart, we are freed from sin's dominion, from its rule. And then God creates in us, 1 Peter 2:2, a desire for the truth. God does all of that before we do anything.

But then we are responsible to respond to that desire for the truth that God has placed within our hearts and to read and to study and to meditate on the Word of God. And as we do that, God the Spirit again does what we can't do. He illumines our mind. The word "illumine", don't be scared of. It means "to turn the light on". God allows us by the Spirit to truly understand His truth in a life-changing way as we study and read and meditate and pray for the illumination of the Spirit of God. Then after God illumines our minds, God the Spirit, we are to respond to that truth that we now understand in repentance, if there are things we need to repent of, and in faith, if there are things we need to believe.

And then finally, we seek to obey that truth by applying the truth, planning and disciplining ourselves to change as we've talked about tonight. This is the process of sanctification. And as we do those things, God changes us. He changes our minds, He changes our desires, He changes our wills and all the resulting behavior. We expend the effort and God by His grace sanctifies. Now remember folks. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It's a process of growth. You will never go to bed a spiritual child and wake up a spiritual father, doesn't happen.

There are two lessons in this. First of all, be content with your progress, but never be satisfied. Be content with your progress, God has brought you where He's brought you, but never be satisfied, in the sense of not wanting to pursue holiness even more.

And there's another lesson here, for those of us who are maybe a little mature in the faith, and that is be patient with others. We would never be upset with a physical child for not being mature enough to act like an adult. It's a child. Of course, he's going to act like a child. The same is true in the spiritual world. Give people room to grow. I'm not talking about excusing people's sin. I'm talking about understanding that they're a spiritual infant, they're a spiritual child, and they need to grow and mature. Help direct them, just as we do our own children. Help shoot them toward the God that they love. Be patient though. Be patient with people.

I've shared with you before that over lunch one time I asked my dear friend and mentor John Macarthur what he felt was the greatest mistake spiritual leaders make. And I didn't know exactly what to expect as an answer, but he didn't even hesitate. He didn't know I was going to ask the question. He didn't even pause to respond. He said oh, that's easy. He said, "Being impatient with people." He said the disciples spent twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for three and a half years with Jesus Christ, and on the night before His crucifixion, they were arguing about who was the greatest. What makes me think that I can preach a sermon and expect everybody to roll over and say I'm changed, I'm a new person? And neither can you. Give people room to grow. Be patient with people.

Now, what do we need to do this week? Here's some just practical steps of what you need to do in response to this message and this series this week. First of all, you need to meditate on and come to a point where you truly believe that your old self died with Christ and that you have been freed from sin's dominion and you are no longer its slave. Read Romans 6 again, Paul makes this so clear. You don't have to be a slave to your sin. You're not the person you used to be. Believe God the Holy Spirit. Your old self died with Christ. You are now raised in new life. You can obey God. You can live a life of increasing obedience to Him.

Number two. Discipline yourself this week for regular, systematic, thorough reading, study, and meditation of the Scripture. Set your desire on the Scripture. I hope if you've learned nothing else through this series, you've learned that you will never become holy, you will never spiritually grow, apart from the Word of God. That is the means the Spirit uses.

As I shared you with several weeks ago, R.L. Dabney in his Systematic Theology says: "The Word is the means in all other means." Can God use events and circumstances of your life? Can He use trials to make you holy? Yes, but never apart from the Word. It's always through understanding the Word. So, commit yourself to intake of the Scripture. Your growth in holiness depends on it. You will not, let me promise you this, you will not grow in spiritual holiness apart from the Word of God – not going to happen. "Sanctify them by means of the truth; Your word is truth." Immerse yourself in the Scriptures.

Number three. As you do that, pray for divine illumination - those verses I put up earlier. It's not enough for us with our feeble human minds to read and meditate on the Scriptures if the Holy Spirit doesn't turn on the light, if He doesn't really allow us to grasp it. You know how you should pray? The old catechisms say this when talking about Christ as our Prophet, that we should say to Christ, "I am ignorant and in need of a teacher." Is that how you start your Bible study? It's how you should. "I am ignorant and in need of a teacher. Open my mind to see wonderful things out of Your Law."

Number four. Respond to what you learn in the Word in repentance and faith. The Westminster Catechism says: "Our faith acts differently to that which every specific passage contains, (in other words, your faith responds differently depending on what's in the passage), yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the warnings, embracing the promises of God for this life and the life to come." But embrace the Scripture in faith and, as necessary, repentance.

Number five. Very practically, sit down sometime this week and make a list of those sins that are the most debilitating to you in your Christian life and experience. If you don't know, ask somebody that lives with you. They'll know. Determine what it is you need to put off, those sinful habits of thinking and acting, and then what corresponding virtue you should put on. Get into the Word of God, find every place that sin occurs, and look for where the corresponding virtue is listed in the passage. What is it that you're to put on in place of that sin?

Number six. Then develop a careful plan to help you change those habits.

And number seven. Expend maximum effort while remembering that God has promised to change you as you seek to be obedient. Your effort, listen carefully, I have to stress this every time, your effort is neither earning sanctification nor achieving it. Instead, God, by His grace, is changing you.

Jesus prayed and His prayer will be answered for all of us. "Father, sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." May God give us the self-control, the discipline, the resolve, the courage to pursue holiness.

Let's pray together.

Father, I can never thank You enough for Your Word. I think back to the time in my own life and experience when I was misled, mistaught, misdirected in terms of how it is I was to pursue likeness to Christ, well-intentioned and yet floundering in a sea of subjectivism, feeling. Father, thank You that we can build our lives on the rock-solid foundation of Your truth, that it is Your truth that changes by the work of Your Spirit.

Father, I pray that these simple principles that your apostle laid down in Ephesians 4 would be revolutionary to us. Lord, there are people here tonight who have struggled just as I struggled for so many years. I pray that Your Spirit would illumine their understanding to the truths we've discussed, that these truths would grip their hearts and that they would resolve to expend the effort to do these things, all the time depending on You. Lord, may they see slow but steady growth in holiness.

Father, I pray for others who have a degree of maturity in their Christian lives and experience who understand some of these things. I pray that there would have been something here that You can use for their benefit, for their growth.

And Lord, my heart goes out tonight to some who don't get it at all because they're not really in Christ, they've never been taught by Christ these things. They never really comprehended the truth because they're still in their sins. Lord, I pray You'd make that manifestly obvious to them tonight, that Your Spirit would strip away the façade that they've built, perhaps for many years. Help them to see their utter spiritual bankruptcy before You. Help them to see the spiritual house of cards that they've built. I pray You'd blow it away and that You would bring them to the end of themselves, and they would turn to You in true repentance and faith, and that You would begin this amazing process of change in their hearts.

Thank You, Father, for your grace. Thank You for the work You do in our lives. Thank You that You will sanctify us, that You will complete what You have begun and You'll bring it to perfection at the day of Jesus Christ. May it come quickly.

In His name we pray. Amen.