Tag Archives: Sanctification

The List: A Wartime Ambush

 

Originally published February 17, 2010.  This version has some minor formatting and content edits.

Last week we looked at the importance of declaring war against our own sinful flesh and we uncovered and examined some truths about the nature of this war.  In brief summary, we outlined 3 key strategies in declaring this war:

  1. Don’t conform to the world (Rom. 12:1)
  2. Renew your Mind (Rom. 12:1)
  3. Put on Christ and realize your identity in Him (Rom. 13:14)

If you remember, this third strategy is where our true power lies, by realizing that this fight of the flesh in our battle toward holiness cannot come from any internal power of our own, but instead from the power of Christ living in us.  It’s on this point that we must advance and avoid the wartime ambush.

Picture it like this, you’ve declared war against sin, against your own sinful nature, against your fleshly desires of anger, greed, lust, fear, anxiety, money, power, selfishness, racism, hatred, every ungodly impulse that runs through your body and you’ve developed your battle plan, a list of do’s and don’ts that are sure to make you victorious.  Just like the troops ready to storm the beaches at Normandy, you too are ready to begin your war.

There’s only one problem, that list of do’s and don’ts, the warfare strategy that you thought would be so helpful, has actually disarmed you and is sending you into battle with no weapon in hand.  This is quite the precarious situation, because surely you cannot do battle without a plan, yet to proceed into war without a weapon would be spiritual suicide.  This is why the third strategy from above is so critical; your warfare strategy must come from a total reliance on Christ.  It is He that arms you with His Spirit.

Let me attempt to put this in terms we can relate to.  Suppose in your declaration of war, you resolve that you will not lose your temper toward your children, spouse, co-worker, friend, etc. for 6 months.  That’s a goal you’ve created in order to wage your war.  What happens when you lose your temper and get angry after the first week?  Have you already lost the battle?  Will you start the 6-month period again?  What would be the point in that?

A second scenario might be that you’ve decided to avoid all lusts of the flesh and after a few months have passed you are able to look back and say, “I haven’t committed a lustful sin in 7 months 4 days and 3 hours.”  This is equivalent to building the Titanic and declaring that God Himself cannot sink it.  That “sinless” streak will end nearly as soon as your Pharisaic declaration has been made.  How then did our “list” strategy fail us?  Especially when we had intentions of doing good.

These lists that we like to create are really no different than what the Apostle Paul addresses in Romans chapter 8, because just like the “Law” that he speaks of, our lists cannot sanctify us, only Jesus Christ working in us through His Spirit can bring us progressively closer to Christ-likeness.

In Romans 8:3 ESV Paul states,

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”

The law that Paul speaks of here, namely the Mosaic Law (10 Commandments), is perfectly Holy, perfectly good, but our sinful flesh is unable to uphold them, just like we are unable to keep those lists we created.  If you remember, in our last post we said that legalism was “doing” works, i.e. law keeping, in attempt to gain right standing with God.  Legalism (“law-keeping/list-making”) can’t improve our standing or justify us, just like it can’t move us toward holiness, or sanctification.  The same principle is at work here; we must be totally dependent on Christ trusting in Him that, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 ESV

Our instruction from Jesus is to obey the law, to follow the commandments that God has outlined for us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15 ESV The law however, reveals areas of personal weakness (Romans 5:20) in our hearts that needs to be changed.  But the law, and to a lesser extent our list based on the law, isn’t a personal improvement plan; it’s a standard of holiness, one that without Christ at work in our lives any attempt to uphold it would be futile.  How then can we move toward holiness and progress in our sanctification without checking off a list of do’s and don’ts?  By loving Jesus.  If you love Him, you WILL keep His commandments.  It’s conditional on love, not on list keeping.  Do you want to move toward victory in your war?  “This land cannot be entered by moral effort or by moral attainment.” (A. Redpath). It can only be entered by the redeeming blood of the Savior Jesus Christ and the sanctifying work of His Holy Spirit within us.  Run to Jesus and love Him, treasure Him, obey Him, and you will have victory.

“Absolute triumph is achieved only in response to utter obedience.”

“For the greater the obedience, the greater the discipline, the greater the faith, the fuller and more complete the allegiance to our precious Lord, the more does the heart expand and receive more and more of Jesus.” A. Redpath- Victorious Christian Living

Little By Little

 

“Little by little…” Exodus 23:30

In the 23rd chapter of Exodus we find ourselves in the midst of Sinai and God’s communication of the law to Moses.  Among the prohibitions and remembrances of Sabbaths and festivals in this chapter is also the promise of the conquest of Canaan.  The full passage is below

27 I will send my terror before you and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. 28 And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you. 29 I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. 31 And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. 32 You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. 33 They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”

Historically, this promise was fulfilled to the children of the Wilderness Generation, who we may be reminded were afforded the blessing of entrance into Canaan because their parents fell under the wrath of God, due to their rebellion, and were thereby forbidden from entering the land themselves.  Their children, however, were allowed entrance into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua.

Using the Old Testament

As is the case with much of the Old Testament, whether we view it typologically as it points from itself (type) to events, persons, or places in the New Testament (antitype) or whether we see it as an example for our lives (see Hebrews 3 & 4), this passage is relevant and practical for us today.  Along these lines, there are seemingly many parallels between the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and the Christian life, that extends beyond the concept of redemption, that from Egyptian slavery in the former and Sin slavery in the latter.  Here, in Exodus 23, we have painted for us, through the very real, historical working of God on behalf of the Israelites, a picture of sanctification in the Christian life.

To reiterate, historically God promised to drive out the pagan nations as He went ahead of the Israelites into Canaan.  However we must note a significant observation in this passage on God’s promise, namely that He promised to do so “little by little”.  Here we are given 2 negative reasons for the progressive nature of this pagan eradication, “lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you” and two positive reasons, “until you have increased and possess the land”.  God had promised to eliminate Israel’s enemies slowly, one by one, in order to avoid desolation of the land and the multiplication of beasts against them.  In our historical context, had God simply eradicated all of the pagan countries at once, allowing the Israelites full, unencumbered, and peaceful access to the land, there were two great dangers. 

Two Great Dangers

The first was desolation of the land.  In other  words, there was the danger of complacency on the part of the Israelites and failure to properly “tend” the land.  This points, at least conceptually, back to Adam in the garden.  There, remember, Adam was afforded the luxury of a land that produced effortlessly, yet he was unsatisfied and became complacent, ultimately failing to guard his wife and the garden.  Which brings us to the second great danger Israel would’ve faced should God have granted immediate eradication of their enemies, a failure to protect the land from being overrun by wild beasts.  With enemies eradicated for them, there was a great danger of complacency leading to a dry and desolate land and an influx of wild beasts.

As the Scriptures tell us, this promise was fulfilled and that by leaving the enemies to be eradicated one by one, the land was bountiful as it was promised in Deuteronomy 6:11 and then fulfilled in Joshua 24:11-13.

11 And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand. 12 And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’

However, despite being given land, cities, vineyards, orchards, etc., opportunities afforded by the little by little eradication, Israel still rebelled and failed in their own garden experience, as did their father Adam.

Believer’s Sanctification

As little by little relates to our sanctification, consider the parallels of the pagan nations with our own enemy of indwelling sin.  This progress against the enemies that wage war within us is called sanctification and it too is little by little, or progressive.  Contrary to ideas of Wesleyan perfection, sanctification is not completed in this life.  If it were, consider the dangers of complacency that we would face should our enemies be eradicated all at once.  We would forget the necessity and power of grace working in our lives.  We would become more independent and less dependent upon the provision of God.  What need would we have for prayer, for the Scriptures, for fellowship with the brethren?  This complacency would expose us to the influx of greater enemies, predators for our very soul.

Similarly God has chosen not to expose us to all of our internal enemies at once, lest we collapse under the weight of them.  Instead, we may battle the Amorites of lust or the Hittites of pride.  Occasionally, by His grace, He may allow several enemies to coalesce against us for the purpose of greater dependency on His provisions of grace and greater efforts in the duty of warfare.

God in His wisdom and providence allows sanctification to be a process, little by little.  As such, we are in need of our daily bread and in need of daily deliverance from temptations.  He who began this good work in us will bring it to completion.  Total and utter dependence upon God is the substance of the Christian life, from beginning to the end.

 

Man’s Sinful Nature

Within the next month, and by the grace of God, my wife and I will be welcoming our first child.  Along with the stories and helpful advice that everyone has been offering, I’ve been paying more and more attention to our friend’s babies to see how they act or respond to certain situations.  Now yes, I agree that babies are adorable and I cannot wait until ours arrives, but there is something else entirely on display even in infants that often gets overlooked, namely the sinful nature of man and our willingness to sin.  For instance, a friend of ours was telling us a story about how they had walked to the edge of the driveway with their daughter and explained to her that she should not step across onto the road.  Immediately after this, the little girl (age 2) goes right up to the road, pauses, looks around and steps her toe onto the road.  Is that really any different than how we act as adults when we sin?  We go right up to the line, look around to see who’s watching and maybe at first just stick a toe over to test out the sin, but once we see it’s ok, we jump right in.  King David so beautifully illustrates this in his lament of Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” 

 

In the nature of man, even as infants, we can see 2 laws at work, doctrines for those students of Systematic Theology.  One is called the Doctrine of Original Sin and the other is the Doctrine of Imputed Sin.  The first refers to the “sinful tendencies, desires, and dispositions in our hearts with which we are all born,” as a result of Adam’s sin in the Garden and just as we read from David earlier.  The second is the guiltiness associated with Adam’s sin that has been transferred down through all men.  The Apostle Paul speaks of both of these doctrines in Romans chapter 5:12-21

 

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned- 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In verse 12, we see evidence of both laws, that sin entered the world through Adam, yet we can’t blame only Adam, because we too are responsible for our sins, “death spread to all men because all sinned.”  We all sin because it’s inherent in our nature.   Likewise in vs. 18-20 we find condemnation, or the declaration of guilt, came to all men through Adam’s imputed sin.  These two doctrines that we mentioned earlier provide evidence of a problem, what then is the solution, or better how do we address each? 

 

Paul’s discourse on our sinful nature is so powerful because it serves to explain to us that sin is not just something we do with actions or even decisions we make, but also each of us are sinners by nature.  Because of that nature, each of us is born guilty in the sight of God, regardless of how “good” we think we are.  And because of this guilt each of us faces condemnation before God who must be just in His judgment of sin.  But there’s good news, in fact, there’s great news, because God is not only just, but the Justifier.  (Romans 3:26) In order to solve the dilemma of Imputed sin, man needs a Savior.  Look briefly at verse 18 again, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”  Guilt, conviction, and condemnation came to man through Adam, i.e. his sin was imputed to us.  However, the converse of this is that through the “one act of righteousness”, namely Christ’s death on the cross, justification became available to all men.  Believing in Jesus, trusting in Him as Savior cancels Adam’s debt of sin that has been imparted to us.

 

But we’re still left with the problem of our sinful nature, did Paul forget about this or is it too solved by our justification?  In chapter 5 of Romans, Paul details the solution for our imputed guilt by way of justification by the free gift of grace through Jesus Christ.  However, chapter 6 of Romans is all about answering the problem of our sinful nature.  In Romans 6:3-4 Paul states, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  He states again in Romans 6:6, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”  That old self is the old sinful nature that we talked about earlier that came to us through the original sin, yet if Christ is our Savior, we died with him on the cross and were buried with him, and we therefore are no longer under the bondage of the original sin within our nature.  Paul continues by giving several commands for life, namely “let not sin reign” and “Do not present your members as sin,” with the outcome leading to sanctification, an ongoing process in which the Holy Spirit works in our lives cleaning out more and more of our old nature to make us more like Christ until we are joined together in heaven.  It is by justification that the guilt of our condemnation is removed and by sanctification that our nature is progressively becoming more like Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.           

 

In the age of the postmodern church, no one wants to talk about sin, for fear it’s too judgmental or offensive.  Nobody wants to get to know their sin, how it works and attacks their life, and certainly no one is talking about killing sin (deeds, not flesh) in their lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.  But until we, as a Church, start to confront sin beginning with learning where it comes from and understanding that we don’t just do sin but we are born sinners, then our depravity will not resonate within us and our desperate need for a Savior will not be manifest in our lives.  Until this happens there will be no revival, no reformation or awakening, and no spiritual growth.  We’re at a crossroads in Church history that will require us to either get on our knees crying out in repentance of our sins or we will be forced to our knees crying for mercy.  Recognize your sins and eliminate them from your life.