Sunday, September 20, 2009

Best Practices of Our Faith - Sanctification

Philippians 2:1-16 “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…”

From the church of the Nazarene Manual (pp 34-35) 

X. Entire Sanctification
13. We believe that entire sanctification is that act of God, subsequent to regeneration, by which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and brought into a state of entire devotement to God, and the holy obedience of love made perfect. It is wrought by the baptism with the Holy Spirit, and comprehends in one experience the cleansing of the heart from sin and the abiding, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, empowering the believer for life and service. Entire sanctification is provided by the blood of Jesus, is wrought instantaneously by faith, preceded by entire consecration; and to this work and state of grace the Holy Spirit bears witness. This experience is also known by various terms representing its different phases, such as “Christian perfection,” “perfect love,” “heart purity,” “the baptism with the Holy Spirit,” “the fullness of the blessing,” and “Christian holiness.”
14. We believe that there is a marked distinction between a pure heart and a mature character. The former is obtained in an instant, the result of entire sanctification; the latter is the result of growth in grace. We believe that the grace of entire sanctification includes the impulse to grow in grace. However, this impulse must be consciously nurtured, and careful attention given to the requisites and processes of spiritual development and improvement in Christ-likeness of character and personality. Without such purposeful endeavour, one’s witness may be impaired and the grace itself frustrated and ultimately lost.

We have started a new sermon series. The theme is the best practices of our faith. Each Sunday in the series I want to take one word or key thought that is central to our Christian faith and examine the breadth and depth of it as we understand it as Nazarenes. Last week we looked at salvation and focussed on 3 stories: Nicodemus, Paul, and Peter. Today is sanctification. At some point we will look at sanctification from an historical perspective, but as we focus on the best practices of our faith I want to do it in the context of application. “This is sanctification, but what do I do with it today? How do I engage it in my life where I am at?”
What is sanctification? It is the ability to live holy lives. Who defines holy? Holiness is the character of God. The Bible says God is Holy… it also says God is love. As we look at what holiness means to you and I, it is more than an absence of sin; it is the presence of love. Jesus Himself said that in Matthew 22 when He said the Law and Prophets can be summed up in 2 commandments: Love God with all you got and Love your neighbour as yourself. An online source on Wesley puts it this way: “Entire sanctification is defined in terms of "pure or disinterested love." Wesley believed that one could progress in love until love became devoid of self - interest at the moment of entire sanctification. Thus, the principles of scriptural holiness or sanctification are as follows: sanctification is received by faith as a work of the Holy Spirit. It begins at the moment of new birth. It progresses gradually until the instant of entire sanctification. Its characteristics are to love God and one's neighbour as oneself; to be meek and lowly in heart, having the mind which was in Christ Jesus; to abstain from all appearance of evil, walking in all the commandments of God; to be content in every state, doing all to the glory of God.”
There is the sense that we are saved to something. The event we talked about last week was the beginning of something; not an event in isolation of life. We are saved to be holy. We are saved to be changed into the likeness of Christ. This is one of the things that John Wesley emphasized; that set him apart from his Anglican background. Romans 8:28-29 says “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren…” These verses tell us what God’s plan is for His children. We are not saved to go to heaven; that is a by-product of our salvation. We are saved to be conformed to the image of Jesus, Christ-likeness. Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Sanctification is the work of God in our life subsequent to salvation that makes us more Christ-like. Petar Neychev, studying at European Nazarene College put it this way: “Sanctification ends up being a process of becoming better in loving. This is why it seems so natural for Wesley to come to his conclusions concerning sanctification’s nature and expression – love inevitably involves a choice, therefore one might choose to not live a life of perfection – sanctification can be lost. Secondly, love is never static, as it involves interaction, which in itself is dynamic – thus, one either grows up towards loving more, or does not. Thirdly, love is not legalistic. Thus, it is clearly no contradiction for Wesley that one that is entirely sanctified is still prone to sin (although not regular, usual, or repetitive). And finally, love is to be maintained, therefore the Christian life is to be lived with a maintenance mentality, as opposed to once-attained – attained-forever.”

See the graphic at the top? Sanctification is that spiritually-based movement to Christ-likeness that starts at salvation, and is completed upon our death when we shall see Jesus face to face. Increasing sanctification is the work of the Spirit in response to our decisions of faith, of surrender. God reveals sin and attitudes, and so we confess our sin and continue to follow Jesus. At some point we get it. The Spirit does that 2nd work of grace and we pray, “Not I, but Jesus. Let me be a living sacrifice to you, Lord.” Romans 12:1-2 says, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” How do we engage that process into our lives?

First understand that the power sanctifying us is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. Romans 6:1-4 says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 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.” That newness of life is holiness. This is of great encouragement to us. We know how hard it is to be holy, to hold every thought and action captive to the character of God. Do you think that is harder than raising the dead? No! As we travel this journey we come to recognize that death is a part of life. Everyone dies. It is inevitable. We are assured of eternal life in the Resurrection. We had a funeral at our church this week; a 91 year old man whose life was celebrated by friends and family alike. Each of us has that moment coming, and we in a sense eagerly await it, for we will be with loved ones gone before us, and also in the very presence of the Creator God for all of eternity.
When we read verse 8 of Romans 6 we understand that sanctification is about living with Jesus. If you are a guy, you can imagine what it would be like to have your spouse or girlfriend beside you. What if she was there 24/7? Would it change what you looked at on TV or what presented itself around you throughout the day? Would it change what kind of words you used? Would it change some of the places you went to? What if we had that sense of Jesus being with us? Ted Haggart was the pastor of a mega church and listed by Time magazine as one of the top 25 influential evangelicals in America. The next year his crisis hit and he confessed to purchasing drugs and of sexual immorality. In the privacy of his life, when he was doing those things, do you think he had a sense of Christ’s presence? We have to have that sense that salvation is not just an event that happened 2, 10, or 50 years ago; it is current in our day to day life. Live with Jesus not just each and every day, but each and every moment. Where does Jesus live? Where did we invite Him when we got saved? Right here, in our heart, and that goes with us everywhere.
How do we do that? Sanctification is about choice, about intention. Why did you come to church today? Was it because you’ve done it for years, or because you wanted to meet God and His people, and worship Him in music and word and deed. Did you come to exercise your spiritual gifts? The problem we have as Christians is not that we pursue sin, but that we stop pursuing God. When we stop intentionally trying to please Him and trying to listen and obey the Holy Spirit’s guidance and direction, the door to following our own desires down the path that leads to sin swings wide open and beckons us in. Making no decision is the same as saying no to the choice. Bonnie asks, “Will you go to the store for me?” I sit there absorbed in the newspaper and don’t respond to her question. She asks again and the question slowly begins to enter my consciousness, but time still goes on. She finally pokes me with a sharp stick and I respond absolutely. Until I said, “Yes” I was saying, “No!” I have to be intentional around Bonnie - I want to hear her and respond to her, but sometimes if I don’t make that choice, I go off somewhere in my own little world. It’s the same with God, and the point is this: go through each moment with a conscious intention of following Jesus with all you got. That is sanctification. You are filled with the agape love of God by the Holy Spirit because you have made the decision to follow Him. You have surrendered all of yourself to His will. You get into the Word. You spend time in prayer and devotions and meditations because all these things add to your understanding of God, of His will and character, and of what He is calling you to be and do today.
There is an intentional doing, which consists mostly of acts of love to God or our neighbours in one form or another. There is also an intentional “not doing”, which consists of putting aside the selfishness and sin which so easily besets us. Living without sin is not the goal, loving God as best as we can is. We do that every day in how we treat ourselves and those around us. Husbands, love your wife as Jesus loved the church - He died for it. Help your spouse be all she can be. Wives, love, support, and encourage your husband in his role. Help him to be all he can be spiritually and otherwise. Parents, don’t exasperate your children. Children, obey your parents in the Lord. So many of the encouragements are about family relationships, but they expand from there and apply to all of us. 1 Corinthians 13 gives us the standard by which we should be living our life.
The passage we read from Philippians earlier gives us the challenge to work out our salvation - that is the application of sanctification. And in a very specific way - don’t grumble or dispute. We should be walking in the unity of the Spirit. Today, as we close in prayer, renew your commitment to Jesus Christ. Is He talking to you about a bad attitude, a habit, a broken relationship? Give it all to Him. Offer your life as a living sacrifice, and ask Him to change your mind, to change your heart. Ask Him to sanctify you anew in His grace.

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