Tag Archives: sanctification

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Suffering is Not Magic and Mountaintops

 Scripture is clear, that God uses times of trouble and pain in our lives to sanctify us- making us more like Jesus. As Romans 5:3-4 says “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” But sometimes that truth gets presented as if suffering is a magic pill you swallow, making you grow at rapid fire speed.

It is also clear that suffering can cause us to rely on God more wholly, and draw closer to Him. As one of my favorite psalms says: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).” People often experience that God’s presence seems nearer to them, and their fellowship with Him is sweetened, during times of great pain. But is that always the case? Do sufferers live on a perpetual mountaintop experience of closeness to God?

It’s not a super hard question really. I mean, have you ever had a stomach flu? Or even a bad head cold? Did you feel super close to God all day, every day, while you walked through that? When your head was hung over the toilet, were you amazed with the godly attitude that just seemed to rush over you the more you vomited? Probably not, right?

Because suffering is still suffering, and it feels like suffering. It doesn’t often feel like magic and mountaintops.

I’m sharing this because I’ve wrestled with it. Christians, myself included, talk a lot about the deep things they have learned through suffering, but sometimes our talk might leave people with a sanitized view, like suffering draws a tidy straight line towards Jesus and holiness, and those who walk the path are always glowing. During the most challenging year of my life, when I felt anything but glowing, my number one question was: Why doesn’t it feel like God is bringing anything good out of this? Continue reading

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Evil Suspicions

Context

1Timonthy 6:1-10 gives us incredible insight into the sinful motivations and hang-ups of false teachers and I welcome you to read it before continuing. We see first that they teach different or “new” doctrines, and do not agree with the words of Jesus. Jesus’ teaching leads to godliness, while their teaching and nature is conceited and puffed up, producing things opposing to godliness. Verses 4-5 says about the false teacher:

“He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”

The false teacher has chosen a controversial and likely “special” revelation which he thinks he has had, and narrows in on it. Likely, he obsesses with one, or a few select topics, which do not point people to Jesus Christ for salvation. He chooses scriptural phrases which suit his message, and twists them, or gives them a whole new meaning, and if he is corrected he fights back. The products of his pride and error are envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction.

The false teacher is motivated by money, plain and simple. He is “imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” He is looking to Jesus for financial wealth, because money is his first love. He (or she in more recent times) will point their hearers to Jesus for the same thing.

The Christian, on the other hand knows that “there is great gain in godliness with contentment,” and should bear fruit consistent with sound doctrine and right motivations, primarily love for God. 1 Timothy goes on in fact, to tell us how the “man of God” must “Flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness (verse 11).” A Christian should not bear fruit similar to that of the arrogant false teacher. Continue reading

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The Desolation of Smug

Trials have a way of killing smugness. I suppose some little wave crashes upon a boulder and he doesn’t feel it much. But there are waves that beat upon a stone without relent, and sometimes he thinks “I’m surely going to crash into this sea like so many tiny pebbles do.”

It’s the long relentless trials, often repeated, in which desperate men cry out for deliverance with parched throats and eyes that dim of scanning the horizon (Psalm 69:3)- these are the trials which put a knife to smugness.

To be smug is to “be contentedly confident of one’s ability, superiority, or correctness; complacent.” You can see it in the life of people who store up their treasures and say to themselves “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry (Luke 12:20).” We see it in those who simply live without acknowledging God or His ways, fill up their measure of sin, and tell themselves “He will do nothing; no disaster will come upon us (Jeremiah 5:12).”

It’s easy to identify smugness in unbelievers isn’t it? And we might have some patience for that, since after all, they don’t know God. But there are some sins, or struggles the smug believer thinks he or she would never be tried with. The things “good” and “real” Christians just don’t do, or even think of doing. Good Christians don’t get divorced. They don’t curse, or hit things, or hit others. They don’t hurt themselves or have “mental breakdowns.” Good Christians aren’t tempted to use alcohol or drugs to dampen the pain and difficulties of life. They don’t get bitter. They don’t experience large scale moral failures. The “true” Christian doesn’t question God’s purposes and never thinks- “perhaps a different path would have led to a happier, easier life.” That “real” Christian never has doubts about His God or His faith.

The smug believer thinks he doesn’t do those thing because he simply couldn’t do those things. He is too good a Christian in fact. It would be impossible for him because he has climbed too high for such a heinous, ignorant, and disgraceful stoop. He knows too much truth and has too pure of motives. His reasons for coming to Jesus were right; he follows Christ for Christ alone, and nothing else that might be gained. Take the world but give him Jesus, and he will be just fine. He is sure.

The problem is not that he despises the thought of ever sinning or struggling in such ways, but rather that his trust is in himself, and his attitude towards failing believers is one of quick readiness to judge and deem them cut off. But trials are not so easy and glamorous a tool of refining believers as sometimes they are made to sound. People talk about their victories but we often don’t hear how trials will prove you ugly before they start to make you pure. Consider this excerpt from a poem I have written reflecting on this topic:

“Did you think
To put you in a furnace
Would not scorch your skin?
To come out gold
With easy glee
And not the surfacing of sin?
Or that boiling water hot
Would like a warm bath
Scathe you not?
Like sinking in so comfortably
To fire should come easily?”

When a Christian goes into the boiling pot and stays in it for a long time, God will undoubtedly grow and refine that Christian. I look back on this long trial with chronic pain and I see a hundred idols slain. But it is not as if they crumbled down themselves. They’ve been slain through tears, constant battle, and much travail in prayer. The longer I go through the trials, the more I see that there is no temptation uncommon to men (1Corinthians 10:13), and there is no temptation or sinful thought too sinful for myself. I see those idols slain, but I know their root lies in my own heart and when my eyes go off my God how quickly they resurrect. I see that this battle isn’t won until I finally find myself safe in the arms of God. I will overcome and conquer one doubt or one sinful wish, but it will rear its head again. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as killing a sin (including smugness!) once and for all. When you’re living in a trial it is constant war and you must kill the flesh daily or quickly lurch towards destruction.

If it were not for God you’d find my faith somewhere dashed upon a rock. I’m certain of it. Trials have had their way of desolating smugness in me, but there is (thank God!) a higher rock than I (Psalm 61:2). Smugness and security are not the same thing. Eternal security- the promise of God that He who began a work of salvation in me will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6)- is my hope and joy. It is my confidence in the day of trouble.

My confidence is a person. My trust is in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’ll echo these words from hymnist John Berridge:

“Thou poor, afflicted, tempted soul,
With fears, and doubts, and tempests tossed…
What if the billows rise and roll,
And dash the ship-
It is not lost;
The winds and waves and fiends may roar,
But Christ will bring thee safe on shore.”

About the smug heart, I have written previously:

Did you think endurance
Meant to never fall?
So with steady steps
To conquer all?
So worthily you might
Win the crown?
And say at last
“Was me who won
By never falling down”?
The valiant and strong
Shall win the prize!
All Heaven will esteem me
With their eyes!

Do you see how that attitude differs from the Christian who has seen they are a ship who left to their own will drift off in the turbulent seas and be dashed? Oh, but even if he drift for a time, even if the winds, and waves, and fiends assail him, and he approaches his shore as one almost sunk- be it certain, Christ will bring him safe on shore. He is not lost.

That is the hope I’m clinging to, and am learning to embrace with godly fear- fear that takes seriously the warnings in scripture that urge us not to fall away, while clinging to the only Savior who can sustain our hope, our faith, and our strength. Eternal security is not a doctrine that leads to sin, unless we have careless hearts which cast ourselves on a doctrine rather than a person (Christ), with an attitude of smugness. That is dangerous, and a real threat. But when shattered hearts lean into the Everlasting Arms, resting safe and secure from all alarms, that indeed, is a beautiful thing. God who sees the heart knows the difference.

I end with a portion of scripture that seems fitting:

1Corinthians 10:12-14 “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”

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The Unveiling is Not Cruel

Did you think
To put you in a furnace
Would not scorch your skin?

To come out gold
With easy glee
And not the surfacing of sin?

Or that boiling water hot
Would like a warm bath
Scathe you not?
Like sinking in so comfortably
To fire should come easily?

Oh, perhaps some seasoned saint
Could stand unflinching at a cross-
I doubt it.

There was man- Him without dross
Who fell face down before His cross,
An angel sent to strengthen there
The Son of Man weighed down with care.

Surprised?
By this: The Man of Sorrows
Pausing, praying at the cup?
What an awful load to bear
And what a sip to sup.

But you,
You know your lot is small
Compared to Jesus
Or to Paul,
‘Tis not a stake,
Or stones, or whips
Or hungry nights and sinking ships.

“Some men by worthy trials be
Cast low,
But who should pity me?”

So in your little furnace flame
A crying up-reaching
Burns with shame,
You see you are a smoldering wick,
Should wrath be kindled
Hasting quick? Continue reading

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5 God-granted Realities for War

I said here that I would share more on God-granted realities for waging war against sin, stating that “You can’t begin to war against your flesh today without remembering and walking in the new realities that have been granted to you in salvation.” So here we go. If you are in Christ these spiritual realities (among others) have been made true of you:

1. Your sins are forgiven.

Here’s the one truth that is at the very core of gospel application for believers: You have been forgiven. It is such a basic truth of Christianity, but I wonder if sometimes we neglect to think about it because of that. “As far as the east is from the west so far does He remove our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12).” “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God… ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’ Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin (Hebrews 10:12,17,18).”

There’s simply nothing left to do to atone for your sins. Jesus Christ’s perfect offering was complete. He paid your penalty in full. If you neglect to remember, glory in, and appropriate that forgiveness to yourself in continuing with repentance and faith, then you are going nowhere spiritually. Here, at the cross, is your foundation, your core, your wellspring – Never trade Christ’s offering in for works-righteousness or faithless, ongoing penitence that forgets to find a cleansing flood in Jesus. If we are saved “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace… Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 5:16, 10:22).”

2. Your old self has died with Christ, and slavery to sin is over.

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.”

This is to say that sin’s reign and rule in you and over you is dead. You are no longer bound to defeat. Sin is still at war within you (Romans 7:23), but Christ has freed you from its’ dominion and supplied you the means to continually put it to death. What He has done for you in bearing your sins and dying your death has robbed sin of its’ power (Roman 8:2, 1 Corinthians 15:56-57). His faithful work to sanctify you will continue through to glorification (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

3. You have been made a new, living creation.

2Corinthians 5:7 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Ephesians 2:1-7: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

The old person was spiritually dead and unable to discern spiritual things. He had no appetite or love for God, but rather hated Him. He conformed after the world, followed Satan, and acted according to sinful passions that ruled him.

The new creation has been made alive to God, with a new capacity to love God, obey Him, and please Him. He has been set free from Satan’s dominion, and enabled to follow after Christ instead of the world’s system. The new creation no longer has to obey sinful desires, but has been freed to live righteously.

4. You have obtained a new position before God.

This point naturally flows out of the last. As a new, born again creation, you are no longer “by nature children of wrath.” Rather, you have been adopted as sons and daughters of God.

Ephesians 1:4-6 “…In love He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

Romans 9:25-26 “As indeed he says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.'”

I should note here what should be obvious- the new position you have been granted before God is one that brings you into an intimate relationship. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'(Romans 8:16)”

5. You are a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit none of these other spiritual realities would be possible. Without the Spirit’s work and power you certainly would not have been born again (John 3:7-8, John 6:63), nor could you wage war against your flesh and gain victory over sin (Romans 8:13). This is something I want to give more thought and study to, and hopefully address this spiritual reality more thoroughly soon.

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The Christian Life Is War

Before you came to Christ you were spiritually dead. Among other things, there was one thing you had no ability to do: wage war against yourself (see previous article for more on that).

Trying to grow spiritually apart from Christ looks like chopping down one idol only to swiftly replace it with another. It looks like propping yourself up on the backs of other people, and when they fail you everything falls apart. Parting from sin feels like putting a knife to your own heart. Perhaps you turn to self-help books, and build a great facade, but inside, there is nothing but empty deceit (Colossians 2:8). Spiritually you are headed nowhere but closer and closer to death.

Pretty depressing isn’t it? But it is not so for the redeemed! Believers have new spiritual realities, as they have been “born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (1Peter 1:23).” That “word is the good news that was preached to you (1Peter 1:25).”

You believed in the gospel with faith, and have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1Peter 1:3).” Your hope is alive, and your hope is a person, who is always faithful and ever present.

Nevertheless, the Christian life is war. It is war that we declare primarily against ourselves, against the sin that remains in our flesh. We must wage this war every single day. If we don’t engage the flesh wins out.

I think of Jesus’ words to the disciples as they slept through Christ’s turmoil in Gethsemane: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41).”

Galatians 5:17 expresses this so well: “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

There is a sense in which the same old reality remains: You cannot wage war against flesh in the flesh. Paul said “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out (Romans 7:18).” Notice that Paul qualifies his statement by saying “that is, in my flesh.”

So then, we have an enemy within. The good news is that God’s word teaches us that Jesus Christ died and was raised so that “we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).” This abundant “newness of life” is something we have been granted, and something we must “walk in.”

How can you walk in a reality that you are not remembering? Paul acknowledge that he could not live out Christianity in his own flesh. Do you know what that means? It means that this is not a battle to be fought by personal resolve and willpower alone. Why? Because your flesh has no strength to obey. Neither can it be silenced just by grieving its’ reality and hating its’ presence. To quote a great hymn “Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, these for sin could not atone…”

You can’t begin to war against your flesh today without remembering and walking in the new realities that have been granted to you in salvation. Sorrow over sin and resolutions will quickly drive you low if you fail to cast yourself on His promises. Stay tuned for my next article (God willing)- which will be on God granted realities for waging war.

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Still: A Poem For Christians Awaiting Perfection

Learned, but have I really learned
To trust?
Hoped in God, yet other times
In dust.
Treasures high, but also some
That rust.
Desired God; not always,
But I must.

Hungry, thirsty, satisfied
And filled,
Yet other times all empty
Wanting, nil.
Reaching for His word I must
Be still,
It’s there dry bones ignite to
Do His will.

Overcame, but still more fears
To find,
Surrendered all, I thought, but
Still blind
To fortresses tall standing
In my mind.

Arrived- not ever, not yet
Perfected- not close, but press
Onward- to where salvation lies
Forward- straining for the prize
Upward- rising to His throne
Why? For Christ made me His own. Continue reading

sanctification

Sanctification: Ugly, Hard, Beautiful, and Full of Grace

I recently asked myself the question: what word would I use to describe my own (slowly) progressing sanctification process? The first word that came to mind was “ugly.” The second was “hard.”

When God first took out my heart of stone and gave a heart of flesh, life was good. Life was in fact the best it had ever been. Salvation was awesome. The relief from shedding the weight of sin tangible, and I was ecstatic. Jesus was my new best friend and His word was my treasure. God kept me safe, if somewhat secluded, and gave me a peaceful year to sprout.

God knew what He was doing then, and He knew just how I needed to begin my Christian walk. It wasn’t so hard, or so ugly at first- it was mostly awe and reveling.

Life had become profoundly deep and meaningful, but looking back now I can see that my faith was still shallow. A seed in good soil to be certain, but vulnerable, with threadlike roots barely taking hold of ground.

But God is a faithful vine dresser; One wholly determined that His people bear fruit. And the best fruit doesn’t grow from trees planted in shallow soil, so He sets out to dig and to nourish (Luke 13:6-9). He labors to prune and cut every branch in me He sees that could bear more fruit. He wants me to see, and to feel that apart from Him I can do nothing (John 15:5). Continue reading

Sanctificaiton

Sanctification and the Blood of Christ

I have been thinking a lot about sanctification lately, especially my own. Sanctification is that process by which Christians are made holy- that is, made more like the person of Jesus. There is a bewildering sense in which Christians are already sanctified. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:11).” “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession (1Peter 2:9).” “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:10).” We have been made holy by “Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood (Revelation 1:6).” Jesus bore the penalty for our sins and thereby broke the power of our sin. His righteousness was imputed to us when we first believed. It is these two truths that make it possible for God to look at us, reborn sinners who still sin, and to call us Holy and beloved.

This fact of sanctification, along with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the reality of a new nature in us, gives us great assurance of our salvation and our position before God. These realities give joy, peace and hope, and I would not shy away from rejoicing in them. I thank God that He has set me apart and declared me righteous, totally and completely apart from anything I have done. I know that kind of talk can make people nervous, but for the Christian it is truth, and for the Christian- it is truth that produces fruit.

But there is a second reality. It’s the reality that as “God’s people… (who) have received mercy” as “sojourners and exiles”, we must “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against (our) soul (1 Peter 2:11).” Continue reading

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The Gospel of Grace: A Refresher Crash Course

Do you find yourself constantly coming back to the foundational truths of Christianity found at the cross, or are you trying to walk out your Christian life in your own strength? Are you motivated to obey God today, or do His commandments feel like a heavy burden? Do you feel that Jesus Christ has made you free indeed or do you live under a weight of guilt and uncertainty about your salvation? Did you know that the gospel is not only the entry way for unbelievers but the entire residence of Christian living? Consider the following, which I hope might prove encouraging and helpful.

Galatians 3:1-3 “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

How did you get saved? Was it by law-keeping or by hearing the gospel and receiving grace through faith? I think you know the answer. If you are saved you know the power of the risen Savior Jesus Christ. Salvation has come in a person who is “Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord (1Corinthians 1:30-31).” He is all these things for us, and He will produce fruit in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In regards to our salvation the law contributed nothing but only bound everything up under sin (Galatians 3:22) and shut every mouth in regards to making an appeal of innocence before God (Romans 3:20). “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin (Romans 3:21).”

So the question comes- if we were saved apart from the law (read the rest of Galatians 3, or Romans 3:28), and if Jesus Christ is our salvation and our sanctification, then what becomes of the law?
Now, as believers, “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary we uphold the law (Romans 3:31).” We recognize that “the law is good if one uses it lawfully”- which is to use it for its intended purpose of convicting unbelievers of sin and pointing them to Christ (see 1Timothy 1:8-11). There is no problem with the law, but it presents a problem for law-breakers. God’s righteous standards still stand, and in fact, Jesus Christ explained the heart of the commandments in such a way that he exposed sin hidden within men’s hearts (see Matthew 5:17-48). Jesus upheld the law, kept the law, and bore the punishment for our law-breaking, so that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Galatians 3:13).” Now, we see the law, but we turn away from looking to law-keeping to gain righteousness, and we look to Jesus Christ who redeems us and sets us free to live by grace. That is faith. Continue reading