Salvation, pt 2
March 20, 2016 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: Doctrine
There is no such thing as a stupid question! How many of you have ever heard that? ... I heard it growing up. I heard it from teachers who wanted to promote their students to ask questions. And as much as I heard it, the reality is, there is such a thing as a stupid question. There is such a thing as an unwanted question. There are some questions that teachers don’t want to hear.
I remember my English class my Junior year of High School. We were analyzing poetry. And a friend next to me realized how subjective it all was. And, so he raised his hand. And he asked something like this: “Isn’t this all just meaningless? I mean if I wrote: ‘The cat sat on the mat wearing a hat’ and then I died. You can all come in and say: Oh well that’s a symbol of the government oppressing the people.
Well, the teacher didn’t like that question very much, and I remember that she was visibly frustrated and just sort of tried to disqualify his question and get on with our activity. But I knew she didn’t really have an answer.
Well, as a teacher, how do you avoid unwanted questions without leaving out a good questions someone might have. One answer to that is to anticipate the good questions. Ask the questions you think people are going to bring up.
And that is the kind of teacher that the Apostle Paul was. Paul anticipated the questions people would ask.
We began our study of salvation last week, and we took a closer look at the book of Romans. We saw that a foundational part of salvation is our justification. We are declared righteous by God by His grace, through our faith, in Jesus Christ who paid the price of our salvation and satisfied the wrath of God. That’s a long sentence, but it’s a summary of what we learned last week. Salvation (or justification) is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
And Paul goes to great lengths to make this point in Romans 3, 4. Salvation comes by faith, not by being good enough. And all throughout he asks these rhetorical questions, anticipating what his readers might be asking. In chapter 5, Paul describes more of the blessings we have from being saved. He talks about how Christ undid what Adam did.
And then in chapter 6, he gets back to his questions. And it might have been a question some of you have been asking, or at least have heard someone ask.
And the question is this: “If salvation comes through faith, not by works, then does that mean we can live however we want? If the ugliness of my sin shows off the beautiful grace of God, then can’t I sin even more so that more of God’s grace gets showcased?” In other words: Does the biblical doctrine of justification mean that I can live however I want now?
That’s a fair question. In fact, if your understanding of salvation doesn’t lead some to ask that kind of question, you might not have a biblical understanding of salvation. Paul expected this question to come up. And he gave an answer.
Simply put, Paul’s answer was: No, it doesn’t! The doctrine of justification by faith alone doesn’t mean that we can continue living in sin. And while the simple answer is “no” the formal answer is the doctrine of sanctification. A doctrine you need to know, not just for answering those who ask you ,but for living the life God intended for you.
What is sanctification? Let’s start with that. The verb “sanctify” means to make something holy. So sanctification is just a formal term for making something holy. Only God is perfectly holy, so if someone is made holy, they are made more like God.
People use all kinds of phrases to talk about this. We talk about discipleship. We talk about Christian maturity. We talk about spiritual growth. We talk about being conformed to the image of Christ. We talk about becoming more Christ-like. All of those, if you understand them correctly, are just ways of referring to sanctification.
And sanctification is similar to justification in that if you don’t understand it, you run the risk of either not being saved or really stunting your spiritual life. You diminish your joy in Christ and your effectiveness for Him.
So, as we approach this topic for today, I want to give you four basic truths about sanctification. What do you need to know about growing in holiness?
Number 1: Sanctification is distinct from justification. It’s different. It’s not the same thing. Justification is a one-time event. It’s instantaneous at the moment of salvation. It the act of God that declares you holy, declares you righteous in His sight. It’s about your position.
Sanctification, on the other hand, is a process. It begins at salvation, but it’s not instantaneous. It’s a process. Justification is God declaring you righteous. Sanctification is God making you righteous. Justification is about your status or your position. Sanctification is about your practice, your lifestyle. Justification frees you from the penalty of sin. Sanctification frees you from the power of sin in your life. Justification is about looking back, it’s in the past for a believer. Sanctification is about the present. It’s happening right now.
If you don’t understand that they are distinct, then you will confuse them. And many people and religious beliefs do that. They combine holiness with salvation. They relate salvation to how good you are. They makes salvation a process. And the holier you get, the closer you move toward heaven. Well, that’s a lie from Satan. It’s a false gospel.
This is what the Jehovah’s Witness movement teaches. The Mormons. And the Roman Catholics. Roman Catholicism teaches that as you increase in good works, you are increasing your justification. Your holiness causes you to be more justified. It’s salvation by works. Salvation by the sacraments. Salvation by your actions. It’s a false gospel. And anyone who believes that isn’t saved. That’s what Paul is saying in Romans 3 and 4. Salvation by faith alone. Not by works.
Number 2. Sanctification is united to justification. This might sound like a contradiction, but it isn’t. Sanctification is distinct from justification, but it’s united. It’s like the cream and the cookie in an Oreo. They’re a package deal. If you separate justification and sanctification, then you get people who say: “well I’m saved, but I don’t have to be sanctified. I have been declared righteous, but I don’t have to live righteously. I have been called a saint, but I don’t have to live like one.” You can also get people who say Jesus is my Savior, but He isn’t my Lord yet.” That’s a false gospel. That’s a false understanding of saving faith. And it’s what Paul addresses in Romans 6. Rom 6:1.
We’re forgiven! Can we keep on sinning? Paul’s response. Rom 6:2.
This is the strongest Greek expression of saying no. And Paul was expecting to answer the critics. In fact, that’s what Jehovah’s Witnesses accuses us of. They say: “You believe you can live however you want. You don’t believe is holiness.” And you need to respond. By no means! Absolutely not!
We have been joined to Christ. Jesus, through His death and resurrection conquered sin and death. Sin and death are a package deal. So it doesn’t make any sense to say: “Yes, Jesus! Thank you for saving me from death But I’m going to keep on sinning!” Because sin and death are connected.
At the moment of faith, Colossians 1 says you were rescued from the kingdom of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Christ. You were declared holy. You were made holy in your position. That’s justification. It’s also the start of sanctification. Some people call that starting moment “positional sanctification.” That’s why believers are called saints. They’ve been sanctified in their position. They’ve been declared holy, so we call them holy one. But that’s only the beginning.
After positional sanctification, there is progressive sanctification. It’s spiritual growth. It’s the external demonstration of the truth of Christ. It’s a changing of your heart, a transformation of your mind. The truth of salvation is the basis for your new life. Justification and sanctification are united.
Imagine if some local newspaper declared you “father of the year.” Or some local gym named you “the fittest person in our community.” Well, you got the title. Now what? Act like it!
Go with me to Romans 12:1. This is the verse where Paul switches from focusing on the doctrine of salvation to focusing on the application of salvation. Rom 12:1.
Look also at Ephesians 4:1. This is the shifting verse from position to practice. Eph 4:1.
Or look at Colossians 3:1. This is the transition verse. Col 3:1. Paul connects the reality of salvation (new life in Christ) with our personal responsibility.
This connection between justification and sanctification is so powerful, it’s so close, that the Bible tells us: if sanctification isn’t happening, then salvation never occurred. No sanctification, no justification. Again, it’s not that sanctification saves you, but it’s the result of salvation. If there’s no transformation, there was never a work of God.
James says it like this: Faith without works is dead. John says it a bunch of ways. Let me show you some of these. First John, chapter 2. Near the back of your Bibles. John’s epistle. Not the gospel of John. Chapter 2 of this letter drives this point home. If you’re saved, there will be a change. 1 John 2:3-6, 15-17.
Now, all these verses lead us to our third point for today. A third truth about Sanctification. Number 3: Sanctification takes personal effort. It is distinct from justification. It is united to justification. And it takes personal effort.
This might sound obvious to some of you, but some people just don’t get it. Some people live with this idea that over time, God will make me so holy that the Christian life will just come naturally. You might have heard the phrase “let go and let God.” Or maybe you’ve talked with someone who thinks sinlessness can be achieved in this life. Those are wrong beliefs.
And those people end up disappointed and grumpy because life isn’t easy. They end up frustrated because they think something isn’t working.
If you think life is supposed to get easier, you don’t understand sanctification. The more your mind and heart is conformed to Christ, the more you see sin in your life. The more you hate it. The more it bothers you. And the more you appreciate salvation.
Let me just read you some of the phrases the Bible uses to emphasize our role in sanctification. And you tell me if these make it sound like the Christian life is something you can do on auto-pilot.
Flee youthful lusts. Pursue righteousness. Resist the devil. Fight the good fight. Labor and strive. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Discipline your body. Keep it under control. Abstain from the passions of the flesh. Put off the old self. Put on the new self.
There’s a positive and a negative element to this. On the positive side, you press toward godliness. And on the negative side, you fight against your sin.
And one of the most direct ways this is mentioned is like this: Put to death what is earthly in you. Put to death the deeds of the body.
Turn with me to Romans 8:13. We have been saved. There is no condemnation. God saved us from the consequences of our sinful nature. He separated us from the flesh. He gave us new life in Christ. And so, this is Paul’s instruction. Rom 8:13.
John Owen has famously said: Be killing sin or it will be killing you! That’s a powerful statement. Don’t coddle sin. Don’t tolerate sin. Put it to death. If you are a Christian, this is what you signed up for. You signed up for a war. Not a war about politics. Not a war on other people’s sin. A war on your own sin.
It’s one of the saddest things we see in the church. People claiming to come to Jesus, but unwilling to deal with their sin. Sometimes people use the phrase “come as you are.” But that’s not supposed to mean “leave as you came.” There has to be a transformation. And some transformations will be instantaneous, and God takes away a sinful desire. But most of life’s sanctifying changes will come through personal effort.
Hebrews 5:14 says that those who are mature have been trained by constant practice. Constant practice. It takes personal effort. So don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking the Christian life will get easy or automatic one day. Don’t hope for that day. Specific sins might lose their grip on you, but living a life that honors God will never come automatically.
Now, since we’re in Romans 8, let me give you the fourth truth about Sanctification. Number 4: Sanctification is done, ultimately by the Spirit. It’s a work of the Spirit. And someone will ask: What do you mean? I thought you said it takes personal effort.” It does. But it’s not ultimately your effort that sanctifies you. Without personal effort, you won’t grow. But your effort isn’t what causes the growth. It’s the Spirit of God.
Have you ever been on an exercise program or a diet with a friend. And you and your buddy do exactly all the same things, but he or she gets more drastic results than you? Why is that? You’re doing the same stuff? That’s because your bodies are different. Your bodies respond differently to what you’re doing.
In one sense, sanctification is the same way. We can do the same things on the outside, but the effects of sanctification in our lives will be different because the Spirit decides how to sanctify us. You work for your sanctification. But you aren’t actually sanctifying yourself. The Spirit sanctifies you. And if you ignore the Holy Spirit, all your efforts of sanctification will be meaningless. They will lead to self-righteousness or frustration.
Look again at Romans 8:13. How are we supposed to put sin to death. By the Spirit. By the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gave us the word of God. The Sword of the Spirit is the Bible. So as you obey God’s commands, the Spirit is sanctifying. But it’s His power. And God gets the glory.
Philippians 2 says God works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. God causes the growth. That what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3.
Turn with me for a second to 2 Corinthians 3. Second Corinthians 3:18. This is a verse you should mark in your Bible. It’s describing sanctification. It tells us how it happens. 2 Cor 3:18.
We behold Christ. We focus on him. And as we do that, we are transformed to be more like him. We move up to another level of glory. And all of this comes from the Spirit of God. He does it in you. We cooperate. We obey. We make every effort. We do what we can to renew our minds. And the Spirit sanctifies us. He conforms us to the image of Christ.
And just so you know, He is not always going to work the way that you’d like Him to. He’ll work without asking your permission. He’ll bring discipline into your life. He’ll bring you into situation that will stretch your patience or your self-control. He’ll use your spouse. He’ll use your kids. He’ll use difficulty.
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about his thorn in the flesh. He attributes it to a demon. But ultimately God was using that to keep Paul humble. To sanctify him. Remember Galatians 5. Love, joy, peace, patience, etc. That is the fruit of the Spirit. He makes it happen in your life.
It’s a gift of God. God doesn’t just forgive your sin. He doesn’t just make you part of his family. He doesn’t just undo the penalty of sin. He removes, over the course of your life, the power of sin in your life. Day by day. Year by year.
Sanctification is distinct from justification. Sanctification is united to justification. Sanctification takes personal effort. And Sanctification is, ultimately, a work of the Holy Spirit.
So we praise God for it. We participate in the process. But we recognize that it’s all by His grace.
How long is this going to last? Until we see Jesus Christ. And then what? The work of sanctification is over. It’s done. But God’s work for our salvation is not. The final component of salvation is glorification. We’ll talk about that hope next week, as we remember the glorification and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
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