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Holiness – our sanctification is the will of God

December 2, 2011 Leave a comment

In our series on holiness it is important to define the key doctrine of sanctification and to understand exactly what this term means and how it relates to our pursuit of holiness. Sanctification is another area the Bible speaks substantially about (over 1000 times in various forms) yet there seems to be limited attention paid to it in our churches. Sanctification’s importance can be seen when comparing it to regeneration; where regeneration for the Christian is birth; sanctification is all about spiritual growth. I will not effort to exhaust this study, but to provide an overview to help us understand the importance and nature of growing in holiness – our sanctification.

1 Thessalonians 4:3
3For this is the will of God, your sanctification:

In the ordinary acceptance of these words, they simply mean that among many other things that God has willed, sanctification is one; it is something in accordance with His will. This thought contains teaching of great value. God very distinctly and definitely has willed your sanctification: your sanctification has its source and certainty in its being God’s will. We are ‘elect in sanctification of the Spirit,’ ‘chosen to be holy;’ the purpose of Gods will from eternity, and His will now, is our sanctification.

Ephesians 1:4
4just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,

“To be one with God’s will is to be holy. Everything in a life of holiness depends upon our being in the right relationship to the will of God.” (A. Murray)

The design of the Gospel is to teach men not only what they should believe, but also how they should live. It is God’s will that all His should be holy. The Lord calls none into his family to live unholy lives, but that they may be taught and enabled to walk before him in holiness. Some make light of the precepts of holiness, because they hear them from men; but they are God’s commands, and to break them is to despise God.

Let us look at some basic dictionary definitions for context.

“SANCTIFICATION: The act of making holy; the state of being sanctified or made holy. Theologically—The act of God’s grace by which the affections of men are purified or alienated from sin and the world, and exalted to a supreme love of God.” Webster’s Dictionary

SANCTIFY: To make holy or sacred; to consecrate or set apart; … to purify from sin,… SANCTIFICATION: Technically, an operation of the Spirit of God (Rom. 15:16; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2) on those who are already in Jesus, i.e., are united to Him by faith (1 Cor. 1:2), by which they are rendered increasingly holy, dying to sin and living to God, to righteousness, and to holiness (Rom. 6:6, 11, 13, 19; 1 Thess. 5:23; 1 Pet. 2:24). American Dictionary

HOLINESS: “1. Perfect moral integrity or purity; freedom from sin; sanctity, innocence. 2. State of being hallowed or consecrated to God, or His worship. Webster’s Dictionary

The Bible has much to say about this key doctrine. Sanctification occurs in various forms some 300 times in the New Testament and 760 times in the Old Testament for a total of 1060 in the Bible. The basic meaning in all these instances is “to set apart.” It is a lifelong process of growing in grace and spiritual maturity.

If regeneration has to do with our nature, justification with our standing, and adoption with our position, then sanctification has to do with our character and conduct. In justification we are declared righteous in order that, in sanctification, we may become righteous. Justification is what God does for us, while sanctification is what God does in us. Justification puts us into a right relationship with God, while sanctification exhibits the fruit of that relationship—a life separated from a sinful world and dedicated unto God.

The characteristic life pursuit in which the Christian is to live is that of sanctification, separated unto holiness. We cannot forget that the new man has a renewed will. This new will delights in the will of God because it is born of it.

There are three key aspects of sanctification taught in the Bible. The following is a brief review.

1. Instantaneous Sanctification

1 Corinthians 6:11
11And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

Hebrews 10:10
10By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:14
14For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

By the death of Jesus Christ the sanctification of the believer takes place at once. The very moment a man believes in Christ he is sanctified, that is, in this first sense: he is separated from sin and separated unto God. For this reason all through the New Testament believers are called saints (1 Cor. 1:2, Rom. 1:7). If a man is not a saint he is not a Christian; if he is a Christian he is a saint. We can see that in 1 Cor. 6:11 “sanctified” is put before “justified.” The believer grows in sanctification rather than into sanctification out of something else. By a simple act of faith in Christ the believer is at once put into a state of sanctification. Every Christian is a sanctified man. The same act that ushers him into the state of justification admits him at once into the state of sanctification, in which he is to grow until he reaches the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ.

2. Progressive Sanctification

Justification differs from sanctification: the former is an instantaneous act with no progression; while the latter is a crisis with a view to a process—an act, which is instantaneous and which at the same time carries with it the idea of growth unto completion.

2 Peter 3:18
18but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.

2 Corinthians 3:18
18But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

The tense is interesting here: We are being transformed from one degree of character, or glory, to another. It is because sanctification is progressive, a growth, that we are exhorted to “increase and abound” (1 Thess. 3:12), and to “abound more and more” (4:1, 10) in the graces of the Christian life. The fact that there is always danger of being defiled by contact with a sinful world, and that there is, in the life of the true Christian, an ever increasing sense of duty and an ever-deepening consciousness of sin, necessitates a continual growth and development in the graces and virtues of the believer’s life. There is such a thing as “perfecting holiness” (2 Cor. 7:1). God’s gift to the church of pastors and teachers is for the purpose of the perfecting of the saints in the likeness of Christ until, at last, they attain unto the fulness of the divine standard, even Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:11-15). Holiness is not an overnight growth; it is not the thing of an hour here and there; it grows as the coral reef grows: little by little, degree by degree. See also Phil. 3:10-15.

3. Complete and Final Sanctification

1 Thessalonians 5:23
23Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Completely” means, perfect in every respect, whether it refers to the Church as a whole, or to the individual believer. Some day the believer is to be complete in all departments of Christian character—no Christian grace will be missing. Complete in the “spirit” which links him with heaven; in the “body” which links him with earth; in the “soul” as being that on which heaven and earth intersect. Maturity in each separate element of Christian character: body, soul, and spirit. This blessing of entire and complete sanctification is to take place when Christ comes:

1 Thessalonians 3:13
13so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.
1 John 3:2
2Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

Philippians 3:12-14
12Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
13Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
14I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

From the Divine Side: It Is the Work of the Triune God.
a) God the Father

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
23Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
24He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.

God’s work is here contrasted with human efforts to achieve the preceding injunctions. Just as in Hebrews 12:2, and Philippians 1:6, the Beginner of faith is also the Finisher; so is it here; consequently the end and aim of every exhortation is but to strengthen faith in God who is able to accomplish these things for us. Of course there is a sense in which the believer is responsible for his progress in the Christian life (Phil. 3:12, 13), yet it is nevertheless true that, after all, it is the divine grace which works all in him (Phil. 2:12, 13). We cannot purify ourselves, but we can yield to God and then the purity will come. The “God of peace,” He who reconciles us—is the One who sanctifies us. It is as if the apostle said: “God, by His mighty power will do for you what I, by my admonitions, and you by your own efforts, cannot do.” See also John 17:17—“Sanctify them through thy truth.” Christ addresses God as the One who is to sanctify the disciples.

b) Jesus Christ the Son

Hebrews 10:10
10By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

The death of Jesus Christ separates the believer from sin and the world, and sets him apart as redeemed and dedicated to the service of God. This same truth, namely, the sanctification of the Church as based on the sacrificial death of Christ, is set forth in Eph. 5:25, 27—“Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for it; that he might sanctify it.” Christ is “made unto us… sanctification” (1 Cor. 1:30). See also Heb. 13:12

c) The Holy Spirit Sanctifies

1 Peter 1:2
2elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.

2 Thessalonians 2:13
13But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth,

The Holy Spirit seals, attests, and confirms the work of grace in the soul by producing the fruits of righteousness. It is the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus who gives us freedom from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2). He is called the Holy Spirit, not only because He is absolutely holy Himself, but also because He produces that quality of character in the believer. The Spirit is the executive of the Godhead for this very purpose. It is the Spirit’s work to war against the lusts of the flesh and enable us to bring forth fruit unto holiness (Gal. 5:17-22). How wonderfully this truth is set forth in the contrast between the seventh and eighth chapters of Romans. Note the unsuccessful struggle of the former, and the victory of the latter. Interestingly there is no mention of the Holy Spirit in the seventh chapter of Romans, while He is mentioned about sixteen times in the eighth chapter. Herein lies the secret of failure and victory, sin and holiness.

From the Human Side

a) Faith in the Redemptive Work of Jesus Christ

1 Corinthians 1:30
30But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—

Christ is indeed all these things to us, but, in reality, He becomes such only as we appropriate Him for ourselves. Only as the believer, daily, even moment by moment, takes by faith the holiness of Jesus, His faith, His patience, His love, His grace, to be his own for the need of that very moment, can Christ, who by His death was made unto him sanctification in the instantaneous sense, become unto him sanctification in the progressive sense—producing in the believer His own life moment by moment. Herein lies the secret of a holy life—the momentary appropriation of Jesus Christ in all the riches of His grace for every need as it arises. The degree of our sanctification is the proportion of our appropriation of Christ. See also Acts 26:18.

b) The Study of the Scriptures and Obedience

John 17:17
17Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.

Ephesians 5:26
26that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,

John 15:3
3You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.

Our sanctification is limited by our limitation in the knowledge of and our lack of obedience to the Word of God. How does the Word of God sanctify? By revealing sin; by awakening conscience; by revealing the character of Christ; by showing the example of Christ; by offering the influences and powers of the Holy Spirit, and by setting forth spiritual motives and ideals. There is no power like that of the Word of God for detaching a man from the world, the flesh and the devil.

c) The Pursuit of Holiness

Hebrews 12:14
14Pursue … holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:

To pursue means to seek out, as Saul of Tarsus pursued and followed the early Christians. One cannot become a saint in his sleep. Holiness must be the object of his pursuit. The lazy man will not be the holy man. Heb. 12:10, 11: God chastens us “for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” Chastisement often is intended to “produce the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” Rom. 6:19-22; 2 Cor. 6:17; 7:1. Sanctification is brought about in the life of the believer by his separating himself deliberately from all that is unclean and unholy, and by presenting, continually and constantly, the members of his body as holy instruments unto God for the accomplishment of His holy purposes. Thus by these single acts of surrender unto holiness, sanctification soon becomes the habit of the life.

Summary

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says sanctification is “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.” The concept is not of sin being totally eradicated or merely counteracted, but of a Holy Spirit orchestrated character change freeing us from sinful habits and forming in us Christlike behavior, attitudes, and virtues.

As stated in the introduction regeneration is birth; sanctification is growth. In regeneration, God implants desires that were not there before:

  • desire for God, for holiness, and for the hallowing and glorifying of God’s name in this world;
  • desire to pray, worship, love, serve, honor, and please God;
  • desire to show love and bring benefit to others.

In sanctification, the Holy Spirit “works in you to will and to act” according to God’s purpose; what he does is prompt you to “work out your salvation” (i.e., express it in action) by fulfilling these new desires (Phil. 2:12-13). Christians become increasingly Christlike as the moral profile of Jesus (the “fruit of the Spirit”) is progressively formed in them (2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 4:19; 5:22-25). As we progress in Christlikeness we are growing in holiness, for He is holy.

A.W. Pink wrote these words as a warning to Christians regarding personal holiness in the early 1900’s which still applies to our current day.

“How many there are today who suppose that if they have trusted in Christ, all is sure to be well with them at the last even though they are not personally holy. Under the pretense of honoring faith, Satan as an angel of light, has deceived and is now deceiving multitudes of souls. When their “faith” is examined and tested, what is it worth? Nothing at all so far as insuring an entrance into heaven is concerned: it is a powerless, lifeless, fruitless thing. The faith of God’s elect is unto “the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness” (Titus 1:1). It is a faith which purifieth the heart (Acts 15:9), and it grieves over all impurity. It is a faith which produces an unquestioning obedience (Heb. 11:8). They therefore do but delude themselves who suppose they are daily drawing nearer to heaven while they are following those courses which lead only to hell. He who thinks to come to the enjoyment of God without being personally holy, makes Him out to be an unholy God, and puts the highest indignity upon Him. The genuineness of saving faith is only proved as it bears the blossoms of experimental godliness and the fruits of true piety”

Scripture is clear we are to Pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” Heb 12:14 and the decision to purse holiness is our choice for we are to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” Phil 2:12, and gratefully with thanksgiving we are empowered by the power of the Holy Spirit Phil 2:13 in this pursuit. The doctrine of sanctification  has serious and eternal implications for the believer. Given the price Christ paid for our salvation and having separated us out to holiness to become conformed to His image, should not our reasonable pursuit be a life of obedience toward sanctification for it is the “will of God” 1 Thess 4:3?

Romans 8:29
29For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

May the Spirit of God draw us humbly toward holiness, moment by moment, breath by breath, that Christ might be fully expressed in and through us for the glory of the Father. Amen.

 

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Holiness – a requirement for effective prayer

November 28, 2011 1 comment

The pursuit of holiness in our lives has many critical implications for the believer.  One of those is in the vitality and effectiveness of our prayer lives.  Specifically, the Bible teaches that when the believer is not walking in holiness, where there is  sin in the believer’s life, fellowship with God can be distanced and lead God to not hear our prayers. 

Psalms 66:18
If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.

Isaiah 59:2
But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.

The above verses indicate, while no one can separate us from God, our sin can lead God to disregard our prayers.  We cannot cling to our sin and hold on to God simultaneously. 

So what does “regard iniquity” (injustice, immorality, wickedness, vice, sin) in my heart mean?  Taken literally, “if I have seen iniquity in my heart” characterized by;  a purposeful act of iniquity; if my thought life has had a wicked end in view; if I have not been willing to forsake all sin; if I have cherished a sin in my life, then I regard iniquity in my heart.  In other words, the critical question is where is my heart?  But we might ask, since the heart is defiled and desperately wicked and who can know it (Jer 17:9) how can we truly know what is in our heart?   The key is to ask some clear and penetrating questions and allow the Holy Spirit to prick your conscious to show you clearly any areas of your heart which are not right before a holy God.  Sincerely and purposely ask yourself these questions;  am I cherishing past sin; am I gloating over past sins; am I purposing to commit sin again; or am I not willing to abandon all sin?  Answering yes to any of these thoughts in your heart would indicate you regard iniquity and not fully and earnestly desiring to walk in holiness.

The result is the Lord will not hear – that is, He will not regard and answer your prayers.  The clearest way to restate is to say that in order that prayer may be heard; there must be a purpose to forsake all forms of sin.  We must walk in holiness.   This principle can be further found in the following Scriptures:

Psalms 18:41
41    They cried out, but there was none to save;     Even to the Lord, but He did not answer them.

Psalms 34:15
15    The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,      And His ears are open to their cry.

Proverbs 1:28
28    “Then they will call on me, but I will not answer;      They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me.

Proverbs 15:29
29    The Lord is far from the wicked,      But He hears the prayer of the righteous.

Proverbs 28:9
9    One who turns away his ear from hearing the law,      Even his prayer is an abomination.

Jeremiah 11:11
11Therefore thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will surely bring calamity on them which they will not be able to escape; and though they cry out to Me, I will not listen to them. 

Jeremiah 11:14
14“So do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them; for I will not hear them in the time that they cry out to Me because of their trouble.

Jeremiah 14:12
12When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence.”

Jeremiah 15:1
1Then the Lord said to me, “Even if Moses and Samuel stood before Me, My mind would not be favorable toward this people. Cast them out of My sight, and let them go forth. 

Jeremiah 42:20
20For you were hypocrites in your hearts when you sent me to the Lord your God, saying, ‘Pray for us to the Lord our God, and according to all that the Lord your God says, so declare to us and we will do it.’ 

Ezekiel 8:18
18Therefore I also will act in fury. My eye will not spare nor will I have pity; and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them.”

Zechariah 7:13
13Therefore it happened, that just as He proclaimed and they would not hear, so they called out and I would not listen,” says the Lord of hosts. 

John 9:31
31Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. 

 The above Scriptures shout loud and clear, God hears the righteous and His ears are closed to the wicked and those who pursue iniquity.  The negative implications of not walking in holiness to a believer’s pray life are significant and need to be taken seriously.  Martin Luther relates to our topic as follows:

If I regard iniquity in my heart, that is, “If I have favorable thoughts of it, if I love it, indulge it, and allow myself in it, if I treat it as a friend and bid it welcome, make provision for it and am loth to part with it, if I roll it under my tongue as a sweet morsel, though it be but a heart sin that is thus countenanced and made much of, if I delight in it after the inward man, God will not hear my prayer, will not accept it, nor be pleased with it, nor can I expect an answer of peace to it.”  Martin Luther

The believer must clearly understand that if there is still the love of evil in his heart; if he has some cherished purpose of iniquity which he is not willing to abandon; if there is any one sin, however small or unimportant it may seem to be, which he is not willing to forsake, he cannot hope that God will hear his prayer; he may be assured that he will not. All prayer, to be acceptable to God, must be connected with a purpose to forsake all sin. 

For God to accept our prayers, while we are delighting in sin, would be to make himself the God of hypocrites.  God does not and cannot compromise on His highest attribute of holiness.  We are called to “be holy, for He is holy” nothing less (1 Peter 1:14-16).

1 Peter 1:14-16
14as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 
15but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 
16because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”

So what should you do if you regard iniquity in your heart; confess and repent (1John 1:9).  As a genuine believer you have access to a forgiving God who is gracious, merciful, and longing for a pure and holy relationship with you.   It is never too late, sin too grievous or long indulged that God is not moved to respond to a sincere and humble heart given over to repentance and a desire and purpose to walk with Him in holiness. This is a day by day process, our demonstrated desire to be holy before a holy God. 

“Prayer is obedience! God’s command and promise is our motive for prayer.” —John Calvin

Holiness – without it no one will see the Lord

November 16, 2011 1 comment

I am writing this series on holiness because I believe the whole notion of the command in Scripture to pursue holiness and its critical importance to the Christian life is not preached, taught, or emphasized sufficiently, if at all, in our churches today.  The doctrine of holiness and all it entails is one of the most essential and practical in application to the daily life of the believer.  I pray God will use this series in the life of those it touches to enrich and deepen their walk with God.

Hebrews 12:14
Pursue .. holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 

The writer of Hebrews gives a specific, pointed, and direct command.  Pursue holiness.  The thrust is strait forward – without being holy we will not see the Lord.  This short powerful compelling verse is one that communicates a clear warning while at the same time confidence and hope.   For the Christian it prompts two immediate questions, 1) who is holy? 2) who will see the Lord? Christians would do well to understand and heed this verse, its consequences, and live in obedience to its command. 

So what does this verse mean?  One question that obviously comes to mind is does my salvation depend on my attaining some level of personal holiness?  The short answer is no. Isaiah 64:6 tells us that our righteous deeds are like filthy garments in the light of God’s holy law.  Our best efforts are like filthy rages sowed together with the thread of sin.  Second, Scripture is clear that it is Christ’s righteousness on our behalf which gives us audience before God clothed in righteousness. 

Romans 5:19
19For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.

1 Peter 3:18
18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring £us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 

Hebrews 10:10
10By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Based on the above verses we see that our holiness before God depends entirely on the work of Jesus Christ for us, by God’s will.  Now we can ask the question, doesHebrews 12:14refer to this holiness which we have in Christ?  No for the writer of Hebrews says that the holiness referred to here is to be pursued, strived for and without this effort no one will see the Lord.

The Bible then speaks of both a holiness which we have in Christ before God (our positional holiness), and a holiness which we are to strive after (progressive holiness).  These two aspects complement one another, for our salvation is a salvation unto holiness.

1 Thessalonians 4:7
7For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. 

1 Corinthians 1:2
2To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified (made holy) in Christ Jesus, called to be saints (to be holy), Italics mine.

So we are made holy in Christ in our standing before God, and called to be holy in our daily lives.  When the Holy Spirit comes in our lives at salvation, He comes to make us holy in practice.  If there is not, then at least a yearning in our hearts to live a holy life pleasing to God, we need to seriously question whether our faith in Christ is genuine.

This does not mean that when we are saved this desire is a blazing fire for God, but there should be a recognized spark.  But this spark will grow into a flame when God works in your life and places the desire to live a life wholly pleasing to Him in you (Phil 2:13).  We are saved not only from the penalty of sin, but its dominion (its hold on us in our Christian walk).

Bishop J. C. Ryle said, “I doubt, indeed, whether we have any warrant for saying that a man can possibly be converted without being consecrated to God. More consecrated he doubtless can be, and will be as his grace increases; but if he was not consecrated to God in the very day that he was converted and born again, I do not know what conversion means” 

Holiness, then, is not necessary as a condition of salvation – that would be salvation by works – but a part of salvation that is received by faith in Christ. As stated above, this does not mean the desire for holiness must be a conscious desire at the time a person comes to Christ, but rather it means that the Holy Spirit who creates within us saving faith also creates within us the desire for holiness. He simply does not create one without the other.

Titus 2:11-12
11For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 
12teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 

God’s nature demands holiness in the life of a Christian. (See prior post on Getting a Grip on God’s Chief Attribute – Holiness).  Holiness is required for fellowship with God.  David asked the question, “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?  Who may live on your holy hill?” (Ps 15:1). Essentially this is saying who may live in fellowship with you?  The answer which is summarized in the next four verses is “he who leads a holy life.” 

Prayer is a vital part of our fellowship with God; yet the psalmist said, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). To regard wickedness is to cherish some sin, to love it to the extent that I am not willing to part with it. I know it is there, yet I justify it in some way like the child who says,” Well, he hit me first:’ when we are holding on to some sin, we are not pursuing holiness and we cannot have fellowship with God.” Jerry Bridges

God does not require a perfect, sinless life to have fellowship with Him, but He does require that we be serious about holiness, that we grieve over sin in our lives instead of justifying it, and that we earnestly pursue holiness as a way of life.

Holiness is also required for our own well-being. Scripture says, “The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6). He disciplines us because we need discipline. To persist in disobedience is to increase our necessity for discipline. Some of the Corinthian Christians persisted in disobedience to the point where God had to take their lives (1 Corinthians 11:30).

When God speaks to us about some sin we need to listen and take action.  To fail to deal with that sin is to risk incurring His hand of discipline.  Peter said, “Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear” (1 Peter 1:17). God is serious about holiness in the lives of His people, and He will discipline us to attain it.

Holiness is also necessary for effective service to God. Paul wrote to Timothy, “If a man cleanses himself from [ignoble purposes], he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Timothy 2:21). Holiness and usefulness are linked together. We cannot bring our service to God in an unclean vessel. The One who makes our service effective and who empowers us for service is the Holy Spirit. Note well that He is called the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of Holiness. When we indulge our sinful natures and dwell in unholiness, the Spirit of God is grieved (Ephesians 4:30) and will not prosper our service. These are not times when we fall into temptation and immediately seek God’s forgiveness and cleansing, but lives that are characterized by unholy living.

Holiness also is necessary for our assurance of salvation -not at the moment of salvation, but over the course of our lives. True faith will always show itself by its fruits. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  James tells us that “for the body without the spirit is death, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26) Is there evidence in your life that you are a new creation – a changed life which is growing to become more like Christ? 

The only clear evidence that we are in Christ is a holy life.  John said everyone who has within him the hope of eternal life purifies himself just as Christ is pure (1John 3:3). Paul said,”Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). If we know nothing of holiness, we may flatter ourselves that we are Christians but we do not have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. J. C. Ryle helps us see the many false perceptions of what being holy means.

So what sort of persons are those whom God calls holy. A man may go great lengths, and yet never reach true holiness. It is not knowledge–Balaam had that: nor great profession–Judas Iscariot had that: nor doing many things–Herod had that: nor zeal for certain matters in religion–Jehu had that: nor morality and outward respectability of conduct–the young ruler had that: nor taking pleasure in hearing preachers–the Jews in Ezekiel’s time had that: nor keeping company with godly people–Joab and Gehazi and Demas had that. Yet none of these was holy! These things alone are not holiness. A man may have any one of them, and yet never see the Lord.  J.C. Ryle

Everyone, then, who professes to be a Christian should ask himself, “Is there evidence of practical holiness in my life? Do I desire and strive after holiness? Do I grieve over my lack of it and earnestly seek the help of God to be holy?” It is not those who profess to know Christ who will enter heaven, but those whose lives are holy. Even those who do “great Christian works” will not enter heaven unless they also do the will of God.  Jesus said,

Matthew 7:21-23
21“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 
22Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 
23And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

From the above we know what holiness isn’t and its consequences, but what might some of the characteristics be of someone who is earnestly pursing holiness?   How can we have confidence when we stand before Jesus that He says well done good and faithful servant?  In the end the key determinate is a genuinely changed life, a new creation, a life well lived in the pursuit of holiness.  The following is a short list of how you might know you are pursing holiness.

You know you are pursing holiness when you……

  • turn away from every known sin and endeavor to keep all God’s commands (Rom. 7:22;Ps 119:128)
  • have a willingness to submit and surrender all to the Lordship of  Jesus Christ (Luke 14:27, 33)
  • strive earnestly to be Christ-like (Rom. 8:29)
  • exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, manage your tongue and bear, forbear, overlook much (Gal. 5:22-23)
  • are of one mind with Christ loving and hating what He loves and hates (Phil 2:5)
  • follow after humility and desire to esteem others better than yourself (Phil. 2:3-4)
  • follow after a spirit of mercy and benevolence toward others continually trying to do good (Rom 8:8)
  • follow after purity of heart, self-denial, avoiding all things that draw away from God (1 Cor. 9:27)
  • have a Holy Spirit compelled desire to seek and know God (Ps 25:4, 27:11;Jer. 31:34)
  • endeavor to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh (Gal 5:16)
  • have a fear and reverence for God wishing to please Him in every aspect of your life (Eccl. 12:13;1 Peter 1:17)
  • crave time with God in prayer and Bible study (1 Peter 2:2;Joshua 1:9)

Life is a continual warfare with sin, the world and the devil.  It is a relentless battle that only by the power of the Holy Spirit can we progress from faith to faith (Romans 1:17), glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18), and strength to strength (Ps 84:7) in our pursuit of holiness.  This is a never ending journey.  We don’t arrive.  We progress to deeper and deeper levels of experiencing God and living a life increasingly consecrated to Him until He receives us into glory where we are then fully perfected. 

God is forever shaping our character as we live a life in pursuit of holiness.    There will be times of trial, temptation, chastisement, and troubles, but a lifetime of blessings and hope as God gives us the privilege of experiencing His grace and mercy, and allows our unworthy lives to be used to bring honor and glory to Him.

In summary, why is the pursuit of holiness so important?  

First the pursuit of holiness is commanded. 

Scripture is clear it is God’s will our sanctification and we are to be holy for He is holy. 

1 Thessalonians 4:3
3For this is the will of God, your sanctification:

1 Thessalonians 4:7
7For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. 

1 Peter 1:15-16
15but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 
16because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” 

These are commands to be obeyed, they are not optional.  Obedience to pursue holiness and all commands in Scripture is based on our love relationship with Christ (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:14).  Yes, it would be difficult to find any words more clear on our motivation to obey than those spoken by Christ – “if you love me you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15).  Our pursuit of holiness is God’s will, we are called to be holy, and we are compelled to obey these commands by our love for Christ. 

Second, it is the only sound evidence that we have a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are exhorted to examine ourselves as to whether we are in the faith.  God was gracious to give us through John the Apostle the First Epistle of John which was written that Christians might know they have eternal life.  Throughout this epistle a life of holiness is exemplified by obedience to God’s commands.  Take some time and review again these pages of affirmation as you pursue a life of holiness.

 2 Corinthians 13:5
5Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. 

1 John 5:13
13These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

We also must show in our lives the family we belong; that we are members of the family of God, children of the Holy One.  The Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are His children.  In the end true saving faith will always show itself by its fruits; it will sanctify, it will work by love, it will purify the heart and give life. 

Romans 8:14
14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 

Romans 8:16
16The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 

James 2:17
17Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Romans 8:10
10And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 

Third Christ gave Himself that we might be a church and people presented holy.

Ephesians 5:25-26
25Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 
26that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 

Titus 2:14
14who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.

The notion talking of men being saved from the guilt of sin, without being at the same time saved from its dominion in their hearts, is to contradict the witness of all Scripture. Are believers said to be elect!–it is “through sanctification of the Spirit.” Are they predestinated?–it is “to be conformed to the image of God’s Son.” Are they chosen?–it is “that they may be holy.” Are they called?–is it “with a holy calling.” Are they afflicted?–it is that they may be “partakers of holiness.” Jesus is a complete Savior. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, He does more–He breaks its power and its dominion.

1 Peter 1:2
2elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.

Romans 8:29
29For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 

Ephesians 1:4
4just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 

Hebrews 12:10
10For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 

As believers we must ask ourselves if we are living our lives in obedience to the command to pursue holiness.   Am I obeying God’s will to give my life fully over to sanctification, being set apart to holiness?  Do I have a yearning to grow deeper in my relationship with God?  If I compared my life today with my life the day I was saved, is there a discernible difference – is my life truly changed – more holy?

You cannot be justified and not be sanctified and you cannot be sanctified without being justified.  They are inseparable, one is never found without the other.  

Just as Jesus’ half brother James proclaimed – “faith without works is dead”. We should not look to tell others of our salvation unless we have also some marks of sanctification. We should not boast of Christ’s work for us, unless we can show others the Spirit’s work in us.  May we keep the key verse of this article continually before us: ” Pursue .. holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.”  (Heb 12:14)

May your walk with God be ever growing in holiness for His honor and glory Amen.

Author Note:  This series draws heavily on the devotional writings of many great men of God including:  Holy in Christ, Andrew Murray; Bible Holiness, E.P. Ellyson; Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots J. C. Ryle; The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges; The Way of Holiness, S. Olford; Holiness, H. Blackaby.    I have learned much and feel a great debt of gratitude to these devoted men of God.

Moments of Decision – How to Control Your Thought Life

November 12, 2011 Leave a comment

In my experiences mentoring men and families one of the most common areas that seems to always surface is their thought life.   Questions often come from recurring thoughts about their past life before becoming a Christian and how/why this continues to happen now that they are following the Lord?  Men in particular are concerned about lust in their thoughts which they want to deny entry but continue to reoccur.  Women have great memories which can easily resurrect prior relationships and result in improper or impure thoughts.  These thought life situations are all too common, among others many other examples, and often produce guilt and helplessness on what to do about them.  The following article is an attempt to shed some light on this pervasive issue.  An issue that is difficult but not impossible to master.  It is a choice.  A moment of decision.

Why did I think that?  Where did that thought come from?  Why am I constantly thinking about that?  How do I stop these thoughts from coming into my mind? These nagging questions, to one degree or another, seem to confront us more frequently than we care to admit.   For the Christian these questions can often result in discouragement, doubt, lead to a wide range of sin and wage a constant battle for our thought life.  The following are some notable quotes on this pervasive and constant challenge before every Christian.

“Guard your thoughts, and there will be little fear about your actions.” ~ J.C. Ryle

“Our minds are mental greenhouses where unlawful thoughts, once planted, are nurtured and watered before being transplanted into the real world of unlawful actions… These actions are savored in the mind long before they are enjoyed in reality. The thought life, then, is our first line of defense in the battle of self-control.”  Jerry Bridges

“No matter where it ends, sin always begins when an evil thought is sown in the mind and heart.”  John MacArthur

“Great illnesses seldom attack the body, without a previous train of premonitory symptoms. Great falls seldom happen to a saint, without a previous course of secret backsliding. The church and the world are sometimes shocked by the sudden misconduct of some great professor of religion. Believers are discouraged and stumbled by it. The enemies of God rejoice and blaspheme. But if the truth could be known, the explanation of such cases would generally be found to have been private departure from God. Men fall in private, long before they fall in public. The tree falls with a great crash, but the secret decay which accounts for it, is often not discovered until it is down on the ground.”  J.C. Ryle  Commentary, Matthew 26

“Imagination is a God-given gift; but if it is fed dirt by the eye, it will be dirty. All sin, not least sexual sin, begins with the imagination. Therefore what feeds the imagination is of maximum importance in the pursuit of kingdom righteousness (Phil. 4:8)”. D.A. Carson

We must be reminded that the Bible teaches the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9) and Jesus also taught that out of the heart precede evil thoughts (Matt. 15:19) so we should not be surprised at the rate, scope and nature of thoughts that might enter our minds.  Further we also have an enemy, Satan and his demons that are all too helpful in taking over our thought life if we allow. Consequently, it is critical that we proactively guard our minds from evil thoughts entering and if they enter we need to know how to quickly overcome before they take root.  This is an area where the proverbial ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure aptly applies.

The battle of the Christian walk is in the heart and mind, the thought life, both organs of the soul.  When you became a Christian you were immediately justified and positionally sanctified but you were also called to begin the life long process of progressive sanctification (separated unto holiness) which is the will of God (1Thess. 4:3) where you grow to become more like Christ (Eph 4:13;Romans 8:29; 2Cor. 3:18).  This process continues until the return of Christ when we will be changed to be like Him (1John 3:2) and with this hope comes our call to pursue holiness (1John 3:3;Heb. 12:14). 

It is critical then that we keep our hearts with all diligence for out of our hearts spring all the issues of life (Prov. 4:23).  The content of the Christian’s heart and mind and resulting thought life is to be zealously protected as we earnestly pursue holiness.  The following verses (italics my emphasis) highlight the importance of the mind’s (thought life) role in our ability to grow in holiness.

Romans 12:2
2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Ephesians 4:17-24
17This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 
18having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart
19who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
20But you have not so learned Christ, 
21if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 
22that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 
23and be renewed in the spirit of your mind,
 
24and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

1 Peter 1:13-16
13Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 
14as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 
15but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct

From the above verses we are clearly called into a continuing process of renewing our minds moving from the old ways of the flesh before we were saved to the new man walking in the Spirit after we are saved. 

So now we know that our hearts and minds are the source of our thought lives.  We also know the critical importance for the renewal and protection of our thought life as we pursue holiness in obedience to God’s command that we be holy; but how do I do this?  While much can be said, in this article I will briefly summarize some key actions we can take to protect and control our thought life.

First, it is imperative that we read and study the Bible. 

When we read and study the bible we are replacing those old thoughts before we were saved, planted by Satan, with God’s thoughts.  The only way you can be sure that the thought you are thinking is of God and not Satan is to know the Word of God.  We also need to be able to discern “good from evil” and allow the Bible to speak to us about the true intents of our hearts.  Without this foundation it will not be possible to proactively manage and control your thought life. 

Hebrews 5:13
14But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Hebrews 4:12-13
12For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 

Second, we need to consciously walk in the Spirit.  

Galatians 5:16
16I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 

Not to walk in the Spirit is to open ourselves up to all the lusts of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21).  Paul then outlines for us the fruits of the Spirit which Christ perfectly lived as an example for us to follow (Gal 5:22-23).  Therefore living and walking in the Spirit, an indispensable component to controlling our thought life.

Third, we should guard our hearts and minds by focusing on what is good and praiseworthy.

Philippians 4:7-8
7and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
8Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 

Often the best approach to dealing with anxious or evil thoughts is to reorient and focus on those things which are positive, good, and praiseworthy.  Paul in his epistle of joy gives great encouragement as we overcome anxiety – giving it over to prayer and thanksgiving while channeling our thoughts toward anything that is praiseworthy.

Fourth, we need to guard against giving Satan access to our minds.

From Scripture it is evident that Satan is alive and well desiring to devour those He can.  Those that allow him to have a foothold in their lives do so by not being vigilant and sober minded.   Our ability to resist the devil is directly related to our being steadfast in our faith and having a dynamic and growing walk with God.  This is a spiritual war that is being waged for our minds and only by the Spirit of God can we resist.   This is a battle all believers experience – none are exempt from this fight.

1 Peter 5:8-9
8Be sober, be vigilant; £because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 
9Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. 

James 4:7
7Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 

Scripture also tells us that the times are evil and we are to walk uprightly redeeming the time.  How do we do this?  By being wise and understanding what the will of the Lord is.  How do we do this?  We need to have a thorough intimate knowledge of God’s Word.  Our minds should be immersed in the Word otherwise idle minds are the devil’s workshop.  We need to constantly be active not passive in our walk with God always endeavoring to be obedient, growing in our knowledge of God, and actively engaged in doing His will.

Ephesians 5:15-17
15See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 
16redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
17Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 

So briefly how do demonic forces attach themselves to us?   I believe the following analogy may be helpful in understanding how this works.

Satan has no power over us except the power we give him. Think of the mind as the United States and all fifty territorial states. Satan’s goal is to take and steal every one of these territories. He does it by taking one state at a time. How does he do this? When he implants in our minds a thought that is contrary to God’s Word and God’s revealed will to us by the Holy Spirit confirmed through the Word, when we decide to surrender to that thought and act upon it, then and only then is Satan able to attach Himself to us in that piece of territory of our mind. This is why the Bible tells us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but spiritual forces. Once we act upon that thought and the evil spiritual force which put it there then attaches itself to us, we then are under bondage to that idea and find ourselves not able to say no to the thought any longer even if we want to.

What is the solution once a thought gets attached to our minds? We must retake back that piece of territory Satan has stolen from us. Unfortunately once we have surrendered it, Satan does not want to give it back, and so begins the spiritual battle. How do we regain that area of our minds?  First, by confessing the sin to God.  Second, by repenting of the sin, by resurrendering that area of our lives to Jesus: “Jesus, I will to resubmit this area of my life to you and to obey Your will in this area of my life.” Third, remove from your life whatever is associated with the sin, whatever tempts you and causes you to fall to the sin.  Paul wrote in Romans 13:14 “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”  If the flesh has opportunity, it will sin, so you must remove the object of temptation if you are to go on and have victory over the sin repented of.

Watchman Nee in his book The Spiritual Man outlines five ways we give control of our minds to Satan:

First, by not daily meditating on God’s word.

Second, by deliberately considering and living out sin in one’s mind.

Third, through willful ignorance of God’s truth’s and moral absolutes.

Fourth, by accepting any suggestion in the mind as if from God without questioning or checking to see if it lines up with God’s Word or past light of God.

Fifth, by deliberately blanking one’s mind so as to receive suggestions from evil spirits.

Do you find any of these areas contributing to your ability to control the purity of your thought life?  These are fairly self explanatory but offer a good guide for things to do and not do if we are going to resist the devil and take control of our thought lives. 

The control of our thought life is difficult

The mastery of our thought life is difficult, but then everything that seeks to honor God and counter the flesh, Satan, and the world is difficult.  The difficulty of controlling our thought life rests in the deep recesses of our heart and mind.  Our thought life is totally hidden.  It is impenetrable by even those closest to us.  Our thoughts have no immediate social impact. A person may have bitter thoughts of you yet meet you with a smile on their face.  An employee may despise their boss, yet outwardly be a model of obedience.  A person may have deep lustful thoughts as they sit at lunch in the school cafeteria, yet seem innocent without any emotional attachment. 

Yes our thought life is unlike other areas we seek to master such as our speech, behavioral issues, physical addictions, etc.  Our thought life is an area which is so private we believe that no one will ever know.  This way of thinking is of course of the devil given the Lord knows our heart and all of our thoughts (Ps 94:11; 1Cor 3:20;Matt 15:19).   Consequently, without appropriate prevention and correction, a Christian’s thought life can often result in debilitating feelings of guilt, depression, hopelessness, and a continuing spiral into ever deepening sinful behavior.  It is this secrecy, this surrounding darkness that has led men to say that thought is free without consequence, and that makes the mastery of thought so difficult.

The mastery of thought is within the power of every Christian

The thought life is a matter of the will.  It is a choice, a moment by moment decision, as are all other disciplines of the Christian life which lead to a life of holiness.  It is within the will and power of Christians to master their thought lives.  The following is a short summary list of some ways to help master the thought life.

  • If we will but surrender our lives to the mind of Christ (Phil 2:5). 
  • Choose to walk in the Spirit versus the flesh empowered by the Spirit of God (Gal 5:16). 
  • Choose to decrease and Christ increase in our lives to where He is overflowing where no ungodly thought has place of entry (John 3:30). 
  • Develop a solid pattern of Bible study, prayer, and Scripture meditation keeping your mind active and focused on godly pursuits (Ps 119:11)
  • Do not trust yourself to prevent entry of ungodly thoughts into your mind – trust in God, acknowledge Him and lean not on your own understanding – fear the Lord and depart from evil (Proverbs 3:5-8)
  • Do not allow idle time to give Satan access to your mind – those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom 8:6-8)
  • Do all you can to think pure thoughts as any unscriptural thought works to penetrate the heart and mind  (Phil 4:9)

In the end you must fill your being so full of higher interests that when the devil comes and clamors for admission, he will find there is not a chair for him to sit on. Above all, you must endeavor daily to walk in a closer fellowship with Christ. It is always easier to have lovely thoughts when walking with the Altogether Lovely One. (Morrison)

Prayer: 

Philippians 4:8-9
8Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 
9The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

Lord I know what I put in my mind determines what comes out in my words and actions. By your Spirit may my mind only have thoughts which are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Examine my life and convict my spirit if there are any areas of my life such as people, television, internet, books, conversations, movies, and magazines corrupting my thought life. I pray Lord that you would replace harmful input with wholesome material. Above all, Lord would you place in my heart the desire to read your Word and pray without ceasing empowering me toward a pure thought life.   And where the enemy has captured my thought life I pray for release of that territory by the name and blood of Jesus.  Amen.

Mentoring Moment: 20 Accountability Questions for the Christian Walk

November 3, 2011 1 comment

One of the benefits of a mentor-mentee relationship is to hold one another accountable in their Christian walk.   Navigating daily life is challenging to say the least.  There are land mines of every type and temptations around every corner.  For the Christian desiring to lead a godly life the challenges are extraordinary given the standard by which we desire to live is God’s standards as prescribed in His Word.  

God’s ways and the world’s ways are clearly different, but never the less Christians’ must function and be salt and light in the dark world they live and work each day.   In order not to be overcome by the world’s values it is critical to have an accountability partner who will help keep us on track in our spiritual walk, moral behavior, dealings with temptations, and overall ensure our integrity and Christian testimony is maintained in tack.

The Bible is clear that a man left on his own will deceive himself with regard to His own perceived righteousness.  Only God weighs the heart (Prov. 21:2).  Therefore it is vital that God’s Word be the standard for all our conduct and our true “accountability guide”(Heb. 4:12-13).   God’s Word also states that as “iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend (Prov. 27:17).   Therefore knowing that we are prone to deceive ourselves God has helped us see that others can be of enormous value in helping keep us sharp and alert in our Christian walk.

The Bible says that a good name is of greater value than riches and will find favor and blessings from the Lord. (Prov. 22:1) To have a good name we must walk in our integrity and lead a righteous life (Prov 20:7) which the Bible says is more acceptable than sacrifice(Prov. 21:3).  In order words God expects us to do what is right and just and that the sacrifices we present to God are not offered with sin-stained hands.   The calling is clear, it is God’s will our sanctification (setting us apart unto holiness -1 Thess. 4:3,7) so that our lives are not conformed to former ways and lusts but we are called to be holy in all our conduct (1 Peter 1:14-15).

How do we then help each other maintain accountability for our conduct, Christian testimony and growth in our faith?   One component in this broad area is to regularly ask questions which are designed to probe the spirit and encourage proactive right behavior, accountability to God’s Word, repentance, and affirm God’s work in the life being challenged.  These questions are not designed to produce unnecessary guilt but stimulate discussion and encourage.

Here are 20 question categories you might begin with and then add to the list as led:

  1. What are the greatest challenges you have been experiencing?  What are the greatest joys?
  2. How has your walk with God been since we last met?  Have you been experiencing the abundant life, experiencing His presence, drawing on His wisdom and strength?
  3. Have you been spending consistent time with God on a regular basis in prayer and Bible reading/study?  What have you gained in this time?  How is God speaking to you?  What are you reading and studying in addition to your quiet time that is deepening your relationship with God?
  4. In what ways have you stepped out in faith since we last met; given your testimony; sensed God’s activity in your life?
  5. What has been your greatest disappointment since we last met?  How have you handled this?
  6. Is there any hatred, bitterness, spite, resentment, or unforgiveness in your heart toward another person?  Have you gossiped about any person or situation?
  7. How have you managed your tongue?  Have you been sharp, unkind, or said things you should not have said to anyone? Have you used language that is inappropriate (swearing, laughing at inappropriate jokes)?  Have you compromised your integrity in any way by your speech?
  8. How have you served others since we last met?  What were your motives and attitudes when serving?
  9. Have you procrastinated on important things in your daily life and spiritual walk that should not be put off?
  10. Are you spending too much time at work or in other activities at the expense of family, others, and your spiritual life?
  11. Have you been spending good quantity and quality time with your spouse, children, mother or father?  What have you done since we last met to enhance relationships?  Are you praying together?
  12.  Are you giving to the Lord’s work financially?  Have you misused your finances by buying things you don’t need at the expense of your tithe and other responsibilities?
  13. Have you spent time with or talked with anybody that could have been misinterpreted as something unholy?  Have you endeavored to avoid the appearance of evil?
  14. Have you accessed internet sites, watched movies or television which is inappropriate that would have grieved the Spirit, had a negative impact on someone else, detracted from your testimony or hindered your spiritual walk?
  15. Have you committed any sexual sin? Have you had improper thoughts about the opposite sex?  Has your thought life been pure?  Are you wrestling with any sexual sin temptation?  Have you put yourself in an awkward situation with the opposite sex?
  16. Have you used or abused any substance as an escape instead of casting all your cares upon the Lord (cigarettes, food, alcohol, drugs, excessive caffeine, etc.)?
  17. Are you taking time to exercise your body and eat the proper foods?  Are your eating habits healthy?  Are you taking time for rest and relaxation?  Is there excessive stress in your life and how are you handling?
  18. Is there anything you are hiding or something else you need to be accountable for which I did not ask you?
  19. Overall does the external you and the internal you match?  Are you leading with your life?
  20. What is your number one need in the coming week and how can I pray for you?

Yes, these are tough questions as they should be.  Those who desire to lead holy lives as commanded in Scripture will quickly desire to be held accountable to godly biblical standards.   Our desire should be to do all we can to be pleasing to the Lord and become more conformed to the character of Jesus Christ.  Peter gives a series of actions which we should earnestly pursue with all diligence for fruitful growth in the faith and to keep ourselves from stumbling:

2 Peter 1:5-11
5But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 
6to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 
7to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 
8For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
9For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
10Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 
11for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Prayer:  Lord may you provide me with an accountability partner that can place in front of me your standards so that I might lead a life pleasing to you with a heart and testimony which is true to your Word.  Lord by your Spirit convict my spirit moment by moment to any sense of sin in my life that I might not sin against you and should I stumble be convicted to immediately confess, repent, and be cleansed. Lord I pray there is never anything in my life that would be between you and me.   May you crush my pride so that I am not deceived by my own thoughts, wisdom, and self-centeredness into a life style absent your favor, blessings, wisdom, and guidance!  May I lead with my life centered in Christ each day for the honor and glory of the kingdom.

Introduction: Getting a Grip on God’s Chief Attribute – Holiness

November 1, 2011 Leave a comment

This post is the first of a series of thoughts on the doctrine of holiness I hope to write, Lord willing, over the next few months.   The subject of holiness is one that is not preached in our pulpits often and as a consequence many Christians are not familiar with this doctrine and its enormous implications for the Christian life. In fact many Christians when they think of holiness they approach the topic with fear, misunderstanding, and the notion that it is for someone else but not for me.  Hopefully this post will bring some light on this subject to start our journey.    

Have you ever wanted to be like someone?  Perhaps the person that has most influenced you is your mother, father, coach, teacher, business leader or an athlete.  Many a person has benefited from the character and life of others that God has placed in our paths.  Even so, no matter how great we believe these important people in our lives are or have been there is One we are to emulate above all others and that is God Himself. 

God’s design for the conduct of our lives is clearly defined and commanded:

1 Peter 1:15-16
15but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 
16because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” £

God calls His children to be holy because He is holy.  So what does the Bible say about God’s holiness and our call to be holy as He is holy?

First, God’s holiness is the standard by which all morality is set and compared.  He has called ALL Christians to a holy life.  There are none excluded or especially singled out for holiness.  It is not something only for the pastor, missionary, or Christian leader, it is a command for EVERY Christian. 

We do not speak about holiness much in our churches these days.  It often appears that the standard by which we teach Christians how to live their lives is by the number of religious activities and programs they are involved in instead of pointing them to a deepening personal relationship with God and a consecrated life of holiness.  Yet, God’s command is clear, and the goal was set before time began, that God’s way of life for the called would be a life of holiness – because He is holy.

What is holiness?  In its simplest definition it is nothing less than the conformity to the character of God.  The basic theology of God’s holiness can be summarized briefing by the following:

When Scripture calls God, or individual persons of the Godhead, “holy” (as it often does: Lev. 11:44-45; Josh. 24:19; Isa. 2:2; Ps. 99:9; Isa. 1:4; 6:3; 41:14, 16, 20; 57:15; Ezek. 39:7; Amos 4:2; John 17:11; Acts 5:3-4, 32; Rev. 15:4), the word signifies everything about God that sets him apart from us and makes him an object of awe, adoration, and dread to us. It covers all aspects of his transcendent greatness and moral perfection and thus is an attribute of all his attributes, pointing to the “Godness” of God at every point. Every facet of God’s nature and every aspect of his character may properly be spoken of as holy, just because it is his. The core of the concept, however, is God’s purity, which cannot tolerate any form of sin (Hab. 1:13) and thus calls sinners to constant self-abasement in his presence (Isa. 6:5).

Justice, which means doing in all circumstances things that are right, is one expression of God’s holiness. God displays his justice as legislator and judge, and also as promise-keeper and pardoner of sin. His moral law, requiring behavior that matches his own, is “holy, righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). He judges justly, according to actual desert (Gen. 18:25;Pss. 7:11; 96:13;Acts 17:31). His “wrath,” that is, his active judicial hostility to sin, is wholly just in its manifestations (Rom. 2:5-16), and his particular “judgments” (retributive punishments) are glorious and praiseworthy (Rev. 16:5, 7; 19:1-4). Whenever God fulfills his covenant commitment by acting to save his people, it is a gesture of “righteousness,” that is, justice (Isa. 51:5-6; 56:1; 63:1;1 John 1:9). When God justifies sinners through faith in Christ, he does so on the basis of justice done, that is, the punishment of our sins in the person of Christ our substitute; thus the form taken by his justifying mercy shows him to be utterly and totally just (Rom. 3:25-26), and our justification itself is shown to be judicially justified.

When John says that God is “light,” with no darkness in him at all, the image is affirming God’s holy purity, which makes fellowship between him and the willfully unholy impossible and requires the pursuit of holiness and righteousness of life to be a central concern for Christian people (1John 1:5-2:1; 2Cor. 6:14-7:1;Heb. 12:10-17). The summons to believers, regenerate and forgiven as they are, to practice a holiness that will match God’s own, and so please him, is constant in the New Testament, as indeed it was in the Old Testament (Deut. 30:1-10;Eph. 4:17-5:14; 1Pet. 1:13-22). Because God is holy, God’s people must be holy too.

The holiness of God includes His perfect conformity to His own divine character.  That is, all of His thoughts and actions are consistent with His holy character.  And it is this standard of holiness that God has called us to when He says, “Be holy, because I am holy.”  Holiness is God’s crown.  Imagine for a moment that God possessed omnipotence (infinite power), omniscience (perfect and complete knowledge), and omnipresence (everywhere present), but without perfect holiness. Such a one could no longer be described as God. Holiness is the perfection of all His other attributes: His power is holy power, His mercy is holy mercy, and His wisdom is holy wisdom. It is His holiness more than any other attribute that makes Him worthy of our praise.

Exodus 15:11
11    “Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods?      Who is like You, glorious in holiness,     Fearful in praises, doing wonders?
Isaiah 6:3
3And one cried to another and said:  “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”

If God is perfectly holy, then we can be confident that His actions toward us are always perfect and just. We are often tempted to question God’s actions and complain that He is unfair in His treatment of us. This is the devil’s lie, the same thing he did to Eve. He essentially told her, “God is being unfair to you’ (Genesis 3:4-5). But it is impossible in the very nature of God that He should ever be unfair. Because He is holy, all His actions are holy. We must accept by faith the fact that God is holy, even when trying circumstances make it appear otherwise.

Further, because God is holy, He hates sin (Zech 8:17). As we grow in holiness, we grow in hatred of sin; and God, being infinitely holy, has an infinite hatred of sin.  Therefore every time we sin, we are doing something God hates. He hates our lustful thoughts, our pride and jealousy, our outbursts of temper, and our rationalization that the end justifies the means. We need to be gripped by the fact that God hates all these things. We become so accustomed to our sins we sometimes lapse into a state of peaceful coexistence with them, but God never ceases to hate them.

In the deceitfulness of our hearts, we sometimes play with temptation by entertaining the thought that we can always confess and later ask forgiveness. Such thinking is exceedingly dangerous. God’s judgment is without partiality. He never overlooks our sin. He never decides not to bother, since the sin is only a small one. No, God hates sin intensely whenever and wherever He finds it.

Frequent contemplation on the holiness of God and His consequent hatred of sin is a strong deterrent against trifling with sin. We are told to live our lives on earth as strangers in reverence and fear (1 Peter 1:17). Granted, the love of God to us through Jesus Christ should be our primary motivation to holiness (John 14:15). But a motivation prompted by God’s hatred of sin and His consequent judgment on it is no less biblical. The holiness of God is an exceedingly high standard, a perfect standard. But it is nevertheless one that He holds us to. He cannot do less. While it is true that He accepts us solely through the merit of Christ, God’s standard for our character, our attitudes, affections, and actions is, “Be holy, because I am holy.” We must take this seriously if we are to grow in holiness.  This is a command – holiness for the Christian is not an option.

Pray – Father in heaven I pray that by your Spirit you will keep before me the sense of awe and reverence of your holiness.  I pray my attitudes, actions, and motives will be guided by my desire to be holy, because you are holy.  May I glorify you with my life – totally consecrated to you!

References:

Jerry Bridges. The Pursuit of Holiness
Concise Theology, J. I. Packer
The Way of Holiness, Stephen Olford

You are Now Leaving the Comfort Zone: Top 25 Words Not Preached Much Anymore

October 21, 2011 Leave a comment

It is time to leave the comfort zone of partial preaching of the Word of God.  The Bible is clear that we are to teach and preach the whole Word of God which is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction. Preachers and teachers are commanded to “preach the Word” (ALL Scripture) not just to scratch the itching ears of those who just want to hear what they want to hear.  Unfortunately we find this is what is happening more often than we care to acknowledge in our churches.

2 Timothy 3:15-17
15and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 
17that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

 2 Timothy 4:2-3
2Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 
3For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 

It is not too difficult to see the dilemma resulting from preaching the whole Word of God as the writer of Hebrews helps us understand since it is piercing to our souls and spirit and a discerner of our true hearts.  Something by nature we look to avoid.

Hebrews 4:12-13
12For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 
13And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

The result is that many pulpits today seem to be largely void of a number of key teachings and doctrines which are crucial to fully accomplishing the purposes of Scripture.   This may be the result of not wanting to step on toes, keep from controversy, or just wanting to be liked.  Whatever the reasons, failure to preach the whole Word of God is having a devastating impact on God’s people and His Church leaving them ill-equipped to fully accomplish God’s purposes and live obedient lives pleasing to Him.

The following is my quick top 25 list of areas (not in any order) which seem to get limited or no attention today.

  1. God’s sovereignty
  2. God’s goodness and severity
  3. Pursuit of Holiness
  4. The Fear of God
  5. Sin
  6. Satan
  7. The Reality of Hell
  8. Judgment
  9. Prayer and How to Pray
  10. Revival
  11. Basic Doctrines of the Bible
  12. Biblical authority
  13. Biblical Interpretation
  14. Election
  15. Predestination
  16. Christian Disciplines
  17. Sanctification
  18. Assurance
  19. Eternal security
  20. Reverence for God
  21. Obedience
  22. Attributes of God
  23. Surrender
  24. Discipleship
  25. Worship

I am sure that many will have their own list, but the important thing to recognize is that we are creating a Christian culture where many core biblical doctrines are not being taught leaving Christians with only a partial knowledge of God’s Word, His ways and purposes.   We are operating without the full appreciation for the distance between a holy God and sinful man, and a lack of fear, reverence, and appropriate motivations for our spiritual walk.

The consequences are far reaching.  Christians are not fully equipped for their spiritual journey to grow in holiness, obedience, being prepared to defend the faith, share the gospel, and live a life knowledgeable of the ways of God giving them confidence, assurance and hope.   

Romans 15:4
4For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.

God give us courage to preach and teach All the Scriptures.

Prayer:  Father will you convict our hearts (preachers, teachers, the body of Christ) to fully embrace and teach/learn all your Word so that we may know you, your ways, and purposes; become more conformed to your son, and more usable for your kingdom.  May we have courage to teach all of Your Word in order to fully inform, convict, correct, and exhort to holiness as we live in obedience to your commands for the purpose of glorifying and pleasing you.  May all who hear your Word apply what they hear to their lives; some to salvation and others to holiness!