Monday, April 18, 2011

The Sanctification of the Justified

Today I want to take a break from our series again and talk about something I have alluded to in recent posts.  There seems to be a bit of a disconnect in the church these days regarding just what effects our relationship with God should have one us.  Sometimes these two ideas are used either interchangeably or talked about in such a way where they are mutually exclusive.  Both of those are wrong ideas that need to be corrected.  Today I want to talk about Justification vs. Sanctification.  You see, Justification takes care of our relationship with God as Judge, but Sanctification describes our relationship with God as Father.
But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!"  Galatians 4:4-6 NKJV
That is where we are now, adopted as sons to our heavenly Father.  That process of justification is instant.  We put our faith in Jesus and right away we are adopted as sons.  What is more, we can never lose that relationship.  In response to our faith, God has imputed the righteousness of Christ upon us and our sins are forgiven.  More accurately, the payment for our sins through the death of Jesus is applied to our account and our debt to God is paid in full.  We can never earn it or add to it and there is never a reason to repeat it.  That is the glorious concept of Justification and something we need to celebrate every day for the rest of eternity. 

That is not the end of the story, though.   While God is no longer someone to be feared as Judge, He is now someone to revere and respect as Father.  I know many would almost rather deal with a judge than their father!  Now while our God is not a tyrant by any means as our Father, but He will raise us.  One of the great mysteries of coming to Christ is that we are altogether different but also altogether the same.  We now have the righteousness of Christ imputed on us in terms of our sins, but we still have the same unrighteousness in our lives.  We still have the same temptations and weaknesses we always had.  We still have the same problems in our lives that we always had.  We are as newborn babes to our Father who is now going to raise us up into men and women of God.  This process is not complete until we are face to face with our Lord in eternity.  This process of raises us is what is known as sanctification. 

This raising process is different for different people.  God knows us best and so He knows best how to raise us.  Some grow faster than others just as some children are more unruly and require more time and attention than others.  For example, some Christians seem to almost instantly clean up many areas of their lives whereas others seem to let go of their sins one at a time as God deals with them.  I am not excusing sin in the life of any Christian, as ultimately the speed and progress of our sanctification is determined on how receptive and cooperative we are in the process.  Despite how fast or slow we grow, we are still no less His children.  I mention that because some would teach that I am preaching a way to somehow earn favor with God.  Again, that is not the case at all.  Whereas our justification requires no work on our part other than accepting that fee gift, sanctification does require us to cooperate with the work of God in our hearts.  It is by His strength that we grow, but we must allow that strength to work in our lives. 

While the exact process is different for each and every one of us, the methods God uses are the same and contained in His world.  First of all, God will bless us.  Those blessings come in the form of answered prayer.
Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!  Matthew 7:9-11 NKJV
Please do not make the mistake of thinking that God will just give you everything you want. Remember, He is your Father, not your genie.  Just like an earthly father, He wants to bless you and give you good things, but those good things are going to be things that are good for you.  Surely, you would not think much of a father who brings his child to McDonald's every day for a Happy Meal just because the child asks for it.  What you will get is an unhealthy overweight child.  In that same example, God is not going to give us things that are going to be bad for us.  We may ask, but it is up to Him to determine if we should have it.  Surely we would not think so much of an earthly father who just gives his child whatever he asks for whenever he asks for it.  That child will grow up with a sense of entitlement and have no comprehension of earning things.  Is this to say we must earn things from God.  In a sense, yes we do.  We do not earn our salvation or our relationship, but God is not going to just give us what we ask for when we ask for it.  If you are living in sin and rebellion to God, why would He bless that?  That would have no effect on your growth in righteousness except to think that your rebellion does not matter to God.  So where is the blessing in all of that?  The blessings come in that as we follow Him and know Him, what we ask for will agree more and more with what He wants to give us.  God will always answer prayer but the "yes"'s will begin to outnumber the "no"'s as we know Him.  That is not because God loves us any more than He did before, but because as we know Him, we begin to learn that which is good and bad for us.  Simply put, if you want God to answer your prayers by giving you what you ask for, you first need to learn what to ask for. 

Another way God raises us is by encouraging us.  This encouragement comes through the Holy Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those [who are] Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.  Galatians 5:23-25 NKJV
Again this is easily understood when we think in terms of a relationship between a good earthly father and his child.  A good earthly father always wants to spend time with that child and have a relationship that is enjoyed by both.  Sometimes, though, children make that not as possible as a father would like.  Sometimes a child likes to go off on his own and not spend time with the father and sometimes a child is very unruly and so any time together is stressful and not the blessing it should be.  It is just like that with God.  He always wants to spend time with us, but sometimes we do not want to spend that time with Him.  We give up our times of prayer or times of worship and would rather just pursue our own interests. We certainly can not expect to enjoy a good relationship with Someone we never even spend time with.  Furthermore, our relationship can be hampered by our own behavior.  If we spend our time in rebellion to God, we are not (as the above Scripture says), walking in the Spirit.  If we are not walking in the Spirit, we have not crucified the flesh.  That results in not having those fruits of the Spirit mentioned above.  There can be no love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control if we do not walk in Spirit.  We are encouraged by a very real presence of God in our lives when we take time time to spend with Him (you can not have a presence of God if you never take the time to be present with God) and we are encouraged by the fruits of the Spirit as we walk in the Spirit. 

Next, God helps us grow by challenging us. 
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have [its] perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.  James 1:2-4 NKJV
It is hard to rejoice when going through a trial.  By its very definition, a trial is a difficult thing.  It is not a real test if it is easy.  But God will push our faith to test us.  He does not test us for His sake, as He knows the limit of our faith.  He tests us for our sake for several reasons.  First of all, we are tested because it strengthens our faith.  When our faith is stretched to its very limits as we endure through a trial and we see the faithfulness of God at work in getting us through, that faith is strengthened.  Also, when we see that we had the faith to make it through a trial, we are blessed and encouraged to know that our faith may have been stronger than we first thought.  Conversely, if we fail that test, we then know we are not as full of faith as we once thought and we need to work on it.  The fact is that the outcome always results in growth.  This again makes sense when we think of a good earthly father.  Sometimes a father will need to challenge his child.  This may be pushing the child to succeed in school or other areas, but there can be many examples.  The fact is that a parent can see the child's potential better than the child can and so to get that child past their insecurities, the parent will need to push that child to try.  If the child succeeds, that doubt is eliminated and his confidence is strengthened.  If the child fails, the father will help the child improve to achieve the potential the parent knows that he or she has.  The fact is that a child must be challenged or that child will never grow and so it is the same with us. 

Finally, God helps us grow by chastening us. 
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: "My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives." If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected [us], and we paid [them] respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For 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. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  Hebrews 12:5-11 NKJV
This is perhaps the most controversial idea I will present today.  It shouldn't be as it is clear as day in Scripture, but many teachers like to teach that God does not punish His children.  That belief is in direct contradiction to Scripture.  The common arguments are that God has already punished Christ for our sins so He would not punish a sin twice and that God has forgiven us our sins and therefore there can be no punishment.  Again, we must look at the relationship between a good earthly father and his child.  Many who read this are parents and just about all have had fathers when growing up.  We all know that children must at time be disciplined for bad behavior.  Do you  think that an earthly father does not forgive his child until after he disciplines him as though that forgiveness is earned through chastening?  Of course not, that is the hallmark of an abusive father and not a good father.  For a good father, it is never a matter of forgiveness, but about teaching right and wrong behavior.  That also answers the other argument.  When a father disciplines a child, the punishment is not for the sake of "paying" for a crime, but to correct bad behavior.  The father is not claiming a debt owed by the child for bad behavior, again that would be the hallmark of an abusive father.  That is why God disciplines us.  Yes, our debt for that sin was paid for by Christ, but God also is trying to make us more like Christ.  The chastening of God is for the purpose of correcting bad behavior.  We see in the above Scripture that the purpose of discipline is to " yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness."  To teach that God does not chasten us is not only to deny Scripture but also indicates a complete misunderstanding of the relationship we have with God. 

And so I hope today I was able to show that Justification and Sanctification are two different works of God.  One is complete and instant and it leads to the other, which lasts our entire lives.  Just as an earthly father must raise his child to be a mature successful man or woman, God must raise us from babes in Christ to mature men and women of God.  As we grow, we will enjoy the fruits and blessings of that growth.  Those are to encourage our growth in Him.  We see that God will at time challenge us, encourage us, bless us, and chasten us.  In other words, our perfect Father will give us what we need when we need it in order to continue our growth to become more and more like Jesus.  Now all that we grow is by the work of God in our lives and the Holy Spirit in our hearts, but we have to allow that growth to happen.  God wants us to be strong men and women of God.  He wants a relationship with us that will bless us beyond what we can imagine. He wants us to see His mighty work in our lives.  All of that can be ours, but we have to want it too.  The only thing that holds us back from being great men and women of God and enjoying that sweet fellowship with the almighty God is our own selves.  Don't cheat yourself of all that God has for you, crucify that self that gets in the way and God will raise you into something even better.  Give up those empty desires of the flesh and God will give you those fulfilling desires of the heart.  Spend time with your Father and you will see just what He can do in your life.
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father." The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with [Him], that we may also be glorified together. Romans 8:14-17 NKJV

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