Imperfect Sanctification

Oil and water do not mix.  We often use that phrase to describe a condition of contrary principles.  Within the life of a regenerate man their are the contrary natures of the old and new man, the flesh and the spirit.  There exists a mortal combat between good and evil, where a victor has already been determined but the battle must still wage for a time.  In the previously discussed work by Thomas Boston, we saw the fourfold state of man’s nature explained in detail.  Here we will look briefly at the period of the regenerated man that is commonly referred to as sanctification.  According to Boston, this is an imperfect sanctification.

In his letter to the Church in Galatia, Paul addresses the problem directly.  “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” (Gal. 5:17)  As we are being renewed by the Holy Spirit into the new man, the old man is being destroyed.  However, while we live in this world neither is complete.

This being said, how do we deal with this imperfect condition.  Paul actually answered this question before he presented the quandary.  “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Gal. 5:16)  Well, I’m sure even the Galatians response was much like ours.  Easier said than done, Paul!

To help us better digest what Paul was saying I will provide some commentary from the Reformation Study Bible on verse 16.  First, the Holy Spirit dwelling in a believer is a sign of the inheritance to the covenant promises given to Abraham.  Secondly, the Spirit’s presence is a sign that in the final day, God will declare the believer to be righteous.

As we discussed in an earlier post, a common mistake we make when considering our sanctification, is putting too much emphasis on works.  We must not discount works, for Peter makes clear that they are evidences of our faith.  We also must not overweight works as evidence.  The mortification of the old man and the increase of the new produces greater belief in the promises of God.  Belief is evidence of sanctification being made perfect.  I once heard a great teacher say, “The greatest sin of all is not believing what God says.”  Conversely, the greatest good would be believing.

What Paul was telling the Galatians is that you combat the problem of sin by believing the promises represented by the Holy Spirit in you.  Just test yourself.  When you sin, were you aware of the Spirits presence and witness to your sin?  We could go on indefinitely with tips and exercises to help with this matter of awareness, but rather let us look at some facts Boston gives to help sure up our faith.

Christ tells us that the very fact that we are aware of our sin and that we want not to sin is a start to our faith.  Evidence of our being renewed is a hatred of sin.  Counting this struggle as joy is way to embolden us for the fight.  Our desire to struggle against our old nature is proof of the promises.

The unregenerate are not without struggles of their own.  The unbeliever has a perfect lack of sanctification.  Their struggle is between desires of the flesh and the fear of punishment or retribution.  They perfectly desire what is sinful and if they desire what is good they only wish to avoid the consequences of the evil.

Boston calls the old man a “troublesome guest.”  The fleshly desires of the sin nature are unwanted by the believer.  They are like a chronic affliction that, though it may wane, it will wax again.  The promise is that the affliction of sin no longer has dominion.  This pathogen that has raged now is being conquered by the Holy Spirit’s antigen.

This miraculous healer is unknown to the world.  Though there are many imposters, the fact that you know this One is proof of his reality.  There are many religions, some even called Christian, that profess to have the answers to perfecting your sanctification through rational and pragmatic practices.  They cannot accept the simplicity of the work of God because they cannot know him.  In John 14:17, speaking about the Spirit, Christ says, “The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him, nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”  Therefor, living in the Spirit is about knowing of him.

If you are in a period of doubt, or have a dim view of your sanctification, take heart.  The Spirit conveys fresh supplies of grace.  The promise of the perfecting of our sanctification makes even our imperfection a blessing.  Your struggle is proof of the promise.


The Mystery of Sanctification

Sanctification is a term often used in religion speak, but often we can speak past one another because of how we define it.  Not an everyday word, sanctification means different things to different people.  Most commonly either we mean to be set apart for special purposes or the improving or purifying of one’s Godliness.  Thomas Boston would recommend a synonym that exemplifies both meanings, “washing.”  In his sermon series on John 8, Boston teaches that the mystery of sanctification is dependant on being washed by Christ.

If you are a child of God, your promised sanctification is multi-tensed.  It has already happened, is happening, and will happen.  In fact Boston calls it “the threefold washing of sinners.”  No matter your level of understanding or maturity in the Faith, you can relate with the concept of washing.  In the narrative of John 8, Christ uses the symbolic foot washing event to help Peter and the others understand their sanctification.  Though there will always be a mysterious aspect to our understanding,  Boston wanted us to understand that being sanctified is dependent upon being washed by Christ.

The message that Christ was trying to pass on to Peter had all to do with this cleansing by justification and the continued preserving of his soul.  Peter had already been cleansed by the washing of regeneration.  Paul, in his letter to Titus explains, “He saved us by the washing of rebirth(regeneration).” (Titus 3:5)  Peter, not understanding, desired that not only his feet, but also his hands and head be washed. Christ denied him by saying that a man who has had a bath need only wash his feet.  We are first washed by the sanctifying power of God when we are adopted as his children.

Progressive sanctification will continue all the days of our earthly life.  As symbolized by Christ’s washing of the disciple’s feet, we are to understand that there will be a continuous presence of God the Holy Spirit ever working to keep us clean.  The renewing affect of conversion will be at work in us until we are glorified in Heaven. Continued defilement due to our remaining sin must be removed from our soul.  A man made clean will still collect filth as he walks along the dusty paths of life.  We must understand, as  followers of  Christ,  that in no way may we wash ourselves.  Christ made clear to the disciples that only he can cleanse them.  We have a tendency to work toward improving our holiness.  We try to do better, to live cleaner, less sinful lives.  Also we tend to judge our success in this endeavor as a measure of sanctification.  More often than not we frustrate ourselves.  There is no merit in religious acts that can remove our stains.  Quoting Boston, “The doings and sufferings of saints are as free from merit as those of sinners.”  Don’t suffer yourself to measure your sanctification on your successes in washing yourself.

Finally, there is the final sanctification.  On the Day of Judgement we will be washed permanently.  When Christ sets his elect apart from the rest of mankind, the declaration of the Kingdom of Heaven, we shall appear pristine.  There will be no more cause for washing of feet nor of soul.  Our journey fraught with corruption will be ceased.  No longer will the grime of our sin cling to us.

If you are a believer and follower of Christ you must always recollect the mystery of sanctification and its threefold nature. No part should stand out more than the others.  If you focus more on one than the others you will be unfit for the feast.  Your living out your faith will be unbalanced and your walk will be aimless.  The strength of a threefold sanctification will hold you firm in the most violent tempest of your journey.

False Humility

Every post I write, in some way, relates to my own experience.   What I mean is that I have at some point been either directly or indirectly culpable for transgressing the very requirement of God’s law, doctrine or practice that is the topic I am expounding on.  There are certain things about us that we need no one else to point out, but there are flaws in our nature that seem to escape our awareness.  Sometimes we need others to critique us.  Does it ever seem to you that the preacher has an informant in the congregation that feeds him dirt on you?  How else would he know to write a sermon just about you?

Well, don’t get mad and shoot the messenger, so to speak.  Peter is the king of being called out by the Preacher.  In August of 1728, Thomas Boston preached a series of sermons showing the connection between being in Christ and Sanctification.  On the Sunday of the Lord’s Supper observance he exposited John 13:8.  “No, said Peter, you shall never wash my feet.”

Peter, no matter how hard he tried, seemed to be the disciple who always got it wrong.  However, as you have probably already figured out, Peter is also the disciple that best represents us.  The setting for this passage is just before the serving of the Passover Feast, the Last Supper.  In that time the custom of foot washing, due to the sandal fashion, (I don’t do sandals) was normally the job of the lowest ranking member of the household or servant.  On this occasion Christ performed the menial task and had already washed some of the other disciple’s feet when he came to Peter. Impetuous as ever, he spoke up to stop Christ’s service to him.

At first glance it is easy to side with Peter on this one.  The King of kings and Lord of lords has lowered himself to do a servants job.  The Very God of Very God should not be condescending to this low position. Peter should be applauded for being the only one to notice this and speak up.  Peter is merely showing humility and deference to his Master, right?  Peter never lacked for zeal, even in his humility.  The problem was that his humility was self created, a false humility.

Do you ever do a litmus test on you humility to see what is driving it?  I, for one, really needed Boston to zero in on this often unnoticed chink in the armor.  Is my humility a form of works righteousness?  Am I, like Peter, treating my unworthiness of Christ’s cleansing blood as a barrier to fully receiving my assurance of his acceptance?

As noted in the last post, the lack of assurance of your salvation, resulting in a depressed emotional condition, can bring on a false humility.  When your evaluation of your state of being gives rise to doubt and fear, you have forgotten how you came to be saved.  The practice of judging yourself can have drawbacks.  Yes, there are times when assessing our practice verses our profession is good for us.  We have just finished looking at that topic.  However, when the result of your assessment humbles you to the point of doubt, you have gone too far. Your humility has just become pride.  Who are you to question how God accepts you and what his sovereign will is for your life.  It is pride that tells you that your opinion counts.

Peter, when told that in order to be saved he must be washed, responded that he desired his hands and head be washed also. He still did not get it. So in verse 10 Christ declares, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean, though not every one of you (speaking of Judas).” Peter, in his false humility, thought himself beneath the work of Christ.  That he must do something more to be included in Christ.  Our false humility manifests itself in our attempting to wash ourselves before we come to the feast.  Not unlike the ceremonial cleansing of the Jewish priests or the washing before prayer of the Muslims, our attempts at cleaning up our own act and then presenting ourselves to Christ are a reflection of our unbelief in his service on our behalf.  He has already cleansed us with his blood.

From the Reformed Theological perspective, the doctrines of Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace, make a case to help relieve the believer of this false humility.  Without giving a full explanation of these doctrines, simply put, they propose that you can do nothing to save yourself and you cannot deny God the ability to save you.  In fact, true humility is an act of God’s grace.  He humbles you by the awakening of your dead heart.  You cannot humble yourself apart from his grace.

So the next time you ponder the thought of your unworthiness to come before the laver of Christ’s blood, lift up your heads and receive his promise to you.  The free gift of God is the work of Christ.  He applied it to your account regardless of your position.  Do not think yourself beneath receiving it.


Possible Causes of the Divide Between Your Profession and Your Practice

Since my last post, I hope you have had an occasion to consider how your relationship with your Lord and the practice of obedience is lacking cohesion.  As it is with me, you probably struggle with the old man, your sin nature, and ask yourself what it is that prohibits you from a better performance of your duty to your Master.  This is a time for brutal honesty and complete candor.  As part of his series on Luke 6:46,  Boston provides several possibilities as to why you call Christ Lord, but do not reflect it in your practice.

Do you have a sense of being bound to the will of God?  As Americans, we have a tradition of loving our freedom.  As entropy would have it, we have devolved into a people who have no knowledge of what the first settlers to these shores were trying to be free to do.  They wanted to be free to live as followers of their Lord. They sought freedom to be bound.  Our natural tendency is to be independent and do as we please, but believe it or not, that is not freedom either.  Everyone is in bondage to something.  Being in Christ is the freedom to be his servant.  Seek to view yourself as his possession.

Are you infected by the world system.  That is not a typo, like a pathogen invades the body, the ways of the society we live in infects us to the very marrow of our bones.  There is no antidote to the plague that is Satan’s world view except for the precepts of God.  In a passage that speaks to the dead nature of fallen man, Paul emphasizes the inherent cause for disobedience to God.  “As for you (believers), you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of the world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now working in the children of disobedience.”(Ephesians 2:1&2)  The next time you are faced with a decision, ask yourself which world view are you using.  Even simple daily routines and activities can be used to check the pulse of your citizenship.  Which Lord is driving you?  What world are you living in?

Do you pick and choose which of God’s laws you obey?  Do you attempt to justify your actions?  Oh, I would never commit murder or steal.  It is acceptable, however, to go to my job on Sunday or tell a lie to my children like “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause.”  We not only do damage to our own foundation when we discriminate between important and unimportant laws, we do damage to the very foundation of our religion and the Church.

Is your first inclination to act contrary to God’s law?  There is still the remnant of captivity  alive in all of us. Like a convict who has lived a long time in prison has difficulty assimilating in society,  we have difficulty acting as followers of Christ.  Use the time you have left in this world like a halfway house.  Practice your assimilation into the society of the Saints.

Are you a relatively new believer?  Has the new begun to wear off?  Fads and phases come and go.  Not that your faith is a fad, but it does tend to have phases.  More often than not the new believer is excited about what has happened to them and the novelty tends to drive their behavior.   Whether your conversion was radical or gradual,  look to the factors that inspired your zeal.  Seek to recapture that wave that once carried you.

Do you struggle with the assurance of you faith?  Timothy Rodgers, a Puritan pastor in the late 17th and early 18th century, experienced a long period of doubt about his salvation.  Many years, while shepherding his flock, Rodgers suffered what, in that time, was called Melancholia.  Today we label this condition as depression, and quite often the Church discounts it as  worldly psychological nonsense.  Now I am no expert on mental nor emotional disorders and whether or not a victim of these disorders should receive psychiatric care.  However, by definition, psychology is the study of the soul, and yes the soul can be medicated. Whether it should is out of my wheelhouse.  However, if we believe man to have a soul, and that the soul can be sick, then would it not be logical to determine that the symptom of having weak assurance of your salvation be caused by the pathology of the soul.  From this psychopathy, the practice of obedience to God would necessarily be effected.  For many Christians this condition goes unrealized and therefore untreated.  Even close friends and family may never know of the pain and suffering of there loved one, and the daily struggle they endure.  If you believe that you assurance is weak, do not be silent.  Seek the counsel of a sympathetic ear, even if you can only bring yourself to acknowledge it to the Great Physician.

Obedience to your Lord, or the lack there of, can be directly influenced by your system of belief.  Entertaining wrong notions of religion breeds contempt for the Law of God.  This contempt may be from the burden the law places on your soul or from the licentiousness of believing the prescriptive law of God to be abolished by Christ.  True, the law of God no longer has power over the regenerate soul.  The bondage of it has been repealed.  However in no way, apart from ceremonial law, has God discarded his commands.  Do you understand what your church teaches, or do you follow blindly like lambs to the slaughter.  There is no greater urgency in this life than to study the Word of God and the doctrines of the Church.  To practice obedience requires that you practice understanding.

How much time is spent even considering the requirements of your Lord?  I spend far to much time pondering the ways of this world.  The greatest benefit of this blog is all mine. It is my excuse to search out the ways of God.  The real question is, “Why should I need an excuse?”  Do you find that you need to excuse yourself from the world, in order to give devotion to you Lord?  Do you have to put off family, social, or professional responsibilities in order to carve out a few moments for your soul?  Look at that practice from a biblical world view.  Do you think God is apt to provide the increase to your worldly efforts, when your kingdom efforts are so few?  Your religious practice will be directly influenced by the proportion of time spent working on it.  This is a good time to revive the notion of God’s Means of Grace, the ways he disperses his blessings.  The reading and preaching of the Word, prayer, the Lord’s Supper, Baptism and the edifying fellowship of the Church are the primary ways God meets out his favor.  If you ever wonder what might be wrong with your Christian walk, consider how much time you devote to these things.  If you don’t come to the well your thirst will continue.

The next time you use the term “Lord”, whether in addressing God in prayer or in your daily speech, ask yourself what you really mean.  Imagine Christ speaking to you and saying, “And why do you call me Lord, Lord?”  What will be your answer?