Dear Radio Friends,
Our broadcast today ends our series on I Thessalonians. It also marks the end of the few months I was privileged to speak to you on the Reformed Witness Hour. It has been a pleasure, once again, spending some time with you in God’s Word.
We are going to conclude our series by considering only one phrase out of I Thessalonians 5:23. It is the first part of this verse, which reads, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly.” What a beautiful, reassuring way to end a letter!
The major theme of this epistle, if you recall, was that of the second coming of Jesus Christ. Christ comes at the end of the ages. Before He does, however, the church of Jesus Christ is going to have to live through some trying times. Not only times of persecution, but also times of great apostasy and worldly allurements. We know of this because we live in the last days! It is in this concluding remark of our text, therefore, that Paul makes known his great desire that the Lord will preserve us until Christ comes. This desire he has not simply for the church as a whole. Paul’s desire is that God will preserve each one of us as individual saints by sanctifying us wholly. Our text uses the singular “you”—the God of peace sanctify you wholly. Reference here is to the individual saint. In other words, this Word of God addresses each of us individually. It speaks therefore of the sanctification of the individual saint. That is what we are going to consider today: sanctification.
Again, this is a fitting way of ending this letter to the Thessalonian church. Paul had just given the Thessalonian saints a series of admonitions in the verses prior to our text. All of these verses dealt with the sanctification of God’s people. They all are admonitions that we are called to keep if we are to be holy. So it is fitting that we speak of sanctification at this point.
The whole subject of sanctification is not an easy one. To explain clearly enough the truth of sanctification is not so easy to do. Certainly, however, it has to do with our preservation as God’s people.
Sanctification is an inherent and essential part of our salvation. One cannot claim to be saved, if he cannot claim to be sanctified. Sanctification is as much a part of our salvation as is justification. The term “sanctify” here in verse 23 has a very simple meaning. It means “to make holy.” That is what God does to each of His people when He saves them: He makes them holy. Again, one cannot claim to be a child of God unless he can say concerning himself that he is holy.
Now, I am going to try to explain this as clearly as I can. I want to do this because the truth of sanctification is not always one that people like to hear. We take at face value, without any excuses as to the degree of these sins, what the Word of God tells us in I Corinthians 6:9-10: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” God’s Word is clear, whether we want to hear it or not. John explains in Revelation 21:27, that there shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven anything that defiles, neither whatsoever works abomination or makes a lie. Let not that person, young or older, make the claim while walking in such sin and unbelief that he is a child of God, saved in the blood of Jesus Christ! A person who does walk in these sins (even boasts about these sins in his life) is not sanctified! He is not sanctified. And if he is not sanctified, then he is in need of repentance and salvation from these sins!
Sanctification is the work of God in the heart of the elect sinner by which God delivers him from the defilement and corruption of sin and enables him to be holy as God is holy. That is sanctification—that work of God by which we are delivered from the filth of sin and made holy in God’s sight. Holiness. Freedom from sin. That is holiness. God is holy, pure, unadulterated perfection. There is not a trace of sin or defilement in God. He is as a fountain of pure water, water that is completely free of all bacteria and germs. The kind of water that men seek to bottle and sell nowadays. Out of God there flows no imperfection—only pure, unsullied, unmixed perfection. And God’s command to you and me is that if we are to have any kind of fellowship with Him, we must be holy as He is holy. It is this holiness of God that becomes the basis for the work of sanctification in the life of the child of God. When God saves His people in Christ, He does not merely forgive us the sins we commit against Him, but He also cleanses us from filth and defilement of sin within us. He makes us pure and holy. God does that to each and every one of His children whom He saves. He cleanses them, He purifies them, He washes them of their corruption from within.
The question is, of course, in what does God wash us? Certainly, water itself cannot make us spiritually clean. There is nothing in this world that could possibly cleanse us of our filth. With what are we sprinkled in order that we might be made clean? The answer is obvious enough: the precious blood of Jesus Christ! When Christ went to the cross, He earned for us there the forgiveness of sins. In other words, Christ justified us. He performed a work at the cross for us. By that work He paid the price of sin. He bore all the punishment of God’s wrath for the sins God’s people committed. By doing that He freed us from the guilt of sin. God now looks at us not as guilty in His sight but as righteous. Yet, that is only a part of the work Christ performed on the cross. Not only did He free us from the guilt of our sin, but He also delivered us from the power and dominion of sin in our lives. At the cross, we learn in Scripture, the power and hold that sin had on us was overcome. The power of Satan who held us in his evil sway was crushed.
Christ conquered sin and therefore performed a work on the cross in us. Not just for us but in us.
He took hold of our filthy hearts and washed them in His blood.
The result of this work is holiness. Christ, through the work of sanctification, has now made us holy in God’s sight! For that reason, we are now able to have fellowship with God in heaven. Such sanctification was as much a part of our salvation as our justification. In fact, one cannot be had without the other. This is why, too, we cannot claim to have received of God the forgiveness of sins unless we hate sin and evil and fight against it with our heart, mind, soul, and strength! We cannot claim to be a child of God, we cannot claim to be saved, unless there is in us a new life—a life of holiness—a sincere desire to walk according to all of God’s commandments! That is holiness. And holiness belongs to each and every child of God!
So, it is God who sanctifies us in the blood of Jesus Christ.
But there is a third element in our sanctification as well: the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the Holy Spirit. In other words, it is the Spirit through which the work of Christ on the cross is applied to us. Again, this is why we can never claim to be a Christian unless we walk in all holiness. The moment God regenerates one of His people, God sends the Holy Spirit to live in his heart. The Holy Spirit takes up residence in the heart of one whom God saves. The Holy Spirit creates in him a clean heart. Our hearts are no longer filled with unbelief and corruption. The Holy Spirit now fills our hearts with the holiness of God. We are new creatures who instead of loving the lusts of the flesh now detest them.
All of this, of course, will dictate what the saved child of God, the true believer, will do in his life. Will the child of God who is saved in the blood of Jesus Christ desire to get drunk? Not at all! He knows that no drunkard has a place in heaven. Drunkenness is not a characteristic of that holy child of God! Will the child of God who is sanctified in the blood of Christ delight in fornication or adultery? Not one who is cleansed in the blood of Christ! Huh-uh, no sir! The holy God will never allow one who is a fornicator into His presence! Fornication and adultery is not a characteristic of a saint. Will the sanctified saint in whom the Holy Spirit lives take delight in the heinous act of stealing? Not the believer! He knows that the thief will never have a place in God’s presence! Stealing is the activity of the unbeliever, not of the believer! We ought to have this truth concerning sanctification clearly before us! One is not saved, one does not receive the forgiveness of sin, the Holy Spirit does not work in him, if he takes delight in these sins. He is not saved if he shows no true sorrow over them, but instead actually boasts in them and looks for opportunity to go out and do them again. That person, whether young or old, is not saved! He can try to fool himself all he wants. He can even try to find some kind of carnal security in the fact that he is a member of a church. The fact is, he is not characterized by faith, but by unbelief! And he is one who must repent of his sin and seek salvation in the blood of Jesus Christ! Before proceeding any farther that must be clearly established.
Now, we can consider our sanctification and the remnants of sin that are yet in us. That is the problem that has been lurking in the back of our minds this whole time that we have been talking about our sanctification. If God has washed us in the blood of Christ and the Holy Spirit dwells in us, then why is there still sin in us? Is it not also true that the child of God can fall deeply into sin but still be a child of God? How can I say so definitely, then, that when a person walks in such sins he is not saved? Cannot a saved person sin some terrible sins too? What then can we say of our sanctification and the sin that still lurks within us?
As I said earlier, the doctrine of sanctification is not an easy one to explain. This is exactly why! How can one who is cleansed in the blood of Christ yet sin?
Scripture is emphatic when it teaches us that the child of God is sanctified in principle. What this means is that the work of sanctification has indeed already been fulfilled at the cross, but is not as yet completed. Sanctification, unlike justification, is an ongoing work of God in us through the Holy Spirit. It is a work that is accomplished on the cross, but one that is not completed until we are taken from this world of sin by death. The work of sanctification begins at the moment of regeneration, but is completed only when we die. The child of God therefore is admonished repeatedly by Scripture to grow in his life of sanctification throughout his life. In fact, this is also true for the church of Christ as a whole, that the work of sanctification is completed when at the end of time Jesus comes again and ushers in the eternal state of glory and perfection. At the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, sin will be totally wiped away.
But then, how can we say that we have been made holy now? At the moment God regenerates one of His children, then he becomes dead to sin, so that it becomes impossible for him to live in his sin any longer. Before salvation we lived in sin, loved sin, and agreed with sin. We took immense delight in committing the deeds of the flesh. At that time we willingly walked according to the course of this unbelieving world, according to the prince of the power of the air, fulfilling the lusts of the flesh and of the mind. We were dead in sins and trespasses. But that is not true of us once we are saved. God cleanses us in the blood of Christ and effects a radical change in us.
That change is found in our relation to and our attitude toward sin. Having been sanctified, we view the sin in us as loathsome. We look at the desire in us to sin as a putrid disease that we wish to be rid of. In other words, being made holy in the blood of Christ means we hate sin—all sin, sin in the unbelieving world, sin in fellow saints, and especially our own sin! We hate sin! And, hating sin, a sanctified saint no longer simply yields himself as a servant to uncleanness and iniquity unto iniquity.
Sin no longer has dominion in his life, Christ does. This, in turn, means the child of God will, on the one hand, fight his sin, struggle against his sin, seek to overcome his sin. On the other hand, it means that the child of God, when he does fall into sin, will humble and loathe himself before God and plead for forgiveness on the merits of the cross. That is the new attitude of the child of God when he is cleansed. He realizes that every work, even his best works, are tainted with sin so long as he is in this life. But more and more he learns to detest that sin. In fact, we can tell we are growing in sanctification not because we commit less sin in this life, but by becoming more sensitive to what sin is in our life and detesting it the more!
So, how is it then that I can claim that one who walks openly and unrepentantly in sin, boasting in it and seeking to live in his sin, is not saved? Because of his attitude toward that sin! A saved child of God will loathe that sin and repent in dust and ashes—especially when that sin is pointed out to him as it was to David and to Peter. A saved child of God will not enjoy, find delight in, and boast in his sin! He will not! Not sin in himself or sin in his friends either! Only one who is unsaved and therefore unholy will laugh about his sin and disdain those who admonish him because of his sin! Only one who is an unbeliever will take the attitude that his sin makes him look cool in the eyes of his peers! Certainly, if that is our attitude, then we have no right whatsoever to make the claim that we are one of God’s children and that we have peace with God. We have no right to claim that God is pleased with us. We may not become carnally secure in the fact that we belong to the church!
Yes, but is it not true that the child of God too can for a time live in sin unrepentantly and unashamedly before being brought back to true sorrow over sin? Yes, he or she can. That can and does happen. But God gives no true peace of heart or assurance of the forgiveness of sin to one walking in the way of sin unrepentantly. Paul writes, “the very God of peace sanctify you wholly.” God gives us peace through the work of sanctification. When a child of God walks in sin for a time, then that work of sanctification in him will give him no peace. David knew this well after failing to confess his sin with Bathsheba. He writes in Psalm 32:3-4: “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer.” Here is the conclusion David reached in Psalm 51:17 concerning his sin: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” So, yes, a child of God can at times walk in sin. But while he walks in sin he has no peace in his heart and soul! He can lose for a time a sense of God’s favor and love.
That is the truth of sanctification as God’s Word before us speaks of it: “the very God of peace sanctify you wholly.”
Does this description fit your life and mine? Is this struggle of all the saints ours? Do we hate evil and delight in the good? Do we fight against the sinful desires that arise in us? Then, do we in our struggles ultimately find our joy and strength in the cross of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins? When we find such joy do we say, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”? Then we are sanctified! Then we are cleansed and made holy in the blood of Jesus Christ! Then the Holy Spirit lives and works within our hearts! Take inventory of yourself as I do today? What is your conclusion?
Dear Radio Friends,