Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Sanctification, Part 1.

Sanctification sometimes feels as though God is bringing about circumstances in life which will make us both very holy and very unhappy. But that isn’t how it really is. Sanctification is an ongoing struggle, a battle waged against sin and the flesh. But while the battle sometimes seems to be trench warfare, there also great joys that come with victories. And the march is one that leads to home, heaven, and Christ Himself.

The New Testament uses the term “Sanctification” in three different tenses: past, present, and future. 
In the past: referring to the moment of regeneration, when the believer was set apart from sin positionally. In the present: when the believer is being set apart from the power and practice of sin. And in the future: when the believer will be set apart from the possibility and presence of sin.

So Sanctification is being made holy – being set apart. And while we do participate in our present-tense, ongoing sanctification, our contribution is completely dependent on God. No one grows holy by themselves. That is what I want us to see over our next few posts: How God makes sanctification possible for us, and how we should respond in light of what He has done.

Romans 6:17-22  "But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,  (18)  and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.  (19)  I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.  (20)  For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  (21)  But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.  (22)  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life."

So our first point is this: Before our salvation, we were Slaves of Sin. (v. 17)
What does Paul mean by “slaves to sin?” Romans Chapter 6 is Paul’s argument that saving faith does not produce people who are tolerant of sin. Christians who have been justified by faith and regenerated to new life are not casual or cavalier about sin.
Just think of scriptures like 1 Peter 1:14-16 “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
What part of God’s holiness is cavalier toward sin?

In the first part of the chapter, vs. 1-14, Paul explains that our old self is crucified with Christ and we must now consider ourselves dead to sin. Here, in the second section, Paul uses the imagery of bondage or slavery- and he says in verse 19: "I am speaking in human terms so you can understand." Bondage and Slavery is something that First Century Christians could see and understand. It was all around them.
It is also of utmost importance that we understand sin as being more than a single infraction. It’s a state, a nature, a power. Being a slave of sin means being held under sin's authority, under its power, and being completely unable to change our condition. That's what "bondage" means.

We learn in verse 19 that we presented our members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, leading to more lawlessness. Not only were we powerless to change our bondage to sin-  it’s much worse than that- we wouldn’t have called our bondage “bondage” at all! This slavery is not at all being made to do what is against our will. It is that our will has been taken captive! “We present ourselves.”

When we were lost, we were quite happy with our sin! We’re not happy with other peoples’ sin, but we can’t wait to participate in our own. So, we presented our members to impurity and lawlessness. And that leads to more of the same thing. That’s the problem with a corrupted appetite- it’s insatiable. The thing that made us happy is the thing we want more of.  
In verse 20,  Paul says when we were slaves to sin, we were free in regard to righteousness. That means sin held us in bondage, but righteousness had no power over us- no appeal whatsoever.

You’ve probably heard reasoning like this, before: "Who wants to have to be righteous? Rules and regulations and observances and prohibitions… I don’t want to be prisoner to that! I’m free from all of that."

That’s how badly sin messes us up! Sin-sick people look straight in the face of freedom and call it bondage; and then go right back to the enslavement that makes them happy.

Last time, I brought up the Israelites who wanted to return to Egypt. That little illustration still fits. In Numbers 11, the people were lamenting the manna. So they cried at the doors of their tents for meat. And they said, “Remember in Egypt, we ate fish!” and get this- I’m not making this up! This is Numbers 11:5. “We ate fish in Egypt that cost nothing.” Now that is insanity! In Egypt, if you were a Hebrew, you could have free fish. They also murdered your children and whipped you with Lashes and gave you tasks like “bricks now, without straw.” Of course the fish was free. Tim Keller said, “What rational person looks at this and says, “well there was a perk. The fish was free.”
Think of it! Freedom and provision literally raining down from heaven rejected because they wanted to satisfy their bellies.

So we were slaves to sin, and we didn’t want holiness or righteousness. We were in bondage: endlessly presenting ourselves before sin, our master, and always wanting more. In verse 21, Paul shows us the fruit of this bondage: death. But for those who would believe in Christ, the story doesn't end with death! The call of scripture is to come to Christ in faith and repentance, when God Himself will exchange our bondage to sin with bondage to righteousness. In the next post, we'll see how God makes that possible. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019


There are so many wonderful, beautiful adoption stories. I recently read about a family that went to the airport to receive their newly-adopted baby boy. Their three-year old daughter, now a big sister, thought for several years that baby brothers all came from airports. The most wonderful, beautiful adoption story of all is our own; forever recorded in the pages of Scripture. It is the original- all the others are reflections of the goodness and grace found in the adoptive heart of God. In Him, believers who were once enslaved are adopted as sons, and made heirs with Christ.

1. Believers were once enslaved.
The Galatians had heard the gospel and believed it. But now, Paul was mortified to learn that the Galatians who had been set free were choosing slavery again. The gospel had set them free from the bondage of pagan idolatry, but they were now choosing a new task-master: The Law. Teachers had crept in and persuaded many that observing the Law, as well as faith in Christ, was required for salvation.

So, Paul argued that the Law was like a guardian over a small child. Imagine the child of a ruler or some other prominent person: the child has the right heritage, the right last name, but has no power, no real authority or wealth. The guardian makes all the decisions and oversees all the aspects of the child’s daily life. And Israel, under the law, was like a child under a guardian: of the right lineage, but managed. At the end of chapter 3, Paul said that this made anyone under the law “no different than a slave.” In fact, he referred to this arrangement as being “held captive”, “imprisoned” by the law. In chapter 4, he wrote:

"I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything,  2  but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.  4  But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,  5  to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  6  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  7  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God." -Galatians 4:1-7

If you flip through the pages of the Bible, you’ll see something really frightening: given a choice between freedom with hardships and slavery with gratifications, the sin-sick human heart will choose slavery every time. Think of Israel in the wilderness longing for the offerings of Egypt- “leeks and garlic and melons” -at the cost of their freedom! Freedom for them and their sons and their daughters, and they’d trade it all for fish and cucumbers. That’s what Paul means in v9 – they want to be enslaved. They want the perks of enslavement:

"But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?" -Galatians 4:9

So, the human condition is grim. We are enslaved by sin and our own attempts to justify ourselves- and we have a heart that is given over to the perks of being enslaved. What then is to be done for us?

2. Believers are adopted- made Sons of God

What must be done for us is what only God could do.  It is clearly stated in verses 4 and 5. God sent forth His Son to redeem us that we might receive adoption. What could not be accomplished by enslavement to works and the law, what the “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” could not do, God did for us through the person and work of His Son.

Finally, in verse 5, Paul uses the wonderful, beautiful word: “Adoption.” God sent his son that we might receive adoption. It isn’t something as trite as God “accepting” us. This is Holy God, at great expense, taking ownership of those who could offer nothing in return! We have become well aware of the spiritual status of mankind apart from God, so there is no cosmic bargaining chip. That is one reason why adoption is such a beautiful thing: it is not the merit or worth or greatness of the orphan… it is the other way around! The orphan is helpless! The child’s situation is hopeless! The grace and generosity on display is that of the adopter! So it is with our adoption by God: all the countless merits of His character are on display in this act of adoption.

There is another important word in verse 5. He sent His Son to redeem. An adoption comes at a great price. Adoptions are notoriously expensive affairs for many families. And it was no different for us. God made a payment unlike any other. He sent forth His Son, that He might redeem. The word means “to purchase out of.” God sent His son to purchase us out of something; to ransom us; to pay the price of our rescue.

If nothing else helps you understand how great the gulf is between sinful man and holy God, consider the price of our adoption! If the ransom had been anything else, it would have cost God very little. What charge is too costly for the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills? Or who made the stars by the breath of His mouth? But His very Son? No wonder we sing:

This, the power of the cross:
Son of God, slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.

3. Believers are heirs with Christ

Verse 6 says that because we are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our Hearts, crying, ‘Abba Father!’ “Abba,” was the term a Hebrew child would call his father, an intimate term of endearment and familiarity. Some historians have even remarked that among the Hebrews, servants were not allowed to call their master Abba. The term was reserved for a child of the master. So, the change in the nature of our relationship with God is astounding. We are no longer servants kept at some distance, but children who are intimately acquainted with our Father.

So, we are no longer slaves, but sons and daughters. And then Paul gives us the gift of verse 7: “No longer a slave, but a son, and if a son- then an heir.” Could we really be heirs, inheritors of God Himself? What can it mean? It means that everything God has is yours. John Piper breaks this idea into three categories:

1. God Himself is yours. Never, ever forget that God is the prize. It is so hard to keep that right in our minds. The Christian life is not a pursuit of what He has or what He can do for you, but of Him. Do you love Him, or His things? Him, or what He can do for you?

2. The World is yours. Paul sums it up this way, in 1 Corinthians 3:
“For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.”

As believers serve the Lord, we are within our jurisdiction everywhere. It all belongs to our Father, and we are sons and daughters and heirs. So, be bold. All things are meant for the purpose of His glory and your joy.

3. The hope of future glory is yours. There is a beautiful parallel thought in Romans 8:15-17: Notice this – “We are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

One way to know if you are indeed adopted into God’s family is that you know Christ in His suffering. It may be the patient and well-tempered suffering of life in a fallen world. It may be shameful, torturous persecution for the name of Christ. But the sons and heirs of God’s family consider that “this light and momentary affliction is not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed.” So, we suffer, but we do not lose heart.

So, I conclude with two questions for readers to consider.

First, if you have never repented of sin and placed your trust in Christ, you are already a slave. What prevents you from being made free? Would you be a son, and an heir? God alone can free you and has promised to do so when you come to Him on His terms.

Second, if you are a believer, have you become so callous that you would trade your freedom in Christ for the fleeting perks of slavery? Are you struggling with some idol? Have you forgotten your love is of Him and not merely what He has or can do? Remember what it means to be a son or daughter, and an heir. He alone has made you free!