Tag Archives: sanctification

Romans (Part II)

Sanctification (Romans 6-8)  In this section Paul uses the word sin, which refers to man’s sinfulness, or sinful nature.  (“Flesh” is a figure of speech to refer to badness in both our body and mind; it does not mean that the body is basically sinful or even inferior to the soul.)  Here the Bible tells us that when a person becomes a Christian he becomes a brand new person.  He is not the same old person, who keeps right on sinning, only now his sins are all forgiven.  No; he stops being a sinner.  The Bible says he is a saint.  This is the “second half” of salvation that many Christians overlook.  (See I John 3:5-10)

So, Chapter 6 says that we must be holy, stop sinning, or we simply have not been forgiven; we just are not Christians (6:2,11).

Chapter 7 (key verse 10) goes on to say that although God expects us to be holy (keep his law, do his will), and even though we may deep down want to, we cannot do it in our own efforts. (Notice the large number of times that the little word with the big problem, “I”, occurs in this chapter.)  Some Bible commentators feel that Paul  is talking about his pre-conversion days, when, as a self-righteous Pharisee he was trying to work out his own salvation by good works.  Others say he is talking about his (or any other Christian’s) forgetting that Christ is not only our justification, but that he is also our sanctification (I Cor. 1:30); that it is God who is at work within us, as Christians, both to will and to do.  (Contrast Roms 7:18 with Phil. 2:12; 4:13.)

Chapter 8  Here is the climax of this section; this is THE heart of Romans.  It is filled with great “golden-texts”. Learn some of them.  Here the word “I” hardly occurs anymore.  By contrast, the Holy Spirit, who has hardly been mentioned before, is referred to in this chapter repeatedly.

All this serves as foundation for chapters 12-16, which begins, “Therefore, I beseech you, brothers, to present yourselves as living sacrifice to God.  (Note how this would appeal to both Old Testament Jews and to idolatrous Gentiles.)  Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your (very) mind, that you may show (demonstrate) what is the good, and pleasing, and perfect will of God.”  Paul here says what Jesus (Mt. 5:48), Peter (I, 1:15,16), and John (I, 3:3-9; 5:18) says about holiness and perfection.  When we water down the word “holiness” to mean only “special, or set-aside”, and say that we can’t be perfect (or even don’t have to, just because nobody except Christ ever was), we are copping out, depreciating our salvation, and insulting the Lord Jesus by saying that He is unable to perform and be in us the very thing that He repeatedly commands and also promises He will do. (I Cor. 10:11-13; II Peter 1,3,9)

“Jewish” section (Chapters 9-11)  This is something of a parenthesis.  And yet Paul is not really “changing the subject”.  In these 3 chapters he talks about the Jews, especially the unconverted ones, and cries out that he wishes they all would understand what he has been saying.  In it he also answers the question as to whether God is “through” with the Jews, now that the Old Covenant or Testament is finished.  Paul says “No!”  For one thing, God is saving many of them (“I am one myself”, says Paul) all the time, and even in the Old Testament, when they were a special people, only a few (remnant) were really saved.  Second, the New Testament is really a new covenant with the Jews, in which the Gentiles have been included. (Paul says more about that in Gal.3&4.)  Jews wrote the New Testament.  The Early Church was primarily Jewish.  What is more, Paul seems to say that toward the end of history, masses of Jews will become Christian, as a proof of God’s faithfulness, patience, and endless love.

The failure of those who do not repent – Gentiles, as well as Jews – is not that they had no opportunity, or that God did not elect them, but that they simply refused to obey God’s command and accept his invitation.  (This is similar to what Paul said in Romans 1, 2 when he said there that people have no excuse for sinning, even if they have no “Bibles” or have never “heard” of God.  Here he says that no one has any excuse for being unsaved.  (10:9-11).  And when Paul says that faith comes by hearing, and how can people hear without preaching, he is scolding “Christians” who say that if people are elect they are going to be saved whether we bring them the Gospel or not! (It is worth mentioning here that nowhere in the long passage – 9-11 – about the future of the Jews, does Paul say anything about their return to Palestine.  Of course, they are actually doing that now, but whether the Bible predicts this is something else.  Most of the so-called “return” passages are in the Old Testament, and were fulfilled when the Jews returned from Babylon and elsewhere, and rebuilt the temple.)

Christian Living (Chapters 12-15)  I Cor. 12 is similar to chapter 12 in Romans.  The Church is like a human body, with different and all-essential parts.  Paul mentions various gifts (jobs, or offices) we all have.  I Cor. 12 mentions some others, and Eph. 4 has a third list.  (There are others besides these.)  “Fruits” of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) are the way in which we exercise our gifts.

Chapter 13 Political government.  A secular institution, alongside the Church which every one, including Christians, must respect.  And remember, wicked Rome was the government in those days!

Christian “Liberty”.  (Chapters 14-15:13)  This has to do with permission to do (or not do) those things which are not bad in themselves, but do not help build up other Christians, or might make unbelievers “stumble”.  Parallel passages are I Cor. 8-10.

Paul’s personal plans (Ch. 15:14).  His hope to visit the Christians in Rome came to pass (see Acts 28:14-30), but in a very unexpected way.  While there for 2 years, in “house-arrest”, he wrote the “Prison Epistles” – Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon.  Apparently he was released, and visited Ephesus, Macedonia, Crete, Miletus, Troas, Corinth, Nicopolis.  He was re-arrested (II Timothy) where he wrote his last letter as a beautiful valedictory to a God-filled life.

Chapter 16, besides the long list of individuals, contains a caution against false Christians and teachers, a benediction (see also 15:33) and a Doxology.  (Paul often interrupted his letters to break out in a doxology, such as at the end of Part II, Romans 11:33).  This one refers to a “mystery” (some wonderful plan that God has revealed), which in this case seems to mean the marvelous scheme of “enlarging” the Jewish “family” to take in the whole world, as God promised to Shem and Abraham.  A good summary of the book and Paul’s purpose in writing it is 16:19, “I would like you to be wise as to what is good, and innocent as to evil.”

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Holiness, Sanctification, and Sin in the Christian

A clear understanding of sanctification is not possible with the theory that man is only body and soul and regeneration renews the soul.  The Christian ends up with a soul that is 1-99% holy and half or 3/4 “dead”, etc.  (See previous post as to Trichotomy.)

IDENTIFICATION:  What is often thought to be “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and/or “Second Blessing” is the tardy discovery that salvation is NOT simply substitution, but actual identification with Christ.  This is what makes a person perfect.  This removes all self-effort.  This alone makes salvation truly God-centered (see previous post on “In Christ”).  Salvation is not just forgiveness, but making a new person.  It is not “Paradise Restored”; innocent, mortal Adam was only a stepping-stone toward God’s goal of people made in the image of Christ.  Now we are partakers of the divine nature (II Peter 1); we reign with Christ.

SIN IN A CHRISTIAN.  There are not 2 persons, an “old man” and a “new”.  But like Jesus (1 person, 2 natures) the Christ-ian has an old nature, whose seat is in the soul (mind, emotions, will).  After regeneration, the old habits persist like a chicken with its head cut-off.  That is what Paul says we (the new man) must work to “put off”.  It is like telling an adult, “Be a man!”  (Romans 8:1-14; 7:17; Col 2:20-3:3)  The battle is between the real you and the “flesh” (see below). Gal 5:16-26; Col 3:5-17.

ROMANS 7:  This chapter is often thought to be a picture of the “normal” Christian life.  Watchman Nee and others show that this struggle is ab-normal.  In Romans 5 Paul says we are justified in Christ.  Chapter 6 says we must also be sanctified.  Chapter 7 then describes human effort, either the moral unbeliever or the carnal Christian, to become holy (“I” used 45 times!).  Romans 8 says that the Holy Spirit sanctifies!  The defeatism of Romans 7 is often used as a defense mechanism for persistent sin in church-members.  Paul condemns it just as in Gal. 3:3.

THE CHRISTIAN FIGHTING THE FLESH:  What is there different about THIS struggle (Col. 3:5-17)?  It is not a civil war; it is occupant vs invader.  Victory is certain ultimately, and possible always.  No Christian ever has to sin!  Christ is always superior to Satan.  (See “In Christ” post.)  If a Christian is not growing in Christ (Phil 3:8-16) he is either carnal or not genuine.  (John 15:1-9)  Sinning is not a Christian’s lifestyle.   I John 2:1 says, “If we sin,” not “whenever.”

FLESH:  What does the Bible mean by this?  It is not just our bodies, as though it is evil in itself; it is morally neutral.  Jesus had a body.  “Flesh” includes our souls;  many of the sins of the “flesh” are non-physical (Col 3).  The soul too, however, is not naturally bad; sin spoiled our minds, wills, emotions.  So, “flesh” is sinful soul/body as it has been since Adam.  The reason why soul is given that physical term too is that the physical is what Satan often uses to reach me (cf Eve).  Most sins are expressed through the body and it is the last part of us to be saved.  It has no eternity about it; we “share” it with animals and unbelievers.  Note: It is very likely that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was not something physical.

CROSS-BEARING:  This concept is related to all the foregoing.  It is not the trials we have in common with all men, even if we endure them in a Christian way, as we should.  They are not even sufferings that come to us because we are Christians, though they can be converted into “cross-bearing”.  What it is is dying to SELF.  This is much more important than the problem of sin.  Jesus says we have to lose our own, our old lives.  Here is where the unbeliever fails altogether, and the Christian has to die daily.

PERFECTIONISM:  No genuine Christian claims perfection in this life.  Those who do define “sin” to fit their attainment.  We (the “new man”) are perfect in Christ, now.  And it is possible – we are commanded! – to be perfect.  Alas, we fail.  But our guilt is the greater because it is not inevitable.  To say, “I have to sin” is blasphemy.  (I Cor 10:9-13; James 1:13, 15).  The Puritans had a perfect “cop-out” in the doctrine of total depravity for their failure to keep their own blue laws.  This – not their high ideals and standards – is what brought them and their faith into disrepute.

Questions and Answers

If a Christian does not have to sin (I John 3:4-10), why does he?  If we are new people, saints, perfect, then why the exhortations to “be perfect”? or – If our old, sinful self died with Christ, why (Col 2:20-3:17) are we told to “put to death” our sins and even “put on” the new man?

The simplest answer is to say, Be what your are; like telling a man, “Act like a man.”  (That is why, though every Christian is “filled with the spirit” he is told to “Be filled with the Spirit” – that is, know Who you are; act out what God has put in.)  Another answer: Just as our bodies are not the real “us”(though they die, we are still alive), the real you, the new you, does not commit those sins that trouble us so.  Paul even goes so far as to say, “If I do what I do not want to do (sin), it is no longer I (the new me) myself who does it, but it is sin living in me.” Rms 7:7.

For illustration, think of a new computer, perfect, it makes no mistakes.  But if I put or program wrong information into it, it will produce lies, mistakes.  After our conversion we are like perfect computers, but we have been programmed so long with bad “software” (input) that after our conversion we still react, respond, the way we were used to.  (Most of our 20,000 responses per day to our environment – other people, Satan – are “unconscious”, second nature.)  You never have more than one self (new or old) at a time, but the death-struggles, the momentum, the grave-clothes of the old nature (software) have to be gotten rid of.  This is what we usually think of as “sanctification”, the improvement of our souls – minds, emotions, will – although we – our spirit – is sanctified, perfect, Spirit-filled, from Day One.  “Christ is our sanctification” – not sanctifier – though he is that too, just as he is our complete justification.  I Cor 1:30. I john 4:13,15,17b.  I Cor 6:17.

New Question:  Doesn’t that make a Christian “easy” on sin and his own sins?  To the contrary; a person who realizes that he does not have to sin, feels all the more guilty when he does.  What is more, he has an increasing awareness of what sin is; he is much harder on himself as to what is wrong.  Eg, he does not limit it to obvious things like lying or stealing, but wasting time (doing nothing) is sin.  So is “religion” instead of godliness. (“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”)  But he thanks God for the forgiveness of those once-unrecognized sins, puts them behind him, and grows spirituality by means of the whole experience.  (Any one who has a low view of sin is not a Christian.  Rms 6:1-7)

That answers the question as to why God “punishes” the Christian for his sins (reaps the results of) as well as the unbeliever.  In the case of the Christian the failure becomes a sanctifying  experience, from which God makes good to come.  It would be a terrible calamity for a believer if – just because his sins have all been paid for and it is not really “he” that does them – he could sin with impunity.  The “clear conscience” that a Christian has is from knowing he is guilt-free; his conscience is increasingly sharp as to what sin is and what it deserves.

What about the “Lord’s Prayer” and “Forgive us our debts”?  1.  At best, this is a “baby-Christian’s” prayer, intended as a model (for people who did not know how to pray), not to be used as a substitute for our own.  It might even be called a “birth-cry” prayer, a “sinner’s prayer”, marking his conversion as he asks for forgiveness and putting God first instead of self.  (Cf Luke 11s:13; Acts 2:38 – so Calvin)  2.  It is certainly an Old Testament prayer, in a class with those of David (“Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.”)  It is not in Jesus’ name (John 16:24).  Atonement for sin was still unmade; the “Kingdom” had not yet come.  (NB: The New Testament begins with Acts, not Matthew; the Old begins with Exodus, not Genesis 1 or 3.)  This explains the spiritual immaturity of most Christians.  When you think that Christmas and Good Friday/Easter are all in the Old Testament, most of their knowledge of salvation has to do with the ABC’s of the faith.  (Cf. John 14:26; 16:25; 15:12; Matt. 11:11; Hebs 5:11-6:3)  This is the weakness in using the Decalog primarily as a Guide to Gratitude.

What about “Lead us not into temptation”?  This, too, is Old Testament.  James 1, I Peter 1:6 say we should welcome, rejoice in trials; Jesus himself did not pray to keep Peter from them. (Luke 22:31)  What we do ask is victory, and God has promised us that .  Plus the guarantee that even our failures will have constructive purposes.  Luke 22:31; John 21:15-19.

Union Life in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews Part II)

The dynamic, “vital” aspect of salvation (in contrast to the legal, objective – justification) is admittedly the more neglected, ignored part of our “so great salvation” (2:3), namely SANCTIFICATION.  And Paul states plainly that Christ (and Christ alone) is our sanctification, “holiness”, “redemption”.  (I Cor 1:30)  “Work out your salvation….for it is God who is at work within you, both to will and to do.”  The dominant theme of Hebrews is “more, better, let us go on”  to that higher understanding.

The “new covenant” to which Hebrews refers repeatedly, is more than just the full-fill-ment of the Old, a reality of which the Old was a picture.  The New is to the Old as a butterfly is to a caterpillar.  In the Old there was no admittance to the heart of the tabernacle/temple, the ark of the covenant, the Mercy Seat, the “throne” of God.  But at Christ’s death (which initiated the New and the Old was “finished”) the door, the heavy curtain closing the entrance to the Most Holy Place, was shredded.  Therefore, says Hebrews, “let us approach the throne of grace boldly.”  This is the climax, the acme of God’s creation desire for man, namely, intimate fellowship, to an “in” degree, rather than “with” or “upon”, as in isolated instances in the Old Testament, where God came upon certain individuals or places in “spirit”.  “Christ went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle”, not to come back out again, a la the Old Testament high priest, than whom (again) Christ was far better, unique.  Note as well that in Hebs 9:3 the golden altar of incense (at which “ordinary” Zachariah officiated) is said to be inside the Holy of Holies, while in the Old Testament it is specifically outside, in front of that forbidding curtain.  Reflect what this means as to the efficacy of New Testament prayers (as described in Jesus’ farewell discourse, “in Him”, a phrase repeated seven times) versus those of even the most devout in the Old.  Rms 8:26 – “WE (in ourselves) do not know what/how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit (of Christ) himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

Hebrews is the only Bible book, besides I Thes 5:23, with a proof text for trichotomy (see 4:12), a doctrine (that human beings consist of body, soul – psych – , and spirit) which is basic to Union Life.  “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.”

What we customarily regard as the “fundamentals” of the faith – repentance, faith, instruction for baptism, resurrection, eternal judgment, the “word of God”, the Holy Spirit – are regarded in Hebs 5:11-6:6 as “elementary”, not to be repeated, but to be built upon. (6:4-6)

Christ’s inseparable identification with us – see 2:10-18 – has the practical application that as Christ fulfilled the glorious words of Psalm 8, so has that promise been fulfilled by him for us.  Ephesians makes it more specific by saying we now reign with him. Paul says when Christ rose, we rose, etc.

Hebrews 3 is not content to say that Christ is greater than Moses, but that God is the builder of his house, Christ is the builder’s son.  Moses was a servant in the house, and WE are the house itself.  This picture is repeated in I Peter and Revelation where Christ is called the corner-stone, and we the lively stones (in a class with “precious” ones) built upon him.

The idea of God’s “rest” being a here-and-now attainability (not held in escrow until the hereafter) is made crystal clear in Hebrews (see I Cor 10 as well) in which it is said that God was not pleased with the Israelites “spinning their wheels” in the desert sand for  40 years, though that static condition is often regarded as a parable of our “normal” life upon earth.  The Red Sea experience of death to the “old” life had to be repeated in the Jordan River by the new generation, thereby enabling them to enter the Promised Land (which had foes enough, but guaranteed victory, security, prosperity, possession.)

Hebrews 12:10 says that “we may share in God’s holiness” – not that of angels, or Paradise “earned”.  See also I John and his equating of Christ’s righteousness with that of ours. God’s very “will” – what gives him personality identity, power, “good pleasure”, choice – is engraved into our very hearts, as Old Testament prophet Jeremiah predicted of the “New Covenant”.  (8:10; 9:16)  We become possessors of Christ’s “mind”.  (Cf. I Cor 1:30, 2:16, 3:23)

Salvation vs Sanctification

Salvation (eternal life) is such a marvelous thing that it can be looked at from many different angles. (That’s why we have different Christian ‘denominations”.)  Part of being saved, being a Christian, is to have one’s sins forgiven, to be regarded as “not guilty”.  But that is only the legal side of it, like a person being allowed to drive a car or vote at a certain age, when perhaps he/she knows how to do these things long before, or perhaps never does know how.  Or, a bankrupt person might have all his debts paid and still not know how to manage money, so that he goes bankrupt all over again.  Or, a caucasian may adopt an orphan of a different race and give him money, education, and even his family name, but that will not make him a caucasian.

When God saves a person he/she becomes a new person.  (II Cor 5:17)  God puts His very life – eternal, perfect, wise, loving, patient – into that person.  It is like a heart transplant.  That is why, in some countries, when a person becomes a Christian he takes on a new name, to show that he is “somebody else”, different.  In heaven we will all have a personal, unique name, one of God’s endless number of names, like Comforter, Strong, Wise, etc.

This change is called “Sanctification”, “to be made holy”, good, God-like.  We use that word for two things (just as water is called H2O, because it is made up of hydrogen and oxygen).  Human beings consist of three “parts”; like animals, he has a body.  Like the angels, he has or is a soul (which is made up of mind, emotions or feelings, and a will, which is also our conscience, our decision-maker.)   Besides this he (she) is a spirit.  In Genesis we read that God made Adam’s body out of the ground (the same elements that are in vegetables that we eat), and breathed His life into Adam, and he became a living soul, person.   When Adam sinned, what he did was spit God’s spirit out of him, or cut the wire of life that connected him to God.  Spiritually he was dead, like a car with a dead battery, or a heart that stops beating.  (Adam kept on “living” for a while before he died physically, like a car can coast after the gas is all gone or the motor kills.)

When God saves us, he breathes his life (Spirit) back into us.  (John 20:22)  He does that through Christ, who was Holy Spirit-born, filled, and poured out, passing his life on to us, like a funnel, or a channel.  (Acts 2:33)  God uses us, in turn, to be channels of that same life, His Spirit, to others, just as he made human beings capable of being creators, re-producers, of fellow human-beings, in their own likeness.  (John 7:38)  So, we are sanctified, made perfect, the minute that we become a Christian.  The real “us”, our spirit, is completely holy, because his spirit is a “part” of Christ’s (God’s) Spirit, which is completely perfect.  (I Cor 1:30)

But, like a computer that has been programmed with some wrong or bad input, a person’s “soul” (his thinking, wishes/desires, and his decisions/will) has been programmed so long to like bad things, think wrongly, and make poor choices that his new spirit has to slowly but steadily change all this in his soul.  Now his body does not tell him what and when to eat (like animals and unconverted people), but his new “I”.  His ears and glands don’t tell him what music to play or what person to marry.  Christ in him(her) teaches him what is good, best, better; S(he) is not an imitator of “everybody else”, but is trans-formed, re-formed, re-newed bit by bit in mind, emotions, and will.  Now he is able to say, against Satan, other tempters, environment (like hunger, danger, lust) “I will/won’t”, and do it or not do it, according to what Christ in him decides.  (A Christian never says, “the good that I want to do, I cannot”, etc.  That is the experience of a self-saver, a penitent alcoholic without Christ, a “good neighbor”.)  This change of the soul is also called sanctification, and God/Christ does that too.  (Phil 2:13; 3:12-15)

So, it is not correct to say only that to be a Christian means that you will go to heaven when you die; it is something great and good that happens here and now, in this life, in body and soul.  It is not correct to say merely that Jesus died for you; Jesus could have died a thousand times and that would not get a single person into heaven.  Jesus rose from death and is alive right now, a human being, living his eternal life inside of each of his children, followers.  (The phrase “in Christ” is found 150 times in the New Testament.)  In the Old Testament God was with his people; now he is in us.  Being a church member is not the same as being a Christian; many church-leaders are lost now and forever.  It is not being a “good”, nice person; many will say in the judgement day that they did many wonderful “works”, miracles, even in Jesus’ name – think of the Red Cross, YMCA, etc.

Verses in Scripture that tell us that we have a new nature and our old one died (and is buried) include Ephesians 4:22-24, Col. 3:3; 5,9,10.  This is so real that the Bible says that when Christ died, we died with him, and when he rose, a new Person, we rose with him. (Rom 6:5-8; Col 2:9, 12; 3:1)  This is like our being “in” our parents before we were born, and after we are born we become more and more like them.