Yesterday I sat through one of the most curious sermons I have ever heard. Let’s start with a pop quiz. What do all the following verses tell you?
Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
2Co 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Eph 3:20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,
Phi 3:12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
Phi 3:13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
Phi 3:14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Phi 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Psa 40:5 You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.
Eze 36:26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
Eze 36:27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
If you care to answer, please leave it in the comments section.
These verses are from the handout that we received at church yesterday. The title of the sermon was “Turn Over Your Transformation”.
Now, if you are like me, then you will read the title of the sermon and these verses and come away with a deep conviction of the sovereignity of God in our justification (Phil 1:6a; Eze 36), and the subsequent process of sanctification. If you are the associate pastor at my church, then you are seeing something slightly different.
Let me first qualify my statements that follow by saying that I have had some very positive experiences at my church. For the first time a head pastor was prepared to engage with me around doctrine, and while we don’t completely see eye to eye, we have enough in common so that I still feel comfortable going there.
The sermon yesterday confused me. It conflated justification and sanctification, and also somehow tried to convey that we have to somehow “choose” to be sanctified. It essentially was a mixture of reading libertarian human free will into those passages, and the role of God in sanctification, if only we would let Him.
The sermon continued to say that if we want to be conformed to the image of Christ, then we must allow God to work in us, we must co-operate with the “artist as He creates this Masterpiece”. It is vital that “we give our permission for God to work in our lives.”
If we have been justified, which is an instantaneous event, we enter into sanctification. Sanctification is the growth in God’s grace, subsequent to our justification. It is the process by which we are setting off, in this life, to be conformed to the image of Christ. We can never fully achieve it in this life because of the remnants of of our sinful human nature.
To follow that train of thought, we have to understand Christ, and what Christ was like. I already addressed most of that on my series on the offices of Christ. Let me just say that I was astounded yesterday to hear from the pulpit that Jesus was not “judgmental”, “moralist”, or “conservative”. I heard a lot about what Jesus supposedly isn’t, but not a whole lot about what He is.
Dear reader, I could not believe that someone can read those passages, and then stand up in front of several hundred people and say that we must give permission for the Holy Spirit to conform us to a non-descript Christ. The associate pastor is quite young, and seems like a geniunely nice person. In fact, I really enjoyed his previous message.
However, sermons of this type are very dangerous. It leads people to trust themselves to choose, and take the glory intended for God. It may lead to an underlying misunderstanding of Jesus’ mission on the cross. It gives false confidence in human ability. It negates repentance and regeneration, it makes the execution of Gods plans dependent on the choices of man.
God is sovereign, He mercifully chooses us. He decrees the means, and through His mercy, freely gives His grace. He calls us, He sends His Spirit to effect the change in us. He persuades and enables us to follow Him. Our regeneration is from God alone.
Sanctification follows regeneration and justification. And yes, we have a role to play in our sanctification. But that role is not one of giving permission, it is one of active co-operation with the Spirit. It is actively putting sin to death. It is a continuous duty to do the will of God.
Rom 8:13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
There are no choices to be made here. After regeneration, the desire is to please God. The Holy Spirit directs, prompts and convicts, and we simply do.
Phi 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
Phi 2:13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
To say that we must choose to be sanctified is to say that we can frustrate the plans of God, that we can stand in the way of His will.
No, children of God have a new heart, and they desire, they thirst after sanctification.