What We Want to Believe (Sanctification and Glorification)

What We Want to Believe (Sanctification and Glorification)

Feb 03, 2009

Preacher: Jason Wolin

Series: What We Want To Believe

Category: Membership


As Americans we are conditioned to be ultimate pragmatists.  We want results and we want them yesterday and we don’t care what it costs.  I think some of that kind of thinking surfaces when you look at some of the discussion surrounding our current economic situation.  Whatever the cost, people want the problem fixed

Being pragmatic tends to carry a negative connotation, and rightly so. 

But why is being pragmatic a bad thing?  Well, usually when someone criticizes you for being too pragmatic, they are criticizing you for focusing on a short term Band-Aid to a symptom and not a long term solution to the underlying problem behind the symptom.  For example, this week we have been working with one of my boys on not touching the keyboard on the computer without asking.  One solution to this symptom would be to wire the keyboard with an electrical shock.  That would fix the problem.  But I might be labeled a pragmatic.  All I care about is fixing the short term symptom and not the actual heart problem. 

When it comes to the Christian life this is a major issue.  We call pragmatism in the Christian life, hypocrisy.  A hypocrite is pragmatic in that he focuses on ways to paint the outside of his life and make it look nice and presentable but never deals with the rotten bones in the heart.  So being pragmatic in regards to the externals is a bad thing.  External pragmatism = bad.

But today what we want to do, if I can use the term, is get pragmatic about changing the heart.  Internal pragmatism = good.  No matter what the cost we want to find out what works when it comes to actually changing the heart.  The Bible puts a lot of focus on this doctrine and hits it from many different angles.  The process of changing the heart is called the doctrine of sanctification.  And the doctrine of sanctification and glorification is where we find ourselves in our study this morning.

Definition of Sanctification

Sanctification is a word that is strictly used in the Christian world.  If you mention that to an unbeliever, he would probably have no idea what that word even meant.  So because it’s not a popular word, it’s good to define it.  The actual word is derived from two Latin word “Sanctus which means holy. And facio which means to make.”  So sanctification means to make holy.  So if you don’t like the word sanctification you could call it holification.  Basically, the doctrine of sanctification is the doctrine that true believers progressively become more like Jesus.  So if you wanted to take it a step further you could call this the doctrine the doctrine of Jesusication (to make like Jesus).

But even though the definition of Sanctification is simple, the concept is tricky to get your mind around for two reasons.  The first reason has to do with a biblical tension that we must recognize, namely that sanctification is a process that is never complete.  And here’s a good way to illustrate that tricky tension.  Let’s say you get in a conversation with a unbelieving family member and that family member says to you, “The reason I don’t buy the whole Christianity thing is because Christians are hypocrites.”

Now the reason this is a difficult statement to respond to is because you are stuck between two realities.  Christianity does affirm that knowing Jesus makes a difference in your life.  In fact, John is so bold as to say, if you don’t change, you can’t be a Christian. 


1 John 2:3-4  And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.  Whoever says "I know him" but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,

So, to be a Christian, there must be progressive heart movement and improvement.  You cannot call yourself a Christian and not obey Jesus at some level.

But, at the same time, no Christian will ever be perfect. 

1 John 1:8  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

So we live between these two realities.  On the one hand we will never be able to say, “I am completely free from sin.”  On the other hand, a Christian should never say, “This sin has defeated me.  I give up.  I have had a bad temper for 30 years and I will have one until the day I die and people are just going to have to put up with me." 

So while we can accurately say that sanctification may never be complete in this life we must also say that sanctification must never stop increasing.  So when someone says to you, “Christians aren’t perfect, you know.”  The theological response to that is not simply, Christians are imperfect but forgiven.  If you want to factor sanctification into that answer you would say, “Christians are imperfect, forgiven and by God’s grace growing.”

So sanctification is tricky because we must keep these two truths in tension, but it is tricky for a second reason and that is because, our progress in Christ is not linear.  You see, someone might take the doctrine of sanctification and reason:

  • If being a Christian by definition means progressing in conformity to Christ (sanctification)
  • If I find a person who claims to be a Christian and is not progressing in his conformity to Christ
  • Then I can conclude that this person must not be a believer.

In other words, is it correct to say that just because you can point to decline in a person’s walk with the Lord that means that person is an unbeliever? Would you conclude from David’s adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of Uriah and the 9 month cover-up that David was a believer?

Sanctification has to be observed over time.  Here’s a graph that illustrates the concept.

There may be dips and seasons of decline, but regression cannot characterize a believer.  So sanctification is tricky because sanctification is a process that is never complete and because sanctification is not linear.

Why is sanctification an ongoing reality?

But why is that?  Why is sanctification non-linear and progressive yet incomplete?  Why is sanctification an ongoing reality?  Why does not God instantly free us from this body of sin and instantly transport us into glory?  Why do we have to fight and fight and fight to get rid of sin in our lives?  Why are there periods of decline in a believer’s life?

I think one of the reasons is so that we don’t get the false notion into our heads that the absence of sin is the goal.  Saying that the absence of sin is the goal of the Christian life is like saying the ultimate goal of working is to deposit money into a bank.  Are you going to do anything with that money?  Getting rid of sin is just the starting point for getting close to Christ.  In fact, it may even be more accurate to say that getting close to Christ enables you to get rid of sin. 

Let me give you an analogy.  Let’s say that at the end of this isle, you hung two very large mirrors right over top of those double doors.  Now I could see my reflection, but not with very much detail.  I might look at that mirror and think I look pretty good.  But as I moved closer I would begin to see blemishes.

  • First I might notice that my tie appeared straight and clean was actually crooked and stained
  • Might notice that I had a piece of hair sticking up
  • Might notice that I had a little piece of banana stuck to the side of my mouth.
  • Scars on my face, my hair was greesy, etc.

Well Jesus is the mirror.  As we get closer and closer to Jesus, we see more and more of our imperfections.  This is why we are never content with where we are as believers.  You may look back 5 years in your life and think, “Man, I have come a long way.  I sure don’t feel like I have.”  And the reason, you don’t feel like you have is because you have moved closer to the mirror. 

So why get close to the mirror if it just depresses you.  That is where the mirror analogy breaks down.  So let’s modify it.  As you get close to the mirror and as the blemishes are erases, you begin to disappear and what you are left with is the almighty God.  And that is infinitely attractive.  You are attracted by what you see in God, so you move forward, but as you move forward, your blemishes reappear and you have to address those, and as those are addressed, you can see the God in more brilliance and so you step forward even closer.

How Does Sanctification Work?

So Sanctification is about getting close to Jesus.  In fact, it’s all about Christ.  It’s not about balancing your life.  You don’t balance work and school and church.  It’s all about Jesus.  You are not a Christian engineer you are an engineer Christian.  You are not a Christian realtor, you’re a realtor Christian.  In other words you are not a realtor and the adjective Christian describes you.  You are a Christian and the adjective realtor describes you.  It is all about Jesus.

So let’s spend some time talking about how sanctification actually works.  What is going to make me step closer to the mirror?  How do I live my life in such a way that I can truly say I am a builder Christian or a financial counselor Christian or a web developer Christian.  How do you transform your life?

Turn to Romans 6 with me for a moment.  I just want our eyes to see the flow of thought.  Romans 6 is probably one of the most concentrated sections in the Bible dealing with the issue of sanctification.  And surprisingly to me anyway, this section is a bit difficult to understand.  I would expect something so practical to be easy to understand.  But there are some pretty complicated arguments and complex thoughts that weave their way through this chapter.  And I think the right attitude at this point is to just submit to whatever method God has designed for us to grow in sanctification (even if that means trying to understand some deep theological truth!) 

And btw, I’m only talking about one thread of this one passage on sanctification.  There are many, many ways to preach a message on sanctification, because God talks about it in so many different ways.

Paul goes out of his way to make the point that believers are dead to sin and alive to God in verse 11, that they have been set free from sin in verse 18.  His point here is exactly the point we made a couple of weeks ago when we talked about what Jesus accomplished on the cross in regards to sin.  We talked about the work of the cross under two headings:  Power and Penalty.  The power of sin refers to the fact that prior to salvation we were slaves of sin.  We were handcuffed to this brutal lord and he would not allow us to escape.  But the cross broke those chains and now we are not under obligation to sin.  That was the first thing the cross accomplished for us.  The second thing the cross accomplished was it freed us from the penalty of sin.  The penalty of sin refers to the fact that prior to conversion we were legally condemned.  But God as judge, condemned us for all our sin, slammed the gavel, and pronounced us guilty, then took off his robe as judge, put on flesh in the person of Jesus and died in our place.  So now we are innocent. After conversion, this dead is applied to our account.  We are pronounced not guilty. 

So these are theological realities; but just because we are declared innocent and just because we are not under obligation to sin, that does not mean that we never sin.  In fact, we sin all the time.  We choose to go shack up with our old task master and do his bidding.  So Paul recognizes that this battle with sin exists.  And so Paul exhorts his brothers and sisters not to be foolish and go on sinning.

Romans 6:12   12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.  [or desires]

Now this is really instructive.  This passage gives us a huge clue about sins power.  Where does sin find its entry point?  What is the level that sin attacks us at?  At the level of our desires.  Sin observes our desires and appeals to those desires with lies.  Sin promises satisfaction and happiness, and comfort and pleasure.  But when sin finally delivers we are disappointed at the cheap, fleeting, shallow stimulation that leaves us less content and less peaceful and less hopeful and more guilty, more restless, more discouraged, more enslaved.

I know you can relate to this?  Sin makes big promises but the pleasure is so short term.  I compare it to whitewater rafting.  Some outfitters take photos from the banks of the river as you plunge through some of the gnarliest rapids.  So right as you are about to dive into a huge hole, the cameras flash and when you get back you can see the smiles erupting from people’s faces.  But how lasting is that pleasure when you know that 100 yards downstream is Niagra falls.  It may be fun, but is it worth it?  You see, the pleasure is fleeting.  It’s pixie stick pleasure. 

So when you are shopping and you see an item displayed in the display case that really tugs on your heart, and your desires are crawling out of you trying to get you to buy that piece of clothing.  Or when you are on the net and you see an image that provokes your desire and you want to pursue it.  That is Satan showing you the whitewater photograph.  Look at how much fun this is going to be.  Look at how much fun other people had who pursued this path.  Sin is holding out a delicious promise to you.

But what he doesn’t show you is that 30 seconds later there is a waterfall.

If that analogy doesn’t work for you, change it to fishing.  Sin shows us the bait.  It shows us all the deliciousness.  It appeals to all our previous experiences and promises really wonderful things but it hides the hook.

So the battle for sanctification takes place on the level of desires.  This is the battleground. The battle for sanctification starts at the level of desires, and as we are going to see is fought and won on this level as well.  If you can control your desires, you win.  So here is how Paul tells us to fight. 

Romans 6:13  13 Do not offer [yield] the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer [yield] yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.

Now, this is helpful, but Paul gives us even more help understanding what he means further down in the verse. 

Romans 6:19-20  19 I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer [yield] the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer [yield]them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness

The words, “just as….so now” indicate that Paul wants them to yield in the same way.  Just as they previously yielded more and more to sin, “in just the same way” they are now to yield themselves to more and more righteousness for sanctification

So now we know, the way in which we are to yield.  In the same way we use to give ourselves to sin?  In what way did we use to give ourselves to sin?  Completely.  There was no war going on, there was no conflict of interest because you only served one master!

20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.

Does an alcoholic find it difficult to drink?  No.  Because he is a slave to the bottle.  So flip it around.  In the same way you used to yield yourself to sin, now yield yourself to Jesus.  And the degree to which you do that, is the degree to which you will be free from sin. 

Let me ask you this:  Were you tempted to commit adultery when you were at the wedding altar?  No because your heart was happily enslaved to your wife.  Nobody else had a piece of you and hence it was no temptation.

Now that is a huge clue as to what we actually need to do when we are faced with actual day to day decisions.  We need to yield ourselves entirely to Jesus.  None of this half hearted submission thing.  Our battle for sanctification is only a battle because of the fact that we are trying to love both God and the world.

Is it Possible to Change Desires?

Now suppose someone comes up to you at this point and asks you this question.  How can we cause our wills to prefer something different that they do?  You’re saying that the battle for sanctification takes place at the level of desires.  How do I change my desires?  If I want to sin, how do I change that?  If freedom of choice is choosing what we want and if we happen at that moment to want sin, how do we change that .                                                                 

What do you say to that?  Is God asking us in the moment of sin to stop loving sin?  Is that the tactic God desires us to utilize?  Is God asking us in the moment of sin to (even though we desire sin more) to choose the inferior pleasure of following him?  Or is there another way to battle sin?

If this was the way to fight sin, we would we never win.  Because we always choose what we want.  I think the only way you can fight sin is to find satisfaction in the SUPERIOR promise of Jesus.  If you find yourself with a strong desire to sin, the focus of sanctification is not “stop desiring sinning” as much as it is “yield yourself to Jesus” who is the greater source of joy.  It is a focus on yielding to the joy Christ provides.  Christ’s commands to resist sin are commands to protect your joy. 

  • A thief will never know the satisfaction and joy of labor.
  • A liar will never know the satisfaction and joy of telling truth.
  • A selfish husband and wife will never know the satisfaction and joy of being hospitable.
  • A grouchy parent will never know the joy of content kids.
  • And ugly servant husband will never know the joy of a thankful content wife.

Psalm 19:8  The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.

Yield yourself completely to the Lord. 

  • Do not fight try to serve two masters.
  • You cannot serve God and money.
  • You cannot serve God and the world.
  • You cannot serve God and your hobby.
  • You cannot serve God and your intellectual.
  • You cannot serve God and athletics.
  • You cannot serve God and you job.
  • You cannot serve God and sex.
  • You cannot serve God and leisure.
  • You cannot serve God and anything.

Serve God and him alone knowing that he desires to give you the greatest possible joy.  There is no joy greater than the joy he intends to reward his obedient children with. 

Other Motives for Obedience

While I think this is the primary method of overcoming sin, I don’t want to omit many other motives that God has given us in his word that God may use in the moment of sin to help you prefer Jesus over sin.  Remember we said that there are hundreds of angles that the Scriptures take in talking to us about sanctification.  And while I think that what we talked about today is the primary motivation, let me just remind us that the Scriptures are not reductionistic.  They motivate us from many different angles.

  • The need to keep a clear conscience before God (Rom. 13:5; 1 Tim. 1:5, 19; 2 Tim. 1:3; 1 Peter 3:16);
  • the desire to be a “vessel for noble use” and have increased effectiveness in the work of the kingdom (2 Tim. 2:20–21);
  • the desire to see unbelievers come to Christ through observing our lives (1 Peter 3:1–2, 15–16);
  • the desire to receive present blessings from God on our lives and ministries (1 Peter 3:9–12);
  • the desire to avoid God’s displeasure and discipline on our lives (sometimes called “the fear of God”) (Acts 5:11; 9:31; 2 Cor. 5:11; 7:1; Eph. 4:30; Phil. 2:12; 1 Tim. 5:20; Heb. 12:3–11; 1 Peter 1:17; 2:17; cf. the state of unbelievers in Rom. 3:18);
  • the desire to seek greater heavenly reward (Matt. 6:19–21; Luke 19:17–19; 1 Cor. 3:12–15; 2 Cor. 5:9–10);
  • the desire for a deeper walk with God (Matt. 5:8; John 14:21; 1 John 1:6; 3:21–22; and, in the Old Testament, Ps. 66:18; Isa. 59:2);
  • the desire for peace (Phil. 4:9) and joy (Heb. 12:1–2) in our lives; and
  • the desire to do what God commands, simply because his commands are right, and we delight in doing what is right (Phil. 4:8; cf. Ps. 40:8).

The Need for Glorification

We haven’t spoken a word today about glorification.  This was supposed to be a sanctification and glorification sermon.  So let me sum up the relationship between sanctification and glorification in a paragraph.  When we appreciate that sanctification involves the whole person, including our bodies (see 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Thess. 5:23), then we realize that sanctification will not be entirely completed until the Lord returns and we receive new resurrection bodies.

If the flesh is what causes us to sin, then we must tear that flesh away from the soul.  And that painful, terrible rending takes place at death.  But just like Paul says in 1 Cor 15, a kernel of wheat has to go into the ground and die in order for life to sprout.  So it will be in our death. 

We await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ from heaven, and he “will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). It is “at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:23) that we will be made alive with a resurrection body and then we shall fully “bear the image of the Man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49).

Communion Transition.

As we approach communion this morning I think it would be very fitting to reflect on what we have said this morning in regards to sanctification.  The role we play in sanctification is both a passive one in which we depend upon God to change our hearts and an active one in which we take steps that will increase our sanctification.

Think about that passive part for a moment.  What could be more passive than a death that happened before you were born which broke the power of sin that allowed you to obey?    That is humbling.

Let us contemplate the fact that perfect joy was purchased for us on the cross.  Yes our sin was removed.  But the removal of sin was not the primary effect of the cross.  Christ removed our sin so that we could experience the joy of the presence of Jesus.  Let us celebrate the joy that was purchased for us!