Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sanctification: the Process of Perfection - Positional vs Progressive

The first two installments of this study on the doctrine of Sanctification have been a great blessing to me. There have been moments that I have literally been in tears as God revealed His heart to me. I only hope that I have been able to relate these teachings in a concise and understandable way. There is no way I can overstate how necessary these concepts are to the day-to-day victory of the child of God. Until you and I begin learning and applying the basic mechanics of Christianity, we have no choice but to live under the yoke of the sin nature. So without further hesitation, let’s get to it.

 The first post in this series dealt briefly with the beginning point of relationship with God…Justification. We learned that Justification is a legal decree proclaimed in the eternal courtroom of Heaven. God, the Judge, will eventually pass verdict on every person that has ever lived. The Judge will only rule in one of two ways…condemned or justified. At the moment a sinful human cries out to Jesus and makes Him Lord of their life, God slams down His gavel and declares that person to be Justified for all eternity. This means that God forever more sees the new Christian as NOT GUILTY, not only that…He sees him as INNOCENT OF ALL CHARGES, but that’s not all, because in God’s mind it’s as if HE NEVER SINNED AT ALL. Isn’t that amazing!!! But that’s not even the full scope of the sweeping power of God’s Justification, because when God declares you Justified…

He forever more sees you as PERFECT!! That’s right God has declared you PERFECT!!

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “There’s no way God can look at my life and call me perfect!” Let me put it a different way. On what grounds can God say you are just, when you know in fact that you are not just? This is a very reasonable question…and one that deserves explanation. To understand how this is possible, we must discuss the concept of “imputation”. This is a funny sounding word, but if you grasp what “imputation” means, you will begin to understand how you can stand in the presence of God, and hear Him call you perfect.

The understanding of imputation will lead us to the idea of Positional Sanctification…so, if you are ready? Let’s get into the Word!

Imputation and Positional Sanctification

Explaining “imputation” begins with analyzing what took place on the Cross of Christ as it relates to our salvation. Dr R.C. Sproul teaches this supernatural act by illustrating a DOUBLE TRANSFER. Allow me to elaborate… 

The first part of the DOUBLE TRANSFER deals with God transferring our sins to Jesus, while he suffered on the cross. I Peter 2:24…He himself (Jesus) bore our sins in his body on the tree. In John 1:29, John the Baptist, speaking of Jesus, declares the Agnus Dei…behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Here we have just two of the many verses that describe a “quantitative” transfer. In other words, the total amount of sin was taken off of the world (you and me) and was transferred to Jesus. Imagine your sin being represented by a heavy jacket that you are wearing. At the cross, God took your jacket and the full weight of its burden, and placed it on Jesus. This transfer can also be called an “imputation”. God “imputed” your sins to Jesus. Now, try to imagine the jacket of sin from every person that has ever lived transferred or imputed to Jesus…all of them…all at the same time. You see, there is no way to imagine the immense, crushing weight of such an “imputation”. But thank God…Jesus can.

So, at this point of the DOUBLE TRANSFER, God looks down from Heaven, and what does He see? He sees Jesus covered with an indescribable mass of sin, and at the same time He sees us, free of sin. Are you with me? Your sin has been transferred (imputed) to Jesus.

Now, I must make a very important point before moving forward. If this transfer of sin from us to Jesus stood alone, as great as this act was, YOU COULD NOT BE CALLED PERFECT. This single transfer is not enough for God to declare us Justified. Even though Jesus endured the punishment for all my sin…this is not, in itself, sufficient. Consider this, it is not simply innocence that grants me access to God, it is righteousness that is required. This is why the second part of the DOUBLE TRANSFER is essential…there must be a second “imputation”.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:20…For I say unto you, unless your righteousness surpass that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Being innocent of sin might keep us out of Hell, or keep us from being punished, however righteousness is required to enter the presence of the Most Holy. Moreover, according to Jesus, the righteousness must be of a certain kind…human righteousness is of no use. Isaiah 64:6 makes this clear…our righteousnesses are like filthy rags. So the obvious remains: How do we obtain this “required” righteousness, in order that we might enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Enter the second part of the double transfer…

The righteousness of the spotless Lamb of God, the only Begotten of God, is transferred to us and we can be sure that the righteousness of Jesus is of the right and acceptable kind. So here we have the DOUBLE TRANSFER that makes the eternal difference. Let me describe it in another way. Imagine that every time we commit a sin we swipe a debit card that deducts money from our account in heaven…and by the way, we are born with our account balance at ZERO. Sin after sin, the card is swiped and the debt climbs. Transaction upon transaction…we sink further and further into our sin debt. And to whom do we owe this debt? God holds the lien. After a short time, it becomes obvious that we could never repay this mounting debt, yet we continue to swipe the card. Now we come to the point in which we decide to call upon the mercy of God to save us from this debt we cannot repay. Here comes the DOUBLE TRANSFER. First, God erases the debt...He completely wipes our account clean. Then, secondly, He transfers an unspendable amount of money from Jesus’ account into our own. Now our account will never be in the negative again.

You got it? DOUBLE TRANSFER! Imputation! Okay, now for positional Sanctification…

After the DOUBLE TRANSFER takes place, what does God see?  He sees a human that has been declared perfect because he is no longer stained with sin…the sin was transferred to Jesus. Not only that, He sees a human that is completely righteous….because Christ’s righteousness was transferred to the human. Due to this new standing, God is able remain just even while proclaiming that person both Justified and Righteous. This declaration of righteousness is the divine act that grants us the “position” of being altogether sanctified in the eyes of the Almighty.

Hebrews 10:10…By this will WE HAVE BEEN SANCTIFIED through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all.  The phrase WE HAVE BEEN signifies that it is a completed act. You see, the phrase is past tense…that means it’s done. The last phrase of the verse ONCE FOR ALL underlines this idea again. The sanctification is complete.

I Corinthians 1:2….To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who HAVE BEEN SANCTIFIED in Christ Jesus, saints by calling.  Here again, HAVE BEEN SANCTIFIED declares the finality of the process. With this in mind, we can conclude that if a person has been justified by God, they has also been sanctified. These are completed acts in the mind of God that took place at the same time, as a result of the DOUBLE TRANSFER of Calvary. You are innocent of sin and righteous in His sight. You have been granted positional sanctification!!!

 Praise God! Halleluiah to the Lamb! All of this, just because you believed! He only requires faith. When we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, all of this is freely given. How great is our God?
Now, if you are like me, a new thought arises in your heart…and a very valid thought it is. “He may say I’m perfect, but I know I’m not. I deal with my imperfection everyday. What about the fact that I still sin?”
With this question in mind, let's now deal with the idea of “progressive” sanctification.

Progressive Sanctification - Cottages & Palaces

One of my very favorite Christian thinkers/writers of all time is C.S. Lewis. His ability to tear apart and put back together the basics tenants of our faith was remarkable, a true gift to Christianity. In his book Mere Christianity, Lewis begins to describe the process of progressive Sanctification. Read the following passage a few times…

“On the one hand we must never imagine that our own unaided efforts can be relied on to carry us even through the next twenty-four hours as ‘decent’ people. If He does not support us, not one of us is safe from some gross sin. On the other hand, no possible degree of holiness or heroism which has ever been recorded on the greatest saints is beyond what He is determined to produce in every one of us in the end. The job will not be completed in this life: but He means to get us as far as possible before death.”

Ultimately, sanctification is a destination. The word sanctification means “to make holy.” Therefore, the destination of sanctification is when a Christian has become eternally holy. However, in the above passage, C.S. Lewis points out that sanctification is not just a destination, it is a journey. At the point of salvation, the DOUBLE TRANSFER allows God to declare us as righteous. This is our “position” or standing with God. At the same time, while we are here on earth, covered in flesh, and dealing with a sin nature, we are in the constant process of becoming more and more like Jesus. The Christian is becoming “progressively” holy.

Phillipians 1:6…Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. So, what is the “good work” that is posed here? The answer is found in Romans 8:29…for those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed into the image of His son. We are in a progression to become more and more holy…to become more like Christ. John the Baptist said it best, “I must decrease, so that He may increase.” In other words, our sun must progressively continue to set, so that the Son might progressively continue to rise within us. The “good work” of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to breakdown every stronghold of the sin nature that we are naturally inclined to follow…one at a time. In short summary, we are on the pathway to holiness, the Holy Spirit is our guide, and ultimate sanctification is the end result of the journey.

Romans chapter six deals in depth with the process of removing the affects of the sin nature from our lives. This process, in fact, IS progressive sanctification. Romans 6 points out the fact that…we are dead to sin, but alive in Jesus Christ (Rom 6:11). The power of the cross forever changed our relationship with the sin nature; we no longer have to live under its yoke. Now, look at what this fact offers us…but now having been freed from the sin nature and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and eternal life (Rom 6:22). This scripture outlines that, freedom from the sin nature results in sanctification! We now have the possibility, being set free from the sin nature, to experience progressive sanctification, by the means of the Holy Spirit. Okay one more verse...therefore, do not let the sin nature reign in your mortal body that you obey the lust thereof (Rom 6:12). Look at the phrase “do not let”; this is a Greek prohibitive imperative. This is better translated….”I command you; do not let the sin nature reign.” God has commanded us to live apart from the effects of the sin nature. I can tell you with confidence that our heavenly father would not command us to do anything that was impossible to accomplish. So, how does God know that we can accomplish such a great feat? He has predestined that we will become like Jesus, and He will finish the good work that He has begun.

He commands us to live free from the sin nature based on His ability to keep His Word…not on our ability to follow His Word. His Word will never return unto Him void. Let me tell you, the completion of our sanctification going to happen. You can take that to the bank...God said so.

Our progressive sanctification is written in stone. It will not fail. One day our progression of holiness will meet up with our position of righteousness…in that moment, when our progression meets our position, we shall be GLORIFIED. I John 3:2…Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be, we know that when He appears, we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

Let me give you a great illustration in closing…it’s not my own…it’s C.S. Lewis, at his finest…

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

Enough said…
Check back next time as we tear in to…The Flesh vs. The Spirit

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sanctification: the Process of Perfection - Created vs Begotten

In the previous blog post, I began this survey of the doctrine of Sanctification by explaining the doctrine of Justification. The reason for this approach is relatively simple; Justification is the first step in the process.  It’s the entrance, or the gateway to the journey of becoming wholly sanctified. In short review, Justification is the moment when God, the great judge of the universe, looks at the body of sin that we have compiled, recognizes our undeniable guilt, and then passes judgment. He has two options that He can declare over our eternity, and the choice He makes comes as a direct result of a personal decision on our part. The personal decision is just this; what have you done with Jesus? If you choose to accept the sacrifice of Calvary and make Jesus the Lord of your life, God will blot out every wrong doing you have ever committed and declare you “justified”. This means you are not guilty; you are innocent, as if you have never sinned, and beyond that you are declared perfect in the eyes of God. If you choose to deny Jesus and the sacrifice He made on your behalf, God will deny you and declare that you are “condemned”. The Word tells us that “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (II Pet 3:9). God, out of His great love, made a way where there was no way; He formulated the perfect plan before the foundation of the earth that would allow you and me the opportunity to choose. He has done all He can, and at this point, the choice is ours to make….condemned…or justified.

Okay, with that clarified, let’s move to the main course….Sanctification. Assuming that you’ve chosen wisely and found yourself in the position of being declared Justified by God, you are now automatically thrust into the process of Sanctification…well, what does that mean?

First, a quick definition…then an explanation.

 What is Sanctification? It is the process of turning a “created” child of God into a “begotten” child of God. Got it? No? Okay, then allow me to break down created vs. begotten.

A created object or being is one that may have similarities and likenesses of the original source, but is not of the same kind. On the other hand, a begotten being is one of the same kind, which comes from the original source. Let me illustrate this with a more real-to-life example. Imagine that I took a block of stone and began sculpting a likeness of myself. Over several days, I worked and worked to give the sculpture every possible detail to fit my physical representation. When I was finally finished, there was no mistaking that the sculpture was David…apart from it being a stony grey color, the similarities were uncanny. You might say, as you looked at the finished product, “this work of art was a great “creation”. On the other hand, you would be completely batty if you looked at the piece of crafted stone and believed it was actually me. Obviously the artwork was stone….even if it held many striking similarities to the artist.

Now, imagine if I were to introduce you to my youngest child, Taylor. He is seven years old, and if you know me, especially when I was a youngster, you would see many similarities between the two of us. We don’t look exactly the same…though there are some likenesses. We don’t act exactly the same, however, he does naturally take after me. Here’s the bottom line, if you were to say, “David you did a fine job creating Taylor”, I would thank you for the compliment, but you would in fact be speaking in error. You see, Taylor is not my created son, he is my begotten son.

A man creates a sculpture of himself…even if the sculpture bears an uncanny likeness to the artist, it is still only stone. It is “like” the sculptor, but it is not of the same kind…it is not a human. It is a creation.

A man fathers a son…even if the child has his own personality and unique appearance, he would never be considered his father’s creation. The son came from the father; they are of the same kind. The son is begotten.

John 3:16 may be the most well known verse in the entirety of the Word of God. We all know that it declares that Jesus is God’s “only begotten son.” From the previous paragraphs, you now understand that Jesus is the only human ever born that came from God…and is of the same kind as God. Jesus is the only human ever born of woman that did not come into the world with a nature of sin. Even better, He was the only human ever born of woman that came into the world with the nature of God. Imagine a man with God’s nature, God’s thoughts, God’s emotions, God’s reactions, God’s love, etc, etc, etc. He wasn’t just similar to God, no, he was from God, and the same kind of being…God’s only begotten.

Okay, now, what about you and me? Genesis 1:27 reveals much, it says: So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. See that? He repeated it 3 times just to underline the point. CREATED, CREATED, AND CREATED!!! We were formed by the hands of God to mirror His image. Like a sculptor crafting his own self image. You and I were “created” to resemble our creator. But make no mistake about it…we are created beings…not begotten son’s. We were created like Him, but we are not of the same kind.

Where Jesus was born in perfection, we were born in sin. Where Jesus was born with the mind of the Most High, we were born with the mind of our earthly father. Where Jesus was born to be about his Heavenly Father’s business, we were born to be about OUR OWN selfish business. Where Jesus was born with a divine nature, we were born with a sin nature. Jesus was born in perfect communion with Jehovah; we are born separated from Jehovah. We have obvious similarities to God, our creator, but the differences between the created and the begotten is vast.

However, there is one more point to be made. In as much as we are repeatedly called God’s creation…the Word also repeatedly refers to us as…”sons of God”…let me show you what this means…this is great!!!

John 1:12 and 13: But as many as received him (Jesus), to them gave he (the receiver) power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God

Allow me to make a couple quick points here. Number one, this verse applies to them that have “received Jesus”. In other words, those that have been justified by God, because they accepted Christ and the redemptive work of the cross. Once we have received Jesus and been declared Justified by God, we receive “power to become the sons of God”. Let me point out the obvious here, before the “power to become sons” was granted to us….we were not sons. Also, notice that this process of receiving the power and becoming sons of God has nothing to do with us…not of blood, nor flesh, nor man…but of God. Keep these points in mind as you read this passage from Galatians…

Galatians 4: 4-7: But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.  

This is simply amazing…fantastic…undeserved and unbelievable. Follow me here; I don’t want you to miss a thing.

Number one

The Word tells us that we were once a servant to the law. The law was our master and our slave driver. However, God’s love could not abide this slavery for His creation, those created in His image. So, He sent his only begotten Son (notice the capital “S”) into the same situation that we (the slaves of the law) were drowning in.  The only begotten Son “redeemed them that were under the law”. Redeemed is a Greek word that means: to purchase back; to ransom: to liberate or rescue from captivity or bondage; to repurchase that which has been sold. Jesus volunteered to pay the extravagant cost to free us from slavery; to redeem us from the curse of the law. The law of God says that the wages (the fixed payment) of sin is death. When Jesus paid the price of sin with His own life, we were redeemed from the curse of our sin…and in essence we were set free from being a slave to the law.

Number two

The passage states that the redeemed “might receive the adoption of sons (notice the lower case “s”). Where we were once slaves, now the Word calls us sons. What’s more, we are called “adopted sons”. This point should not be overlooked, nor looked down upon. Let me show you why. Paul was writing this as both a Jew and a Roman. He was fluent in Jewish law by the religious training he had received, and he was fluent in Roman law by the residential familiarity with his citizenship. Paul is drawing a parallel with both Jewish and Roman law that is absolutely priceless. In those days, an adopted son had more legal protection than a naturally born son. Where as a naturally born son could be legally renounced by a father, an adopted son could never be. A father in those days, whether Roman or Jewish, knew this full well before the binding legal act of adoption took place. If he went through with the adoption, the legal work was not reversible…the adopted son could never be disowned. This point is especially precious to me and my oldest son, Kollin. When he was 9, I went through the legal process to make him my adopted son. As such, he has the same legal right to everything I am, to everything I have, as the other kids in my house. In fact, if you visit our home, you will never suspect any separation between the adopted and the naturally born. They are all my kids. I live, work, love, and die for them all the same…with no favoritism. In fact, over the years, several people who knew nothing about the adoption have commented on how much Kollin and I look alike. My wife and I just smile and agree, after all, sons have family resemblance don’t they? You see the beauty here? Paul is saying that this act of granting sonship by our adopted Father is not reversible. Once He accepts you…you will never again be disowned…or a slave again. He sees you forever as His son. PRAISE GOD!! HIS LOVE IS AMAZING!!!

Number three

Okay, recall in the earlier passage in John, we are told that those that receive Jesus have been given “power to become sons of God”. Let’s discuss this power as we conclude. The power mentioned is further explained in our Galatians passage when Paul wrote…

And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

God sends the Spirit in your heart. The Holy Spirit is “the power to become sons of God”. Jesus said  “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…Acts 1:8”. So the Spirit is the power, now look at what happens. God sends the Spirit of his Son (capital “S”) into your heart, crying, Abba, Father.

Let me tie all this together…

“Abba” is an Aramaic word for a term of endearment that a son would use for his father. We might say “daddy” in English. However, this would still be an understatement. The beautiful point to be made is this. Only the begotten son can appropriately cry out “Abba” to his father. Jesus is God’s only begotten son. When Jesus was dying on the Cross we hear him cry out…”Abba, Abba, why has thou forsaken me” No other, but Jesus, the begotten, has the right to address Holy God as Abba. But when we come to God and claim the name of Jesus, an amazing thing takes place. The Holy Spirit (the Spirit of his Son) takes up residence within our hearts. In essence, the capital “S” comes to dwell within the lower case “s”, and when he moves in, he brings everything he is with him; including his right to call out to God as Abba. Now, when my life is crumbling, when my heart is breaking, when I don’t have the strength to formulate words that express my hurt….my Jesus cries from within me, the words I can’t speak myself, he calls out to his “ABBA”…and God hears from heaven and acts on the behalf of his adopted son.

What is Sanctification? It is the process of turning a “created” child of God into a “begotten” child of God.  C.S. Lewis said it like this, “there’s a rumor going around the workshop...the statues are coming alive.”

Check out the next installment of “Sanctification: the Process of Perfection” as we unpack Positional verses Progressive Sanctification.