Posted in discernment, growth, sanctification

Looking backward to mark forward progress

After Jesus justifies us, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside us to help us resist unholy desires, and to grow us in Christ-likeness. He helps us resist the “old man” (Romans 6:6) and creates in us a “new man.” (Ephesians 4:24). This process is called progressive sanctification.

Progressive sanctification

Indeed, the more sanctified the person is, the more conformed he is to the image of his Savior, the more he must recoil against every lack of conformity to the holiness of God. The deeper his apprehension of the majesty of God, the greater the intensity of his love to God, the more persistent his yearning for the attainment of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, the more conscious will he be of the gravity of the sin that remains and the more poignant will be his detestation of it….Was this not the effect in all the people of God as they came into closer proximity to the revelation of God’s holiness.” -John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied

Even as the old man fades away, the new man is budding. EPrata photo

Sanctification is hard to see, and it is easy to see. It is hard to detect because the Spirit’s work is invisible. Like the minute progress of a blade of grass, you know it is growing but you can’t see the actual growth as it occurs. All you know is that one day you drive down your driveway and you notice the grass and you say, “Gee, I should mow the lawn.”

The growth of trees and plants takes place so slowly that it is not easily seen. Daily we notice little change. But, in course of time, we see that a great change has taken place. So it is with grace. Sanctification is a progressive, lifelong work (Prov 4:18). It is an amazing work of God’s grace and it is a work to be prayed for (Rom 8:27).” ~John Owen, The Holy Spirit

On the other hand, the process of sanctification in a person is easy to see because His work bears fruit.

Does your life bear fruit? Evidence of sanctification? EPrata

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23).

I got a glimpse of it when I was looking up my Amazon.com account. I was searching for a book I’d ordered earlier in the year whose name I couldn’t remember. Yes, that is evidence of aging, not sanctification! If I don’t write it down it’s gone forever, seems like. Anyway, then I saw that I could go back and review my orders year by year. Curious, I went backwards as far as my account went, for me that was from 2013 back to 1997. First of all, I was startled to see evidence that I’d been an Amazon customer for 17 years! Secondly, it is very interesting to look backwards at the journey I was making, unknown at the time, toward Christ. Here was graphic proof, in the form of dozens of book covers…

I was justified and saved by His grace in January 2004. (Well really late Dec 2003 but for ease of  chronicling purposes, say beginning of 2004).

In 1997, ’98, ’99 most of my purchases were of music. Mostly blues. Some Christmas presents were mixed in, and there were sprinkled in purchases my husband was making on my account also. If I bought a book, it was either politics, culture, or crafts. I was not interested in spiritual things, at least, not enough to buy and read a book about it.

In 2000, ’01, and ’02 suddenly my purchases were all on the topic of spirituality. I’d gotten got very spiritual. I was at first buying stuff about the Native American religions and bought a lot of books on that topic. Music too. Then the book-buys gravitated to nature/earth religions like shamanism and animal knowledge etc and the merchandise I was buying reflected that interest. Female power and goddesses and women wisdom. Then came the meditation and Buddhism phase. Lots of spirituality that was “inner” and Gnostic. Plus, candles. Oy.

In 2003 my purchases abruptly reflected a drastic turn for the dark side. I was consumed with books on demons and vampires and seamy mixtures of the two. Kundalini and serpent power and tantra and worse. It was stunning to see the rapid turn that my allegedly lighthearted former spiritual interests took into the hellish side. Of course, all spirituality that does not stem from Jesus IS from the dark side, but I didn’t know that at the time. And it shows me it does not take long for satan to draw a person experimenting with “spirituality” ever deeper into bondage and away from the Light. I was sinking fast.

I believe 2003’s purchases were graphically reflective of the spiritual warfare going on in me and all around me.

In January 2004 I was saved! Praise God in the highest for His grace. My book purchases started lightening up. I was still interested in unholy angels for a while, but from a more sanctified perspective. “Who are they? How did they get that way? Can they be saved?” Like that. There was a short spate of interest in modern-day prophets and books from false teacher C Peter Wagner, and ‘creating your own reality’, personal-power kind of books. Even as a newbie to the faith I rapidly discerned that books like those were not profitable. Thank you Holy Spirit for your discerning wisdom you impart! Then I was interested in holy angels, church life, and then abruptly, since 2005, my purchases became heavily theological- and centered on Christ.

Even then I can see the progression from light theology to deep theology. From “9 Marks of a Healthy Church” and “How to be an Expository Listener” to books about church history, to the Puritans such as Thomas Manton, “Counterfeit Miracles” by BB Warfield, and finally to this day, Jerry Bridges books and a LOT of books by modern day theologian John MacArthur. I think his “Because The Time is Near” is my all-time favorite.

For your New Year resolution, make a determination to look out with refreshed eyes from His inner position of sanctification through your life, your living space, your stuff. Sort and ruthlessly remove anything that could be a stumbling block. Because, they’re there.

Every once in a while I go around the house and remove things which are not profitable, and this includes books. All the books I mentioned above I have long since thrown into the garbage. I review my bookshelf occasionally not only to refresh me as to what is there (and so I’ll know what I can give away if someone mentions an author) but to remove anything that my increased sanctification shows is not edifying.

Progressive Sanctification

True believers grow. When God begins a true work of salvation in a person, He finishes and perfects that work. Paul expressed that assurance when he wrote in Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” If you are a true Christian, you are going to be growing-and that means you are going to be more and more like Christ. Life produces itself. If you’re alive you are going to grow, there’s no other way. You’ll improve. You’ll increase. The Spirit will move you from one level of glory to the next. So examine your life. Do you see spiritual growth? Do you see the decreasing frequency of sin? Is there an increasing pattern of righteousness and devotion to God?” ~John MacArthur

Sanctification is a process by which the Spirit opens your eyes and conforms your self to Jesus. The Spirit’s ministry is to point to Him, and away from ourselves and unholy things. Resolve to look with refreshed eyes at your wants and needs, but also your clothes, books, art hanging on the wall, knick-knacks, etc. If you are saved, you have grown. Look to see how much. So then you can praise the Spirit and thank the Christ and submit to the father and do it all over again. Pick up your cross daily, and, my brethren, grow by His Spirit!

Photo by EPrata

The soul of a true Christian, as I then wrote my meditations, appeared like such a little white flower as we see in the spring of the year; low and humble on the ground, opening its bosom to receive the pleasant beams of the sun’s glory; rejoicing as it were in a calm rapture; diffusing around a sweet fragrancy; standing peacefully and lovingly, in the midst of other flowers round about; all in like manner opening their bosoms to drink in the light of the sun. There was no part of creature holiness, that I had so great a sense of its loveliness, as humility, brokenness of heart and poverty of spirit; and there was nothing that I so earnestly longed for. My heart panted after this – to lie low before God, as in the dust; that I might be nothing, and that God might be all, that I might become as a little child.” ~Jonathan Edwards

Posted in growth, jesus, sanctification

It’s the weekend and I’m filling my moat with water and alligators. And other thoughts on sanctification

One of the kindergarten teachers plays a welcome song every morning and on Fridays it is the Friday Song with the refrain of “It’s Friday! It’s Friday! We love it!” The kids dance. It’s really cute.

I do believe there is nothing like the feeling of driving home on Friday after a ___________ workweek. Insert your own descriptor.

1. a stressful work week
2. a fruitful work week
3. a productive work week
4. a tiring work week.
5. A dull work week.

This week I choose work week descriptor… #1 and #2!

When I get home on Fridays I put the car in the garage. It’s my signal of the boundaries between home and work being set. If I had a moat, at this time I’d be filling it with water and alligators.

I gather my things from the back seat of the car and go in. This is a momentous occasion. Crossing the threshold of my home

photo credit: Stewf via photopin cc

from the outside on a Friday night is a tremendous feeling of relief and release. As I step inside, there actually should be a mariachi band playing.

I close the door and lock it. The ‘tick’ the lock makes cements the feeling that I have now separated from the world.

I’m IN!!

I make sure to have cleaned up the apartment Thursday evening or Friday morning so that when I come in the place looks orderly and nothing stands out as needing attention or to be done. I close the windows, fire up the AC, and unpack. I change into comfy clothes, currently a stretched white Hanes tee shirt and very soft blue stretch pants. The world is now dead to me.

I fire up the laptop and pour a chilled green tea, warm up piece of pita bread to enjoy dipped in hummus.

Weekend has begun.

The above was what I posted tonight on my secular blog. But the work week also presented some opportunities to be a good witness for Christ- or not. In this one short work-week, we had a death, a funeral, training for a new task we’ll be performing, a job loss in our ever-shrinking staff numbers, and an influx of visitors to our Grandparents Breakfast. Phew.

When these things happen, they cause emotions to run at high gear, everyone has an opinion, it’s 90+ degrees out, and I haven’t even added to these the stresses people are feeling in their home lives.

Phew again.

A natural inclination for people, especially me, is to talk and talk and gossip and gossip and to have an opinion about what’s happening. I say this is ‘natural’ because events affect us and we have feelings about them. And again it is natural to talk and hash it all over because the flesh wants to do what is wrong and not what is right.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. (Galatians 5:19-21)

At a time when emotions are running high, it’s tempting to want to weigh in, especially if the topics are what everyone is talking about. But this is the exact time to stop and take to heart the warnings so often given:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:22-24)

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
(Proverbs 18:21)

Was I a poor witness and stirred up strife and anger with my tongue? Was I a good witness and was calm and gentle and a help to people in building them up? I don’t know the answer to that fully. The Lord knows.

I know I failed in some areas this week. Did I do better this week than last week? Probably. Did I do better than I would have done last year? Definitely.

And that is sanctification. Day by day I feel the struggle, the ups and downs and victories in Christ and sins of the flesh. But the long term back-look is good. Sanctification may be slow, it may not be visible day by day, but it’s there. If you look back across your life over the year, years, decades, you should definitely see growth. CARM.org puts it this way:

photo credit: marrngtn (Manuel) via
photopin cc

Sanctification is the process of being set apart for God’s work and being conformed to the image of Christ. This conforming to Christ involves the work of the person, but it is still God working in the believer to produce more of a godly character and life in the person who has already been justified (Phil. 2:13). Sanctification is not instantaneous because it is not the work of God alone. The justified person is actively involved in submitting to God’s will, resisting sin, seeking holiness, and working to be more godly (Gal. 5:22-23). Significantly, sanctification has no bearing on justification. That is, even if we don’t live a perfect life, we are still justified.

Where justification is a legal declaration that is instantaneous, sanctification is a process. Where justification comes from outside of us, from God, sanctification comes from God within us by the work of the Holy Spirit in accordance with the Bible. In other words, we contribute to sanctification through our efforts. In contrast, we do not contribute to our justification through our efforts.

It’s a process. As with any process, there are bumps and progress, hesitations, fallbacks, and strides.

Sanctification isn’t easy—it takes faithfulness, hard work, and self-discipline. And even then, it’s not purely a function of your will, but the work of the Holy Spirit in you. It’s not manufactured overnight. I can tell you that faithful Bible study, prayer, and self-discipline play a vital role in your sanctification. As we’ve seen over the last several weeks, we can’t manufacture spiritual growth on our own, but we can certainly hinder it through unchecked sin and spiritual laziness.”

photo credit: Christaface via photopin cc

It is impossible to detect how much of our growth is God (likely MOST) and how much we of what we do contributes to it, but the point is, growth is a must for the Christian. Picture the pencil lines on a doorway of measuring a child’s height over his lifetime. They should be going up.

So I’m sitting here at the end of a workweek behind my moat with floating alligators, privately assessing my behavior during the week. How did I do? Well, my goal this week was to honor Christ in all I said and did, and to be a model to the younger employees. Of course I failed. Of course I repented. Of course He forgave me. Of course I try again. Of course it is He who enables me to grow. This is all normal. I’m glad I’m a normal Christian and not a radical Christian.

The only problem comes if, when looking back over weeks of years, I don’t see growth. If there is no growth and no fruit, then I am not being sanctified. That could mean two things. One is that it could mean I’m justified but lazy:

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:15-17)

Gill’s Exposition: I know thy works … Which were far from being perfect, and not so good as those of the former church: that thou art neither cold nor hot; she was not “cold”, or without spiritual life, at least in many of her members, as all men by nature are, and carnal professors be; she was alive, but not lively: nor was she wholly without spiritual affections and love; to God, and Christ, to his people, ways, truths, and ordinances; she had love, but the fervency of it was abated. … so uses this phrase [lukewarm] to show his detestation of lukewarmness, and that it is better to be ignorant, and not a professor of religion, than to be a vain and carnal one; Christ desires not simply that she might be cold, but that she might be sensible of her need of spiritual heat and fervency.

Or a lack of growth could mean that I’m not justified at all.

“I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.” (Revelation 3:1b-2).

Gill’s exposition again:but art dead”; for, the most part, or greater part of the members of these churches, are dead in trespasses and sins; and as for the rest, they are very dead and lifeless in their frames, in the exercise of grace, and in the discharge of duties; and under great spiritual declensions and decays

Did I exercise His grace this week? I think so. All in all it was a good week, despite my failings and despite my successes, because ultimately God brings glory to Himself no matter what I do. He grows me in His likeness, despite my own fleshly, stumbling self. And next week is another week to do it all over again.

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Further reading:

Counterfeit Sanctification

How do you measure up?