Episode 18: The Born-Again Christian's Sanctification

Peace to Live By Episode 18: The Born-Again Christian’s Sanctification - Daniel Litton
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[Transcripts may not match broadcasted sermon word for word, and may contain extra material that was cut from the broadcast due to time constraints]

       I hope everyone's having a good day today.

       When many people in the world today look at Christianity, I think they misunderstand what is going on, they have a wrong perspective. Many people see Christianity as just another religion among the many religions in the world that there are. Seeing Christians living out their lives, some will note that they appear to be hypocrites, not following the ways their own Bible tells them. Or, they may see the Christians telling others not to act in certain ways, but then later to end up doing the very things themselves they told others not do to. They see Christianity as a list of dos and don'ts. These people might cite a notable pastor who fell in front of everyone, for everyone to see, and they will say, “See, I told you so. Christians are no better than anyone else. They can't even follow what their Bible tells them.” But, I think most often the people who are quick to point out that Christians are hypocrites really don't understand the true core essence behind Christianity. They don't understand that Christianity is much, much more than a list of dos and don'ts.

       Let's look at things from God's perspective, then. It is true, in reality, that when a person becomes a Christian―accepts Jesus Christ as his or her personal Lord and Savior―that that person is no longer guilty of sin. But that's because of what Christ did on the cross, not because of what the Christian him or herself does. And, it's also true, in reality, that God does not take away the born-again Christian's sin nature. He or she will still sin in this life, and may even commit a 'big' sin. So, when one considers the true doctrine behind Christianity, it's true that Christians are not trying to be hypocrites. They are sanctified in God's eyes―as his perspective is really the only perspective that matters―and are seeking to please him with their lives. And not everyone who calls themselves a Christian is really a Christian. Only the person who has accepted Jesus as personal Lord and Savior is really a Christian. A person's salvation, or Christianity, does not depend on the person's 'good' works. No one goes to heaven because he or she does good works in this life. People go to heaven because they trust in what Christ accomplished on the cross. They trust in that work to get them to heaven.

       Today, I want to talk about the sanctification of a person that occurs when he or she becomes a Christian, and the sanctification that occurs throughout the Christian's life. There are two aspects to sanctification. Number one, when a person is saved, he or she is completely sanctified, or justified, in that the person is not guilty of sin anymore. The person is free from the power, or stronghold, of sin (but that does not mean the person will never sin again). Justification refers to our legal standing with God as Christians: God no longer sees the person guilty for any wrongs committed in any part of his or her life―in the past or yet to come. When we were justified in Christ, the grace we received is grace for all time. This justification is entirely God’s work. There is no part of our justification that requires our work. So, this part of sanctification is perfect in this life, as it has already been completed, and is the same for all Christians.

       But that is not the case with each of our ongoing sanctifications individually. Number two, then, our sanctification is also a continual process because the person is still residing in his or her human flesh, which is affected by the sin nature. It is our internal condition or state―this sin nature. We need continual grace each day. With ongoing sanctification, we cooperate with God through the process. However, we do not become perfect in this life even though we strive for perfection, but rather we are instantly perfected in the next life after we die or are raptured. Some Christians will become more like Jesus in this life than other Christians. So, let us examine both of these sides of sanctification today with a person who becomes a Christian.

       First, let’s look at the fact that a person becomes sanctified when becoming a Christian. You see, when Jesus died on the cross, he took the sins of all time on his shoulders. He was the perfect sacrifice that God requires be made for sin. This means that anyone who accepts Jesus’ death on the cross as payment for his or her sins then becomes made right with God. That person’s sin is not counted anymore against him or her. The person is free from all sin, and is free from sin’s power. Let’s look at a passage found in 1 Corinthians 6. Turn with me there, or tap there in your Bible app, and let’s start at verse 9:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, ESV)

Now, that last sentence I just read is the key here. Note that people who become Christians are those who have come from sinful 'lifestyles.' Now this is not always the case (the lifestyle; all are sinners), but it is the case a lot of times. Some were sexually immoral―that is, lived in sexual relationships outside of marriage. Some were followers of other religions. Some had committed adultery, and some had practiced homosexuality. Some stole things for a living, and some were full of greed in general―penny pinchers. Some used to go home and get drunk every night, or frequent the bars or clubs a lot, losing control of themselves. Some were abusive in how they related to others, and some cheated others out of money. But these are the people God has called to be Christians. They answered the call from God―their eyes were opened―and they accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.

       You see, these are the type of people God often calls to be his. A Christian is not always someone who has never done anything seriously wrong in his or her life. A Christian doesn’t have to be a person who was raised in a Christian home. Christianity is not just some religion that certain families follow. Christianity is for anyone who hears God’s call, recognizes his or her sin, turns from it, and accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior. Christians are former offenders. It is true that sometimes people were born into Christian homes and raised Christian. But these are not the only types of Christians that there are. These people sometimes have trouble understanding or accepting people who have come from secular lifestyles. Perhaps they never committed any of the big sins. The danger here is that they can become proud. They can turn people off from even wanting to look at Christianity at all. And I think a lot of people are in that place right now. They have known people in the past who were Christians all their lives and these people have put a bad taste in their mouths. So, they don't want anything to do with Christianity.

       Let me share my own personal experience. I was not saved, born-again, until I was a junior in high school. It was the first week of my junior year in high school. I was a foul-mouthed, wanting it my own way type of guy. I cared very much about what the people who were perceived as 'cool' thought about me. I was following the ways of this world. But I remember one Sunday I was in church, sitting there, listening to the sermon being given. It was about the Parable to the Wheat and the Tares (see Matthew 13). As I sat there, I realized what was being said was really true. I realized what the world thinks doesn't matter. And I realized that if I don't believe in Jesus for who he is and what he says, I will certainly end up in hell after I die just like most others. So, I got saved that Sunday morning.

       God opened my eyes that day. It wasn't that I saw reality without any aid, but God was the one who enabled me to see it. So, sitting in the church that morning in that pew, I died. You see, when a person accepts Jesus Christ as his or her personal Lord and Savior, the person dies. This death is just as real as physical death―thought it be supernatural. I was born-again; I was a new creation (see 1 Peter 1:3, 2 Corinthians 5:17). Everything I was before didn't matter anymore. The wrong things I had done in the past―which was a lot of things―were forgiven by God. These supernatural things that God does are not just mystical fairytales written in the pages of Scripture. They are not things to look at and say, “Oh, that's nice.” No, these are real, actual things that happen even though people don't see it with the naked eye. I was sanctified at that moment and at peace with God. I could now live life the way it was truly meant to be lived. Only people who have had this experience really know what I am talking about. But for those of us who know, you know what I am saying. You just know. Something dynamic―life changing―happens to you. You have a new mind. And this personal relationship with God is available to anyone who will believe in Him, no matter who you are.

       Listen to what I am saying. The choice you make today matters. If you're not a Christian, you are going to either choose today to accept the Truth, what God is saying to you, what he is enabling you to hear by the Holy Spirit―or you are going to choose to reject the Truth―to excuse what God is saying based on something else that comes to your mind. I think deep down you know what is right. And God my be prying into your heart today. Remember, what this world thinks is important really doesn't matter. What people do today, people aren't even going to remember. A hundred years from now you will certainly be gone, I will be gone. The career you work in, the building in which you work, the people you are around, your friends, your dog, your cat, whatever it is, your family, your house, your car―everything you thought was important, the important things to society―those will all be gone. It's not going to matter from a worldly perspective. This is the point where many say, “You're right. That's why you have to live life getting the most out of it now because you're gonna die. You only live once after all.”

       Actually, that's true. You do only live one time. God creates a human, and when he does, that person becomes permanent, living only once. Did you know that? When God creates a human, that human will live forever from that moment he created him or her. Sure, a person may die in this life, but the person will always be alive somewhere. Everyone who has ever died is thinking something right now, right in this moment. You ever thought about that? Everyone who has ever lived is still thinking conscious thoughts, somewhere right now as I speak. Ultimately, though, this will be the case when every person dies. The Christian will either be raptured by the Lord Jesus Christ or die. The unbeliever will die someday. When the believer dies, he or she is given a new body, and this body is completely sanctified from the sinful flesh we have now, as humans. When the unbeliever dies, he or she also will have a body, but that body will still be corrupted, and will endure external corruption.

       So, now, let's discuss the process of sanctification for the Christian. Let me point out that the process of sanctification requires us, as believers, to be in cooperation as God makes us and draw us to become more like Christ. Everyone who believes the Truth is chosen individually by God through His will for God’s purpose—and is sanctified. So, when someone chooses to believe in God, he, by His Spirit, declares that person sanctified. That's good news, isn't it? Not only is the believer chosen by God, but he or she is then sanctified by God. You never have to worry about anything you do wrong—at least, as it relates to your relationship with God. When we repent, as believers, God freely forgives us because we are sanctified. So what should our response be? Let's look at Romans 6:19-22:

“I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” (Romans 6:19-22, ESV)

Once you become saved, you realize that the things you use to do―the sins you used to partake in―that those things are indeed wrong. I think people who aren't saved can even see this now. People know that the sins they partake in really don't fulfill them. Sexual immorality doesn't fulfill. The pleasure is momentary, and then gone. There is no 'real' commitment. And, people can end up with permanent diseases. Getting drunk is a vicious cycle. A person get's drunk, only to wake up the next morning feeling bad and having to do it all over again. There is no fulfillment. It is an endless cycle of death. Not to mention, the person is ruining his or her liver.

       But when people become Christians, they are set free from these dominant behaviors, and the dominant pull to do them. A person may still have the desire, but the sin can be overcome. Sometimes God takes away the desire at the moment a person becomes saved, and sometimes the person has to work to overcome it, to become free from it. God will help people where they need help. He doesn't save people, and then leave it up to them to overcome sin. The Spirit of God, who indwells every believer when he or she becomes saved, helps people with their problems as they yield to him, as they do what he says is right.

       Sure, an unbeliever may be able to overcome a specific problem. But the person will still be in bondage somewhere in his or her life. The sinful flesh will have it's way always in some part of the person's life. And there is no support system. An alcoholic may become free from drinking. But what support system does the person have? The society—at least here in the United States—condones drinking and makes people believe they must do it to be considered socially accepted and desirable. So many of the people here aren't going to be of any help to you in your pursuit of being alcohol free. No, you should base your belief on God, in that he says getting drunk is not beneficial for you, and that you therefore shouldn't do it (also see 1 John 2:15). That is a firm anchor you can place your hope in that won't fail you. God is on your side, and he wants what's best for you. The society isn't following what's best for them—you can take that to the bank.

       Let me now focus on how sanctification relates to sin a little bit more, and how we as Christians are to overcome our sin nature. Let’s look at Romans 8:12-14 to see what it says on this subject:

“So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 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. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:12-14, ESV).

Part of the sanctification process involves us, as Christians, putting to death the flesh, which is where the desires of sin are. We do this by the Spirit of God who dwells within us. We are not to continue following the instinctive, fleshly desires we feel within our bodies. This is what we did when we weren't saved. If we feel an impulse for sexual immorality, for instance, we should not follow that impulse. But, we should use God's Word to ward off those desires.

       We should quote Bible verses to ourselves, within ourselves, that help us overcome the desires. It may be necessary for us to make a list of Bible verses on a particular subject―a particular sin―that will steer us in the direction to overcome that sin. These verses will reminds us of God's Word on the matter so we can overcome the sin in our lives. The Apostle James so importantly reminds us, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7, ESV). If we turn to God, quoting his Word, Satan and his demons will have no choice but to leave us if we don't yield to them. Remember, there is a spiritual war going on. They are trying to get you, as a Christian, to be disobedient to God. They are trying to capitalize on the desires of your flesh―your inner sin nature―that God doesn't take away until after this life, even for the Christian. Remember, Satan and his demons want to ruin God's plan for your life, and make your life as bad and miserable as possible until you die. But God has enabled as Christians the ability to choose right everything, all the time.

       It is important that we are always trying hard in our struggle against sin in our lives. The author of Hebrews reminds us, as believers, that, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:4, ESV). Therefore, we need to strive all the harder, as there is always room for improvement. When we become saved, even though God completely sanctifies us, we still have that inner sin nature, as I just mentioned. Remember the second half of sanctification involves us become more like Jesus, ridding the sin from our lives. This process will be different for each person, as we all have different temptations that appeal to us. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12, ESV). We need to grab ahold of the new life God has given to us, and strive to be the best person we can be, acting in the ways in which God says are right.

       The whole idea of sanctification is arriving at the place in life where godly living is normal for a person. It involves learning both the basics parts and the deep parts of healthy living, and implementing these into one’s life so that it is common practice. As the writer of Hebrews talks about, it is getting to the place where we eat solid food. It states in Hebrews, "But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil" (Hebrews 5:14, ESV). When people first become Christians, often times God is more restrictive with those people. That's because they are infants in Christ, and they need to have those huge walls or barriers to protect them. They just came from following the ways of the world, and therefore need to extra careful not to follow what's wrong. But as Christians mature, God opens their eyes to see more and more of reality. As they see things for as they really are, they become more sanctified. They also realize that there are some things they don't need to restrict anymore. For example, when a person first becomes a Christian, he or she may feel, from the Spirit of God, a need to restrictive all secular music. That's because listening to the music brings them back to thinking about their former manner of living, which is now passed away. But as the person matures, say after several years of living the Christian life, the person may realize that the music can be listened to without emotional consequences. The music wont take the person back to the past.

       We, as Christians, should strive to be conscious of where God wants to work in our lives. This is good for us as we seek then to become more like Christ. Let’s consider what is written in Philippians 2:12-15. In this passage, the following is stated by the Apostle Paul:

“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, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:12-15, ESV).

It is true that the sanctification process involves good works on our part, as we are to work out our salvation. God works in us to do his perfect will through us, whether we see the work as small or great. Small works are very important in God's sight. On a level of personal sanctification, we should stand out from the crowd as different among those who do not know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.

       We have to keep God’s Word in our grasp always. We have to know his Word. We, as Christians, should be reading our Bibles daily to cultivate this Word in our lives. The amount you read each day should be whatever you feel comfortable with between you and God. And we should be praying daily. I think it is good to have a time set aside for simply prayer―the amount of time given again is between you and God. It might be a couple minutes, or it might be a half hour, for example. But we should also be praying in our minds also throughout the day. Things will come up, happen, that need prayer, and we should be thanking God for the good things around us. And we should be saying prayer for those around us, who God lays on our hearts, who need to be saved.

       In closing today, perhaps you've been listening to this discussion today―about the sanctification of the Christian, about how a Christian is made right with God at the very beginning of being saved. Perhaps that's something you would like to have today. Perhaps you want to be free from all your sin. Well, no matter who you are, no matter what your position in society is, I am here today to tell you that God is offering you His free gift of salvation that He offers to anyone who will trust in Him. God wants everyone to accept the truth, to accept reality, to accept Jesus' death on the cross as a payment for their sins.

       If you're counting good works to save you today―to get you to heaven―you need to wake up to reality. You see, God doesn't save you based on your works. You can spend your whole life trying to do things to get God's attention, or make yourself feel good, but, in the end, it's not going to matter. All that matters, in reality, is whether or not a person is in right relationship with God. All that matters is whether you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. You cannot earn God's favor. That's not the way it works. You can have much, much more than that.

       Now, it may be today that you feel like there is no way that this God, whom I've talked about, could accept you because of things you've done in your past. Maybe you have done things wrong over and over knowing they were wrong. Maybe you promised yourself you'd never do the same evil thing again only to find yourself falling right back into it. But the good news for you today is that above all of that, God can save anyone who comes to him and acknowledges Jesus' work on the cross on their behalf. You may feel like there is no way you will ever be out of the problem you are in—that your too deep in it. But I want to tell you today that nothing is impossible with God. You don't have to be free from your problem to accept Jesus today.

       So, if you believe that you would like to have a personal relationship with God today, and accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, then follow my lead in this simple prayer:

God, I am a great sinner. But today I understand that Jesus died for my sins, and that you will forgive me of everything wrong that I have ever done because of what Jesus did. I believe that Jesus rose from the dead by your great power so that I might have a new life. So, I want to surrender my life to you now, so that by your power you may give me new life, and start the transformation process, so that I become like you want me to be, so that I experience true life. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

-Daniel Litton