Sunday, March 13, 2022

The Journey of Progressive Sanctification: 7 Aspects of Growth toward Maturity

Join me now on the open seas, we're hovering over the waters and we're seeing a row boat, with a man rowing slowly toward a bright light. The boat is wooden, sturdy, but small. And it rows steadily. This is you, beginning your journey with Christ. Now we flash many years into the future, and we see another boat, this one is a giant battleship. It has hundreds of crew. It has anti-air guns, deck guns, turrets, depth charges, hull armor, a bridge, engineering sections, crew quarters, and many other abilities and functions.  It's a dedicated, strong, powerful tool of warfare. This warship is you, as a mature Christian, living in the world for Jesus. Which one are you? Where are you at in your journey? Perhaps you're just starting out. Maybe you're further along. Maybe you're a battleship right now. But in any case, the journey from row boat to battleship is what we call the journey of progressive sanctification.

Today we’re talking about sanctification. It’s a big theological sounding word, however, it’s meaning is fairly simple, sanctification is the process by which we are conformed to the image of Christ.

In other words, sanctification is our growth process in Christ, as we live our lives. It’s how God changes us. This is done by God in us, and we respond by cooperating in the process. God builds us, molds us, shapes us, and does beautiful things in us. And God has many tools he uses to do this. Good times, hard times, ,blessings, difficulties, and on and on.

The truth is for each of you right now God is doing many, many, many different things in your life, to make you more like Jesus.

So today we’re talking about 7 ways God builds us through the process of sanctification.

First of all, when talking about the growth process God takes us through, it’s important to understand that God’s goal is to make you more and more refined as a Christian.

We’re like metal that has impurities in. And when you heat up the metal, you can clear out the impurities, and the metal becomes more pure.

Similarly, it’s like you’re an apple tree, or a grape vine. And you bear fruit for God’s kingdom. Maybe you serve others, give people food, help people with repairs in their house, or lead a bible study, or pray for others regularly. That’s what we call “bearing good fruit.”

Now, God picks that beautiful fruit, and then he prunes us. And the goal of the pruning is that the vine or apple tree would produce even more fruit next season.

Jesus describes this in John chapter 15 in the parable of the vine. Our job in that parable is to remain in Christ, and to bear much fruit. Jesus is the vine, and the Father is the pruner.

Point number 2, God builds us and grows us through difficulties. I think you all know this one, I’ve said it about a million times. God builds us primarily I think through various difficulties.

Many of these difficulties test our faith. Many of these difficulties will build various parts of our personality. One trial or struggle may increase our patience. Another trial may expand our trust in God. Another trial may increase our compassion toward people who are suffering. Still another difficulty may grow our faith. Another helps us to better learn to endure in hard times. It’s all a powerful process by which God is making us better Christians each day.

God does that through difficulties. As it says in James 1:2 “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

And that’s a key to having the peace and joy of Christ at all times, we should actually count it a good thing when we go through trials.

But I want to add one more thing here, our response to a trial or difficulty, can be good or bad. In a trial, it can push us closer to God, where we seek God in the trial, and draw closer to Him. But if we aren’t trained by the trial, it can be bad as well. Maybe instead of drawing near to God in the difficulty, we start to doubt God, and curse God, and get angry with God because he’s allowing it. That’s a trap we can fall in, so watch out for that. Respond by running to God, not away from Him.

Point number 2, part b, God builds us through good times as well. A blessing, a happy day, a good time, sweet fellowship, a wonderful feast, time with family, a vacation, God often uses all these things to build us in different ways.

A beautiful moment, overlooking a glorious green valley in summer, it grows us by reminding us of God’s beauty.

Spending time with our wife, or husband, or family, teaches us how to love, and helps us to yearn for even more love in the future.

Enjoying a meal with a friend teaches us about God’s love for us, and his love for people.

Yes, difficulties build us, but blessings can also build us. A loving marriage can teach us and train us. Children can teach us and train us. A beautiful home can teach us and train us.

But once again, let’s add this caveat: It’s important how we respond to a blessing. Because once again we can respond one of two ways: We can respond by thanking God, and ascribing it as a gift from God. Or we can become arrogant and start to think, oh I did this myself. Good times, wealth and prosperity, can be dangerous to a person or a society, because we can start to take things for granted, and we can start to think it came from our brilliance instead of from God’s grace. Always thank God, and ascribe it as coming from God. Then the credit stays where it belongs, with God. Pride is a danger, don’t let it into your heart. Stay humble, give God all the glory.

Point number 3, would you like to skip some difficult trials and tribulations? That would be nice wouldn’t it? Yes it would. Then you should read God’s word. Study it diligently, underline it and highlight it in your Bible. And then take it off the page and put it into practice. Particularly, I would point you to the book of Proverbs, which is all about wisdom for right living.

See you could be foolish, and then you’ll blunder into all sorts of troubles and addictions and bad situations. Or you could become a wise person by studying Proverbs, and the entire bible, and then putting it into practice. Then instead of blundering into a bad relationship, you’ll seek God first and know it’s not from God. Instead of overeating you’ll know from God’s word to use proper moderation. Instead of getting into fights you’ll know proverbs says to keep control of your temper. And you’ll live a wise life, and avoid all sorts of difficult trials. Because you’ve been made wise by God’s word.

Point number 4, sanctification is about progressively surrendering more and more of ourselves to God over time.

Or this can be a moment when we surrender everything over to God. Often when we sing, we sing, “I surrender all, to you oh Lord.” This is great wisdom, to turn it all over to God.

A common slogan is “Turn it over to God.” This I think is also wise. Simply turn every problem, every concern, every issue in our lives over to God. What does this mean? This means to surrender our control over the issue, and to place control over the issue in God’s hands.

There is a balance here. We live the problem with God completely. I place my concern with weight loss in God’s hands. I don’t have control. God has control of it. Now, as God leads me, I dutifully respond. So it’s in God’s hands, and God indicates, join a gym, and go 3-4 times a week. Very good, then I do that.

Now some people will surrender it to God, and then refuse to do anything when God tells them. They surrender their marriage problem to God, great, but God tells them to be more forgiving. And they say no. They keep accusing their spouse. So nothing changes.

Another issue is, the person keeps control of the issue, and then tries to fix it with their own ideas. That generally doesn’t work, sometimes it might, if it’s a minor issue. But our own ideas don’t tend to work that well for most issues. So we need to make sure we’ve placed the issue in Gods hands, and then we’re responding to God’s guidance, while leaving the issue under God’s control. Hope that makes sense.

Then as we leave things in God’s hands, and grow, we find ourselves a vessel through which God can work on a daily basis. Like it says in 2nd Timothy 2:21 ESV “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”

Point number 5, let’s talk about repeating loops. A repeating loop can happen when we have been through a trial, but we refuse to learn what we’re supposed to learn from the trial. Or we may just not have noticed what God was wanting us to learn. Then, unfortunately, we can get caught in a repeating loop. A repeating loop is just like it sounds, maybe the issue we face is alcoholism, I was in this loop for years. The loop goes something like this, get drunk for many weeks, months, eventually the hang overs and blunders lead to consequences, we lose a relationship, we get arrested, we lose a job, or something, then we realize there is a problem, we see the problem, we acknowledge it, and attempt to change it. So maybe we try to go cold turkey off the drink, but it’s so tempting, we relapse back onto the drink. The loop begins again, it gets progressively worse over time, we experience consequences, we hit a rock bottom, we seek help, we acknowledge the problem, we try to quit some other way, it doesn’t work, the loop repeats.

It doesn’t have to be something as flashy as alcohol or drug addiction. It can by lying. Or manipulating others. It can be refusing to deal with a health issue. It can hoarding, not cleaning properly. It can be sexually acting out. It can be keeping God second in our lives. And the loop will keep repeating, until we allow God to bring us out of the loop.

As it says in, “"As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly”

Additionally, if you want to see repeating loops, look at the books of 1st and 2nd kings and chronicles. The loop of sin repeats over and over, sadly. Thankfully, if we cry out to Jesus, he can and will deliver us from any repeating loop we are stuck in.

Point number 6, the effects of prolonged sin. Suppose as a Christian we are practicing repeating sin of some kind. Sometimes we do struggle with sin in our lives as Christians. But we always turn to God, ask forgiveness in Christ, and keep going in the right direction.

But what happens if we start moving in the wrong direction, away from God? This does happen from time to time with Christians. And the pattern that I’ve noticed happens something like this: They are walking well with Christ. They stumble into a sin. They repent. They stumble again into that sin. This time they don’t repent, they continue in the sin. And as they continue in it, it gives birth to disillusionment and cynicism.

The Bible says it this way in Psalm 7:14 “Whoever is pregnant with evil conceives trouble and gives birth to disillusionment.”

So as they persist in sin, they become increasingly cynical about the church. They think oh the church is so judgmental. I don’t like them they’re hypocrites. And we begin to justify and rationalize our sin. We gather around others who sin in that same way, sexually, or lying or whatever it is. And they begin to repeat to us that this sin isn’t a sin, it’s really ok, and just fine. And we began to appear at church less and less. We stop praying. We stop reading our Bible. And in the end, we fall away, we reject the faith, maybe we even share our de-conversion story on YouTube or Facebook live or whatever, and we share how we came to believe Christianity was false and wrong and bad. And it all started with a sin, that we slipped into, and instead of repenting right away, we started to lie to ourselves, or believe the lies of the enemy, that this sin was ok. And it led us to ruin, to shipwrecked faith, as Paul said in 1st Timothy 1:19 “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked.”

Now can a person who followed this path turn again to Christ? That is something I’m not certain about. Because it says in Hebrews, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” -Hebrews 6:4-6

But it also says in James 5:19-20 19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

So maybe there is still hope for that person. Only God knows.

Last point, point number 7, something we theologically refer to as “entire sanctification.” What this means, is that we have come to a point of Christian maturity.

We have become genuinely who we are called to be in Christ. And it’s consistent. We walk in it everyday, as we pass through this wicked world. We serve the needy. We pray and fast. We study our Bibles diligently. We are truly led by the Holy Spirit of God. We are utterly dedicated to Christ. Christ is seen in our lives. We live yielded to God in everything. We are humble and meek. We share the gospel regularly. We give tithes and offering. We are a real Christian who really lives for Jesus.

That is a beautiful thing to behold. A truly mature, entirely sanctified Christian is a humble hero of the faith. And it’s something God has done in them. It’s not of their own making. The journey doesn’t end there though. It goes on, there are always new things to learn, new roads to travel, new experiences to learn from, but fundamentally this mature Christian is on fire for Jesus and living for Him. And it’s wonderful.

Paul wrote in 1st Thessalonians 5:23 ESV “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And the author of Hebrews wrote, Hebrews 10:14 “For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.”

And again in Philippians 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.”

Praise God. So the question is, where are you at in this journey? What is God doing in your life? And how can you continue to grow toward true maturity in Christ?