Last week I shared with you the part of my testimony that brought me to accept Jesus as my Savior. What I didn’t expect from that, but I gladly welcomed, was that the door opened to hearing many of your testimonies. In fact, we spent a good part of our Sunday night discussion sharing and hearing people’s stories of how God has worked in their lives. On the way out the door last Sunday, I remember one man saying, “It’s good to hear how the Lord is working today.” I fully agree with that. To quote the Christmas hymn I Heard the Bells, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;”. God is alive and well and working through you and I, and in this world right now.
Today I want to share with you the second part of my testimony. A little shorter than last week, but it’s the reason why I am here today.
Last week in our story, I had accepted Jesus as my Savior at my sister’s college graduation in North Dakota. At that moment, I had a radical realignment in my attitude. The world became new. I began to enjoy the things around me. The new life I had in Jesus began to bubble up inside of me. My zeal for the Lord became overwhelming. When I returned home, I began to share with others, my experience. To my friends at school, to people online, whoever I could share with, I did. Even when I was fulfilling my community service, I began to share my experience with Jesus, with the teens and adults who were working with me.
But what I found was a lot of resistance. From those that I didn’t considered Christians I understood why, they simply didn’t believe in Jesus. That resistance only spurred me on to deeper reading of the Bible, and how to refute arguments that were presented against me. It deepened my faith rather than shaking it. No, it wasn’t the non-Christians that affected me, rather it was the ones who I thought were Christians that shook me the most.
As I shared with my Christian teachers, including my Bible teacher, I found a wall. Looking back, I felt kind of like Paul. Though I hadn’t tried to kill any Christians, I had created enough of a image, that an experience didn’t seem to be enough to break my teacher’s perception of me. Not only them, but my fellow classmates who I thought were Christians, rejected me. And through this experience of speaking to other Christians, especially those that were in my age group, I came to realize that thought they professed to be Christians, many of them had not taken Jesus as their personal Savior, but merely as a social acceptance.
At the end of that school year, I had been basically expelled and asked not to come back; that’s due to all my pervious rebelliousness I shared with you last week. Which no amount of change could stop at the point I was at. But I spent the summer in pursuit of knowing God deeper. Things began to change in my life, and how I related to people. This was nowhere more evident than in my relationship with my parents.
In the fall I started at another Christian school, this time, where I could play baseball. But something happened over the course of the next two years. Though I was a Christian and in some ways growing, I began to return to my old life. Not to the extreme as before in most cases; though I did almost attack a coach, and then at another time, a player. It was more of a cooling. Looking back I know the reason why it happened, even though I was going to a Christian school, I wasn’t being fed spiritually. I tried to look for a youth group, even traveling up the mountain to a church my family tried once, but they were always gone or meeting somewhere else. And the other churches with youth groups, always met on days I couldn’t attend. So slowly I began to become cooled in my relationship with Jesus.
Fast forward through another relationship where I experienced betrayal and a couple of other hiccups along the way, and where at the end of my senior year with me beginning to search for a college to attend. By God’s leading I participated in a baseball camp where they analyzed your talents and then pointed you towards colleges where you would get the most play. One of those places was a small school in Redding, California called Simpson College.
After I looked it up, God spoke to me in the realization that what I needed in a college was not a place to simply play baseball, nor to get a degree, but rather a place where I would grow in my relationship with him. And for the next four years, not only did I receive a degree, a wife and a lot of good experience, I finally understood the greatest thing about having a relationship with God: it’s a life long discovery, that leads into eternity, of knowing the limitless God, who transforms us into the people that we were created to be.
And it’s this life long discovery that we’re going to talk about today. So if you have your Bibles, were going to be in the Gospel of John chapter 15 starting in verse 1. And as you open your Bibles, I want to quickly recap what we talked about last week.
Last week we began to talk about what the Alliance is. We’re approaching it from the perspective of what drives the Alliance at it’s core. And so we talked about how the Alliance is driven by what the founder of the movement called, the Fourfold Gospel. It was the first aspect of this Fourfold Gospel that we covered last week, which was Jesus our Savior. An aspect that is so important that it drives us to go to the ends of the earth to share with people we’ve never met. It’s not unique to the Alliance, every Christian denomination holds to this truth, but the emphasis on it by the Alliance is something I like. Like I said last week, it’s a reminder for me to keep coming back and realizing more and more the depth of God’s saving work in my life.
But there’s three more aspects, so let’s dive into John chapter 15 starting in verse 1.
“1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
I love this passage, because it speaks to the very nature of our relationship with God. You and I were never intended to be unconnected with others. That’s why when people try to get away from civilization, civilization follows them. That’s why we get married and have children, and have animals as pets. We were made to be connected, but the greatest connected relationship that we are to have is with God. And without him, we can do nothing. We are simply unfulfilled, and never reaching a full experience of life.
But because of sin, this connectedness was broken. When we do something that’s in rebellion against God’s law, like lie, cheat, steal, or a list of other things, we create a barrier between us and God. We become unconnected to the source of life, and because of that, all of our other connected relationships become stained to the point of breaking. But through God’s love, God the Son came down to earth to live as one of us, but in perfect connectedness to God the Father and Holy Spirit. He was then killed and sacrificed willingly and on our behalf for our sin. And when we accept that sacrifice, that work of Jesus, we are brought into connectedness with God. That is Jesus as Savior. But that’s not all.
Jesus is not in the ground, he’s risen! And those who put their trust into Jesus as Savior are also risen to new life. And that life is a life that begins now and last into eternity. It’s a life where we are being reoriented into the person we are meant to be. This is why Paul calls on us in Romans 12 to be transformed. Jesus says it like this later on in his pray in John 17, “For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified (v.19).”
And it’s this transformative, deeper connectedness, sanctifying life that God has brought us into through Jesus our Savior. This is the second aspect of the Fourfold Gospel, Jesus our Sanctifier.
Now the word sanctification is a big word, that simply means “to be set apart” or “to be made holy.” But I’ve always like the idea of laundry when it comes to understanding this life long process of sanctification.
Picture this, you worked all day, sweating, getting dirty, there might even have been some blood from a cut, and all you want to do is get out of those clothes. So you do, and they go right in the washing machine, because they’re just too stinky, and dirty to go in the wash basket.
That is exactly what being saved by Jesus is, stinky clothes being put in the washer. But you don’t just leave them there, or the whole house will smell. You grab that detergent, and dump it in and turn on the roughest cycle to make sure those clothes get cleaned. That’s sanctification. That detergent is the Word of God and his Holy Spirit. In fact, that’s just what Paul says about the Church in Ephesians 5:25-26.
And have you ever listened to a washing machine go? I’m glade I’m not those clothes. They get beat around, the machine starts moving, but sure enough, out of that washer, comes those stinky dirty clothes, fresh and clean and ready to be dried.
God’s sanctifying work sends us through the beatings so that we can come out on the other side cleaned of all of our sin and ready for him, where he speaks of the church being washed to be made clean.
For the first two years of my Christian life, I didn’t have anyone to tell me that this was part of my relationship with Jesus, and so I floundered. But when we begin to understand that God wants us to go through this process where he is cleaning us from every stain of sin, the depth that we can go, and the experience we can have with God is endless. Because it doesn’t push off the glory of God to some future date, but rather brings it to the here and now.
Like last week I want to share with you some of A.B. Simpson’s, the founder of the Alliance, insights on what Sanctification is.
First off the nots of sanctification:
Sanctification is not justification, or that saving moment when you come to Christ. Paul says in Philippians 2:12-13, “12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Justification is the moment you move from death to life in an eternal and spiritual scope. Sanctification happens in the life you have now, so that the person Jesus sees us as, is the same person that we see ourself as. And just like Paul says to work it out, and how it will be fulfilled, it means that this sanctification is a process.
Second sanctification is not morality. Having a better moral compasses is not what’s happening. Isaiah 64:6, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” This idea that sanctification gives me better morality, there is some truth to it, but if we’re just trying to become more moral, then we’re just falling into legalism. It’s us trying to just adhere to a code, which the Bible teaches cannot bring us to God. And in our own power we just make things filthy, because their tainted with our own self-centered desires. Which leads into the third not.
Sanctification is not our own work. Piggy backing on our filthy rags, we can’t do this by just working on it. Ephesians 2:8-9, “8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Again it’s legalism trying to be a certain way, in our own power. Making others do the same. That’s the kind of people Jesus doesn’t want. That type of earning the cleansing is what the Pharisees were getting people to do. No it’s God who does this, we get to be actively a part of it, but we cannot do it solo.
This fourth one is a big one, sanctification doesn’t happen at death. In the sweet by and by is a great aspect of God’s work to look forward to, but in the sweet now and now, Jesus is actively working in this life. Jesus says in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” That’s a now life. This life is given to us to be fully experienced with Jesus and through Jesus, not just in a future time, but now.
Fifth, sanctification is not self-perfection, Colossians 1:27-29 says, “27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.” It’s Jesus’ work in us, not our own. Am I just repeating myself at this point? We can’t do this on our own, this cleansing from sin is based on the connectedness we have with Jesus.
Finally, sanctification is not based on emotion, 1 Corinthians 14:15, “So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.” It’s based on our will being purposefully and intelligently given over to God. Does that mean our emotions won’t be apart of it? No, but it’s based on a cognitive and purposeful choice to say, “Not my will by Thine.”
But just like salvation, there is a sanctification is side. Those is’s are…
Sanctification is being separated from sin, Romans 6:11-14, “11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” Sin loses it’s foothold in our lives through Jesus’ work. It doesn’t control us. And though we will always struggle with sin in this life, we move further away from it’s control, and towards the control of God.
Second, sanctification is becoming more dedicated to God, 1 Corinthians 15:56-58, “56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” God’s work becomes more focused in our minds. “The things of this earth grow strangely dim”, because the focus moves away from earthly endeavors and onto heavenly ones. When God’s work becomes alive in us, it becomes more important to share the Gospel, than it is to stay silent about it.
Third, sanctification is being conformed to the Image of the Son, Romans 8:29, “29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”
In our apologetics class on Wednesdays we just talked about this idea of the Image of the Son. In greek the idea of image is not a sketch, so it’s kind of like the original but very different. Nor is it a carbon copy of the original. Instead it’s a mirror image, very similar, but slightly different. It’s our uniqueness that God created us to be, melded with the characteristics of God himself. We are an individual, but fully connected to God.
Finally, sanctification is love becoming more abound in our life, 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13, “12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” Jesus said the two greatest commands is love God and love people (Mark 12:29-31). Paul echoes this idea with his statement that love is never ending (1 Corinthians 13:13). God’s love explodes in our life. And not that sappy love, but a love that endures pain, and anguish and strife. Love that brought a perfect God to earth to die for his creation. And all of God’s characteristics begin to show through us, because of our deeper connectedness to him.
This is sanctification, God’s cleansing us from all unrighteousness right in front of our eyes. And it’s to be a daily process where we rely more and more on the Holy Spirit, connecting ourselves more and more to the God who loves us and has saved.
And because it’s a daily process, I want us to leave here today with some practical steps to engage this process purposefully. I had a mentor one time say it like this, “We are cookie dough ready to be transformed, we just need to get in the oven, and let the heat of God bake us.”
So how can we purposefully put ourselves in the fire?
Well first, we need to accept God’s Word over ours. We need to trust it even if we do not yet understand it. That is huge, because I no longer come to God’s Word trying to get it to say certain things, but rather I allow it to say exactly what God intended it to. And that means that I need to dive deeper into it.
Next, we need to spend intentional time in prayer, both in purposeful quiet times, and in those moments throughout the day. In a car, in the shower, in the line at the post office, talk with your Father in heaven.
Finally, we’re all going to experience temptation, I want to encourage you to stand firm. Turning to God and relying on him. If you do, you will overcome the temptation and grow. But if you fail to rely on God, do not turn away from him. Rather the key to dealing with temptation whether we overcome or fail is to turn back to God. In both cases we will grow in our connectedness with him. In the trump and the failure.
My challenge for you this week is to take these three purposeful steps in sanctification. We cannot do it on our own, it is the fire and Spirit of God that does it, but we can place ourselves purposefully in the process, so that we may see the work of God in our lives today.
This is why I choose to attend Simpson College, so that I could grow in my relationship with God. Not even knowing that that was his intention.
Let us be the people of God who strive to have his cleansing work in us, not just in the future when we move into eternity, but today as we walk this mortal plain. Amen.