Holiness, God’s work or yours?

I am not sure right now as I write this that anyone except me will ever read it. I am writing it to help clarify in my own mind, in my own heart, what is truth and what is passed off as truth but in reality is at best a myth, and at worst an offense to God almighty.

Many of the people I worship with and communicate with on Facebook, Twitter, or on blogs, have at least an elementary understanding of “grace”. They will quickly admit that they are aware that they can do nothing to earn God’s salvation, that it is “not by works”, or not by “keeping the law”, but by “grace”. However, here is what I am seeing in many Christians, and too often in myself. When we talk about our living before God as His children (Christians) and how we grow to be more like Jesus we expose that fact that we really don’t understand grace at all.

Here’s what I mean. I hear people say things like “We need to help each other make it to heaven” so fellowship, accountability, and small group interaction are very important. Those things are important but they will not “..help you get to heaven”. Only Jesus’ sacrificial offering of Himself can do that. Or someone will say “I want to mature in Christ so I’m not doing these things, and I am doing these things” and they really expect that somehow they will experience God’s approval, or receive God’s favor more because of the exercise. Again, I admit it, I have thought and done some of the same things.

This is what I’m seeing in Scripture and this is what God seems to be pressing upon me to understand and to live out in my own life. There are some things that are becoming so clear that I must set them as stone markers in my life and whatever feeble ministry the Lord wants me to have.

WHAT SCRIPTURE ACTUALLY SAYS IS THE FINAL AUTHORITY FOR WHAT I WILL BELIEVE AND FOR HOW I WILL LIVE. Who can argue with that? This does not leave room for two or more controlling authorities in my life, only one. What someone says about the Bible is not as important as what the Bible says. What the church (Christians) has done historically is not as important as what the Bible says. And, what the popular Christian culture values as important is not as important as what the Bible says.

David Koresh and Jim Jones led their followers to a certain and horrible death while claiming to go by the Bible. So I readily admit that it is entirely possible, even dangerously possible, to claim Bible authority, take a passage out of context and teach hellish untruths all in the name of Jesus. So, to make the claim I make drives me to be very cautious, making as certain as possible that I am saying what the Bible is saying. That is my charge to myself.

I HAVE NO POWER TO MAKE MYSELF GOOD ENOUGH TO WIN GOD’S APPROVAL EITHER BEFORE OR AFTER I BECAME A CHRISTIAN. Every person comes to the cross the same way. Each of us was morally broken, by nature we did things that were against God’s commands, and without His help all of us would be hopelessly lost. We can’t get it right and keep it right, it just isn’t in us to do it.


Maybe I can find agreement up to now. That act by which God declares an ungodly sinner “righteous”, or “not guilty” based upon the work and worth of Jesus is called “justification”. I think most people I know get it. They at least understand it’s simplest terms. But, what about “sanctification”?

For some reason, most people who seem to grasp the truth about “justification” don’t seem to understand “sanctification” very well at all. It seems many people who have embraced the idea of “grace” vs. “legalism” really understand the difference. That is until they start talking bout living out the Christ life day by day. They get it mostly right when thinking of being “justified “ and receiving salvation as a free gift, but flip-flop right back into legalism when thinking about “sanctification”. This is why as believers we can never get past the gospel. It is the gospel that clears our heads and transforms our hearts and makes us holy.

The following passages are very timely.

John 17:16-18

16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.17 Sanctify them in the truth;your word is truth.18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

Ephesians 5:25-27

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 

1 Thessalonians 5:22-24

22 Abstain from every form of evil.

23 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. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 

Hebrews 9:12-14

12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh,14how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. 

There are other places in the New Testament where the word “sanctify”, “sanctified”, and “sanctification” are used. In many of those instances the word means “to set apart”, or “to choose”. The idea is like this. Today, on Thanksgiving 2011, we used some dinner wear that we only use maybe two or three times a year. It is special to my wife Carol. Only for more formal dinners does she bring it out. In that sense it is “sanctified” for special use. That is the meaning often of the word “sanctify” and it’s derivatives in Scripture. But, that is clearly not the meaning in the passages above. The meaning of “sanctify” here is “to make holy”. Most dictionaries will give “to make holy” as the primary meaning of the English word.

Each of the passages of Scripture quoted above have something in common. And, that commonality is that God is doing the sanctification, not man.

In John 17 Jesus is praying to the Father asking “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” It is God’s business to “make holy” those who are His own.

In Ephesians 5 Paul writes “…that he might sanctify her”…”that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Jesus is making his bride (the church) “holy” and “without blemish”.

In 1 Thessalonians Paul wrote, “ may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely”. He first warns believers there “ Abstain from every form of evil” but that will not make them holy. That is God’s work in us, only He can make us holy.

And in Hebrews the Bible says “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

The Bible could hardly be more clear, the process of making us holy, making sure that we are pure and undefiled is the work of God just as sure as Jesus death, burial, and resurrection were his own doing.

Two more passages underscore this truth beautifully.

13”for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”Philippians 2:13

10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

God is at work in us to shape us into the people He wants us to be. You see, it was his plan before we ever were that we should do good works, those things that are for His good pleasure. We can no more make ourselves holy now than we could before we came into relationship with Christ. We have no ability but His ability. We have no power but His power. And we have no holiness but His holiness.

Our daily quiet time and Bible reading are good and right but God isn’t impressed. We don’t cuss and drink and we go to Wednesday service and Sunday school, those are good things but don’t make you good. Only the sacrificial death of Jesus for sinners makes one holy then, now, and forever.

In our quest for the deeper things of God we must be careful not to get an inch away from the simplicity of the gospel of Christ for there is no truth more important, no knowledge more compelling, and no rest so complete as what is given as a free gift to those who simply put their whole trust in Jesus Christ.

God I want to surrender. Sanctify me.



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