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.



Just Say No to the Status Quo!

First, an admission. I am a skeptic. I am one who questions the “Status Quo” in every arena of life. For example, when I receive a forwarded email that makes some claim that doesn’t ring true in my mind, I at once try to find out if my intuition is correct. (It usually is.)

Just because “this is how we have always done it..” does not equate to being right or best. I question public policy, and even contemporary Christianity. I think it is very healthy to read the label before you ingest some substance into your body. And, I think it is profitable to follow the same logic about what you allow into your mind. So, I have questions…

Does it bother anyone but me that not one of the people we read about in the book of Acts would qualify to be a minister in almost all of our churches?

This week I read a want ad from a church seeking a youth minister. One of the first requirements was “a minimum of 5 years experience”. Peter wouldn’t qualify, he only had about 3 years experience in ministry when he preached the powerful sermon where 3,000 were saved. Paul would’t qualify, he had no ministry experience when he began his ministry to the Gentiles.

Most all churches now require a degree from some Bible related school. Paul had about 3 years alone with God. He was schooled in Judaism but wouldn’t qualify on educational grounds. Even Jesus himself wouldn’t pass muster.

Maybe it would be beneficial if we would spend some time thinking about how and why we got so far off track. Could it be that culture has crept into our churches so that we are operating more like business than like a living organism that is solely dependent upon God to exist and function in the world?

Could it be that the reason numbers are shrinking in most evangelical groups is that Jesus is no longer the central message?

Read the book of Acts sometime and you will see a noticeable difference in the message of those early preachers and what comes out of most pulpits today. I am certain that multiplied thousands of regular church goers have never once heard their preacher give a clear presentation of the gospel.

Several months ago I read about a dozen sermons by a fellow whose self description was “Gospel preacher”. Amazingly, not once did this guy explain the gospel. He made reference to the word “gospel” several times but oddly failed to preach the gospel. How can you logically give an invitation to people to become Christians if they haven’t a clue about the gospel?

We would do well to get back to preaching Christ and the good news about what He accomplished for sinners.

Can “Ministry” become an idol?

Think long and hard before you answer. Only each individual can answer from him or her self. I answered the question and was not pleased with the answer… Granted, my feeble ministry pales in comparison to many who will read this post. But, what we do have in common is an ego that keeps fighting for the front of the line. The praise of men too often takes the place the glory of God should occupy in our “ministry”.

Do I first seek God’s approval for what I do? Do you? Or, do I want to hear words of praise from others? Our honesty, or lack of it, about such matters is a measure of who we really are.

Oh that all of our teaching and preaching and ministry models and community activism and charity give Christ glory and honor! If when at the end of the day Jesus is the center of attention, and not us, we will have succeeded.

Manage your ministry well, don’t allow it to manage you.

Dare to be different

Tens of thousands of ministers and other Christians are running about clamoring for attention, rushing to this conference and that one, looking for something new and exciting. We believers are fascinated by new books sometimes at the sacrifice of the Old Book.

Surrender to Jesus is not glamorous. Holiness will not get you invitations to a lot of parties. And, being Christ centered at all costs will not pay off by the world’s standards.

He must increase and I must decrease. His strength is made perfect in my weakness. Only in my brokenness is His wholeness on display to a watching world.



Choose your weapon!

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

In an age when most churches are focused on sin management Paul’s ancient declaration seems like an idea we can’t begin to comprehend. Some how I have trouble trying to imagine Paul facilitating an anger management group. Is it just me or have we (churches) adopted the same methods of dealing with moral failure as the world?

A few decades ago secular humanists with PHD’s decided that they had discovered an answer for some of the moral failings of mankind, it was “disease”. With that designation for certain moral flaws, personal responsibility and accountability went out the window.

Now, many years later, even more sins have been declared “normal” or are considered a “sickness” or “disease” and the treatment is to “manage” the moral failing (sin). The idea is that with enough  purposeful care, and with the help of others, sin can be managed so that it isn’t as much of a problem.

Churches have bought in 100%. But is it biblical?

The Bible says to the one who is stealing, stop stealing and go to work. (Ephesians 4:29)

To the liar, the Bible says, don’t lie. (Colossians 3:9) Put away falsehood and tell the truth. (Ephesians 4:25)

To the sexually immoral the Bible says don’t do it (1 Thessalonians 4:3), flee from it (1 Corinthians 6:18), and don’t associate with those who are involved in it. (1 Corinthians 5:9). Reserve sexual expression for your husband or wife only. (1 Corinthians 7:1-3)

To the drunkard the Bible says don’t get drunk. (Ephesians 5:18)

Of course the Bible addresses many other sins with the same kind of common sense solutions. Just say No! It isn’t that easy is it?

We have tried ridding our people of moral short falls by employing the same methodologies as people who don’t know God, and with little success. Isn’t it about time to try it God’s way?

There is a real war raging, a war between good and evil, between God and his people and the god of this world and his own. We must use the tools afforded by the grace of God. We must stop treating symptoms and cure the cause. We are giving all our attention to the branches when the problem is the root is rotten.

Choose different weapons

In the atonement of Jesus given by God’s amazing grace we have all we need to live lives that please God. (Titus 2:11-13)

The “weapons” we must use to fight the downward pull of sin are not discovered in the class room but are standard equipment for the child of God by the Spirit’s power.

Christ has (past tense) reconciled us to God with His body as a sacrifice. That same power that saved us from the curse of the law and from sure death, is the same power that will present us in the end a pure, holy people.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:21-23)

Only the atonement of Jesus, only by the blood of his cross, will sin finally be defeated in a real, concrete way in your life and mine. We must be gospel focused, purposefully saying yes to God and no to everything that opposes His will for our lives.

God’s strength, now ours

The good news is that we don’t have to attempt this in the power of our own strength but in His strength. Paul said it this way.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:28-29)

It is Christ alone who can give us mastery over sin. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead, is the power that grace affords to root out every sin and every moral flaw in the lives of his people.

Gospel centered, grace driven, and Spirit empowered living is the way of freedom and knowing the peace of God and the fellowship of the Spirit. If I trust myself and my own resourcefulness I am doomed to repeat and repeat again and again those same sins and live a life of virtual defeat. If I lean heavily upon the everlasting arms and refuse to consider anything but His mighty power demonstrated by his shed blood and victorious resurrection I can live a life a victory.

We must admit our sin is really that, sin. We must be quick to repent, and boldly stand on God’s promise of victory using the weapons of grace alone.