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.



Crushing the Myth – “I am a victim…”

“I was just fine until he said that, and I unloaded on him!”

“She made me so angry I couldn’t sleep!”

“What do you mean by that look? You are making me mad!”

“I don’t love you any more, you make me unhappy.”

“That stupid clerk made me curse…”

“When you leave your things on the floor it makes me furious!”

“They made me hate them. It was not my fault. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Have you ever heard any of these statements? Ever said them? These and tens of thousands more are as common as the morning sun. And, there is no marked difference between people who are not people of faith and those who are regarding this type of excuse. If you question that statement, talk to a minister who counsels couples with marriage difficulties, or a Christian psychologist, you will find that they hear this sort of victim mentality routinely.

One of the earliest tactics children learn is to blame someone or something for their mistakes or wrongful acts. Every person who reads this knows without having to be convinced that this is true. Even the sweetest child will often blame a sibling for spilling cereal on the floor, or writing on the wall with an ink pen. My grandsons often exclaim when I correct one for hitting the other, “He made me do it!” or “It’s not my fault…bla bla bla…”

The preferred methodology of psychologists is to delve into the past of people who behave terribly to try to learn what external stimuli shaped them into such rotten characters. Surely culture, family atmosphere, religious training (or the lack of it), and many other things contribute to making us the people we become as adults. That fact is not in question. However, those things are not the end of the story.

So, almost all counselors, psychiatrists, and psychologists dig into the client’s past with a view of providing information and new stimuli with a view of correcting destructive, disruptive, and sometimes criminal behavior. This is the solution humanism offers even if couched in “Christian” terms or offered by a “Christian” professional.

It might shock you to learn that Jesus had a different view of human failings. This is what He said.

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)

Jesus was certainly not alone in his appraisal of the human condition. Consider these passages. They speak the same truth.

And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.
(Genesis 8:21)

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;

who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

SIN is original equipment.

Today I saw a young woman on TV who had taken a plea deal offered by the D.A.’s office to two counts of 2nd degree murder to avoid the possibility of the death penalty. This calm, innocent appearing young woman killed her two small children intentionally and on purpose. I am positive that when she was a toddler her parents never thought that their baby girl had the potential to be a murderer of their grand babies and be sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. According to Jesus “murder” is one of those sins that resides deep in the innermost depths (heart) of a human being.

In another place, a mother whose daughter committed the same crime could only use as an excuse for her daughters crime “she was distraught”.

The Proverbs passage quoted above says in part “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth”. Most of my friends do not believe this and they will tell you quickly they don’t. But, it is true without regard for who believes it. Ugly but true!

That our problems are SIN is really good news!

Much of our Christian ministry is humanism wrapped up in “church terms”. What we desperately seek is to permanently modify the behavior of husbands who have fits of anger and slap their wives around, meth heads who will do almost anything to fuel their addiction, and bitter house wives who are miserable with their marriages and life in general. Most of what we do is no more effective than treating cancer with a band aid. Even if the symptoms are negated, the problem still lurks in the darkness and is very likely to rear it’s ugly head in the future. SIN is not cured by humanistic methodology.

SIN is our problem and Jesus came to cure sin. What is needed is to drastically change the condition of the human heart, that part of a man that stores up ungodliness and contempt for the things of God.

The Bible is so wonderfully simplistic on difficult problems that we often overlook life saving truths. Christians need not tolerate SIN.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

This is a tremendous promise for the believer. If we will only agree with God about our SINS, see them as He sees them, He will forgive and cleanse. Many will protest, “That is just too simple!” It is not too simple.

Let’s think through this. Jesus died for “all” of our sins. The fact is that when He died the death you and I deserved “all” of our sins were future. “All” of our sins were put on Him, He became sin “for us” so that we could be “made righteous” through Him. So, we who are faith followers of Jesus have been saved from the penalty of sin. It is a done deal!

Now it is God’s intention to sanctify us, that is to set us apart for him by a process of shaping us into people who more closely resemble Jesus in thoughts, intentions, attitudes, and daily living. A way we participate in this theological process called “sanctification” is “walking in the Spirit”. The one who is “walking in the Spirit” quickly repents when he becomes aware of SIN in his life and claims God’s forgiveness. He moves on listening carefully to that still small voice that continually points him towards God’s best for him.

Modify or Mortify?

Husband “A” has a violent temper. Without warning, his wife and children are the objects of his anger. A word, a radio that is too loud, a wife a few minutes late, etc. are triggers for unbridled rage. His dad was very much the same and so was his grandfather.

Humanism says lets learn some ways to “modify” the behavior. After all, isn’t how he acts the problem? If the professional, or the minister, or the caring friend can help Mr. “A” change his actions everything will be OK. Or will it? This method is often labeled, “Anger Management”.

The Bible says lets call SIN SIN and deal with it the Scriptural way. Husband “A” recognizes his simmering anger as SIN. He agrees with God that it is SIN and accepts God’s forgiveness. (Of course he seeks the forgiveness of those he has hurt as well). Not only does God forgive, but also cleanses him from “all unrighteousness”. (1 John 1:9) Now, he might find himself guilty of this sin again and when he does he repeats the process and as he is empowered by the Holy Spirit who lives in him, eventually he will experience mastery over the sin that is in him. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are to rule over sin, not the reverse.

I know some who read this will protest saying “This will not work!” Have you tried it God’s way? Unless the Bible is not true it will absolutely work.

You see SIN is the root of your problems. Your neighbor didn’t “make you angry”. Your ugly neighbor only exposed what was already in you. It is what comes out of you that defiles you. You had SIN in you before the neighbor ever came into view.

Once more, just so we don’t forget.

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)

And, Paul wrote,

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.”
(Galatians 5:19-21a)

“…but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members (flesh)” (Romans 7:23)

Paul, like Jesus, understood the nature and deceitfulness of sin. The pressing question then is this. Will we be satisfied with temporarily modifying unproductive behavior, which at best is a remedy, or do we want God’s cure? Only in the person and work of Jesus for you is there a cure.



Truth in easy to chew bites.

God is more concerned about  your holiness than your happiness.

I don’t remember God making any promises to believers about being happy. That is unless suffering and persecution make you happy. God’s purpose for his children is not to make us comfortable but to make us Christlike.

God is just as concerned about how you live Monday through Saturday as how you worship on Sunday.

Many people live as practical atheists except on Sunday when they go do some religious rituals, give a bit of spare change, listen to a homily, and then rush out to a local restaurant and soon forget about God until next week. Some people who are God conscious every day still live under the illusion that Sunday “worship” is more important than going to work on Monday in their walk with God. When God calls his people to deny self, to present their bodies as living sacrifices, and to bring glory to him alone, he does not say what day of the week to do it. If you are a great worshiper on Sunday, doing it all right, but are a jerk at work or a poor sport at the ball field, sorry but you just canceled out Sunday’s activities for all practical purposes.  Spiritual worship is done with complete openness and transparency, it is not a costume party.

Churches should not be in competition like businesses are.

Some people seem to believe that God’s will for their community or town is that their church, the one they attend, should be the largest, get the most attention, receive the most accolades from the media, and be the church in town. Nope, not so. God only has one people. There is only one body of Christ and likely some of them attend almost every church in your town and you are just not that special. It just might be that God, if he is able to favor one congregation over another, might just give the nod to the little group on the wrong side of the tracks that is more humble than the loudest bunch in town. Until we learn that every group of Christ followers are our brothers and sisters, and are just as valuable as we are, we have a lot to learn.

If we don’t love our forever family members we don’t love God.

Now we can pretend it an’t so, but it is. We can look down our self-righteous noses at people who claim Jesus as Lord because they have a different view of theology than we do, or because they have different worship styles, or God forbid because of their skin color…and when we do we have proven that we really don’t love God. We are in fact pretenders. Oh, we might be saved, but we are far from mature believers with those sorts of attitudes. Any group that makes the claim they are the only true church, an’t (that’s isn’t to those of you with earned degrees).

Living a life that pleases God is easy easier said than done.

When I give up God shows up. When I trust more than I try I just might be a disciple of Jesus. But oh how I want some credit! I don’t want the glory that is only due God. I just want you to think about what a good man I am, how devout, how humble, etc. to the point of nausea… What God has always wanted is people who just take him at his word and obey instantly, every time. That should be easy. But there is a part of me that rebels against that idea with a fury born of hell and the war in constantly on. That is except when I am in willing retreat, on leave, allowing my flesh to rule me. Have you ever been there? Are you now?

I am in no better position with God than the lowest, most rotten sinner, except for the worth and work of Jesus, and you are not either.

Jesus came to life a life I couldn’t live, die a death I should have died, pay a price I owed, and take the punishment I deserved. He met all of God’s demands for me, took all of God’s wrath against me, died for me freeing me from the law and its penalty, was raised for me so I can live a new life, and made me an adopted son of God with heirship, sonship, and relationship with the Creator God. Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Will I ever do everything right? No. Will I ever stop doing some things wrong? No, not on this side of the grave. Without Jesus Christ I am completely lost, alone, helpless and hopeless. But in Him I am a victor! I am destined to immortality and not to wrath and the second death. And though safe and secure I can only say with the song writer “Nothing in my hand I bring, only to the cross I cling”.

This is the way I see it, what about you?


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.