Here's Ben Jolliffe's sermon- I commend it to you!
Welcome this morning. Excellent to be here. My name is Ben and I am part of Connections Community Church. I am not George. He is taking some much needed time off from preaching this week, and he asked me to stand in for him. I am having a few issues standing, I was in a 10k race yesterday and this old guy (he was about 35) tried to pass me and I nearly died trying to beat him. But beat him I did.
Nevertheless, I am here. For good or for ill. Let’s go.
We have been on a journey here as a church for the past few weeks, wading and sometimes swimming through some deep theological waters. Two weeks ago was Petrified. And we noted that though dead in our sin, God has moved on the hearts of men and women to regenerate them. He literally calls our spiritual lives back from the dead, back from being rock-hard and petrified and allows us to respond to Him in faith.
Then last week George spoke on what being Justified is all about. To quickly summarize, it is an act of God to declare us righteous in his sight. It is a one-time event where someone by the grace of God, through Christ by faith, becomes a Christian.
And the question is – what happens afterward? So let’s say we become Christians, then what? I mean, are we just treading water till Jesus comes back or we step in front of a truck? Or is there something in between justification and death?
The answer of course is Yes. Sanctification is in between.
But the problem with preaching on sanctification is that most of the Bible is about it. The stories and teaching often concerns Christians and our growth after being justified.
I think George gave me this week because he didn’t want to pick just one passage. So today we are going to spend some time trying to only get a drip of water from a raging fire hose.
To start with, let’s define Sanctification so we know what we are dealing with:
Sanctification is the progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and more like Christ in our actual lives.
So let’s go to Romans 7. Romans is written by the apostle and missionary Paul, who of all people knows a great deal about justification and sanctification. Before becoming a Christian, his main job was throwing Christians in jail. God had miraculously saved him and he knew full well the journey that comes after that.
And we pick his reasoning and summary of his own life experience in Romans 7. Verse 14. I’ll read down to vs.24
For we know that the law is spiritual but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it but the sin that dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
20 Now if I do not do what I want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 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.
24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death.
Now what Paul is describing here is his own life after becoming a Christian. This is not a pre-Christian Paul describing how he really wants to put Christians in jail, but is unable to. He is a Christian and saying he wants to be like Christ, he wants to love God and love people, but for some reason, he keeps doing things he hates doing.
And is this your experience? Can you feel him on this one? I know many, many Christians struggle with guilt, disappointment, bitterness, all kinds of stuff, because they think – “life is not supposed to be this way.” After I became a Christian, stuff was supposed to work out, go better, be easier.
It’s not true, sometimes God blesses, but God is more interested in your holiness than your happiness. He cares more that you look like Christ than that nothing bad ever happens to you. And we swallow the lie that Christianity will make us cooler, or smarter, or richer, or better looking or fix our kids or get us a new job – and Jesus never promises that. He promises that you will look more like Christ. And in the meantime, you will struggle with sin.
I mean, how often do we do what we want? How often do you want to exercise but end up eating a big mac? You know it is wrong, but somehow the good you want to do just keeps ending up wrong.
Now think about this, Paul has a desire to do good. That itself is a demonstration that his heart has been regenerated and he has been justified by God. Some people are constantly worried about whether or not they are saved. One good sign is what do you want to do? Do you have desires to serve God? To love other people? That is a good indication your heart has been regenerated.
Also, unsaved people generally do not worry about whether they are saved or not.
Let’s move on.
Though our hearts may desire to do good, we are still twisted by sin. Though we desire to do good, we end up doing bad.
I don’t know if you can feel that in your life, but this passage reads like my diary. I have the desire to do good. I want to read my Bible, I want to love God, I want to love my wife, but my life does not reflect that. Instead, it is so easy to get caught up with all the other things that creep in: for me it is my fantasy hockey pool, video games, reading, playing sports. For you it might be facebook, TV, checking your stocks, playing barbies.
I don’t know what you do for fun that is legal.
Or take a step farther back – how many of us want to exercise? WE know it is good for us. We want to exercise. But instead we live lives of French fries, car driving and unused gym memberships. I am not condemning you, because it is the human experience. We want good things, but we lean toward bad things. Our desires are twisted by the other stuff that is inside us.
And this goes beyond working out and eating right. Your desire to read your Bible turns into a late night with the TV, watching junk that messes up your mind. Maybe you want to have friends and be known by others, but instead of initiating with them and sharing your heart, you make fun of them and drive the closeness away.
And it is because there is still sin that dwells in us and it wars against us.
Verse 22-23 is like my life verse. There is a literal war that goes on daily in my body and I can feel the push and pull of my mind vs. my sin. And that is what makes sanctification so dang hard. Because you still have junk in your trunk. When God saves you he doesn’t give you a get out of jail card that frees you from all sin forever. He does some work, rearranges some stuff, but says, take some time to figure out the rest. You are a big project. 50 years or so.
And he begins to use the ups and downs of life to work the sin out.
And where it gets really scary is here. Your sin is deeper than you realize. I tell the young punks I work with at UWO this all the time – if you want to know how sinful you are, get married. Because it not only brings out the best in you, your loving, sacrificing side, but you get Darth Vader along with Luke Skywalker. You discover depths of selfishness and pride that you never knew existed. It is amazing.
If you are single and want to experience this, pick a good friend and tie yourself to them with a short rope for 3 days. That about summarizes it.
Back on track.
And the wild thing about sin is that you realize that the surface sins, the everyday variety are just the tip of the iceberg.
Martin Luther, the great reformer and theologian, says it this way, “No commandment is ever broken without the breaking of the first commandment.”
That is, the first commandment is to love God with all your heart soul, mind and strength. If you always do that, you will never break another commandment.
Take this for instance. We are shooting a rack of pool and you beat me. I get angry and frustrated. Now this is the surface sin.
But the root sin, at the base of it, is that I need to win so I can feel good about myself. And what that actually that is, is self-worship. I am placing my needs for self-esteem as my god and letting that dictate my emotions.
And what that makes me realize is that I am a way bigger sinner than I ever thought. I don’t do just struggle with frustration and self-image, but I practically I worship myself instead of Christ.
If I worshiped Christ, I would be secure enough to lose gracefully because my identity and my validation has been purchased by Christ and he makes me who I am, not pool or my job or my car.
Think of this - why do people have sex when they are not married? Because they are worshiping pleasure, instead of Christ. It is not just that you are sinning against God by sleeping together, but you have displaced Christ with pleasure and you are figuratively bowing down to pleasure to worship it.
See what Paul realizes in this passage that will shock you, is that you are more depraved, and more sinful than you ever imagined. This is not a popular message in our narcissistic, our self-obsessed culture. You are not okay. You are in big trouble. Your sin will swallow you up.
That is, in my marriage, when Jen wants to talk to me and I want to sleep, I am not just being selfish, I am worshipping myself and my needs.
And we all have substitute saviours. We worship the approval of others, we worship a perfect body image, we worship success, we worship freedom or independence or pleasure or power – and that is Christians. That is us. We do not do what we want. We are sold as slaves to sin. We are incapable of changing on our own.
Even though we have been justified, we cannot sanctify ourselves. We cannot become more like Christ on our own.
And this brings me to despair. I have sat with my head in my hands as I surveyed the carnage of my life. Because as Romans says elsewhere, sin brings death. False saviours cannot deliver. They only bring death. Me worshiping me brings death to my relationship with my wife, it alienates friends, it destroys trust and it cuts the legs out from under living as a missionary to the culture.
And vs. 24 eloquently expresses that frustration: Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
And Paul uses exclamation points for a reason. Cause this is big. The level of our sin is disgusting. It is repugnant, even to us, let alone God.
But here is the astonishing beauty of the whole story. Jesus can deliver. He can absolutely deliver. And he loves us more and cares more for us than we ever dared dream.
Think of it this way, “If I am this dirty and this depraved and this sinful and this unfaithful and this evil and Jesus loved me enough to die for me and redeem me and justify me and work to transform me, then that is the greatest thing I have ever heard.”
The depth of our sin shows the awesomeness of Jesus as our Saviour. He looks absolutely glorious. Because he didn’t just pay for me junk, he paid for yours, and yours and yours. And that is truly mind blowing.
And first of all we become thankful people. We have just been forgiven a massive debt, Visa just called, the University just called, and said all is forgiven. And we should well up with thankfulness at a God who could love like that. Verse 25 sums it up exactly.
And we realize in 8:1, that there is no condemnation for those of us in Christ Jesus. We try our best, we continually repent and we are never condemned.
And our thankfulness leads to repentance and George hammered away at that, so I just want to touch briefly on it. But repentance coupled with the work of the Holy spirit in our lives, is how we deal with the idols is our lives.
When I realize that I am worshiping myself, the answer is not trying really hard stop. If I have a solution that only involves me, that is not Christianity, that is religion. Religion in the bad sense, is a man-made moral code imposed on other people. Religion says try really hard to stop being selfish. Be nice to other people.
But Jesus knows, you can’t stop. You are addicted to your idols. And so instead of going to religion for help, we turn to Jesus and say, “Help!” I am addicted to myself and I can’t stop. I need you to change me.
Repentance begins with an acknowledgment of your sin. Who or what are you worshipping instead of Christ? And we turn from them to Jesus.
And then as he changes us, we partner with him by arranging out life to bring him more glory. God promises in Phil 1:6 that once he begins to work in you, he will carry it through to completion. God promises to do his part in sanctifying us. But he requires a partnership.
And this is the other side of sword, and I want to walk a fine line today. Because there is this tension in the Christian life and people often fall off one way or the other.
1. Some people try to change themselves
2. Some people want God to do all the work.
Both of them fall into trouble. You trying to change you is futile. No man can change the heart. You can arrange your outward actions so it looks like your heart is different, but in the end you end up bitter, tired and shallow.
It becomes all about looks, all about the appearance. There is no joy there. God is not glorified there. And in the end, it doesn’t work.
On the other hand, some people want to “let go and let God.”
We ignore the Bible where it says “to offer our bodies as living sacrifices” or in 1 Corinthians where it says “to run [live] in a such a way as to win the prize… beat your body and make it your slave.”
D.A. Carson, in his book, For the love of God says it this way:
“People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith.
We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”
And I think this is more us. We have seen and grown up in families and churches that had all the structure, but no heart. None of it meant very much at all.
And we react so strongly to overbearing parents and hypocritical churches that we avoid anything that sniffs of effort. Anyone who encourages you to read your Bible when you don’t feel like it, oh man, why do that?
But there has to be an element in our lives where we obey God when we don’t feel like it. We pray even though God feels distant. We go to church, even when it is early.
God will not change you if you are sitting on your butt waiting for something to happen.
But the Bible promises that as we work out our salvation and God works in us, we begin to change. A lot of Romans 8 covers the work of the Holy Spirit in us, and it describes how we need to walk with Him and let Him change us.
And change we will. Many in the crowd today, you can testify to that. We could parade people up here to tell stories of how they used to be and how with a lot of effort and a lot of God, they are different today.
I have a friend who grew up going to church, but there was nothing under the surface. He wandered from God and while attending church, began dealing drugs. He didn’t use drugs, because he didn’t want to be addicted, but he made thousands of dollars selling drugs to high school students. He stored the money in off-shore bank accounts and learned all sorts of skills that are useful for illegitimate operations. He learned to break into cars, pick locks, bring down web sites, the whole bit.
But when God got a hold of his life in university, it messed him up. He didn’t change all that much at the start. But through years of faithful Bible study, accountability, fellowship, he is a different man today. He loves God, serves in his church, disciples younger men, uses his skills for good. He gave away all his drug money and only breaks into cars when a friend locks their keys inside.
The sanctification that has occurred in his life is amazing.
And it took time and likely for you, it will take time. Sanctification is not always discernable, but it is there if you co-operate with Jesus.
And let me be really practical here, so that you don’t leave without knowing where to go.
1. Think of your heart idols – what are you worshiping instead of Christ?
2. Repent of your idols, worship Christ, glorify and thank him as the Saviour who is unbelievable in his ability to forgive and cleanse.
3. Ask God to change you from the inside out. You need Jesus to change you.
4. Ask him to help you live in ways that glorify God. Ask for the desire to read the Bible, pray, love your neighbours. Then start living that out as best you can.
There is nothing new here. I struggled with the message because many of you have heart this before. But this is the truth, that a holy life, one that looks like Christ is not won in a day, it is not imparted by magic or incantation or prayer, it is not bought by giving money to the church, it is not found in meaningless rituals, and it is not a one-time act.
It is the daily war against the sin that dwells in you. You, Jesus and your Christian brothers and sisters, fighting relentlessly, unflinchingly, courageously against the flesh and the Devil which would seek to drag you away from Christ and make you ineffective and impotent as a Christian.
So, I would urge you, be sanctified. Amen.