As believers we know we're supposed to hate sin, but why do we still find it so attractive? Why does holiness seem so unattainable and unnatural? In this message Stephen grapples with the difficult doctrine of sanctification and reminds us why, in order to become like Christ, we need God's help.
“Sacred Beyond Sunday”
For the first time in his letter to the believers living in Rome, Italy, the Apostle Paul communicates several commands in chapter 6.
Having developed the doctrinal truth that the believer has died to reign of sin, he now challenges the believer that he has not died to the reality of sin.
When you were saved – that point in your life when you trusted Christ’s death and burial and resurrection as your only hope for heaven, you were delivered from the penalty of sin – that is the doctrine of justification.
Now, you are in the process of being delivered from the power of sin . . . that’s the doctrine of sanctification.
Justification takes a moment of time; sanctification takes a life-time.
Don’t combine the two doctrines erroneously. Many cults and isms and religious systems have made sanctification (how you live) the basis for justification (how you are saved).
Nothing delights Satan any more than seeing a believer’s sanctification produce anxiety about their justification. God wants – and what Paul explains – is that while our sanctification does not determine our justification, it verifies it.
Sanctification reveals the authenticity of justification.
The truth is, we have trouble living up to our position in Christ.
We are holy in position, but not always in practice.
That’s where sanctification goes to work.
The goal of God through sanctification is to bring our practice in line with our profession.
You could define sanctification as the work of God’s spirit in our willing hearts and minds and hands that conforms us into the character of Jesus Christ.
A shorter definition comes from the Greek word for sanctification which simply means, “set apart.”
The concept isn’t hart to grasp because all of us have things in our homes that are set apart, or dedicated for a particular use.
When you ever used your Mom’s favorite scissors to cut out your cardboard fort in the garage, you learned a lesson about sanctification.
Anthony Evans, Totally Saved (Moody Press, Chicago), 2002, p. 131
If you ever used your Dad’s golf clubs to hit rocks in the back yard – you learned that things are sanctified – they are set apart for a purpose.
The goal of God through sanctification is for us to dedicate our bodies and everything about us, so that everything about us matches what God designed.
There are things our bodies should do, and there are things our bodies are not supposed to because of who we are in Christ.
When little Victoria learned at the age of eleven that she was next in line for the British throne, historians tell us that she burst into tears. Then upon regaining composure, she said with great conviction and purpose, “If I am to be queen, then I shall be good.”
Ibid, p. 131
Was she always good? I have never met a perfect eleven year old, have you?
But at age eleven, she recognized something that many Christians never seem to catch; this is the principle of sanctification. Victoria determined with passion and conviction that her practice would match her position. She suddenly discovered something about herself that made her want to exercise character that honored the crown.
Has it ever occurred to you that you are royalty?
Peter wrote that you, Christian, are a chosen people, a royal priesthood.
What we need in the church more than ever before is people who will say with passion and conviction – “since I am headed for a future throne as fellow heir and ruler with Christ in heaven, I will live up to it on earth.
Because of who I am in Christ, I will now determine to live for Christ.
The question remains, just how do we live separated lives unto Christ. How does our character match our crown as joint heirs with Jesus Christ?
What does sanctification look like – what are we supposed to do?!
Beginning in verse 12 of Romans chapter 6, Paul will answer by giving a two fold command.
The first part is negative and the other part is positive.
Romans 6:12. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13. and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness;
This is the negative command of God through Paul.
These are present imperatives, by the way; you could literally write into your translation the word “Stop” with an exclamation point! Verse 12. Therefore, (stop!) letting sing reign in your bodies and verse 13, (stop!) presenting the members of your body to sin.
John MacArthur pointed out in his commentary that here in the first part of verse 12, “Paul personified sin as if it were a powerful monarch who is determined to reign in the believer’s life just as he did before salvation.”
John MacArthur Jr., Romans, Volume 1 (Moody Press; Chicago Illinois) 1991, p. 337
The Apostle Peter personifies sin as someone who is at war with us – he writes, “I urge you to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.” (I Peter 2:11)
John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress also wrote a lesser known book called "The Holy War". In the book he personified the soul as a city having 5 gates:
- the ear gate
- the eye gate
- the nose gate
- the feel gate
- the mouth gate
The enemy of Mansoul was sin and it would come on a daily basis to attack Mansoul at one of those gates.
Sin would speak through the Ear Gate or paint vivid and alluring pictures to the Eye Gate. . .interesting thing is that Mansoul, in Bunyan's allegory, could never be toppled by outside attacks. The only way the enemy could conquer the city was if someone on the inside of Mansoul opened one of the gates and let the enemy come in.
Both Paul and Peter urge the believer to engage in the battle – in fact, when Paul, in verse 13, says, “Stop presenting your members to sin.” He is using a military term which was used to the transfer of weaponry or arms.
In other words, Paul is saying, “Don’t let the enemy use your body as his weapon.
Don’t let the enemy have your rifle or your sword so that he can use it against you!
A man wants to be a holy man for God but then watches the average movie which typically includes some form of adultery and fornication – we happen to know statistically that just over 90% of all sexual content in the average movie today is between unmarried people . . . or people who are married to somebody else. You go to that and you’ve just handed your eyes to the enemy of your sanctification.
A woman wants to be a holy woman for God, but look at her CD’s and cassettes and her favorite songs she listens to on the way to school or work or around the house – listen to the lyrics and you will discover that she is doing nothing more than handing her ears and emotions to the enemy to use them against her war for holiness.
Sociologists have estimated that by the age of 21, the average person in America has been exposed to more than 300,000 commercial messages – predominantly promoting the basic assumption that personal gratification is the dominant goal in life.
James M. Boice, Romans: Volume Two (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI), 1991,
There is a war against holiness in the life of the believer and Paul says, “Stop giving your body to the enemy to use against you to win his war!”
There’s poetry in doughnut making.
I’ve got my wallet out – and then I pray, “Lord, you’ve promised that no temptation will take me that isn’t common to man, but you will, with the temptation provide a way of escape that I may be able to endure it.” Okay Lord . . . now! Rescue me!
And there is no escape hatch in sight.
And so I buy one – and oh, have you ever eaten a Krispy Kreme that’s just been made? It literally melts in your mouth – and you need two of them to feel it and maybe a third one – but then, down in your tummy they begin to swell . . . and you begin to feel yucky.
“Man, why did I do that?!”
The failure was not when I pressed my nose against the glass; the battle was not lost when I watched one particular cylinder of saturated fat move down the conveyor belt.
I lost the battle when I decided to pull into the parking lot.
The average Christian today
And wonders, “Why is it that sin so controls my life.” You let it!
You presented the weapons of your body to the enemy and guess what – he used them against you and has you obeying his commands again.
You give sin an inch and it will take the throne!
Notice again how Paul puts it in verse 12, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness!”
Paul says, “Stop!”
Have you ever thought about the fact that a young child never has to take lessons in saying “no.” Have you ever heard a 2 year old running around the house all day saying, “yes Mommy; yes, yes, yes.” Uh uh, he runs around saying what? “No Mommy, no, no, no.”
How is it that a 2 year old can say “no” and a 20 year old can’t . . . or a 30, 40, 50, year old for that matter.
Isn’t it a fascinating revelation of our sinful nature that we say no when we’re young and yes when we’re old.
We say “no” to the things we should say “yes” to,
“yes” to the things we should say “no” to.
The average believer needs to learn to say a word that has all but disappeared from their vocabulary. The little word “no.”
Let’s practice that word – say it out loud – “No!”
Say it louder! “No!”
I have never had so many people tell me “No” at the same time.
Now you need to understand that the Christian life isn’t just one big negative.
It happens to involve a very big positive.
Notice the middle part of verse 13b. but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members asinstruments of righteousness to God.
Offer yourself to God!
Sanctification is saying no at the right time, and yes to the right person.
Say yes to God!
In this text you discover that sanctification – living a holy life – includes the principle of cooperation.
There are two extremes to avoid in this doctrine.
One extreme is that everything is up to the individual believer and they have to drum up the power to do anything good for God.
The other extreme is that nothing is up to the individual believer and they have no responsibility to develop discipline and decision.
One verse often misquoted is Philippians 2:13, “God works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”
So if God doesn’t will it, I won’t be able to do it.
If God doesn’t give me a desire to read my Bible, then I won’t be able to do it; if God doesn’t will in my to witness, I’ll never do it.
That’s the other extreme.
The truth is, the previous verse commands the believer to, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” He isn’t talking about justification, but sanctification. You can’t work something out that isn’t already on the inside.
Paul says, “work it out . . . decide to live for God.” Then Paul adds, “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”
In other words, Paul is encouraging the one who decides to live a holy life and develop holy disciplines that God is the source of power behind our will saying yes; he is not saying that we are robots and if God doesn’t give us the will, we never will.
Listen, if you don’t decide to study the Bible, God isn’t going to pick up the Bible, fly it under your nose, flip open the passage, and stick your nose in it.
If you don’t decide to come to church, God isn’t going to levitate you out of the bed, put you in the shower, fix your hair, put your clothes on, put you in the car and drive you to church.
“Well I just don’t have the desire . . . God’s going to have to give it to me.”
One author writes, “The clear teaching of Scripture is that the Christian life is a cooperative effort. Paul included both the power of God and the effort of the believer when in one verse when he wrote, “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works with me.” (Colossians 1:29)
When we use the word cooperation, we do not mean a 50/50 partnership in which you put in your half and God puts in His half. The power is all His, but He does not act without the cooperation and submission of the believer.”
Anthony Evans, Totally Saved (Moody Press, Chicago), 2002, p. 136
Paul says, part of growing up in Christ is not only saying no to sin, but yes to the Savior.
Ladies and Gentlemen, God will never drag you by the arm into holy living.
Sanctification is not the result of spiritual abduction; it is the result of spiritual submission.
John MacArthur wrote, “God’s will is active in our lives only as our wills are submissive to His.”
John MacArthur Jr., Romans, Volume 1 (Moody Press; Chicago Illinois) 1991, p. 337
A large part of the battle is the discovery that spiritual growth
is synonymous with spiritual discipline. Discipline or training – as Paul used it with Timothy when he wrote, “Timothy, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” (I Timothy 4:7)
What a realistic command. No pietism . . . no mysticism of some special blessing or one time decision that once and for all makes purity and holiness and joy and faith and patience easily acquired practices . . . that’s why Paul used the word discipline.”
It’s the Greek word “gumnazo” from which we get our word gymnasium. It refers to working out – breaking a spiritual sweat over training exercises that produce spiritual strength and growth.
Reinecker defines the Greek word to refer to that “vigorous development and application of all the believer’s strength and ability that he may serve the glory of God with every thought and action.”
Fritz Reinecker, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Zondervan), 1980, p. 626
It’s still true today. Sanctification is discipline and hard work.
The Christian does not naturally drift toward holiness. We do not drift toward godliness but ungodliness. The gravitational pull of our flesh is not toward prayer, but away from it. We do not easily obey scripture but disobey; we do not find modesty and humility easy, but immodesty and pride . . . not faith but fear, not delight in the things of the Lord but delight in the things of the earth.
Adapted from D. A. Carson’s article, “Reflections” (Christianity Today), 7/31/00
You can say no all you want to those wrong things . . . but you need to say yes to those right things.
That’s easy to do on Sunday. Living a sanctified, sacred life beyond Sunday is an entirely different matter.
Ralph Lauren provoked my thinking when he commented on this text in Romans chapter 6 and asked his readers this question, “What use will you make of your bodies? Will they be temples or toys? Toys serve but a childish and temporary purpose. They are later laid aside, battered and worn and [abused]. Is that what your body is to you? How empty and sad such a life would be. On the other hand, temples are for the presence of God. They are made to hold communion with Him; to be filled with music and to be dignified by worship. They are to be stately objects of the beautiful reminder among mankind of both the presence and power of God.”
Roy Laurin, Romans: Where Life Begins (Kregel Publications), 1988, p. 206
What a great question . . . is your body a toy or a temple through whom God displays and receives glory?
That’s the very point Paul is teaching – how could we ever live in sin now that we’ve been brought to life in Jesus Christ.
“Have you forgotten, your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you received of God . . . therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit which are Gods.” (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20)
That’s the same thing Paul meant when he said here in Romans 6, “do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin . . . but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members (your body parts – your mind and heart) as instruments of righteousness.
In other words, you dear Christian friend, are not a toy . . . you are a temple of the living God!
Say no to sin . . . say yes to the Spirit of God.
Is there something you’re saying yes to, which today you need to decide by the power of God within you to begin saying no.
Is there something you’re saying no to, but virtue of neglect or disobedience that you need to say yes to.
In other words, is there something you’re doing or thinking or planning or watching or saying that you shouldn’t?
Is there something you should be doing that you are not doing?
Will you submit your will to God’s Spirit and allow Him to work in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
Will you, in that specific area, say “Yes, Lord, I will cooperate with your Spirit.”