Posts Tagged ‘sanctification’

grow-upThis is a re-post reflecting on a couple of things. First, Luther’s saying: “God doesn’t need your good works.  Your neighbour does.”

Second, Dave K’s observation that, post-resurrection, no-one summarizes the law with “love God and love neighbour” but only with “love neighbour” – read it, it’s very stimulating.


A friend recently told me of some “higher life” Christians he met who would chant together:

“I refuse, I refuse, I refuse to come down from heaven to deal with earthly realities.”

They were horrible people to be around.  Their marriages were a mess.  And it was impossible to get at their sins because they were supposedly “hidden” from it all at God’s right hand.

Well you do have to admire their sense of unbreakable union with Christ.  I will give them that.

But you’ve also got to question the kind of Christ they feel united to.

Isn’t the true Jesus exactly the kind of Person who does come down from heaven to deal with earthly realities?  Isn’t that His eternal glory?  And therefore, doesn’t Paul constantly take us from that secure union and then into those battles with the flesh?

Never for the sake of our union. But always from that union and in the power of it.  How can union with this Christ mean anything else?

Jesus said: “For their sake I sanctify myself.”  (John 17:19).

Our response should not be “And likewise, Lord, for your sake I sanctify myself.”  No.  There can be no payback here.

But there is a response to Christ’s work.  And it does involve our sanctification.  It means receiving Christ’s setting-apart-of-us, and passing it on in costly ways – just as Jesus passed it on to us in the most costly way.

We do engage with the mess, not for God’s sake but for our neighbour’s.  Jesus doesn’t need my sanctification, but my wife does.  Desperately.  And the way I glorify the other-centred Christ is not to pay Him back with godliness but to pass it on in sacrificial love.  “Hidden in Christ” does not mean hidden from the battle.  Christ leads me into the battle because He’s adopted me into His kind of other-centred life.

So, for God’s sake, don’t grow up for God’s sake
But, for God’s sake, do grow up for your neighbour’s sake.


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To change internally through external acts can be flesh.

But to change externally through internal devotions can be just as flesh-ly.

Conversely, the external application of word and sacrament can have a wonderful effect internally.

And an internal resolve to look away to Christ can brilliantly impact your externals.

Neither outside-in nor inside-out is the right method for change.  The division the bible makes is between flesh and Spirit.

The real issue is whether the Spirit is leading us to Jesus and His finished work. It’s the Spirit who takes us outside to Christ who offers up our true standing before the Father.

I talk about this here in a recent sermon on Romans 8 (audio here).

13For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live,

What does it mean to put to death the misdeeds of the body by the Spirit.  Not by the law, not by the flesh, not by will power or human effort.  What does change look like that is by the Spirit?

Well, imagine you lie.  You lie to protect your reputation, you tell everyone you’ve done something that you haven’t done to sound like a big shot.  And afterwards you feel bad about lying.  And you want to stop lying like that because it’s getting to be a habit.

Now at that point – what is Christian about that resolve?  Non-Christians resolve to tell the truth too.  There’s nothing Christian about trying to be a better person.  There’s nothing Christian about putting sins to death.  It’s the WAY you put them to death that’s the real difference.

See, you could put it to death through the law.  You could say “The law says Thou shalt not lie.  I’ve broken the law.  I’ll punish myself and put myself under condemnation until I feel I’ve done my penance and then I’ll try really, really hard to be honest next time.”

Two problems with the law approach.  First, it doesn’t work.  Second, I’ve just resolved to be my own Saviour.  I don’t need Jesus for this.  I don’t need the cross, I don’t need the Spirit.  I’m just trying to be more moral.  There’s nothing Christian about resolving to tell the truth.

But Paul tells me to put lying to death BY THE SPIRIT.

What’s that?  Well to figure out that, we need to figure out what the Spirit is up to in the world.  And verse 14 will tell us what we need to know.  Here’s what the Spirit is up to:

14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Verse 15 calls the Spirit “the Spirit of Sonship.”  So the Spirit of the Son makes US sons and daughters of God.  The Spirit sweeps us up into Jesus so that we share Jesus’ relationship with God.  And what is Jesus’ relationship with God.  He is the Son, who calls out to God, “Abba, Father.”  And now, BY THE SPIRIT, so do we!

Abba is a word for Daddy in many middle eastern languages.  It’s intimate, it’s affectionate.  It’s also deeply respectful.  But here’s the question: Who on earth gets to call Almighty God, Abba?  Calling the Queen “Liz” is bad enough.  But at least calling her Liz doesn’t presume anything about your relationship to the Queen.  To call God “Daddy” you’re not only being incredibly intimate with God, you’re also making a claim on Him.  You’re saying “God, You are my Father and I am Your child.”  And children have certain rights.  In verse 17, Paul will tell us one of those rights – we have inheritance rights – as children of God we are heirs of the cosmos.

So that’s what the Spirit is up to – He’s communicating Christ to me, He’s testifying to me that I am in Jesus and in Him God is my Father, He’s communicating all that that means…

Now come back to verse 13 and ask “What does it mean to put to death the misdeeds of this Adamic body BY THE SPIRIT?”

Here’s what it means.  It means I open up my bible, I read the Spirit’s words and I allow Him to tell me:  “Glen, don’t you realize you HAVE the righteousness of Christ?!  You ARE God’s beloved child, unimprovably so.  So Glen, when you lied, who were you trying to impress?  Why lie?  You are dead to lying now, not because there’s an anti-lying law.  You’re dead to lying because, What need is there to lie?

The Spirit is constantly telling me, “I am a trillionaire walking around the millionaires club.”  And my lying exaggeration is like flashing around a counterfeit £50 note, trying to impress people.  That doesn’t impress people in the millionaires club.  And it completely forgets that I have a trillion pounds to my name?  What am I doing?

So put lying to death BY THE SPIRIT.

It works for all sins.

Put porn to death BY THE SPIRIT.  Why go after that counterfeit intimacy, when Jesus brings us into His eternal fellowship with the Father?

Put covetousness to death BY THE SPIRIT.  Do you really need the latest outfit or the latest gadget, when you’re about to inherit the universe?

Put anger and harsh words to death BY THE SPIRIT.  Don’t you realize you’re loved and appreciated and declared righteous in the heavenly realms?  Do you really need to assert your rights here and now?

Whatever the misdeeds of your Adam nature, put them to death BY THE SPIRIT.

To change by the Spirit means to have my gaze drawn to Christ who is my righteousness.  It means the Spirit re-reminding me that Christ is my standing before the Father.  All my sins spring from trying to live independently of Jesus and establishing my own standing in the world.  So look out to Christ who offers up the real you.  That’s how Christian change occurs.

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What’s this verse about?

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory…  (2 Cor 3:18)

Is it about enjoying private devotional experiences with Jesus so that we become like Him?   That’s a popular interpretation.  And it’s half right.  But it’s really not the full story.

The NIV footnote says that ‘reflect’ can be translated ‘contemplate’.  But I think ‘reflect’ is a better translation.  It’s a word that means ‘showing like a mirror shows’.  The question is this – Is the mirror-like-ness telling us about how the beholder looks at the mirror?  Or is the mirror-like-ness telling us about how the mirror itself reflects outwardly?

My guess is the latter.  Our faces are like mirrors reflecting outwardly to the world the glory of Jesus.

This fits the context.  Paul has been reminding us about Moses’s face-to-face encounters with the Lord (2 Cor 3:7,13).  He put a veil on to stop the Israelites seeing this fading glory.  But we (as v18 says) have unveiled faces.  And so what happens?   Others see the glory of Christ as we reflect it out to the world.

So this verse does indeed depend on our having devotional experiences with Jesus – just as Moses did (e.g. Exodus 33:7-11).  But that in itself will not transform us into Christ’s likeness.  Reflecting Christ’s glory out into the world – that will transform us.

Which is what the next two chapters of 2 Corinthians are all about.

Too often we think of holiness as one thing and mission as another.  Really they are mutually defining and mutually achieved.  Just as God’s own being is a being in outreach, so our Christian character is a character in outreach.  To divorce the two is disastrous.

Holiness-in-mission is parallel to God’s being-in-becoming. Just as God is who He is in His mission, so are we. Reflecting the Lord’s glory is not a private activity – or at least it must not end there.  It’s not essentially pietistic but proclamatory.  It’s not about locking ourselves in a “prayer closet” – it’s outgoing witness (to believers and unbelievers).


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Four simple questions and four (perhaps) surprising answers regarding Colossians 3:10:

Put on the new self (the new man), which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

1) Who is the Creator referred to?

In context you’d think it was Christ, who is the Creator Image of God (Col 1:15-17)

2) What gets renewed?

The “new self” gets renewed.  It’s not simply that we are renewed by getting a new self.  And it’s not simply that we are given a new self.  We are given a new self and the new self is renewed.

3) How does renewal happen?

Knowledge.  Note all the knowledge language of the letter.  This is just from chapter 1:
“heard… word of truth… gospel… learned… understood… all its truth… knowledge… spiritual wisdom… understanding… increasing in knowledge… make the word of God fully known… Him we proclaim… teaching everyone with all wisdom.”
We desperately and continually need gospel knowledge to be renewed.

4) What does our Creator look like (given that we’re supposed to look like Him)?

He is compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient, forbearing, forgiving – in a word: He is love (v12-14).  We know that these character-traits originally belong to the Lord because a) it says “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” and b) these virtues are outlined in the context of our becoming like Him.

So we don’t become forgiving, humble and meek because God will hold us to account and He’s big and powerful.  We are forgiving, humble and meek because He is forgiving, humble and meek.  And He has demonstrated it at the cross.


Therefore as we appreciate and know the goodness of this good news our new selves are being renewed to look like Him – the compassionate and humble God.

Surprised by any of those answers?


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It’s important to rightly relate these truths – ‘I am in Christ’ and ‘Christ is in me’ (see this older post and this one).

If I put “Christ in me” first then I fall for a Catholic doctrine of infusion.  God infuses His grace into me so that I begin to live the righteous life.  Eventually I might be declared righteous.  If a person gives priority to “Christ in me” they may have Personalised the grace which God gives (which is an improvement on the Catholic doctrine) but we’re still travelling along the same route.

The gospel is “I in Christ” – that is, through a gracious marriage union with Christ I immediately have His name.  Therefore righteousness is a status instantly imputed to me as a gift in Jesus. The rest of my life involves a communion with Jesus in which I gradually exhibit more and more of His nature.  But that is not my hope.  My hope is not me living Christ’s life (by His power within me).  My hope is Christ living my life (with me hidden in Him).

This morning I was reflecting on the nature of the sacraments and how they teach this fundamental truth.  I am baptised into Christ.  This is the beginning and foundation of my Christian life – I in Christ.  But regularly I am fed by Christ and take Him into myself – Christ in me.

To put it in Passover terms, I am saved once and for all by the Lamb’s blood applied externally – I’m hidden in the Lamb.  But I am nourished for the journey out of Egypt by the Lamb’s flesh – the Lamb in me.

And incidentally this is the basis of the Christian sexual ethic too.  The once-for-all one-flesh union first, the regular one-flesh communion afterwards – the two utterly united and the former given absolute priority.

Mix them up and you get into all sorts of trouble, in all areas of life!


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In the last post I thought a bit about the dangers of Pharasaism re-producing itself.

If you pastor out of the Pharisee’s mindset, here is how you will conceive the Christian life.

Here the Christian life is about minimizing sins and maximizing performance.  You will keep your sins private and your righteousness public.  Of course Jesus tells us to do the exact opposite.  He is the Doctor only for those who own the public label ‘sinner’ (Mark 2:17).  And He commands us not to perform our righteousness ‘to be seen by men’ (Matt 6:1ff).

But in this world performance is everything.  Life works because we’ve learnt the ropes, tried hard and never given up.  Things go wrong because of bad performance.  This holds for suffering too.  We might not be so crass as the disciples when they looked at the blind man and asked ‘Who sinned?!’ (John 9:2).  But actually the Pharisee will find themselves asking those same questions internally and will, in the long run, find it impossible to love an inveterately suffering person. ‘If only they’d take my advice, live right, try harder, keep going they’d be well by now.’  Sustained suffering (not to mention on-going sin) will force the Pharisee to either abandon their Pharisaism or abandon the struggler.  But if they hold onto their works mentality they must eventually abandon the struggler.

Pastoring in this world will not be a long-term journey alongside people.  It will be an impatient ‘fixing’ of people.  It’s all about whitewashing our tombs (Matt 23:27).  The pastors will be the experts, dispensing advice from on high.  The pastored will be those who progress outwardly through pressure.

The community might seem to be very judgemental.  And on one level, it is.  But in fact, while the accusations will be brutally harsh and backed by intense self-righteousness, they will be hopelessly superficial judgements.  The outside of the cup will be addressed in scathing attacks.  But the insides of all will remain full of every kind of uncleanness.  (Matt 23:25ff)

And, in collusion with one another, this community will consistently fail to address sin on any meaningful level.  Life will exist within a very narrow band.  No one will be very bad (or at least admit to it).  And no-one will be particularly good either.  They’ll tithe their spices for sure.  But because of the self-centredness of works-righteousness, no-one will actually go out of themselves into the kind of ‘justice, mercy and faithfulness’ that Jesus identifies as ‘the weightier matters of the law’.  (Matt 23:23)

So the Pharisee will show a very shallow gradient of Christian growth and level out early on.  They find the level of their Pharisaical community and stick there.

The world Jesus asks us to inhabit is completely different:

This diagram is ripped off from World Harvest Mission.  I learnt it from a friend who learnt it from a friend who got it from WHM.  Any good and profitable insight is entirely due to WHM, any misunderstandings or unwarranted developments are mine alone.

On this understanding, we begin the Christian life when we see Christ crucified for our sins and raised for our justification.  (Rom 4:25)  He has bridged the gap between ourselves and our Holy Father and He has bridged it entirely in Himself.  Christ crucified becomes precious to us – He is our wisdom; our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Cor 1:30)

However as we continue in the Christian life, we realize that we are actually much more sinful than we’d ever realized.  The Lord begins to show us more and more features of our lives that need addressing.  And He reveals greater and greater heights to His redeeming love.  In this sense, the cross gets bigger and bigger in our understanding as we realize “Ah, the Lord shed His blood even for that; He justifies me even in that wickedness.”

And so in the gospel world, our knowledge of sin increases not decreases.  But, correspondingly, our knowledge of Christ’s gracious atonement increases.  Thus our love for Christ grows.

Except that… we are a strange hybrid of Christian and Pharisee.  The default state of our hearts is always to hide our sins and justify ourselves.  From the very beginning we’ve hidden our nakedness and sewed together fig-leaves.  Therefore my Pharisaical tendency will always be towards self-deception – ‘I’m not really that bad.  There are plenty who are worse.  The Lord’s more interested in X, Y, Z – the really bad sins.’  And I’ll self-justify – I’ll draw my sense of peace, joy, OK-ness from self and world and not from Christ crucified.

In doing this, I keep the cross small.  After all I’m not that bad and in fact I am quite good, all things considered.

The work of gospel pastoring will be to continually confront my self-justifying, self-deceiving heart with the grace and truth of Jesus.  In my right mind, I should welcome this pastoring because its goal is to reveal to me Christ in all His grace and wonder.

A community that seeks after this magnification of Christ and Him crucified will be radically different to the Pharisaical one.  Here I can never be shocked by my sin or by yours.  If I’ve seen anything of the cross then I’m convinced that my sins demanded the blood of God.  Not a moral pep-talk, not a 12 step programme or rigourous accountability structure – only God’s blood spilt in wrath averting sacrifice can ever atone.  I’m so much worse than I’d ever imagined.  And when you point this out, you are my friend, because you are showing me fresh depths to the love of Christ.

Here, community is about coming out from our hiding places, standing naked before the Lord, peeling off our fig-leaves and being clothed in the sacrifice He has made.

It will be a life-long journey, not a quick fix.  And it won’t be one expert dispensing advice from on high, but one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.

More to follow…


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You who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ  (Gal 3:27)

I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you  (Gal 4:19)

Christ put on me

Christ formed in me


Christ surrounding me

Christ birthed in me


Christ already

Christ progressing


Christ: My status

Christ: My stature


I in Christ

Christ in me


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