The Road to Sanctification
Guest posting by Adam Davies
(This article can also we found on our website
at http://www.bethelkingston.com under the tab called "Blog")
This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.
We all have to start somewhere. Wherever we are going, whatever we are doing, however we want to change, there is always a clear point of departure from what was before, to what is (or will be) now. The start of something new can be difficult to find or discovered in unlikely places, and it can be difficult to follow through. Sanctification is one of these issues: on the one hand, most Christians understand that being sanctified (made holy, made like God, set apart) requires both the power of God and the effort of the person. Unlike regeneration (which Fred talked about last week), sanctification is both a work of God and a work of human effort. But where do we start? What is the first step in sanctification? Who moves first?
On Sunday, our big idea was Daily Death is my Daily Bread – that the sanctified life is characterized and exemplified by the follower’s constant and relentless pursuit of their own “death”. Yes, sanctification is still about our striving and God’s Spirit working together, but the spark that propels the newly-regenerated-and-justified life forward is found in the departed spark of death. Anyone confused yet? To understand what is going on, we looked at Jesus’ words in John 12:20-26 and drew three conclusions:
1) In the new life, Jesus calls us to death…
… every day, in every situation, because that’s the life He lived. When was the last time you asked a question and got an answer way beyond the intent of your question? You know, you ask a friend if they like the shirt you’re wearing… and they go into the history of the fabric and style of the shirt and what acceptable combinations are with those fabrics and shirts, and then get into colour and discuss contrast verses complement, etc., blah blah blah… Ever got that before?
In this story, there are a group of Greeks (most likely some converts who lived in the Diaspora – Jewish settlements or communities outside of Judea) who want to see Jesus, so they ask a man by the name of Philip if they can see Him. When Jesus eventually gets this message, He goes way beyond their question, launches into a parable, and then challenges his audience. In Jesus’ mind, there is way more to ‘seeing’ than we think. When we look at John 12:25-26a, the clear call of Jesus on those who are hearing is not to ‘see’ Him, but to follow Him. How does He characterize that following? Look at verse 25: “whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Not only that, but think about the context of this passage: when Jesus challenges the crowd to follow Him, what event is about to happen? Jesus is on His way to die – this whole section (up until the end of John 12) talks about how He is about to be “lifted up” (crucified) before all the people. In no uncertain terms, this is a call to follow Jesus to death. The words “take up your cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23) should be ringing in our ears.
But Jesus isn’t only talking about the one-time death that leads to eternal life… He’s challenging us to the daily death-before-life, death-as-daily-bread kind of life that we need to live so we might be set apart to God. Think about how Paul has understood this issue: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” (Gal. 2:20) “Put to death what is earthly in you... and put on the new self” (Col. 3:5,10). Death to self precedes life in Christ – daily death has to be our daily bread if we want to live the new, clean, holy and Jesus-mirroring life into which we are invited. Luke 9:23 says it best, in that we take up our cross “daily” to follow Jesus. It is the cross that is borne first so that we might follow. We need to ask ourselves: have I died yet today? Have I gone willingly to the cross? Do I believe that my death will be the catalyst to better life?
2) Death is the release of life giving and life changing power…
… both in God, and in us. There are animals out there who have semelparous reproduction – they must die in order to create new life. Salmon are an example of this, as they reproduce once in their lives. They through drastic physical change before spawning and when they die, they deteriorate faster and release massive amounts of corticosteroids which greatly benefit the recently laid salmon eggs.
Not only is daily death our bread because Jesus calls us to it, but it is our bread because of what it releases. Just like the seed that dies and produces a crop in verse 24, so too does death lead to an abundant harvest. What do we gain from the death of Christ? His Spirit is poured out on all flesh because He released it in death. His cleansing is available because His blood was spilled. Not only does Jesus give us the example of death for daily living, but He dies that we might have the means to live a sanctified life because of what He’s poured out on us. We will be marvelling and wondering at this truth forever: Jesus had to die, not only to show us how to live, but to give us the ability to live that life.
We too must die daily that we might experience the abundant and fruitful life. Think about this question: what is it I need to die to, that I might experience the abundant life of God today? Am I living for a career, a relationship, an identity or even a sin and leaving behind the life of God? Am I willing to die to that thing so that my life might start to produce fruit? I am often haunted by the words of the writer in Hebrews who says in chapter 12, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” The writer of Hebrews is issuing a strong challenge; are we willing to be crucified and pour out our own blood that we might be sanctified and have new life released in us? Some of us Christ followers have been unwilling to die to something for a long time and it has become a hindrance to experiencing the life that God is calling us to. Again, remember the words of Galatians 2:20 – Christ has died and has released His power to us. We must die to experience and live by that power in every struggle and every challenge.
3) Daily death leads to the cross…
… and to ultimate glory. The statement Jesus makes in verse 23 is very strange indeed. One of the great mysteries of following Jesus is that our symbol of total victory and endless power is a tool that was used by rulers to put futility, shame, scorn, weakness and death onto its bearer. The cross was the worst and most horrific form of capital punishment, and with this terrible instrument Jesus proclaims that His crucifixion is the moment of God’s greatest glory. Have you ever thought about how strange this is? Jesus CELEBRATES His own death: He celebrates His completion of the work God gave Him to do; He celebrates the mercy He pours out on it; He celebrates His victory over sin and (eternal) death; but above all Jesus celebrates the GLORY OF GOD expressed and proclaimed on the cross.
Jesus (and our) chief end was to glorify God, and He does this PERFECTLY by going to the cross. Do you believe this about your life - that your ultimate humility, that your complete and utter submission, that your death is the means of bringing greatest glory (honour, praise, worship, renown, fame, etc.) to God? So not only is death the call of Jesus on our life, and not only does death release incredible power (both in Christ and in us), but it also bring the highest and most excellent glory to God. As a Christ-follower, what death could I die that would lead to a bright and beautiful display of the glory of God? What does that look like as a parent… as a teenager… as a student… as a business-person… as a leader?
Sanctification is more than holiness… it is a live lived in view of Jesus’ determined march to His own death on the cross. Sanctification starts with our own resolve to follow Him into that life-changing death to self, alive to God, GLORY-to-God life that we’ve been longing for.
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