24For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.
7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Last week we looked at the doctrine of justification by faith. God’s grace is way too complicated and far too deep for us to ever fully understand, but if there is only one thing that you remember from last Sunday, let it be this: The moment you turn to God in faith, He declares you justified. He now sees you just as if you had never sinned, and this all happens in an instant. Being justified by God is an event – it is not a process. You might remember the simple example of marriage. At some point on your wedding day you changed from being unmarried to married. Getting married is an event, and not a process. You don’t spend the rest of your married life becoming more married.
Of course, as we all find out sooner or later, we need to work on our marriages, and this also applies to the life of faith. We are justified once and for all, but we don’t need to be reminded that becoming more like Jesus is a journey that continues throughout the rest of our lives.
God’s grace slowly but surely transforms us, as we are sanctified by His grace. At a Communion service we pray that God would set aside the common elements of bread and wine to be used for His purposes, and as He does that He sanctifies them. And that same prayer applies to us. Each time you ask God to use you in whatever way He sees fit, or whenever you ask Him to change this or that in your life, you are asking Him to set you aside for His purposes. You are asking Him to sanctify you by His grace, and that is our theme for today.
Before we go any further, it’s important to point out that there is only one grace - God’s grace, but in order to try and understand His grace and how He uses it we describe His grace in different terms. Those of you who have been on the Walk to Emmaus weekend will be familiar with the term prevenient grace. His grace goes before us, even before we are aware of Him and how desperately we need His forgiveness. This is the process of God wooing us to Himself, much like a courtship. It begins at our conception and continues until the moment we accept salvation. At that point we are justified by His grace, and His sanctifying grace then continues to work in us to make us more like Jesus every day for the rest of our days. One of the reasons that this process never quite reaches perfection is because we are not perfect. Even though we are forgiven sinners we remain sinners, and this is why today you’ll take two steps forward, but tomorrow you’ll take four steps backwards. The good news is that God is patient and long suffering, and He will continue to walk with you on your faith journey – both when it is easy, and especially when it is hard.
Sanctifying grace is the work of the Holy Spirit moving us on toward perfection in love and truth. It’s the process of making someone or something holy. Sanctifying grace is the work of the Holy Spirit moulding us more and more into the likeness of Jesus. It is the process by which God makes us holy as He is holy.
In Romans 3:10-11 Paul quotes from Psalm 14 when he writes, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
That’s the dilemma we have because of our sin, but God is a God of grace.
In His grace He justifies us by transferring or imputing the righteousness of Jesus to us. And the process of sanctifying grace continues to cleanse our hearts from the control of sin, and we are liberated from slavery to it. This is exactly what God says through the prophet Ezekiel: “I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
Justifying grace is God delivering us from the consequences and penalty of sin, and His active sanctification by grace is Him delivering us from the control and power of sin so we are enabled to live our lives for Him. Romans 6:14 says, “Sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” The Holy Spirit by His sanctifying grace empowers to overcome sin.
Sanctifying grace is the process by which the Holy Spirit restores to us the original righteousness we were created with. We forget sometimes that God created us pure and holy, but tragically we lost that original righteousness. In the words of Ecclesiastes 7:29, “God created people to be virtuous, but they have each turned to follow their own downward path.”
But thanks be to God – His sanctifying grace reveals and restores that original righteousness by transforming us into the image of Jesus.
Can you love as God loves you? Can you forgive as you have been forgiven? Not in your own strength you can’t. Because of your sin your natural state is to live for yourself and to look after number one, but God’s grace empowers you to love as He loves and to forgive as you have been forgiven.
In Mark 12 Jesus is having a conversation with a Pharisee who asks Him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus replies, “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
By His sanctifying grace the Holy Spirit not only empowers us to love our friends but our enemies as well. At the end of Matthew 5 Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
“Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus would not command us to do that if it was impossible, but as His grace changes and transforms us, we find that we can do the impossible – like praying for those who persecute us and loving those who hate us.
Sanctifying grace empowers every aspect of our lives, and the ministries in the Church in particular. Jesus said to His disciples in Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Sanctifying grace empowers us all to be effective witnesses for Jesus. Jesus always empowers everyone He calls.
So if you want give sanctifying grace a simple description, we could say that it is the process, the refining which takes us from a position of unholiness and sin, to a state of holiness and Christlikeness.
But how does it actually work?
How does the process of setting us apart for God take place?
I need to say that this is not a comprehensive list – we will never truly understand God’s grace because we can never really understand God.
In Isaiah 55:9, He says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
He does though, give us enough of a grasp of His nature in order to gain some understanding of who He is and how He works in our lives.
The first thing sanctifying grace does is to defeat sin and root out its source.
God forgives our sin, but unfortunately we tend to carry around the leftovers. On the outside everything looks just fine, but the root cause of our sin also needs to be dealt with. The Holy Spirit works in us to destroy the root cause of our sin.
God frees us not only from our sin, but also from the result of sin.
Romans 8:1 – “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Have you noticed that things that even though they were wrong, but never used to really bother you now suddenly seem different? “Everybody else does it” is no longer a valid excuse. That sensitivity to sin is no accident – it is God’s sanctifying grace working in you.
You will find yourself beginning to recognise the presence and the danger of sin, and at the same time by God’s power, you will be able to overcome those threats.
The second thing that God’s sanctifying grace does is to make the righteousness of Christ real to us. The theory of God’s peace and grace becomes a reality.
As God said through the prophet Jeremiah in chapter 31, “I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
An effective Christian is not someone who can quote chapter and verse from the Bible, or who can recite Christian doctrine. I’ve mentioned this in the past: An effective Christian is one who quite literally begins to reflect God’s love to those around them.
This is how Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 3, “The Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, He gives freedom. And all of us have had that veil removed so that we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like Him and reflect His glory even more.”
The Christian walk is not easy, and this is the third part of how God’s sanctifying grace works. It empowers us for Christian living.
In Philippians 3 Paul encourages us to keep going. He writes, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
God wants us to live a life of true peace. He doesn’t want us to struggle and battle our way along, but in the most amazing way, He even uses our struggles and suffering to transform us.
Paul writes in the first 5 verses of Romans 5: “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.”
We’re very quick to become dispirited and frustrated when our lives are not going well. And yes, there are even times when we blame God for those times. But maybe, just maybe He is using whatever those circumstances are to sanctify us. Sometimes the most valuable lessons in life are learned in adversity.
And the fourth function or purpose of God’s sanctifying grace is that it equips us for Christian ministry.
When Jesus first called His disciples, the word He used was ‘come.’
But it doesn’t end there – what were Jesus’ last words before the ascension? ‘Go.’
If you are prepared to make yourself available to God, He will continue to work in you and through you by His sanctifying grace, and He will set you apart for His purposes. He will sanctify you.
When God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses’ response was just like ours would have been – “Lord, I can’t do it. Send someone else.”
And what was God’s answer? “I will be with you.”
It is God who equips us and goes with us.
As you allow God to start the process of sanctifying you for His purposes; as you begin to step aside and allow Him to take control of your life, you will begin to discover that you have gifts that you never even dreamed about.
I want to end by looking briefly at three points from John 15. This is where Jesus draws the analogy between a grapevine and Himself.
Firstly, He says that we must abide in Him. We have to strive for that intimate relationship with Him.
The second thing is that Jesus says that His word abides in us – that is where we learn from Him as we study the Scriptures.
And thirdly – the purpose of it all – when we abide in Jesus and His word, we will bear fruit for God’s glory.
When we live our lives for Him, He will sanctify us and use us for His glory, and His glory alone.