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Thursday, June 21, 2012

God-given Resources for Sanctification

In the message on Sunday, I mentioned that just like there are three enemies of our sanctification – the world, the flesh, and the devil – there are at least three means that the Holy Spirit uses to help us in our sanctification.  I’d like to give you a little bit more on this than we had time for on Sunday.
Ephesians 2:1-3 speaks of three ungodly influences that served as our masters prior to our redemption in Christ:
 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins
 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--
 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Before we were saved, we were in utter bondage to the influence of the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh.  Now that we are in Christ, we are no longer necessarily beholden to them.  The next few verses in Eph 2 expresses a change in our condition: But God, being rich in mercy… made us alive together with Christ (vv4-5).  The result is a transformation in the way that we live: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (v10). 
But that we have been freed from slavery to ungodly things and empowered for good works does not mean that the world, the flesh, and the devil have given up seeking to influence us, nor that we do not voluntarily surrender to them on occasion.  They still exert a strong pull.  The world hates believers and seeks to conform them to itself (John 15:19, 17:14; Rom 12:2).  The flesh sets its desire against the Spirit and makes war against believers’ souls (Gal 5:17; 1 Pet 2:11).  The devil is on the prowl like a lion seeking to devour believers and lead them away from devotion to Christ (1 Pet5:8; 2 Cor 11:3). 
These are tireless influences.  They do not take time off.  They are relentless.  Praise God that He has given us tools to employ in the power of the Holy Spirit to resist temptation and walk in faithfulness.
The first is the Word of God.  The psalmist wrote, I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you (Psa 119:11).  In instructing his son about how to resist temptation, Solomon wrote, For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life, to preserve you from the evil woman, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress… My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart (Pro 6:23-24, 7:1-3).
Paul wrote in Eph 6:17 that the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit, part of the armor of God that enables us to stand against the schemes of the devil.  There are numerous ways to take in the truth of God’s Word.  We can read it, meditate on it, memorize it, and listen to biblical preaching and teaching.  But one thing is certain.  Time away from the Word will mean times of perilous temptation.  I was talking to a brother today who said the more time you spend away from the Bible the more you are going to drift spiritually.  Preparation for temptation demands a robust diet of God’s Word.
The second tool we’ve been given is the church.  Ephesians 4 paints a grand picture of God’s design for the church.  God has tasked the teachers of the church with equipping the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ.  The church builds itself up in love when each individual member is working properly, speaking the truth in love and serving one another (4:11-16). 
We are not intended to live the Christian life alone.  This is such a dangerous proposition that we are commanded not to forsake gathering together for mutual encouragement and to stir one another up to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24-25).  Not only is the church instructed to admonish, encourage, and help one another, but individuals should seek this accountability from one another (1 Thess 5:14).   Paul writes to Timothy to flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2Tim 2:22).  We are commanded to confess our sins to one another and to pray for one another (Jas 5:16).  God has gifted every member of the body to benefit the body.  We are foolish if we neglect this resource in the fight against sin.
The third tool is prayer.  As we’ve seen in the Lord’s Prayer, expressions of dependence upon the Father for help in our fight against temptation are an essential part of the prayer life of a disciple.  God alone is sovereign over temptation.  Only our Triune God can help us in time of need.  This is why Jesus commanded the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matt 26:41).  This is why the writer of Hebrews reminds us that we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4:15-16).  We are therefore invited to come to Him for help.  How do we do this if not by approaching Him in prayer and asking for help?
Biblical sanctification has many facets.  One of them is knowing the enemies of our sanctification.  Another is knowing and using the tools God has given us for the fight.  It is difficult to imagine anyone experiencing great success in the face of temptation while neglecting the Word, the fellowship and accountability of the church, and prayer.  May the Lord move us to trust His Spirit to empower us for obedience while taking advantage of all the means He has afforded us for walking in obedience.  
Posted by Greg Birdwell

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