IN BECOMING CHRIST-LIKE
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By the blood of the lamb and the death of the first-born God freed the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. By the mighty waters of the Red Sea, God crushed the Egyptian army, thus braking the Egyptian’s power to hold the Israelites captive. By the cloud and pillar of fire God dwelt among the Israelites, leading them to a new life in their new homeland. By the tablets of stone God gave them written instructions on how to live. All of this God did for the salvation of Israel from Egypt - a salvation which was all God’s doing, because the Israelites were powerless to do any of it themselves.
Just before entering the Promised Land, Moses reminded the Israelites of God’s command to take the land by destroying its sinful inhabitants. This was something different from their salvation experience. God had accomplished Israel’s salvation all by Himself, but He was not going to rid the land of evil all by Himself. War with the enemy was God’s method of sanctifying the Promised Land. He would empower and equip Israel, but they had to confront and engage the enemy in battle, day after day, until victory was won. He promised victory, and by His mighty miracle-working power, victory it would be. But Israel had to get up each day, make their battle plans, put on their battle gear, and go out and fight until the enemy was destroyed.
God had the power to destroy the sinful inhabitants of the Promised Land in the blink of an eye. But He wasn’t going to do that. Instead, He created a process of purification - a process that required a cooperative effort, personal responsibility, complete trust in God, obedience to God, hatred of evil, an unrelenting commitment to purity, time, focus, and perseverance on the part of the Israelites. He set up a process whereby total victory could only be achieved as Israel conquered the enemy they could see, village by village, people group by people group, area after area, until all evil was defeated and good established in its place. And why did God choose this method? So Israel could grow and mature in those ways necessary to possess the entire land and preserve its purity. God knew that immediate, total victory would leave too much of the land untended and result in its desolation and the increase of wild animals.
In looking carefully at God’s chosen method of cleansing the Promised Land, we see several important implications for us today. First, Israel had to take responsibility for ridding the land of evil. This means the land would be as pure as Israel wanted it to be. Second, Israel had to trust God implicitly. This is because God’s promised power for victory would only evidence itself when Israel was in the heat of battle - not before or after. Third, Israel had to obey God explicitly. This is because any other way than God’s prescribed way would result in defeat by the enemy or co-habitation with the enemy - both of which would be equal to willfully returning to bondage in Egypt. Fourth, Israel would battle with only one or two enemies at a time. This would keep them from feeling overwhelmed by the task. Fifth, Israel would either be preparing for war or fighting, almost every day, until total victory was secure. This would require a genuine hatred of evil and an unremitting commitment to purity. Sixth, Israel would have to persevere to the end lest any portion of the enemy revive and retake lost land. This would only happen if Israel genuinely and faithfully did everything they knew to do as they knew to do it. And finally, if Israel worked this process, they would have sufficient time to become numerous enough and mature enough to possess the whole land and safeguard its purity by the time they conquered its last sinful inhabitant. (Note: Exodus 23:29-33; Deuteronomy 31:1-8; Joshua 3:9-17)
As with Israel and the Promised Land, so it is with our salvation and sanctification. God has done everything necessary to save us from the power, the practice, and the penalty of sin. He has done it because we cannot do it on our own or for ourselves. However, once saved, we face the task of taking the land, of putting off the old nature and putting on the new, of dying to self and coming alive to God, of denying self and following Christ, of destroying all the godlessness that is in us and putting on the likeness of Christ, of being sanctified. But, to the praise of God, we do not face this task alone any more than the Israelites faced their task alone.
God promises to empower us and equip us for battle. He guarantees victory over our self-centered habits, self-defeating beliefs, and irrational fears if we will do battle against them. He enables us to replace the evil with good, thus establishing Christ-likeness where sin once ruled. And He remains faithful to His promises until victory is secure. This is God’s part, and we can stake our lives on Him keeping His word.
Our part lies before us. We must want to engage the enemy and fight through to victory. We must be determined to persevere, especially when victory seem impossible or defeat seems imminent. We must learn to use every piece of fighting equipment God provides. We must identify the enemy before us. (Fortunately, by fighting the enemy before us we only have to face one or two enemies at a time - which keeps us from feeling overwhelmed.) We must get up each day, make our plans, dress for battle, and then engage the enemy until victory is won or bedtime calls. We must remain vigilant so defeated foes cannot resurrect and retake conquered land. And, we must fight to the finish to be totally and forever free of any and every enemy.
Like God’s plan for Israel’s taking of the Promised land, our sanctification is a process. There will be no once-for-all victory. There are no magic wands to make the enemy disappear. There are no short-cuts or quick fixes for long-standing, deeply rooted, sinful habits. But there will be lots of hard fought battles.
Do not let anyone deceive you in this matter. We must do the fighting, going through a process of battles and victories to throw sin out and become holy like God is holy. Therefore, we can be and will be as holy, as pure, as Christ-like, as we want to be.
EIGHTEEN THINGS GOD HAS GIVEN US TO DO
Sanctification is for everyone who puts their faith and trust in Jesus for salvation from sin. Yet knowing that this is God’s intention and experiencing it as God intends can be as far apart as the east is from the west. However, failure to be sanctified as God intends is never God’s fault. It is our fault. God has done, and will continue to do, everything necessary to empower and enable us to be conformed to the image of His son, Jesus Christ. (A review of God’s promises confirms this.) We must do our part if purity is to come. We must want to get rid of sin and do our part in getting rid of it if God’s sanctifying process is to accomplish its intended work of purifying us.
Following are eighteen things God asks us to do in the process of sanctification. They come directly from God’s Word. Read each one carefully. Give serious consideration to what God asks us to do. And as you read, pray for God’s help in clearly seeing how you can improve your part in cooperating with God’s sanctifying process.
1. ACT ON THE TRUTH YOU ALREADY KNOW
Everyone who hears or reads the Word of God and does what it says may be compared to a wise man who built his house on a solid foundation. Anyone who hears or reads the Word of God and does not do what it says is like the foolish man who built his house on the sand - thinking the ground is foundation enough. The house built on the solid foundation will stand (be approved at the judgment of God), whereas the house built on the sand will fall (be condemned to eternal banishment in hell).
The important point here is to live up to what you know. If you know two things or a thousand things about right and wrong, live up to what you know. Be diligent, serious minded, careful, and consistent in doing what you know is right. Be equally diligent to not do what you know is wrong. What you expect of others, do yourself. What you do not like in others, do not allow in yourself. Where you know what is right, do what is right. Where you know what is wrong, do not do what is wrong. Live up to the knowledge you have about right and wrong.
Truly, it is not how much you know, but what you do with what you know that separates the sheep from the goats, the born-again believers from the unbelievers, the children of God from the children of the devil. And, living up to what you know cannot be fulfilled by selective goodness - as if living up to eighty percent of what you know is right means you are building your house on a solid foundation. God, in His Word, confirms that selective goodness is not true goodness. He says that no one who is born-again deliberately and repeatedly does what he knows is wrong (practices sin). The one who practices sin, who deliberately and repeatedly does what he knows is wrong, be it in one thing or many, is a child of the devil. So do not take lightly your responsibility to live up to what you know. Therefore, to promote the sanctifying process in your life, make it your goal to do what you know is right. (Note: Matthew 7:24-27; James 1:22-25; I John 3:2-10)
2. CHOOSE LOVE
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. This is God’s requirement, and there is no requirement greater than this. Therefore, choose love.
When we choose love, we are choosing to make God’s good the primary concern in everything we think, believe, do, and say. (This is how we love God, by doing what He says. I John 5:3)
When we choose love, we are choosing to seek the good of everyone affected in any way by our choices and behavior. (Love does no harm to its neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:10)
When we choose love, we are voluntarily choosing to do what we know is right out of concern for the good of God and the good of others. Any other motive for doing good preserves the good of self as its primary concern. This means there is more of self than there is love in the deeds done, which means it is not true goodness. Therefore, the right motive is vital to true goodness and our prolonged practice of doing good. We see the importance of this truth to God in His words to the Corinthians. (May each of us do as we have purposed in our hearts; not grudgingly or under pressure; because God loves a cheerful giver. II Corinthians 9:7; And if I give all my worldly wealth to meet the needs of the poor, and if I give my life in service to others, but do not love, I will not receive the rewards given by God to those who act from the motive of love. I Corinthians 13:3)
When we choose love, it is because we have come to value, above all else, relationships built on mutual love and trust. This high regard for meaningful relationships is the direct result of a lovingly intimate relationship with God, our Father. In other words, in being reconciled to Him and living in intimate companionship and communion with Him, we clearly see that God’s grand and noble purpose in creating us is to join with Him and all who love as He loves in meaningful relationships. We see how quickly and thoroughly self-centeredness damages and destroys such relationships. And, we see that only love promotes and protects meaningful relationships. Therefore, we zealously deny self and put relationship-building love in its place - for the sake of our relationship with God, and then for the sake of promoting and protecting meaningfully mutual relationships with all whom God loves. Should such an effort be absent, it means we have yet to be born-again. (. . .everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. If we do not love, it is proves we do not know God, for God is love. I John 4:7b-8)
Love is a choice. It is the choice to seek the good of everyone affected by our thoughts, attitudes, words, and deeds. It is the choice to do what we know is right, for the good of God and all whom God loves. Endearment is largely feelings. It is feeling cherished, treasured, admired, respected, accepted, considered, cared for, supported, helped, protected, safe, and secure. It is the kind of feeling which motivates us to love in return - giving as we have received.
When we understand that love is a choice and endearment is a feeling, we can better understand why God will not make us love anyone, Himself included. He has loved us, first, thus giving us the motivation of endearment to love as we have been loved. He will do everything in His power to help us develop true love, if we ask for His help. He empowers us and provides everything we need to love as He loves us. But we must make the voluntary and deliberate choice to love. We must get up each day and put on love until it is our nature to love, just as it is God’s nature to love.
If we willfully neglect love, we will be saying by our neglect that we do not yet know God, or that we no longer want to know God. So do not take lightly your responsibility to love - to seek the good of everyone affected in any way by your choices and behavior. Therefore, to promote the sanctifying process in your life, make it your goal to love as you are loved by God. (Note: Matthew 22:36-40; Luke 6:27-35; Ephesians 5:1-2; Philippians 2:3-4; Colossians 3:14; I Peter 4:8-10; I John 4:7-8, 11)
3. DON'T LOVE THE WRONG THINGS
The world is full of attractive, pleasing, self-exalting, self-gratifying, monetarily enriching, personally empowering, fame producing opportunities, experiences, and possessions. The world also has many good opportunities, worthy experiences, and helpful possessions. Regardless, it is up to us to choose not to love wrong things. This means we are not to love anything which competes with, impedes, or outright blocks our love for God and all whom God loves.
To choose to love someone or something which competes with, impedes, or blocks our love for God is to choose not to love God as God, at all. We clearly see the truth of this in marriage. When a husband has love interests which compete with, impede, or block his love for his wife, it causes her to feel unloved, and rightly so. In choosing to love the wrong things, he is, by his own choosing, choosing not to love his wife as his wife - as the one who should receive his love above all other earthly attractions. God confirms this truth when He says that in loving the wrong things we prove we really do not love Him at all.
Loving right things is essential to progress in the sanctifying process. So do not take lightly your responsibility to resist loving the wrong things. Therefore, to promote the sanctifying process in your life, make it your goal to love in a manner which promotes supreme love of God and love of others which is at least equal to your love of self. Should anyone or anything get in the way of this goal, act quickly to put it in its proper place or remove it altogether. (Note: I John 2:15)
4. MAKE GOD'S WORK YOUR TOP PRIORITY
As a new-born believer who has been adopted into the family of God, make it your number one goal to think and act as one who no longer lives for himself, but for the one who died and rose again on your behalf. In other words, make it your life-long priority to do the work of God - building His kingdom and advancing His righteousness in your area of the world.
Making God’s work our top priority does not come naturally. Doing our own thing, looking out for our own interests, advancing our own well-being, these are the things which come naturally. And these interests are powerful enough to motivate us to put something other than God’s work first when making the following three, life-affecting, hard to change, choices: 1) what career we choose, 2) who we marry, 3) where we live.
If we make any or all of these three choices with something other than God’s work as our top priority, we will proceed to live for self as long as we remain faithful to the choice(s) we made. Therefore, the best way is to make God’s work our top priority before making any of these three choices. But should we come to our senses after having made one or more of them, we must take corrective action if the sanctifying process is to proceed as God intends.
Of course, divorce is not an option for those who have a spouse who will not join them in making God’s work the top priority. Intense prayer, compromise, trade-offs, good conflict resolution - these are the things that offer the most hope for correcting the course. But should nothing work, we are left to live a crippled Christ-like life. But be careful not to despise the crippling spouse. He or she is to be loved and respected as much as ever, for our crippled state is of our own choosing. We can blame no one but ourselves for having made a life-long affecting choice with wrong priorities.
The other two choices, career and location of home, can be changed if you are willing to pay the price. Of course, an unwillingness to pay the price is a clear indication that God’s work is hardly your top priority.
You will need an abundance of wisdom to make the kind of changes which enable you to put God’s work first. So, go to God and ask Him for wisdom until you have the wisdom you need. Knowledge is important, too. Ask those older and wiser for insight and direction. If you have children, thoughtfully and gently help them with whatever adjustments must be made. They are not likely to share your priority, so put yourself in their shoes and help them by seeing these changes through their eyes. And remember, making God’s work your priority does not limit you to missionary work, church, or para-church ministry of some kind. What it means is that your employment and your home location are chosen on the basis of your priority, so that both offer the optimum opportunity to do God’s work.
So then, do not take lightly your responsibility to make God’s work your top priority. It is your responsibility to make the kind of choices which enable you to thoughtfully, persistently, and aggressively keep this as your priority. Therefore, to promote the sanctifying process in your life, make it your goal to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, and in so doing, to live for the one who died for you. (Note: Matthew 6:33; II Corinthians 5:14-15)
5. PUT OFF THE OLD AND PUT ON THE NEW
Put off your old way of living and put on God’s new way of living. This is an activity of your will. It is something you can do. It is something you must do because God will not do this for you. He has given you the responsibility to put sinful desires, evil passions, unloving habits, and self-centered impulses out of your life. In addition, He has given you the responsibility to replace those sinful ways with godly, loving ways.
To put off the old, we must first identify what the old is. The old way is the way of our flesh, the way of self-centeredness, the way of false beliefs, irrational fears, immoral desires, greed, envy, drunkenness, cruel anger, abusive speech, fighting, vengeance, prejudice, bitterness, unkindness, discontent, slander, gossip, dishonesty and other such things as these. God’s Word, the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, our conscience, examining our criticisms of others, good preachers, thought provoking books, and people’s criticisms of us can help us identify what old ways are still in us. Once identified, we have the responsibility to take action equal to the problem for the purpose of casting the old ways out of our lives.
However, a life emptied of old ways is open to any thing, even things worse than what was there. So, replace the old ways with new ways, the ways of God, the ways of love, the ways of right beliefs and rational thinking, of godliness, sensibleness, kindness, forgiveness, compassion, humility, gentleness, patience, contentment, and other such things as these. And here again, God’s Word, knowing how we want to be treated, good teachers, helpful books, and the leading of the Holy Spirit can help us know what new ways need to be added to our lives. Such additions often take time and persistent work because old established patterns must be broken and new ways must be established in their place.
Do not be deceived on this point. If old ways remain, and you know they are there, they remain because you want them there. You determine the pace and the extent to which you cast off sinful ways and put on godly ways. So do not take lightly your responsibility to put off the old ways and replace them with God’s new ways. Therefore, to promote the sanctifying process in your life, make it your goal to seriously, zealously, and persistently work at putting off the old and putting on the new. (Note: Ephesians 4:22-25, 31; Colossians 3:8, 12-13; I Peter 2:1-2)
6. GET RID OF ALL THE DEFILES
The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. Yet it is our responsibility to get rid of all that defiles us. It is our responsibility to throw overboard anything and everything which gets in the way of becoming what God saved us to be. It is our responsibility to become that clean vessel which God can use to accomplish His purposes. It is our responsibility to purify ourselves in anticipation of one day enjoying God’s presence, face-to-face. It is our responsibility, until our dying day, to persevere to the end - to zealously and faithfully take all the action necessary to get rid of all that defiles.
The place to begin in identifying what defiles is to accept personal responsibility for our choices and behavior. Accepting responsibility begins by admitting we do what we do because that is precisely what we want to do, and no one else is to blame. This means no longer blaming circumstances, other people, our past, or God for our failure to choose and do what we know is right. Blaming is the cowards way, the prideful person’s way, the dishonest person’s way, and the self-deceived person’s way of refusing to acknowledge the sin that is in his own life. Seeing clearly what is in us is the first step to getting rid of all that defiles.
Getting rid of all that defiles is not an option. It is as vital to the sanctifying process as marriage partners spending the rest of their lives getting rid of all that damages their relationship in any way is vital to a good marriage. It may take the rest of our lives, but getting rid of all that defiles is never an option to be chosen or set aside at our whim. Indeed, to willfully set it aside is to explicitly proclaim that we do not love God supremely and are no longer interested in loving others as ourselves. To deliberately set it aside is to say we care more about ourselves than about promoting and protecting relationships built on mutual love and trust. To knowingly set it aside is to purposefully stop living for God and return to living for ourselves. This is not the way of love. We may know Christians who have stopped getting rid of all that defiles, but let us never defend this practice.
To knowingly and intentionally stop getting rid of all that defiles is indefensible. Indeed, it is foolish, for it places our souls at great risk of eternal damnation. So do not take lightly your responsibility to get rid of all that defiles. Do not change the word ‘all’ to ‘most’, or think that because you have done it for a number of years you have done enough. Therefore, to promote the sanctifying process in your life, make it your goal to thoughtfully, prayerfully, courageously, tenaciously, and persistently get rid of all that defiles. (Note: II Corinthians 7:1; II Timothy 2:20-21; I John 3:2-3)
7. RENEW YOUR MIND - THINK GODLY
Transformation begins in the mind. What we set our mind on, or what we allow ourselves to think about is what we become. Truly, we are in character the sum of our thoughts. For this very reason the Christian life begins with repentance, which is, a change of mind. In like manner, the Christian life is brought to maturity by the continued transformation of our mind.
However, transforming our mind is no easy task. We are constantly bombarded by temptation to think self-centeredly. We are under pressure by the sinful people around us to think as they think. Radio, television, periodicals, billboards, and the like woo our minds into godless thinking. Add to these the difficulties of life mingled with a bit of self-pity and our thoughts can be as far from godly as Satan’s.
As difficult as it may seem, God has given us the responsibility to renew our mind by directing and redirecting our thoughts so that we think on godly things. It is our responsibility to think thoughts that reinforce our love for God, our complete trust in God, our love of mankind, the value of relationships, our hatred of sin, our denial of self, and our pursuit of holiness. It is our responsibility to reject and discard thoughts that encourage love of self, distrust of God, seeking the good of self at the expense of others, and any other thing that leads us back to godlessness.
We are not always able to control what thoughts come into our mind. For this reason, we may find ourselves thinking vile thoughts. However, we have total control over what we do with such thoughts once we are aware they have entered our minds. Should a wrong thought enter, we can stop the thought and redirect our thoughts toward godly thinking. If good thoughts are there, we can encourage them and strengthen them by dwelling on them. If we need to develop good thinking in a certain area, we can spend time thinking right thoughts about that area when we have the time to meditate on anything we want. In these ways, we can direct and redirect our thoughts toward godly thinking, thus renewing our mind and transforming our life.
If you think about things that are good, true, pure, relationship building, and of a godly nature, it will help you become that kind of person. If you spend time thinking about things that are self-pitying, slanderous, sensual, self-gratifying, haughty, resentful, derogatory, hostile, dishonest, and discouraging, you will be influenced by those thoughts to become that kind of person. So do not take lightly your responsibility to renew your mind by thinking godly. It is your responsibility to choose to think about the kind of things that help you live the Christ-like life. Therefore, to promote the sanctifying process in your life, make it your goal to direct and redirect your thoughts so as to renew your mind and transform your life. (Note: Romans 12:2; Philippians 4:8; Colossians 3:2)
8. THINK OF YOURSELF AS DEAD TO SIN
In his death, Christ died to sin. In his life, he lives for God. According to God’s Word, our old nature was crucified with Christ, thus freeing us from slavery to sin. In being born again, therefore, we can, like Christ, live for God. In accordance with this great truth, think of yourself as dead to the power and practice of sin, and alive to God. This is an activity of our intellect - something we have to do in our thought life. We do this by seeing ourselves, imagining ourselves, thinking of ourselves as freed slaves no longer under the control of our old master, sin. We are free to live as Christ-ones, as ones who can and who intentionally choose to live for God instead of themselves.
As freed ones, we do not have to sin anymore. That old master can threaten, cajole, plead, try to trick us, or any other such thing, but we do not have to do what he says. We can, however, act as those who are under his control. We can even go back and submit, so as to give him control over us. Therefore, to keep from acting like sinners or going back to our old master, sin, we must believe this truth about ourselves, and think of ourselves, as dead to sin and alive to God.
This is important, because how we see ourselves significantly affects how we behave. For this reason, God has made it our responsibility to initiate and sustain a mindset, a mental picture, a perception of ourselves which reinforces our deadness to sin and aliveness to doing what He says. Any lesser view leaves us mentally open to re-submitting to sins influence and control. Surely, we will fail enough without telling ourselves we are still under sin’s control and therefore helpless to stop the practice of known sin.
So do not take lightly your responsibility to think of yourself as dead to sin. This mindset is vital to your spiritual development. And, to hold any other view opens the door to your old master, sin, and allows him to come in. Therefore, to promote the sanctifying process in your life, make it your goal, each and every day, to see yourself as completely dead to sin’s power over you. Then complete that picture by seeing yourself as completely alive to God and eager to do everything He says. As you think this way, you will act this way. (Note: Romans 6:11; Colossians 3:5)
9. TENACIOUSLY PURSUE GODLINESS
Keep on asking, and it shall be given to you. Keep on seeking, and you shall find what you are searching for. Keep on knocking, and the door to what you want will be opened. In other words, pursue godliness through God’s process of sanctification as if you were starving and it was your food, or as if you were dying of thirst and it was your drink, or as if giving up were not an option.
The fervor with which we pursue godliness is up to us. And because we have been given this responsibility, we have the freedom to pursue it lackadaisically or half-heartedly. However, it is reasonable for God to expect that we would pursue godliness with the same tenacity as a wife would expect her husband to pursue putting an end to his infidelity and restoring her reasons to completely trust him. If we don’t godliness at this level, our less then serious effort is saying the same thing about our love for God as what our spouse’s less than serious effort says about his or her love for us.
Trying harder, looking farther, praying longer, hungering, thirsting - these are descriptions of pursuing doing what you know is right in a manner equal to the need. These are descriptions of the level of effort you expect from those whose choices and behavior are adversely affecting you. Therefore, these are descriptions of the level of effort you are responsible to make in cooperating with God’s sanctifying process. So do not take lightly your responsibility to pursue godliness in a manner equal to your need to be godly. To promote the sanctifying process in your life, make it your goal to tenaciously pursue godliness. (Note: Matthew 5:6, 7:7-8)
10. DEVELOP SELF-DISCIPLINE
It is rare to live a day in this world without being tempted. Temptation is all around us, and it even comes from within us. To consistently resist temptation, day-after-day, we need self-discipline. We need self-discipline for preparation, for thought redirection, and for patiently waiting on God to act on our behalf. We need self-discipline for choosing what we know is right, even when we are exhausted or frazzled or stressed beyond the breaking point. We need self-discipline for doing what we know is right when everything within us wants to do what we know is wrong. We need self-discipline for getting up after failure and resetting our sights on becoming all that God saved us to be. We need self-discipline for fighting the enemy, again and again, until he is thoroughly defeated.
Without self-discipline, you will too often do what you know is wrong, or too easily return to what you were. So do not take lightly your responsibility to develop self-discipline. If you understand its necessity in the scholastic arena or on the job, then you can understand its necessity for growing in godliness. Therefore, to promote the sanctifying process in your life, make it your goal to develop self-discipline. (Note: I Timothy 4:7-8)
11. PREPARE FOR HOLY LIVING
No one enters an Olympic race expecting to win without first going through extensive training in preparation for the race. No one takes a final exam with the expectation of passing without preparing for the test. When someone is tipped off that his house is going to be burglarized, he makes preparations to thwart the burglary and protect his possessions. So why do we try to live the Christian life without adequately preparing, each day, to live up to what we know?
The development and improvement of such things as a supreme love of God, rational love for our fellowman, renewal of the mind, thought redirection when tempted, and self-discipline requires work - work in advance of the times when we are most severely tempted or challenged in any of these areas. We will not consistently resist the devil, flee youthful lusts, make no provision for the flesh, think of ourselves as dead to sin, properly respond to our feelings, and guard our tongue without being in a reasonable state of readiness to act when tempted. We cannot develop such readiness without preparation equal to the task. Should we fail to prepare, we will most often do as we have done - thus needlessly prolonging, or outright thwarting, the sanctifying process.
Therefore, do not take lightly your responsibility to prepare each day for holy living. Since most of us can predict with reasonable accuracy what temptations we will face over the course of our day, we can use the non-tempting times to prepare for those times when temptation strikes. By adequately preparing for temptation, we will be ready to do what we know is right. God will make sure we are victorious, but we must enter the battle prepared for the fight. So, to promote the sanctifying process in your life, make it your goal to prepare ahead of time for the trials and temptations which are sure to come your way. (Note: I Corinthians 9:24-27)
12. PRAY FOR WISDOM
God gave Solomon permission to ask for anything he wanted. Solomon asked for wisdom so he could rule Israel in a manner that fulfilled God’s purposes for His people. Like a parent pleased with his child’s request, God gave Solomon the wisdom he asked for, and more. God says He will do the same for us.
God gives us the freedom to ask for wisdom whenever we think we need it. Of course, this means the responsibility to see our need and then go to the source of wisdom, is on us. We must ask before we can receive. God wants us to take full advantage of this gift, but He wants us to see its necessity in our lives, first. Knowing our need for His wisdom is a giant step in the direction of godliness. Knowing our need for His wisdom and then using it to accomplish His purposes is a giant step in the direction of Christian maturity. Therefore, as you see the need for wisdom, pray for wisdom. God will give you all the wisdom you ask for.
So do not take lightly your responsibility to go to God for wisdom. If you are like me, you will need it for understanding the Bible, understanding yourself, understanding others, developing godly character, seeking the good of others, and telling others how to come to faith in God. Therefore, to promote the sanctifying process in your life, make it your goal to ask God, often, for wisdom. (Note: James 1:5)
13. SEARCH THE SCRIPTURES
God provided the Holy Scriptures for our use. They show us the character of God, and make evident the love of God. They teach us what God will do for us. They teach us what is right, and how to do what is right. They reprove and correct us when we get off the path and do what we know is wrong. They provide examples of how to love God supremely and seek the good of everyone affected by our choices and behavior. If we read the Bible, study it, and mediate on it, it will do us great good.
However, if the Bible is to help us, we must dig into it and thoughtfully consider what it says. Therefore, it is our responsibility to make the time necessary to study what God says to us through His Word. It is our responsibility to ask God’s Holy Spirit to guide us into truth as we study the Bible. It is our responsibility to seek out those who are more mature and wiser, so we can learn what they have learned from God’s Word. It is our responsibility to use good books to give direction in our study and explanation of what we are studying. Truly, if the Bible is to lead us in the way of godliness, we must open it, open ourselves to it, and then apply what it says to the way we live.
So do not take lightly your responsibility to search the scriptures. Any serious, God inspired study will help you grow in your understanding of God and in your discernment of how God wants you to live. Therefore, to promote the sanctifying process in your life, make it your goal to regularly read, study, and meditate on God’s Word. (Note: II Timothy 3:16; I Peter 2:2)
14: USE YOUR TIME WISELY
Be careful how you use your time so that you do not to waste the time you have. We have twenty-four hours in our day, three hundred and sixty-five days in a year, and only so many years to become what God has saved us to be. And just as important, we have very little time to do our part in fulfilling God’s purposes in our world. How we use our hours, days, and years says a lot about what is important to us. If we choose to use our time wisely, we can make the most of God’s working in us and with us to sanctify us and use us to accomplish His will in our world.
God wants you to use your time wisely for the sake of everyone affected in any way by your choices and behavior. Those whom you are hurting with your sinfulness want you to use your time wisely so as to bring a reasonably quick end to your hurtful behavior. Your family wants you to use your time wisely so you can give them the attention and affection they need. In addition, evangelistic fervor calls you to use your time wisely for the sake of bringing unbelievers to faith in God. But only you can decide how you will use your time. God will not decide this matter for you. God and others may decide your circumstances, but only you decide how you will use your time in whatever circumstances you are in. So do not take lightly your responsibility to use what time you have as wisely as possible. Indeed, to promote the sanctifying process in your life, make it your goal to use your time effectively and efficiently so as to get the most out of God’s sanctifying process. (Note: Ephesians 5:15-16)
15. RESIST SINNERS WHEN THEY SIN
Make it your goal to not participate in the sinful practices of those around you. Instead, expose sin for what it is. Show the sinner how his self-centeredness hurts himself and unjustly harms others. This will help protect you from the ever invasive tentacles of sin.
To join with sinners in their sinning, for whatever reason (fear of rejection, pressure to conform, not wanting to lose our job, thoughtlessness), re-opens us to sin’s influence and feeds our self-centeredness. We cannot do this without letting the devil get his foot in the door of our lives - a foothold that weakens our determination to do away with all sin. But there’s more. To overlook or act as if we are tolerant of the sinful behavior of others makes us a party to the harmful affects of a sinner’s sin on others. In this way we weaken our commitment to love, especially our commitment to love others as we want to be loved.
Therefore, do not take lightly your responsibility to resist sinners when they sin. It is your responsibility to choose friends and associates who will help you grow in godliness, not tempt you or pull you into sin. It is your responsibility to say no to sinners who want to sin, even if you lose your job or your friends or your life. To promote the sanctifying process in your life, make it your goal to resist sinners in their attempts to sin. (Note: Matthew 18:15-17; Romans 16:17-18; I Corinthians 5:9-13, 15:33; Ephesians 5:11; Titus 3:10)
16. DO NOT RETURN TO THE PRACTICE OF SIN
Do not let the accumulative and addictive power of sin enslave you again. God has done all that is necessary to free you from sin’s influence and practice. Now it is up to you to act in a manner which protects the freedom He has given you. Therefore, consistently do what you know to do. And, add the following eight sin-deflectors to your daily ‘to-do’ list. These eight sin-deflectors will work miracles in keeping you from returning to the practice of any known sin. (Note: Romans 6:12)
A. Resist the devil. Try following Jesus’ example of resisting the devil as recorded in Luke 4:1-13. He quoted scripture to put an end to each temptation. So, memorize scripture verses pertinent to the temptations you expect. In this way, they will be on your mind and ready for use. When you are tempted, quote them, and the devil will have to flee. Can you think of a better way to remain faithful to doing what you know is right. Truly, this provides God-empowered, life-long protection from returning to your old sinful ways. (Note: James 4:7; I Peter 5:8-9)
B. Do not give the devil an opportunity to regain his former influence in your life. Watch out for the little sins, the around the house sins, the sins you think are acceptable because everyone is doing them, and the sins you feel you must commit to remain emotionally or financially secure. Any sin, willfully committed and justified or casually confessed, lets the devil get his foot in the door. Once his foot is in, he’ll do everything in his power to move back in. Say no to sin before it gets started. If you sin, humbly and thoroughly make everything right with whomever you have wronged by your sin. Keep the devil out, foot and all. (Note: Ephesians 4:27)
C. Do not get involved in anything that stimulates your selfish and lustful desires, impulses, and passions. Stimulating such things in wrong ways makes it far more difficult to say no to temptation. Be careful what you allow yourself to look at, listen to, think about, and get involved in. What starts innocently, in these matters, can easily end in sin. (Note: Romans 13:14)
D. Flee immorality. To decrease the power of sensual temptation, stay as far away as possible from those things which stimulate sinful sexual urges. This requires admitting what attracts you and discerning what you need to do to avoid it. It takes planning and preparation, thought and effort. It demands distance, as much as possible, as opposed to getting as close as possible while trying not to sin. (Note: I Corinthians 6:18; I Thessalonians 4:3-7; Hebrews 13:4)
E. Flee youthful lusts. Youth is filled with many desires which distract us from what we ought to be doing and/or lead us directly into sin. Curiosity is often one of those excessive drives which has gotten many a young person in trouble. See your youthful desires and drives for what they were. Then, do what is necessary to run from any of these excessive desires and drives when they come knocking on the door of your life. (Note: II Timothy 2:22; I Peter 2:11)
F. Flee from idolatry. For many of us modern day Christians, idol worship seems as remote or as distant as the Roman Empire. However, God points out that greed is idolatry. Money can become your god. In fact, anything in which you put your trust to promote and protect your well-being which, in doing its job, displaces or replaces God, becomes your idol. So flee every form of idolatry. (Note: I Corinthians 10:14; Colossians 3:5; Matthew 6:19-24; I Timothy 6:17-19)
G. Flee the love of money. Flee the love of what money can buy, be it power, possessions, popularity, pleasures of every kind, luxury, or financial security. Money is a tool whose most important use should be that of meeting your needs and helping you love your neighbor as yourself, especially those neighbors who are less fortunate than you. (Note: I Timothy 6:9-10; Hebrews 13:5-6)
H. Do whatever is necessary to remove the sin which holds such an attraction to you that you are easily seduced by it. Each of us has a favorite sin. Mine may be abhorrent to you, which means my favorite sin could never by your favorite sin. But that does not mean you don’t have a favorite sin, too. Our favorite sin is often the hardest to get rid of. Identify it. Be honest about it. Then make sure you do everything necessary to kick it out and keep it out of your life. (Note: Hebrews 12:1)
17. REGULARLY EXAMINE YOURSELF
Personal integrity seems to be a lost art. It is a forsaken quality and a neglected ingredient in the pursuit of godliness. Don’t forsake it, or neglect it. Develop it.
God knows what is in your heart. He knows what you are doing and why. Yet He has given you the responsibility to examine yourself. You are to assess your own behavior to see if it is consistent with what you say you believe, or if you are at least doing what you know is right. You are to look honestly at yourself and determine if you are making commendable progress in the sanctifying process. You are to discern what must be strengthened and what should be changed to continue making good progress. You can ask God to search your heart and reveal to you what He sees. But even that begins with you taking it upon yourself to ask. Self-examination is your responsibility.
So do not take lightly your responsibility to regularly examine yourself. Ask yourself tough questions. Take a careful look to see if you are participating in any known sin. Put yourself in others’ shoes and see how your behavior is affecting them. Ask others how they see you, or what they see in you which they think needs to be corrected. See what your repetitive choices and behavior say about who or what you love the most. Check your motives. See if your efforts to change are equal to your need to change. If you neglect self-examination, you have no one but yourself to blame for a less than adequate effort in cooperating with God’s sanctifying process. Therefore, to promote the sanctifying process in your life, make it your goal to examine yourself regularly. (Note: I Corinthians 11:31-32; II Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 6:4)
18. PERSEVERE TO THE END
Persevere to the end. Do not give up, even if you feel exhausted from the battle. Do not quit, even if you are discouraged and wondering if victory is possible. Do not slow down in your pursuit of God and His righteousness, even if you think you have changed enough. If you quit after winning only a partial victory, you will do just as the Israelites did in the Promised Land, you will return to practice of known sin.
The goal of sanctification is to destroy sin - all sin - in your life. The key to the destruction of sin in you is to persevere in the process of sanctification until death removes you from this life, or until Jesus returns. So, make the hard choices, the easy choices, and the necessary choices to persevere to the end. If you do, you will be sanctified. (Judges 1:27-2:13; Matthew 24:12-13; Hebrews 12:2-13)
FOUR SUGGESTIONS FOR PROGRESS
1. THINK SERIOUSLY AND DEEPLY
Thinking seriously and deeply about God, the purposes of God, why right is right and wrong is wrong, why we do what we do, how our behavior affects others, and what our part is in the process of sanctification does not seem to come naturally. And sadly, many preachers, Bible teachers, church leaders, and parents want to tell us what to do without teaching us how to think so we can understand why right is right and wrong is wrong.
Of course, knowing what to do is vital. But understanding the why is equally vital. It opens the door to doing what is right from conviction rather than obligation. It makes it possible to apply godly principles to new situations. And, it improves our ability to help others understand the truth by which we choose to live.
However, if you are to be a thinking Christian seeking to understand the what and the why, you must work at it. You may have to work at it on your own because so few want to think this seriously and deeply. Don’t let that deter you. God is resource enough should there be no one else to help you.
To develop the art of serious thinking, try these suggestions. Begin by regularly (daily) asking God to teach you how to be a thinking Christian. Make it clear you want to know as much about the what and why of Christianity as is humanely possible. Keep asking until you are convinced He has answered your prayer. At the same time, seek out thinking people and ask them to teach you how to be more thoughtful. Refuse to settle for shallow answers, undefined generalizations, spiritual clichés, circular reasoning, and speculation treated as fact. Avoid exaggerations and extremism. Read the Bible with a dictionary close at hand. Look up words you vaguely understand to gain a clearer, larger, more personally applicable understanding. Think about why God says to do certain things and why He says not to do other things. Ask those who tell you what to do to explain in plain, understandable terms why they believe it is the right thing to do. Test every what and why against the principle of love. Find out if it seeks the good of everyone affected when put into practice. Look carefully at the short and long term consequences of people’s choices and behavior - especially your own. Look at your life as a whole and see how your choices help or hinder your growth to Christian maturity.
Practice thinking this deeply and you will become a more serious thinker. Use this kind of thinking in your pursuit of God and it will help you in becoming what God saved you to be. There is no shame in not knowing as much as others know. The shame comes from not using, to its created potential, the mind God has so graciously given to you.
2. PRAY WISELY, PRAY PERSISTENTLY
Prayer is an essential part of growing to Christian maturity. We should develop a prayer life which makes God an indispensable father and integral partner in our sanctifying process. We need His participation to be sanctified. And, we need to be keenly aware of His participatory presence if we are to consistently rely on Him in the process and go hand-in-hand with Him through the process. Therefore, we are wise to pray thoughtfully and frequently, for this depth of reliance and companionship is best nurtured through prayer. (Note: Hebrews 4:16)
Praying wisely includes being careful that we do not contradict our prayers by our choices and behavior. How easy it is to ask God for help in the sanctification process, and then proceed to live in such a way as to work against the help He gives. Many times I have asked God to work in me to bring about needed changes only to discover several days or weeks later that I didn’t really want to change. I liked my sin and life as I was living it. So even though I was praying for God to help me change, I was at the same time resisting and sabotaging God’s efforts by my repeated and treasured choices and behavior.
Upon coming to my senses in each of these cases it became apparent that I needed to change my prayer lest I go on contradicting my prayer by my choices and behavior. I needed to tell God my true thoughts and feelings about this area of change. I needed to tell Him that I wanted to change but I didn’t want to change. Then, I needed to ask Him to help me come to the place where I genuinely wanted to change so I could begin cooperating with His process of change. In my experience, persistence in this prayer has always led to a strong enough desire to change to become a cooperative participant in God’s sanctification process. So, be careful not to contradict your prayers by your choices and behavior. If you see that your are, make that the issue of prayer until it is settled between you and God. Then you can proceed to attack and pray about the issue which you know needs to be changed to become more like Jesus.
Praying persistently is essential, too. Persistence is our way of staying with an issue until it is settled between God and us. It is our way of letting God know we mean business, that the matter we are placing before Him is as vital to us as life itself. How easy it is to pray seriously about a serious matter one moment and then get so embroiled in the affairs of life that we forget what seemed so important just moments, days, weeks, or months before. If we wish God to believe a matter is important, and indeed, if it is truly important to us, we had better persist in prayer until the matter is settled between God and us. In relation to sanctification this often means praying about character, thought, habit, and emotional changes for six months to a year, for such changes take time and repeated effort.
Praying wisely leads to asking for what really matters. The Scriptures give us some great prayers and prayer requests to use as helps in deciding what we should pray for in relation to God’s sanctifying process. Below are a few of these scriptures for your consideration and encouragement.
EXODUS 33:12b-13a, 18
Moses said to the Lord, ". . .You have said, ‘I have known you by name and you have also found favor in My sight.’ (13) "Now, if I have found favor in Your sight, teach me all of Your ways that I may know You personally and intimately, and so that I may please You in all that I do." (18) Then Moses said, "I beg of You, show me Your glory!"
EPHESIANS 1:15, 17-19a
Having heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus, and your love for all the saints, (17) I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the ability and desire to soak up the wisdom of Christ and comprehend all that his life reveals so that you can know him fully. (18) I pray that your mind and heart may be enlightened, so that you may know the purpose for which Christ has called you, the richness of the glory he receives as we live for him, (19) and the surpassing greatness of the power he makes available to everyone who believes in him.
I pray that your love may flourish and increase still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, (10) so that you may identify and cherish the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.
We continually pray for you, asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, (10) so that you may live in a manner which brings due honor and glory to our Lord, which pleases Him in all respects, which brings forth fruit in every good work, and which causes you to keep growing in the your knowledge of Him. (11) We pray that you will be strengthened with all power, according to God’s unsurpassed power, so that you will be faithful and patient in your Christian life; joyfully (12) giving thanks to the Father in everything.
I THESSALONIANS 3:12-13
May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people everywhere, just as we love you; (13) so that He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before God, our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His followers.
3. GET HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT
If you need help or counsel, seek it until you find the help that meets your need. Refuse to let shame or an inadequate helper keep you from getting the help you need. Discipleship is God’s idea. It is one of God’s provisions for making progress in the process of sanctification. So when you need it, look for competent help and counsel until you find it. And as you look, be asking God to lead you to people who can answer your questions, teach you the truth, and show you how to apply truth in the most practical ways possible.
4: HAVE A PLAN AND WORK YOUR PLAN
It is important to know where you are going. It is equally important to know how you are going to get there. Planning and preparation require organization. Organization requires methods. To help those who do not know where to start in their planning and preparations, I offer a method that has been a great help to me. Take this as a suggestion of what to do, not as the only method available. You need to test it to make sure it works for you. If it doesn’t work for you, modify it or look for another method that does. But be wise! Make your plans. Prepare at a level equal to the task before you. Then, when you go into battle, you will have a plan, you will be dressed in battle gear, and you will be ready for whatever the enemy throws at you.
1. Identify a thought pattern, habit, or behavior that you know is wrong and needs to be changed. Determine when and how you are most often tempted to do this thing you know is wrong. Then, write a concise statement about the wrong you want to change and the most common way(s) you are tempted to do it.
2. Consider the consequences:
A. Examine the short-term consequences of yielding to the temptation. Look at the consequences on yourself and anyone else affected by doing this thing you know is wrong. To identify the destructive consequences, look for ways in which the wrong directly harms others and/or damages your relationship with them - including God. Look for ways in which this wrong harms you and sets you up for more problems. To identify the self-gratifying consequences, look for ways in which this thing gratifies any selfish interests or desire, thus benefiting you in some, though certainly a wrong, way.
B. Examine the long-term consequences (one month, one year, five years) of yielding to the temptation., Look at the consequences on yourself and anyone else affected by doing this thing you know is wrong. Identify the self-serving benefits, the harm done to others and to your relationship with them (be sure to include God), and its destructive effects in your life.
C. Examine the short-term consequences of saying no to the temptation. Identify one or more ways in which doing what’s right seems to cost you, especially at first. Look for ways in which doing what is right directly promotes, or at least protects, the good of others (including God) and your relationship with them. Look for ways in which doing right minimizes future problems.
D. Examine the long-term consequences (one month, one year, five years) of saying no to the temptation. Don’t be surprised if there are some long-term costs. Not everyone will praise you for doing what is right. So identify possible costs, too. Identify the benefits to others, how it should improve your relationship with them (including God), and how it makes you a better person, thus enabling you to better love others as yourself.
3. Use the Scriptures:
A. Look for a verse(s) from God’s Word which speaks about the wrong you have identified in number one.
B. Seek to understand what God’s Word says you ought to be doing in place of the wrong you have been doing.
C. Pick a verse that will help you resist the wrong and do what is right when tempted. Write it out. Memorize it. Meditate on it. Then use it!
4. Daily preparation must be done during non-testing times. This is best done when you are alone. You can set quiet time aside for this or use times when your task allows for thinking about other things, such as when driving alone, shaving, brushing teeth, showering, doing laundry or dishes, etc.
A. In an attitude of prayer, tell God what it is you want changed. Ask for increased sensitivity to the problem so that you not only see when it is happening, but you see it coming. Ask for wisdom to deal with every facet of it. Remind God you are depending on His empowerment and provision to be successful. Remind Him that you want to do this for His honor and glory in the world, and for the well-being of everyone affected by your choices and behavior.
B. In an attitude of prayer, review with God all the consequences listed in number two. Use this information to reinforce how foolish and destructive sin is, and how good, God-honoring, and relationship building it is to do what you know is right.
C. In an attitude of prayer, review with God what He says in His Word about this area of needed change. Affirm your commitment to do what He says. Review how you will use your chosen scripture verse to help you resist temptation and redirect your thoughts toward doing what you know is right.
D. In an attitude of prayer, look ahead and determine the most likely times during the day when you will be tempted in regards to number one. Ask God to help you be more sensitive to those times so they do not catch you unaware. Then practice (in your mind) facing the temptation, resisting it, and making the godly choice.
E. In an attitude of prayer, look back to the last time you were tested in this area. If you failed the test, review the situation. Think about how you might have handled it better. Then picture yourself going through that situation again and handling it right. Use this practice as one means of preparing to handle testing in the future.
5. What to do when you sin:
A. Be humble enough to acknowledge your sin without making any excuse or explanation. Be sincere enough to make right whatever wrong you have done to anyone, beginning with God.
B. Do not give in to discouragement or false guilt. Wallowing in despair helps no one. Use your energy to get back on track and make more progress in overcoming the sin. In time, doing the right thing will become a habit that replaces your old, sinful practice.
C. Remember, perfection is what we are aiming for. But progress, equal to the need, is the best we will do in this life. Be realistic. Sanctification is a process that depends on consistent, accumulative progress to achieve its goal. So, aim for perfection, but be content with consistent, measurable, God-honoring progress.
Self-centeredness, evil thoughts, sinful habits, irrational fears, fueled passions, and foolish behavior die hard. You cannot kill them off without God’s help. Use all He provides. This includes the idea of accountability. Seek help from a trusted friend, family member, fellow church attender, counselor, or your minister. Reveal your problem and what you are doing to change it. Ask for prayer and accountability. This means asking the person to join you in praying for change and in making regular checks to see if you are following through in doing what you must to make commendable progress. On those days you would rather sin, or give up the fight, they can offer support, encouragement, advice, and admonition. When you fail, they can help you get back on track. This may be embarrassing, yet the cost of embarrassment is nothing compared to the gain of becoming all that God has called you to be in Christ Jesus.
It is never a question of God wanting to sanctify us or being able to sanctify us. It is always a question of our wanting to be sanctified, and then validating our wanting by entering the process and doing our part. Have you entered the process of sanctification? Are you doing your part?
There is no easy way, no short cut, no magic wand to sanctification. It requires work - hard work. It requires perseverance - to the end. It requires taking personal responsibility for what you are and what you can be. God has done His part. Will you do yours? If you will, you will be sanctified, completely.
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