The Glorious Doctrine of Sanctification(2).
The Holy Scriptures — the Special Instrument of the Holy Spirit.
“Sanctify them by your truth, your word is truth” (John 17:17)
In the previous article, we saw that sanctification is a life long process. The Lord has begun a good work in us, and he intends to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). His great purpose is to make us like the Lord Jesus Christ, and, therefore, ready to share his glory. Of course, we shall never be absolutely perfect in this life; we shall feel and wrestle with inward sin until we are finally delivered from it through death, or when the Lord returns. We also briefly noted that we have to share in this great work. In a later article we must consider what we are called to do, towards our sanctification.
In this article we must examine the very important place of the word of God in this process. As we shall see later, God plans all the circumstances and experiences of our lives in the interest of our sanctification, but none of these would be of any use if the Lord were not also bringing the Scriptures to bear upon us. Indeed, we might well say our joys and sorrows, problems, suffering, disappointments and all the other experiences we must face to move our hearts to a deeper appreciation of his truth and its impact upon our souls. The ups and downs of life drive his truth into our hearts!
The Prayer of Jesus
I am sure that you would agree that John 17 is an extraordinarily rich passage in the word of God. The Lord Jesus is praying to his Father before He proceeds to the climax of all His suffering in the world. He prays for His disciples and, indeed, for all who will believe on him through their word. He is concerned that his elect will be kept safe from the evil one and that they should be sanctified by your truth(vs 5-17). In verse 11 He commences this special prayer for His people by addressing the Father as a Holy Father. It is very significant that the adjective holy and the verb sanctify are derived from the same root. Jesus is, therefore, praying that, through the word of God, his people might become more and more like God himself!
Before we consider the place of God’s truth in this process, we ought to marvel at another point that is here in these words. Jesus does not pray that his people will be taken out of this world but that they will be delivered from the power of Satan and be sanctified. The process of sanctification goes on while we are in this totally wicked world! Even while we are surrounded by sin and subjected to all the attacks of the Devil and the world, we are to become more and more holy. This surely teaches us that the Lord has victory over all the works of the Devil and over-rules even that terrible adversary of our souls to our blessing.
The Powerful Word of God
It is good to remember that we are granted repentance and faith through the operation of the word of God in our hearts. As the Holy Spirit applied the pure word of the gospel to us, we were convicted of our sin and brought to trust Christ. We are told in Romans 10:17 that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. In 1 Cor 15:1–2, Paul wrote: Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you- unless you believed in vain. The New testament is full of similar references to the life giving word of the gospel. It was not man’s thoughts that brought us to Christ, but powerful word of God which the Spirit applied effectually into our hearts.
Now God goes on applying Scripture in a life changing way to us. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: For this reason we also thank God, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in the truth, the word of God, which so effectively works in you who believe( 1 Thessalonians 2:13). God causes his word to work in believers and there are similarities in the way he applied his word in our hearts to bring us to faith in Christ, and the way he goes on applying it to lead us on in sanctification. Perhaps the most obvious is the way the word goes on convicting our hearts of sin. Of course, the Lord does not show us all our sin when he brings us to first trust Christ. The whole process of sanctification involves the gradual revelation of our sin to us, teaching us to loathe it and repent of it. In the Scriptures we continue to see the immense contrast between Christ and us, and we are made to strive to be like him. Our consciences are continually stirred as we read the Bible and hear it preached.
The Holy Spirit, using the Bible shows us the hatefulness of sin in other ways. For example it shows us how man’s arrogance or his lust for the things of this world are keeping many from Christ and leading them to the everlasting ruin of Hell. When we see that very clearly, we see sin in its true colors and are the more determined to become holy men and women of God. The Lord teaches us from his word about the great joys of holiness and heaven,and thus creates within us a hunger and thirst of righteousness. Through Scripture we are taught to watch and pray, and warned against the deceitfulness and lies of Satan.
The Word of God Applied to Circumstances
The Holy Spirit makes our circumstances the means by which divine truth is impressed upon our hearts. So often we know what the Bible says, but we do not really feel the force of it. It is in days of pain and sorrow, disappointment or anxiety that our hearts are opened to receive the word in a special way. Sometimes it is when we feel our lowest and most discouraged that the Lord is most powerfully impressing his word upon us. In Psalm 119:67, the writer declares: Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. In verse 7 he adds: it is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statues. The implication is that, had he not been afflicted, he would not have learned the word of God in the same way.
We shall consider the place of suffering a little more in our next article, but we must stress that suffering, by itself, does not make us more holy. It is suffering in the light of God’s word that has the desired effect. Job was cast down very low in his suffering, but when the Lord spoke to him, even before he was restored and enjoyed greater blessings than ever, he made great spiritual progress.
We All Need The Word of God.
Every believer must be receiving Scriptures regularly. Those of us who pastor and lead the people of God must explain to them that their progress to glory depends upon their constant exposure to the Bible. You must read it and meditate upon it continually. You must be attentive to the sound and thorough exposition of the Holy Scriptures in your churches. Churches which don’t have a faithful preacher of the word are denying their members what they need for their spiritual progress. Similarly Christians must not forsake the preaching ministry of their churches. They will suffer if they neglect to assemble with their brethren when the word is being preached. Further, they must come to the preaching occasions with hearts prepared to listen and to receive what the Lord will say to them.
In days of sickness and of old age,the Lord’s people need the word of God as much as ever. That is why it is important for the pastor or elders of the church to visit the house-bound and spend time ministering the word to them. It is also important for pastors to remember that they need the word of God applied regularly to their own souls as much as anyone else and that there can be so much preaching and ministering, that one’s own soul can be deprived.
Just imagine, how terrible it would be if the Lord took his word away from us, if the preaching were silenced and we had no appetite for the Bible!
We all ought to pray; Direct my steps according to your word and let no iniquity have dominion over me(Psalms 119:133).
Article edited and re-shared from Grace and Truth magazine issue №78 (1996), Nigel Lacey.