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God’s Will - Our Sanctification
I’d like to talk to you tonight about a question that comes up frequently in our Christian circles.  Sometimes we mention it to each other or have study group discussions on it or hear it preached about.  And sometimes we just keep it to ourselves and think about it quietly.  But the question always goes something like this: “What is God’s will for me?  I wonder what God’s will is for my life?”  Christian young people who are finishing high school or going through college and preparing to start life on their own ask this question a lot.  They realize that they have their whole life before them and they want to know what God’s will is for how they spend it.  They wonder, “What vocation does God want me to pursue?  What college degree does He want me to get?  Who does He want me to marry?”  We as Christian adults and parents ask this question too.  There are important career and family decisions to be made - decisions that will impact others as well as ourselves - and we want to be sure to make the right choices.  “Does God want me to keep this job or look for a different one?  Does He want our family to keep living here or should we move to a different city?  How much money does He want me to spend or save?  What Christian ministries does He want me to be involved in?”  And although I can’t say so from personal experience, I’m sure that older Christians have similar questions that they ask, things like,  “When does God want me to retire?  What would He like us to spend our golden years doing?”  And maybe even, “Is it God’s will that I recover from this physical condition or illness?”  We want to know what God desires for us so that we can follow Him and grow closer to Him.  We sincerely want to accept His will and be pleasing to Him.

Then why does it seem like God is so silent about what His will is?  I mean, we ask some very specific questions about the day-to-day decisions of our lives but it seems like God’s Word is fairly silent on a lot of these issues beyond just some general guidelines.  Let me give you an example.  One of the biggest, life-impacting decisions I’ve ever made was to marry Abby.  I prayed and prayed that God would make His will clear to me because I didn’t want to marry someone that He didn’t want me to.  But there was no verse in the Bible that said, “Jonathan Anderson, you are to marry Abby.”  In fact there wasn’t even a passage that said how long a guy should date a girl, or one that said a guy should establish himself in a career before getting married.  Here’s another example.  How much of my money does God want me to give to a church or to some Christian work?  There are some who say that according to the Bible we’re to give 10 percent, and there are others who say 10 percent is the bare minimum of what we ought to give.  But there’s no place in the New Testament where we Christians are told what percentage is right.  There are some general guidelines like God loves a cheerful giver (II Cor. 9:7), but there’s nothing more specific than that.  Why is God so silent about specific issues like this?  Don’t they matter?  It surely seems like these sorts of issues are critical in shaping the courses of our lives.  And since God is concerned about the courses of our lives, why doesn’t He make His will a little clearer?

Actually, there are quite a few places in the Bible where God does explain to us what His will is.  It’s something that He wants us to know.  It’s not something that’s hidden from everyone except from those who are really diligently searching for it.  God’s will is spread all across the pages of the Old and New Testaments, and every page contains the same theme.  Quite a number of passages specifically use the phrase “the will of God” and each of these passages has the same general thrust.  Tonight I’d like to look at a few of these passages together.  

The first one is Luke 7:29-30.  Let me give you a little background.  Six months before Jesus began teaching, preaching, and healing, God sent the prophet John the Baptist to prepare the people for Jesus’ ministry.  John’s message was that the people should repent of their sins.  He emphasized that no one person is better than any other because all are sinful and in need of a Savior.  He preached that people ought to have a mighty change of mind in how they think about themselves.  Instead of excusing their actions, they ought to acknowledge them as sin against God and turn to Him.  Many people responded to John‘s message by repenting of their sins and confessing them, and then John baptized them.  At the time of this Luke 7 passage, John had been put into prison and Jesus was teaching the people.  He told them that John had been a great prophet of God.  And then verses 29-30 say, When all the people heard [Jesus], even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John.  But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God  for themselves, not having been baptized by [John].  Even the notoriously wicked tax collectors agreed with God that they were sinners, but the proud and self-righteous religious and civic leaders rejected John’s message of repentance.  They rejected the notion that they had any sin to be repented of, and in doing so they rejected God’s will for themselves.  It’s God’s will that all people, including you and I, repent of our sin and turn to Him.

The second passage I want to read about God’s will is Galatians 1:3-4.  Here it says that our Lord Jesus Christ . . . gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.  Sin is the nature born into us that wants nothing to do with God and wants to obey ourselves instead of Him.  The whole course of the world around us is sinful too.  Like the verse says, this present age is an evil one.  On our own, we’re trapped in sin and it’s killing us.  The only possible outcome for sin is death, and we’d completely perish and die someday without outside intervention.  But because it’s not God’s will that we should die in our sins, He sent His Son Jesus to die for them instead.  Jesus’ death has already fulfilled the wages for our sin; and if we believe in Jesus, He will give us eternal life.  It’s God’s will to deliver us from sin so that we can live with Him eternally.

So here we have two very clear passages about God’s will, and there are other passages similar to them.  What is God’s will for us?  He wants us to repent of our sins and believe in His Son Jesus as our Savior from sin.  And I trust that we here tonight are living in repentance and faith toward God.  But I also know from personal experience that we Christians sometimes listen to passages like these and say, “I completely agree that it’s God’s will for me to repent and be saved, but I’ve already done that.  Now what?  What’s God’s will for me now that I’m a Christian?  Isn’t there something more?”

In answer to that question, we find that the vast majority of the New Testament was actually written specifically to Christian people.  This includes nearly all of the verses that use the phrase, “the will of God.”  And all of the “will of God” passages have the same main thrust.  It’s the same main thrust as many other portions which are written directly to Christians.  God’s will for us as Christians always goes back to one main thing, and it’s very clear that He wants us to understand what that thing is.  So let’s listen to one of these passages addressed to Christians like us and see what God’s will is.  The verses I’d like to read are I Thessalonians 4:1, 3-5, and 7.  This is part of a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to his Christian friends in Thessalonica in the church he had founded there some time earlier.  He says, Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God . . . For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God . . . For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.  

That’s God’s will for us Christians - our sanctification.  In the verses we read, Paul explains a couple of particular aspects of sanctification:  1. that we shouldn’t live in lustful passions, and  2. that we should walk holy and pleasing to God.  But in general, what is sanctification?  In the original Greek language that the New Testament was written in, the words that we have translated as “sanctify” or “sanctification” are the exact same words as the ones translated “holy” or “holiness.”  In other words, “to sanctify” something means to make it holy.  Holiness is the opposite of uncleanness.  The only thing or being that is perfectly holy is God Himself.  He is completely pure and righteous and good.  There is absolutely nothing bad, sinful, or unclean in Him at all.  The word “holy” is often used in the Bible to describe God.  In fact, the Trinity - the three persons of the Godhead - are the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit might also be called the Sanctifying Spirit.  Being God, He is holy and pure; and wherever he goes He desires to make holy and pure - to sanctify - everything around Him.  When a person becomes a Christian, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside of him.  The fact that He does this is so indisputable that the Bible says, If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His (Rom. 8:9).  When the Holy Spirit comes into us, he creates new life inside of us.  Remember that apart from God and in our sins everything in us tends toward death.  But, the Bible says, if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you (Rom. 8:11).  When the Holy Spirit lives inside of us, He naturally wants to purify, sanctify, make holy his new home and surroundings - which is us.  He wants us to submit to His sanctifying work instead of to our own sinful flesh.  That’s why there are verses like, Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).  There are only those two options.  A person is either being led and controlled by the Holy Spirit, or he’s being controlled by his own sinful flesh.  If he’s controlled by his own sinful flesh, certain evil works will come out of him like adultery, murder, idolatry, hatred, and jealousy.  But if he’s controlled by the Sanctifying Spirit, righteous and holy fruits will come out of him like love, joy, peace, patience, and gentleness.  Of course, there are varying degrees to which a person may be submitted to the Holy Spirit’s work.  But God makes it very clear that it’s His will for us to become completely submitted to and controlled by His Holy Spirit.  That’s sanctification: one’s self being completely taken over by God’s Holy Spirit.  And that is God’s will for us Christians.

Now let’s look at a couple of other passages that mention this phrase, “the will of God,” and let’s be on the lookout for similarities to the passage we just read.  The first passage is in Ephesians 5.  For the sake of time, I’m going to skip some parts and just read verses 1, 8-11, and 17-18.  Therefore be imitators of God as dear children . . . For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.  And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them . . . Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.  Did you see all the elements in those verses?  There is the Holy Spirit present within us.  If we will be filled with Him - if our whole being will be possessed by Him - then His goodness, righteousness, and truth will emanate from us.  We will be imitators of God because God’s Spirit is controlling us and making us do whatever God would do.  Some of the opposites of sanctification listed are darkness, being unwise, unfruitful works of darkness, and being drunk with wine.  That last one is an especially interesting illustration.  If someone is drunk, it’s like they’re being controlled by some force other than themselves.  A lot of times people drink so that their natural inhibitions will go away and they can forget about their problems and feel better.  They don’t want to be controlled by the harsh realities of their lives.  They want to be freed from those.  So they choose to be controlled by alcohol instead.  Being controlled by alcohol is one opposite of being controlled by God’s Spirit.  The Holy Spirit wants to have complete possession of us.  That’s God’s will.

Romans 12:1-2 is another great “will of God” passage.  Paul says, I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  Even though these verses don’t use the word “sanctification” and don’t specifically refer to the Holy Spirit, I think you can see all the same elements here.  We are to present ourselves as holy sacrifices to God to do whatever He wants to with us.  We are to give up all our own selfish, proud, sinful, fleshly rights that want to control us and just let them die. When we present ourselves to God like that, totally open to His control, He transforms us by giving us an entirely new mind that naturally wants to do what’s right and good.  The opposite of being controlled by God, the opposite of being sanctified, is to be conformed to the sinful ways of the world around us.  But God’s purpose for us as Christians is that He, and not sin, have complete control of us.  He wants to change us and transform us to be like Himself; He wants to conform us into the image of His Son Jesus.  

So here we are on the opening evening of a Deeper Life Camp.  What is the “deeper life”?  It’s the life that’s submitted to God’s Holy Spirit and experiencing his ongoing work of sanctification.  Listen to these verses: But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”  But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.  For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God (I Cor. 2:9-10,12).  There it is.  That’s the “deeper life,” the life that experiences the deep things of God.  It’s the life that is indwelled by God’s Spirit.  When the Holy Spirit has control of us, He can reveal to us the deep things of God which are so unexplainably wonderful that we can’t even picture them or imagine them on our own.  It’s really a whole deeper kind of life.

God’s will for our lives is that we be sanctified, and His will is always good.  But it may be that we aren’t convinced of that way down deep in their hearts.  So why don’t we consider some of the protests that our fleshly hearts might try to make against this.  First of all, how about this: “I believe that it’s God’s will to sanctify me, but that’s so general.  I’m seeking to know His will for me in specific areas.”  Here’s a position we’ve probably all been in.  We’re in the middle of some sort of crisis.  We need immediate guidance on how to handle our finances or how to deal with a family member who’s turned on us or something like that.  What we want is a quick solution to the problem at hand.  Does God have a will for us in these specific situations?  Yes, of course He does.  But we won’t understand His will on specific matters of daily life unless we first understand what His overall will is for our whole lives.  His main, overall will that we be sanctified unto Him is much more important and encompasses His will on all of these smaller matters.  Let me illustrate this with a personal story.  I’ve been a land surveyor for the last eleven years.  But when I was a sophomore in college, I was studying mechanical engineering and I knew almost nothing about land surveying.  Between my sophomore and junior years, I was recommended to apply for a summer job at “Roy A. Smith and Associates - Land Surveying and Consulting Engineering.”  I got the job and, since I didn’t know anything about surveying, I assumed I would work in the consulting engineering end of things.  I soon found out I was wrong.  When I arrived for my first day of work, Roy Smith asked me how much I knew about surveying.  I said, “Nothing.”  So he took out a sheet of paper and a pen and sketched an irregular figure with about six sides and six angle points.  “This is traversing,” he said.  “We set up our instrument on a tripod and go from tripod to tripod until we’ve measured all the way around a closed figure.”  OK - I had almost no idea what he was talking about.  But I headed out to the job site and met the two guys I’d be working with.  One of them was swinging a squealing yellow rod up and down a road.  “What are you doing,” I asked.  “I’m looking for an iron pipe with this metal locator,” he said.  I couldn’t imagine what in the world he was doing that for.  In fact, I didn’t understand a whole lot of what was going on those first few days because I didn’t understand what land surveying was.  But when I learned that surveying was marking people’s property corners and lines, all the other details started falling into place.  Tripods were what you set an instrument on so you could measure between two property corners.  Iron pipes were used to mark people’s property corners and lines.  The specifics made a lot of sense once I understood the overall concept of surveying.  The same thing is true spiritually.  All of the smaller details of life fit into God’s bigger, overall will for our lives.  They are means by which He accomplishes His will.  He uses all these details of our daily lives on earth to sanctify us.  And, All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son . . . (Rom. 8:28-29)  If we don’t realize that’s what God is doing, we’ll be bewildered by what’s going on in our lives.  But if we receive God’s overall will for our lives and are being controlled by Him, His Holy Spirit will guide and direct us in all these smaller issues of life too.  We’ll see that He’s actually using them to sanctify us.

Another protest that our sinful flesh might make against God’s will being our sanctification is this: “Sanctification doesn’t pertain to anything tangible.  It’s so ethereal and heavenly that it’s almost impractical for my daily life here on earth.”  Well, you see, God’s will isn’t primarily concerned with physical things on this earth that won’t last eternally.  He’s much more concerned about our souls that we’ll take into eternity than He is about our bodies or our possessions that we’ll leave behind.  Yes, of course He is concerned too about our health and food and clothing and houses; but those things are much more secondary in importance compared with the things that will last forever.  Jesus said, Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (food and clothing and health) shall be added to you (Matt. 6:33).  Right now, these earthly things can seem very important to us.  But how sad it would be if when we were dying our biggest concern was for our clothing or our house that we were going to leave behind in a few hours.  To a little child, a cheap plastic toy can seem like the most important thing in the world.  As adults, we can look back and laugh about the toys that were so important to us as children.  And 100 years from now when none of us are on this earth anymore, we will never regret having put a much bigger importance on letting God’s Spirit sanctify us than we did on our clothes or finances or bodily health.  Our physical possessions and these bodies won’t last eternally, but our souls will.

A third protest that we might make against God’s will being our sanctification is this: “The Bible says that as a Christian I’m already sanctified, so being totally controlled by the Holy Spirit is just a secondary option that I can take or leave.”  Yes, it’s true that the Bible says all Christians are sanctified.  A lot of times, the Apostle Paul would begin his epistles - his letters to his Christian friends - by saying, to the saints, or, called to be saints.  A saint is literally a “holy one,” one who is sanctified.  According to God’s Word, every Christian is a saint - not just certain Christians who’ve done the most outwardly visible good deeds.  But it’s also true that the Bible describes sanctification as an ongoing work of God’s Holy Spirit in our hearts.  Sanctification is never described in the New Testament as an option for Christians.  There aren’t any verses that say, “Now that you’ve become a Christian you can decide whether or not you’d like to submit to this additional work of God.”  Sanctification is not an optional thing that a Christian can choose if he wants an additional, extra-special blessing from God.  When a person becomes a Christian, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside of him.  And when the Holy Spirit comes, He will begin to do His work whether we like it or not.  His work can either be received or rejected.  That’s why immediately following the first verses we read about sanctification in I Thessalonians 4, it says, He who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit (I Thess. 4:8).  To reject the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctifying us is to reject God Himself.  It’s an extremely dangerous thing to do.  The warnings given in the Bible against rejecting God’s work are so strong that I don’t even want to try putting them into my own words.  Let me just read one of them for you from Hebrews 10:28-31.  Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.  And again, “The LORD will judge His people.”  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.  And then at the end of that same chapter, God says, “The just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”  But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.  (Hebrews 10:38-39)

Without a doubt, we want to willingly receive the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in our hearts and lives.  But how do we do that?  Let me illustrate by telling you the testimony of one Christian.  Marie Monsen who was a Norwegian Lutheran missionary to China in the early 1900’s (see The Awakening by Marie Monsen, especially pages 105-109).  From what I understand, the Christian church in China today is very strong; but it wasn’t like that 100 years ago.  Many of the Chinese church members and even some of the church leaders themselves were just pretending to be Christians although they thought at the time that they were right with God.  God led Miss Monsen to pray that He would send revival to the Chinese church.  For twenty years, she prayed all alone that people would be awakened and converted to Christ.  Towards the end of that twenty years, God led her to “an intensive study of what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit.”  She read the passages about the Holy Spirit over and over again.  “In the end,” she said, “I used to repeat them in my sleep and wake up doing so.”  At that same time, God also began showing her how fleshly and full of sin and self her own missionary work was.  She began to feel that she was an unprofitable servant to God and could never be good enough to serve Him again.  What she realized later was that she had to first be emptied of herself before she could be filled with and controlled by the Holy Spirit.  In desperation for some sort of answer, she locked herself in her room one entire day for prayer and Bible reading.  The verses God impressed on her were Galatians 3:13-14.  Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us . . . that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.  “It was as though I had never read those words before,” Miss Monsen said.  “That word was the first ray of daylight . . . The path revealed was simple and clear.  It was to receive the promise of the Spirit through faith, exactly as a sinner receives the Saviour.”  But as her day of Bible reading and prayer went on, deep discouragement set in as she thought again about what a failure of a missionary she’d been.  Finally at midnight this series of thoughts came to her.  “Are you not crucified with Christ?”  “Yes.”  “Were you not buried, put away beneath the ground, with Christ?”  “Yes.”  “The dead do not defend themselves.”  “No, there is nothing to defend.”  “Are you not risen with Christ?”  “Yes.”  “Christ has a right to all that is God’s, and He shares it all with His fellow-heirs.”  Yes, now she saw it!  Because Jesus had already died in her place for all her sins and failures and had given her new life in Himself, He would freely give her everything that was His: namely the work of the Holy Spirit in her heart.  “Now this fellow-heir received through faith, too,” she said.  “ . . . in the house that night . . . it was cold, but I kept warm walking about praising my Saviour and my God.  I did not speak in tongues, but I praised the Lord in all the languages I knew.”  The rest of the story is that a mighty revival did come to China.  It started at Miss Monsen’s mission station in 1927 and swept over China during the next ten years.  Miss Monsen’s story is somewhat unique in that she needed to be controlled by God’s Holy Spirit not just for the ordinary Christian life like we’ve been talking about tonight, but also because she was to be one of the main preachers during those days of revival.  But what she learned from God’s Word that day many years ago is applicable for all of us who want to willingly receive the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in our hearts.  It must be continually received by faith just the same way as we receive salvation from sins through faith in Jesus.  To put it in the poetic words of an evangelist named J. Edwin Orr who often preached about sanctification and full surrender to the Holy Spirit:
“It is so simple then - to take by trusting, just as I did when I was born again.  
I see it now, it’s in the Cross for asking, and ask I will, the victory to gain.”
(from the opening pages of Full Surrender by J. Edwin Orr)

God’s will for our lives as Christians is to sanctify us completely to Himself, and we can receive His sanctifying work through faith.  What is the basis for our faith?  It’s the fact that Jesus has already died to redeem us from our sins and to give us new life through His Holy Spirit living in us.  And God has promised to do His work in us.  We don’t need to worry whether or not He’s going to do it; He will do it if we’ll let Him.  Like Paul concluded his letter to his Christian friends in Thessalonica, Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it (I Thess. 5:23-24).  May God’s Holy Spirit have full control of the hearts of each one of us who’s here tonight.  

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