Category Archives: Sanctification

Power of Knowledge

You have doubtless heard the expression “Knowledge is Power.” In educational circles, it’s a popular mantra. We college professor types have to recite it because, frankly, it drums up business. When people want power, we tell them the way to get it is through increased knowledge, and sure enough, OUR purchasing power increases.

Cynicism aside, there is a connection between knowledge and power. In fact, the Bible says that for those who know God through Jesus Christ, greater knowledge of Him is tied to His power.

In Colossians 1:9-10, Paul says he is praying for the Colossians to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. He then says that this knowledge will produce spiritual wisdom and understanding. He goes on to say that this knowledge will then create, in those who receive it, the ability to please God, which will lead to even greater knowledge of God.

So far, that sounds like this knowledge of God’s will that comes from God is pretty powerful already. It enables us to do something that we could not otherwise do– please God in our actions and deeds. It also has the power to produce even more knowledge of God.

Then, in Colossians 1:11, Paul goes on to tell the Colossians that he is praying for something more. The wording strongly implies (especially in the original Greek) that this is tied back to the knowledge of God’s will that he is praying God to give them:

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, (ESV)

It makes sense that strength and power that come from God must follow and accompany a God-given knowledge of his will. If God gave His power to those who did not know His will or to those who had no desire to do it, He would be working against His own purposes.

Those who don’t know God’s will should not expect Him to give them strength. Those who don’t wish to walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord should not expect to see His power.

But, for those of us who have been given knowledge of God’s will, God gives strength “with all power, according to His glorious might.” Imagine how tremendous that is! The strength is not limited and barely sufficient. It is all — all that is needed. The source of it is not constrained or restricted. It is according to God’s glorious might. It is the power of God, who created the universe and sustains it second to second.

That power is the power that you and I can  know, see, experience, and be strengthened with if we are granted to know His will and desire to do it. We won’t be on our own, and won’t have to rely on our own strength and ability. Will will have His.

To what end will He give this strengthening to us? It is so that we can do His will in endurance and patience with joy.

Why will we need His strengthening for endurance? Because if we are seeking to walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord, we will certainly encounter difficulties, resistance, trials and suffering for the Lord and for the sake of His will. He knows that, and He has the power to keep us doing His will and pleasing Him even through all that.

Why will we need His strengthening for patience? Because if we are seeking to be fully pleasing to God, we will need to wait for Him to bring about His will in His time, not seeking instant relief or vengeance when we are wronged or misunderstood. He knows that, and He has the power to keep us doing His will and pleasing Him even through all that.

Why will we need His strengthening for joy? Because if we are bearing fruit in every good work, we will need to glorify Him by delighting in Him and His will constantly. He knows that, and He has the power to keep us doing His will and pleasing Him always, with joy.

Knowledge of the will of God, that comes from God, is powerful, but God gives it with the power to do His will. Doing His will is beyond our ability, but it is not beyond His. If we know His will, and desire to do it, we will need to seek and rely upon His power, and find the joy of having the endurance and patience that only He can supply.

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Struggling with Holiness

No human being is capable of being truly holy, that is pleasing to God, on his or her own power.

If this does not seem obvious from our own experience, then we either have a low opinion of God’s holiness, or a very selective memory.

Our lives are littered with sins gross and petty. We regularly spout  falsehoods, from careless exaggerations to the little white lies that we excuse as kindnesses. We engage in all sorts of hatred, from our anger at the guy who cuts us off in traffic to our rage at elected officials and thoughtless bosses. We live mired in covetousness, feeling entitled to everything from respect and praise to the rewards and honors we see others get but think should have come to us.

Of course, we could examine our adulteries (lusts), idolatries (false priorities), and other sins, but this is already leaving us (OK, me) wishing for a worse memory rather than a better one.

Christ has died for all those sins, and we have God’s forgiveness for them in Him.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (Romans 3:23-24, ESV)

But, how do we grow to live less and less in that pattern of sin from which we were saved? Can the evil in us be made holy?

Christ had the answer, when He said,

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  (Luke 11:13)

Notice, Jesus started that declaration by stating that His listeners (His disciples) were evil! Jesus was not one to mince words. We are evil. We must start by recognizing that as our situation.

Jesus then states that the heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.

Why is that a solution for evil?

Simply put: He is called the Holy Spirit because He is Holy. If we seek Him, and ask the Father to grant His presence and control in our lives more and more, we will be made holy.

We do not possess that holiness in ourselves, apart from Him. We cannot fully yield to His holiness in us apart from His continual work in us.

But, as we have the desire to ask the Father to grant the Holy Spirit greater sway and control in our lives, even those of us who, in Jesus’s words “are evil” will see that the heavenly Father will give Him to us.

WE are evil, but God graciously gives us the Holy Spirit to transform us into the holy creatures He sees when He looks upon those for whom Christ died.

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Gospel-Centered Resolve

God is completely sovereign. His grace, working through the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, is sufficient to both save us from sin and “sanctify” us (make us holy).

God gets all the glory for anything we do that is good or pleasing to Him.

Some people will disagree with much of that. Others, who might somewhat agree with it would want to add something.

Both groups might raise some of the following questions. “Don’t we work with God to live holy lives?” “Are we simply passive in sanctification?” “Are you saying we just wait for God to do everything for us and in us while we just live eat, drink and be merry?”

These questions expose a fundamental issue about the power of the gospel. This issue is being stirred up by a Tsunami of books on restoring the concept of the gospel as the means of sanctification. These books have been attacked for putting forward the proposition that salvation and sanctification are totally the gracious work of God in us, through the completed work of Christ for us.

The concern of many critics is that if we go around proclaiming that both our salvation and our sanctification are gracious gifts of a sovereign God, people might start to conclude that our choices about our behavior, attitudes, and lifestyles are irrelevant. Christians might decide not to resist sin or strive for obedience to God, since God is the only one who can keep us from sin or cause us to obey. If God is controlling it all, we might as well not resolve to yell at our kids less, tell our spouse that we love them more, act more patient in traffic, or even lay off the Doritos.

The concern is very much like that which was leveled at the Reformers.

Such criticisms of what might be called “gospel-centered sanctification” miss the fundamental fact that sanctification, from start to finish, is God’s work. They also miss that those who see it as such do indeed understand that God does that work through a process that includes creating a resolve to strive for a more holy life.

That is the clear message behind Scripture such as 2 Thes. 1:11:

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power. (ESV)

The gospel is not only that God saves us from sin, but that He works to salvage us from living fruitless and futile lives. He does that in part by using the gospel to plant into our sinful and indifferent hearts fresh desires for greater Christ-likeness. His power and indwelling Spirit then enables the fulfillment of those desires.
Now, resolve to be a more patient driver, OK? Or at least stop eating those Doritos.


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Gifts from the Father

In Colossians 1:3-4, Paul writes:

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,  since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints…(ESV)

This simple phrase of greeting is rife with significance. We might miss it at first, but Paul expresses an understanding that God the Father has been at work and is at work in the lives of those who believe in Christ.

Notice, Paul gives thanks to God for two things in particular.

First, he is grateful to God for the faith that believers have in Christ Jesus. Faith in Christ is a gracious gift from God. If it were not so, why give thanks for it?

Jesus had already made that clear when He proclaimed to those who did not believe in Him:

“And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.” -John 5:37-38, ESV

“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” -John 6:29, ESV

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” -John 6:37, ESV

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—” -John 6:44-45, ESV

“This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” -John 6:65, ESV

In explaining further, Jesus says something even more perplexing:

But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. -John 8:45,ESV

That is, even the truth is not believed because it is the truth, and no one has the power to believe the truth unless God grants the ability to perceive the truth.

Unless God the Father has acted, no belief in Christ is possible. Again, Jesus says that unbelievers continue in unbelief because the Father has not made them part of the “flock” of sheep that follow Christ:

…but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. -John 10:26-29, ESV

Second, Paul is grateful to the Father that the believers to whom he is writing have evidence of genuine faith. That evidence of faith is their love for all the saints. The fruit of faith (here, love) is also a gracious gift of God.

This love is what Jesus prayed the Father would grant to His disciples in John 17:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me….
…O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. -John 17:10-21, 25-26, ESV

It is for this fruit of faith that Paul prayed:

and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you  -I Thessalonians 3:12, ESV

Indeed, love is the first fruit of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22. It is evidence of God’s gracious work.
We are made holy, sanctified for God, by the sovereign and gracious work of God. We must cling to this truth, even as we seek to live lives pleasing to God, for it is God who works in each of us both to will and to do His pleasure. -Philippians 2:13, ESV

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Made Holy in Christ

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him… (Colossians 1:21-22, ESV)

God transforms us. This is no tiny truth, but it might seem so if we fail to understand our natural condition.

Without His work in us, each person either simply ignores or denies God’s existence or actively, deliberately hates God. This is the human condition, and we see examples of each all around. Famous atheists write books claiming God is a delusion, while others flat-out proclaim their hatred of him. The rest of us write no books, but silently hold God in one form of contempt or another, as we choose to make Him irrelevant in our lives by placing our own desires and pleasures at the center of our plans and ambitions. Our alienation and hostility towards Him may be soft and amorphous, but they are no less certain just because it is unexpressed.

Our alienation and hostility towards God is not benign. Like a cancer of thought in our minds, it inevitably spreads to every area of our lives. Eventually it reproduces itself into the tumors of godless actions. We cheat, lie, steal, hate, and take, sometimes with pangs of guilt, but often with no remorse. We excuse every bad thing we do by claiming justification, weakness, weariness, or fear. When we do so, we reveal that our thinking is that God does not really know, does not really care, or does not really exist.

But God does really know. God does really care. God does really exist. In His mercy, He may apply the cure that only He can. He reveals Himself, in Christ– purging first the malignancy of our sin-racked minds. Then, through Christ, He cuts the tumors of sin from our sin-riddled bodies, one by one. He heals so completely that no trace of the disease can be found.
This is His work, and His alone.

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