Confession

Let me make a confession to you. Nearly everyday as a pastor, I face a consistent temptation. The temptation is to build my name and my reputation.

In recent weeks, I’ve attended our SBC annual meeting, followed numerous social media conversations, and interacted with church members on a regular basis. We’ve discussed what’s going on in the convention. We’ve discussed the inordinate amount of time some pastors and denominational leaders spend on social media serving as critics of others. In many of these conversations, I’ve found myself tempted to think I have the answers. In evaluating these conversations, I’ve found myself tempted to seek more influence. In thinking about ministry in general, I’m tempted to perceive ministry responsibilities and opportunities as a means to build my own name and reputation.

In short, I’m tempted way too often to promote myself.

In light of these temptations, God reminded me what is primary. He reminded me that I serve his kingdom, not my own.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 5:9-10

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:33

My life is not about me. Ministry opportunities, influence, responsibilities, blessings, and privileges are not for me.

According to Jesus, I must remember that I am poverty-stricken, spiritually bankrupt, offering nothing to the Lord that he needs.

According to Jesus, I must remember that the Father’s kingdom and the Father’s will is what matters, not my own.

According to Jesus, I must remember to seek the Father’s kingdom and his righteousness in my own life, not the glory of my own name.

In thinking on my temptations and reflecting on these truths, here are a few reminders I’m trying to practice in order to focus on God’s kingdom and not my own.

  1. Remind myself everyday that I am spiritually impoverished on my own. I am not doing God a favor by serving him in ministry. He doesn’t need me. If I get to experience the kingdom of heaven and serve him, it is all by grace.
  2. Acknowledge the greatness and grace of the Lord in all my ways. Our Father is holy and great, merciful and majestic, full of glory and full of grace. Beginning our prayers and daily activities with the greatness, glory, and grace of God properly resets my perspective on whose kingdom matters.
  3. Seek the kingdom of God by evaluating actions and activities in light of God’s redemptive mission in the world. One way we are tempted to emphasize our own kingdoms over God’s kingdom is simply by determining our moments by what best suits us. As I think, pray, and discern over God’s mission, it is far easier for me to properly submit my plans to God’s plans.
  4. Confess regularly my self-absorption. Our age of social media influencers, followers, friends, likes, hearts, and connections tempts us to consider our interactions in light of ourselves. Instead of checking on my feeds, God is teaching me to confess and repent of my obsession with myself.
  5. Return praise and thanks to God for what he’s doing. When God uses you or me through our gifts, talents, abilities, and availability, we must remember that he is the One who is indispensable. He’s used fish, a plant and a worm (Jonah), donkeys (Balaam’s donkey), ants (Proverbs 6), birds (feeding Elijah), and nature (storms on the Sea of Galilee) to accomplish his purposes. He doesn’t need you or me. So, let’s thank God when he uses us and return the praise to him that he is due.

Whose kingdom are you trying to build? For me too often, I’m focused on my own. But my own kingdom is built on sand with straw. It is sure to fold and not last.

But the kingdom of Jesus? Well, that kingdom will last. Have a read in Daniel 2 and the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7. That’s the kingdom, the story, the mission, that will truly last. And in abundant grace, God invites us to participate in the building of his kingdom.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

One Seraph to another in Isaiah 6:8

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

The four living creatures in Revelation 4:8

The thrice holy declaration of God’s otherness from these two passages of Scripture remind us that God is set apart in a way unique only to him. There is no one like him. The thrice holy declaration is also unique to God’s attributes. No other attribute (love, power, glory, justice, etc.) is designated in Scripture by stating it three times. God’s holiness is gloriously, eternally unique.

God’s holiness is moral purity, but it is more than moral purity. Jerry Bridges in his book The Joy of Fearing God, describes God’s holiness as transcendent majesty (67).

In this sense, God is so much more than we are and he is truly OTHER. God is full of holy majesty and glory in a way that we cannot fully comprehend.

Yet the wonder of our salvation is that God in his holiness reached down to man in his sinfulness. Through Christ, who is God and is the fullness of God enfleshed with holiness and love, God entered into his creation. Christ experienced God’s holy wrath and displayed God’s glorious love on the cross. Jesus is the very image of God’s holiness and love.

In a most glorious realization, God redeems us in order to make us holy. This is the part of salvation called sanctification.

Let’s take a moment to review salvation in three basic parts. (There are more aspects to salvation than these three. See the previous word of the week posts. But these three parts provide a helpful framework).

  • Salvation as justification: God declares us righteous. This is salvation in the past tense. God declared us righteous by the gracious work of Christ on the cross and through our faith in him.
  • Salvation as sanctification: God makes us holy. This is salvation in the present tense. God does save us from our sin, but being made holy is a process of God removing sin from our lives and making us into Christlikeness (Romans 8:29).
  • Salvation as glorification: God glorifies us. This is salvation in the future tense. God will give us glorified bodies and allow us to experience life as he originally intended.

We explored justification in a previous post. We will explore glorification in a future post. In this post, we are going explore salvation as sanctification.

Sanctification is an aspect of salvation that can be controversial.

Does sanctification mean that God does all the work, and we can behave any way we choose? This would be antinomianism (or anti-law).

Does sanctification mean that we can become sinlessly perfect this side of heaven? This would be perfectionism.

Let’s try to answer these questions by offering just a few observations on the doctrine of sanctification.

Sanctification has at least two aspects. First, positional sanctification is the concept that God makes us holy through the work of Christ. In essence, we are sanctified through the work of Christ (see Romans 15:16; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:11). Nothing sinful will enter into God’s presence in heaven. So the work of Christ in justifying us and sanctifying us will completely cleanse our sin away.

Second, practical sanctification is how we partner with God to be holy in our character and conduct. Practical sanctification recognizes the reality that we still live in a sinful human body in a sinful world with an enemy who tempts us to sin. While we are sanctified positionally, we must partner with God to be set apart or holy in our behavior.

To answer question #1 above, sanctification does not imply that it is ok to live in sin after conversion (Romans 6:1-2). To answer question #2 move, sanctification does imply we will be perfectly holy, but not until heaven. We cannot be sinlessly perfect this side of eternity though holiness is to be our aim.

For the rest of this post, we are going to explore some practical ways that we can partner with God to be holy.

It is important to note that God expects holiness of his people.

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

God to the people of Israel, Leviticus 19:2

Peter quotes this passage in the New Testament and adds additional explanations in 1 Peter 1:14-16.

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.

God’s holiness is the primary reason that he expects us to be holy and set apart. God has given us the Holy Spirit to indwell us and strengthen us to experience sanctification (Ephesians 5:18).

We participate in our sanctification when we do the following things:

  • Confess and repent of our sins. We cannot expect to be holy in our conduct if we tolerate sin in our lives. When Peter reflects on the command to be holy, he reminds his readers to reject their former passions. Regular confession and repentance are means of pursuing holiness in our daily lives.
  • Reject and remove temptations. God commands us to resist the devil (James 4:7) and flee temptations (2 Timothy 2:2). We cannot expect to be holy if we are inviting sin into our lives. Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that we are to do whatever it takes to remove sin from us (Matthew 5:29-30). If you have a struggle with a particular sin, you must remove that temptation from your life. Here are two examples. If you struggle with drunkenness, you cannot sit in the parking lot of the ABC store. You must avoid (flee) temptation. If you struggle with pornography or lust, you cannot be awake at 1 am with your smart phone in hand. You must avoid (flee) temptation. To reject and remove temptations may mean that you act drastically (cut out TV or internet, not go to restaurants that serve alcohol, stop surfing FaceBook, etc.). But remember we are not called to be like everyone else. We are called to be holy.
  • Replace temptations with virtues and pursue righteousness. Being holy is not just about the negative (rejecting sin). It is about being set apart. In the Old Testament, priests were set apart as holy by their cleansing rituals, dress, and conduct. While we don’t have to emulate their rituals, the imagery is instructive. Replacing a temptation like wasted time on a smart phone with reading the Bible or a good book is conduct conducive of holiness. Likewise, we should pursue righteous behaviors (faith, love, peace, purity 2 Timothy 2:2). Spiritual disciplines like Bible reading, prayer, sharing the gospel, serving others, and meditating and memorizing the Bible are spiritually formative and helpful in pursuing holiness.

Here are some practical action items as you finish reading this post:

  • Thank God that he has set you apart to be holy through Christ.
  • Take a moment to confess and repent of your sins today asking God’s forgiveness and cleansing.
  • Remove a temptation from your life today.
  • Practice a spiritual discipline today (read, pray, study, memorize, share, serve).

When we pursue sanctification, we embrace the salvation that God has graciously given us.