Justification, Sanctification, Holiness, & Legalism

This is a hard blog post for me to write for the following reasons:

  • Few want to talk about, let alone understand, what justification is.
  • Fewer still seem to want to work out what it means to go through the process of sanctification.
  • Even less want to understand that a life of holiness is a conscious decision to walk in the light of God’s sanctifying grace.
  • If you choose to delve into the above with your heart, soul, mind, and being, you will most likely be labeled as legalistic.

Several months ago, I sat with a group of individuals who were talking about how great the latest Batman movie was. I was just listening to their conversation as I really wasn’t interested in the conversation because I was trying to prepare my heart for the upcoming Sunday School lesson. Then they started talking about who was the best actor to portray Batman. Somehow the conversation drifted to video games and how much one guy spent on his game collection and how much time he played them. Then things quieted down and we began our lesson.

Low and behold, the lesson was over the following passage:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV)

We talked about this in the class for a moment and then I raised my hand to speak. I mentioned that the pre-class discussion was kind of a reflection of what seemed to be the most important thing that week in several lives. I wasn’t condemning as I even mentioned that I wasn’t always focused on Christ like I should have been through the week. But you would have thought I had called everyone heathen sinners or something from the blow back I got. “Well, you may not go to the movies, but you can’t pin that on me, I don’t think it’s wrong.”

That day has troubled me for quite some time now.  But lately, I’ve been reading The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges as well as listening to When Christians Sin by Tim Conway (links to the 3 part sermon series) and I’ve come to the conclusion that most people that call themselves a Christian do not want to progress in holiness.  Oh, they want the benefits of being a Christian, but they don’t want to put in the discipline that comes along with it.  What?  You mean to say that I have to work for my salvation?  No, that is not what I’m saying at all.  Our salvation is as complete as it will ever be when our hearts are regenerated and we come to hate the sin we used to love and love the righteousness we used to hate.  But, there is a caveat included.  As we delve deeper and deeper into the Word of God, we begin to see His holiness and righteousness in a new light and the Word exhorts us to “Be holy as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).  In this life we will never attain that in it’s entirety, but that does not mean we can just skate by and not even try.  Sure, we will fail, sometimes spectacularly.  But that does not mean we are not to strive by the power of the Holy Spirit that now lives within us and has made us a new creature.

I guess what I see is the biggest shortcoming is that very few preachers, and even fewer laity because so few preachers preach it, understand what it means to be holy. Hagios is the Greek word from which we derive the word holy.  The connotation is hard for us today because we don’t understand the temple of the Old Testament much.  But in the temple, there were items set apart as separate from the common things.  There were tables, lampstands, even garments that the High Priest wore that were separate from your run of the mill, everyday clothing.  That is a picture of God.  He is separate or ‘other’ if you will.  He is not like us and no matter that since the first man, Adam, tried to be like God, mankind is still trying to make God in our image, He will never be like us and we are certainly not like Him.  Psalm 50:21 says, “You have done these things, and I kept silent. You thought that I was just like you” (WEB).  Well, contrary to popular belief, God is not like us and for that I am grateful!  Man is capricious, incapable of seeing beyond his own prejudices.  God is not.  One day, a man may lean one way, the next day he may lean another.  God is immutable, which means he does not change.  Charles Spurgeon’s very first recorded sermon is on God’s immutability and you can read it here.  There is comfort in knowing that God has perfect knowledge and perfect justice because we all know that man does not.

But the bottom line is that we as Christians are called to a life of separation.  That means we are not to be like the world, but we are supposed to be in the world.  Walking this walk will cause some who attend church with us to label us as fanatics, legalistic, or worse.  That is the price we will sometimes pay, it is the cost of being a true believer and you can read about that happening in my wife’s life here.  It may cost us a promotion, it may cost us a friend, it may even cost us our very life.  But in the light of eternity with God, is that a large price to pay?  Many who live today in areas of persecution and many who have gone on before us have gladly paid that price to wear a crown of righteousness and stand before the King of Glory.  I think of William Tyndale (c. 1492–1536), who was strangled to death and burned at the stake.  His crime was translating the New Testament into the English language (his translation was the basis for the KJV) and opposing the divorce of King Henry the VIII.  While that seems unconscionable to us today, it really isn’t.  Watch the fire of anger and hatred burn in the eyes of a supposed Christian when you call out their sin.  Oh, they may not try and kill you or burn you at the stake, but if they could, they would.

Man has changed not one iota in and of himself since Cain slew Able.  The only way that we can change is by the power of a regenerated heart.  The only way that regenerated heart is wrought in us is by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Ephesians 4:30 states, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”  The Spirit seals us and we are not to grieve Him.  That requires some action, some doing, some activity on our part.  “Let go and let God” just isn’t going to cut it.  We as Christians need to be in the Word of God daily!  We as Christians need to take the daily immersion in the Word  and apply it, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in our lives!  We need to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1).  There is a ‘doing’ in this Christian life.  This doing does not bring about our salvation, but is a by-product, a desire we should have because of the salvation God bestows on us.

It is not legalism, it is just the life we have been called to by God.  So, where is your treasure laid up?  If it is in heaven, the race will be an enduring, hard one, but well worth the effort.  If it is here on this earth, you will receive your reward, but it will not be a lasting one.  To go back to the movie analogy, there is a line from an old Indiana Jones movie where a Knight Templar says to Indiana Jones, “you must choose, but choose wisely, for as the real grail brings eternal life, the false grail brings death.”  The real life that God calls us to leads to eternal life.  We have choices in this real life, so choose wisely.

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