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.  Continue reading