Call me a joker, call me a fool
Right at this moment I'm totally cool
Clear as a crystal, sharp as a knife
I feel like I'm in the prime of my life
Sometimes it feels like I'm going too fast
I don't know how long this feeling will last
Maybe it's only tonight
Darling I don't know why I go to extremes
Too high or too low there ain't no in-betweens
And if I stand or I fall
It's all or nothing at all
Darling I don't know why I go to extremes
“I Go to Extremes” Billy Joel
Questions: What is your life about? If you are a believer in Christ, why are you still on the planet? Why didn’t God just catapult you straight to the heavens upon conversion?
Part of the answer is that we are in an amazing and miraculous period referred to as ‘sanctification” that is- we are being molded and set apart as a vessel of service to the glory of God.
There are many Biblical passages we can look at to investigate the process by which we are putting off (actually putting to death) the Old man of sin and putting on the righteousness of Christ.
There are two passages I want to use as a foundation for information to share with you what Christ is doing in my life and an outline of what we all can do to “walk in the light as He is in the light”.
The first passage is an introductory reminder in Psalms 119:1-10
1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!
2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
3 who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways!
4 You have commanded your precepts
to be kept diligently.
5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast
in keeping your statutes!
6 Then I shall not be put to shame,
having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
7 I will praise you with an upright heart,
when I learn your righteous rules.
8 I will keep your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me!
9 How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments! Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!
We live in a “How to America”- How to win a million dollars, How to install surround sound. In our quest for How to we often miss the instruction book- We cannot neglect the Bible- Christian books, magazines, programs, music are all great- but don’t allow them to substitute the pure refined milk of God’s word.- The Holy Spirit will only be enabled to produce gospel fruit in your life with the tools available to Him by scripture- Holy Revelation. God’s word is fine tuned to steer us down the road of sanctification.
Michael Horton wrote a recent article called “The American Religion” I wanted to read a small section of that as food for thought.
Just imagine a first-century Christian hearing an average "testimony" in a modern church. Here's someone who has lost his job and has been imprisoned for believing that Jesus Christ is the only Savior and King. He may also be fed to lions or turned into a lamp for Nero's garden. And this first-century believer is sitting in one of our meetings listening to a well-meaning brother or sister saying something along these lines: "Since Jesus came into my heart, it's been one blessing after another. I got a new job and I've claimed prosperity and healing in all areas of my life. It fixed my marriage and made me feel good about myself for the first time in my life. So what do you have to lose? Try God! Give Jesus a chance! He'll turn your scars into stars and your sorrows into stepping stones." How do you think your first-century Christian friend would react to such a display of uniquely American religious pragmatism?
We do not find a single instance of conversion in the New Testament based on the usefulness of Christianity vs. other religions. Instead, the issue is always objective truth. Either Jesus did or did not rise from the dead. Either he was God incarnate saving sinners by his life and death, or he was a deluded imposter. So what if it "works" for you! Mormonism has worked for millions, as have other cults, sects and non-Christian religions. False religion is very good for people in this life, but the end thereof is death…this… falls short of St. Paul's assertion that "If Christ is not risen, our faith is in vain....If we have only been able to trust Christ in this life, we are of all men the most to be pitied" (1 Cor.15:18). The Apostle, for one, saw the validation for Christianity in the truth of the resurrection as a historical fact, not in the utility of Christianity for living a jollier and fuller life.
An example of the Bible’s ability to steer us in the walk of sanctification is found in Ephesians 2:8-10
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
What a great passage- we often leave off vs. 10 But it is a great balancing verse.
The Spiritual walk with Christ is a beautifully balanced and properly paced journey that needs to be enjoyed as much as endured.
We have an impossible time living this kind of life.
Why? Well we are sinners - the reformed idea of “total depravity”. It is a concept that is losing credence in our post everything world.
Total depravity does not mean that we are as bad as we can possible be. It means we are born in sin, it is in our very DNA, and we are comfortable with sin and are immersed in our own sin and the sin of others. Any good that man is a gift of the common grace of God and the remnant of God’s image on his life. Everything we touch is tainted by sin. Do you believe this?
We are subtly tempted to not believe this. The conventional wisdom of our day is that man is good. President Clinton was described as a good man who did a bad thing. Is this true?
C.S. Lewis described our sin as having two distinct personalities- our animal self and our diabolical self. Sometimes we join a church and clean up our animal self- we have 2 beers instead of 20. But our diabolical self so twists our thinking, motives, and imaginations that we begin to believe that we are good and pleasing to God and he is lucky to have us.
Now back to this passage:
We are not saved by our works. When we speak of sanctification, we are not putting a plan together to make God happy with us. The Great Solas of the Reformation still ring true today- Christ Alone- Grace alone- Faith alone. We never say “I am covered by Christ and I an active in men’s group”. Christ + nothing is where justification and adoption are found.
Without the redeeming blood of Jesus, we are still in our sins- dabbling with life and losing our very existence. Building up a day of wrath for not acknowledging the precious blood spilled for us and our blaspheming of God’s Holy Spirit.
Now this passage is like a beautiful highway- an expressway with day to day road signs and top down exhilarating travel.
The problem is that there are two huge ditches on either side of this road. And we often steer in them. On the right side of this road is legalism- our diabolical self comes in and says- Oh you are cleaning up so well- and you start feeling really good about yourself – and you start looking around at others- and in your desire to help them you package your rules and rituals and begin to try and help others. Before long, we find ourselves as self righteous Pharisees- looking down at sinners and trying to be everyone’s Holy Spirit.
I know the Pharisee well- I play him a lot. Our culture helps me play him very well. We have become the biggest opinionated and judgmental civilization in the history of man. We have talking heads on TV espousing one view after another and call it entertainment. I love it! I am an O’Reily junkie. The problem is that I began to love my arguments over loving people.
The worst part of my Pharisee legalistic self is my gossip and criticism of others. I am not loving- I am condemning. We point out the 10% bad and refuse to see the 90% good.
So I finally get out of the legalistic path and drink grace and liberty. Ahh! Christian freedom. It is glorious! Christ’s death frees us from the ceremonial and civil law. There is a better law- the moral law, written on my heart- the Sermon on the Mount puts it into my motives and mind- it is a beautiful thing!
But just beyond Christian liberty is license. It is a ditch as derailing as legalism. Paul wrote in Romans “How can we who died to sin, still live in it?” In this state, everything goes- all truth is relative, I do what I think and I feel- there is no suspicion of my motives or actions. I do what is right in my own eyes and put it under the blood.
I walk into a situation, run to sin, eviscerate my conscience and say “I am forgiven”. Before long, I am powerless, hardened, and my God is my comfort. The irony of the ditch of license is that we love people even less than the Pharisee. I don’t care about their eternal destination. I am afraid of confrontation. If I stand for truth, it will indict me. So I walk around and tell people all is fine when I know we are growing colder and darker by the second. Loving someone means saying no - and that includes to myself.
Out of that ditch I find this beautiful path- a balanced and tense walk with my Savior as He directs me by His Spirit and through His word in a new life- in this life I learn to love and lean on Christ- I become an admirer of people- I seek my way less and edify others more- I pour myself into relationships, especially my wife and children. I laugh- I cry- I get weary- I long for heaven- God picks me up at the right time- I fall in ditches- He cleans me off and starts me straight again- 1 step forward- 2 steps back- 3 steps- 5 back and when I lose hope- He allows the dust to settle and I look back and God’s kingdom has been built- in spite of me. To His praise and glory!
I wanted to list a few things that help me avoid these ditches:
Devotion to the Word and Prayer
Unflinching commitment to consistent worship
Private fasting- hobby/TV/delicacies
Small group accountability
Loving my wife well
Pushing work down my priority list
Crying out for God’s spirit- I am powerless to do it- I need to abide in the vine of Christ.
A final note: Be patient- God’s sanctification takes TIME. It is measured in decades, not in days.
Well as we close- we do all of this to live the greatest of all the Solas- To God alone be the Glory- may we be great beacons of light to the glorious life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ-