The Golden Key to Sanctification for Spiritual Growth in Christlikeness
(An open discussion paper regarding logically knowing God in the Christian experience.)
by Bert R. Hartmann
How is your “personal” relationship with God? Have you experienced “the peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) amidst the bad experiences of life? Do you question why bad things happen to good people? Can you explain why some people are different in that they never worry? Do you experience a constant thankfulness every minute of your life? Are you growing in your knowledge of God? Do you really know who God is?
In the spiritual context, do you have a “religion”, a “personal relationship”, or basically “nothing”? It has been said that “religion” is man’s attempt at finding God whereas in “Christianity” God finds man.
When you really think about it, the most important thing in any relationship is communication. Without the experience of effective communication there can be no relationship, no growing relationship, no commitment, no compassion, no commission, no friendship, no love, etc. God created man for an intimate, never-ending relationship with Him and gave us the incredible freedom to choose for ourselves!
Our FATHER in heaven directly communicates to us through His “Book of Remembrance,” He reveals Himself to us through His “living written word” and through His Son, JESUS CHRIST, the “living incarnate Word” through the indwelling power of the HOLY SPIRIT. As we listen to God, by reading and studying the Bible, we can learn to talk to Him also. More specifically, we can learn how and what to pray or say. The essence of effective communication is always a two-way proposition – both listening and speaking. God’s Word, the Bible in its many translations, is the “Golden Key” He gives us to unlock the mystery and truth of life, and to grow spiritually. As we study the Bible, we find out that unlocking the “mystery” simply means to have truth “revealed” to us; there really is no mystery.
Beware of asking: "So who wrote the Bible?" and insinuating political intrigue because of secular opposition to its inspiration by God through human authors—do your own investigation and start by reading a good translation and getting a good book on Bibliology, which is just a branch of Systematic Theology.
“It’s not what “we” discover in God’s communication to us, it’s what “He” reveals to us as we choose to spend time in His Word after we prayerfully ask Him to teach and remind us.”
If we have been justified before the almighty and perfect God by having truly accepted and believed in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior then obviously, we should have the desire to know Him. We must recognize that one is only known by one’s words and deeds. The only recorded place where we learn of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, who also became a real human being just like you and me (God’s Incarnation), is in the Scriptures. One incredibly unified book with one message about Jesus Christ composed of 66 different books written by about 40 God-inspired authors over a 1500-year time span on three continents in three languages (the Old Testament in Hebrew and a little Aramaic, and the New Testament in Greek).
John 17:3 says: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know (intimate personal knowledge versus knowing about someone) you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Once we have undergone this instantaneous justification whereby we receive the gift of eternal salvation, we immediately enter the process of sanctification for the rest of our lives here on earth. This sanctification occurs when we yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s control (Ephesians 5:18); our yielding seems difficult at first and then becomes easier as we spiritually grow. Sanctification is being set apart from the sinful world, not elevated above it or out of it, but being alongside in it while not of it. A Christian is absolutely not “better” than someone who is of the world, just “different,” and actually should be more humble (being humble is the opposite of being prideful). Now, sanctification and special revelation (the Bible) go together and cannot be separated! Jesus says in John 17:17: “Sanctify them by the Truth; your Word is Truth.”
Why were we born? What is our purpose? I like to answer such questions with a very simple yet profound answer: To know God, no matter what our good or bad circumstances in life are! The one unpardonable sin is to NOT accept God’s gift of eternal salvation provided by the blood of God’s sacrificial Lamb, Jesus Christ, in order that we might be justified or redeemed as sinners according to God’s sovereign and eternal purpose. Can you explain why this is so?
(The Bible is very clear that the majority of mankind will indifferently, ignorantly, or defiantly reject truly knowing Jesus the Christ (the Messiah); in this case, one would want to be in the minority! You see, if our mind is clear and open, and we examine Jesus Christ’s claims, one has absolutely no choice but to consider Jesus Christ, our Lord, a Liar, or a Lunatic – there are NO other options – the choice one makes will have eternal consequences. If He is our Lord (our loving Father, our supreme Boss, our teaching Mentor), then it makes logical sense that we should know what He desires from us!)
God loves us beyond what we can really imagine in our feeble human minds. Did you know that as a “new creation in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17) there is nothing we can do today or tomorrow that will cause God to love us any more or any less; that He is never disappointed in us, but instead has hope for us! He wants us with our power of choice (which He gave us) to be set apart (sanctified) from our sinful habits, the influence of the fallen world, and from the world’s ruler, Satan (along with his spiritual minions), and instead, to be continually yielding to the indwelling Holy Spirit thus allowing Christ in us to act through us. We have the power to choose not the power to do – “…apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 (Boy, do those words go against the grain of our prideful independence in ourselves!)
Our justification and subsequent sanctification will result in our glorification in Christ in heaven where we will be forever joyfully united with Christ as His bride in the absence of sin (Revelation 19:7). This glorification is promised in Jesus’ high priestly prayer for us in John 17, where He says in verse 24: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am…” Both God and we will have glorification upon our physical death. Or, one who is not “spiritually reborn” (justified) will suffer eternal damnation, which is total separation from God. At the Ascension, when Jesus went back to the Father, he went back in His glorified and resurrected perfect body just like we will. Jesus, the Light of the world, now had provided the way out of spiritual darkness. Remember, darkness is not the opposite of light; it is the absence of light.
Today, believers have the indwelling Holy Spirit as a dowry for our future heavenly marriage to the glorious Lamb of God, our Christ (Messiah, Savior) Jesus. We see this in Ephesians 1:14: (the Holy Spirit) “who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession…” You might say that we will move from our three-dimensional life here on earth where true believers live by faith to the spiritual 4th dimension where we will eternally live in the real intimate and loving presence of Jesus. (And to really blow your mind, think about this: there is no “time” in “eternity.”)
Now let’s look at the process of sanctification and examine it in terms of a four-fold process of knowing, loving, obeying, and glorifying God.
Knowing and loving. We really are children of our loving Creator (see Genesis, chapters 1-2). In 1 John 4:16 we find that: “God is Love.” The more we know a person who loves us, the more we love them; isn’t this absolutely true if we are talking about God?! God’s love for us is so much greater than the love we can feel, for example, towards our family. If one has been blessed with obedient children or you have or had loving parents – this should be easy to understand. If you have not experienced this earthly kind of love, then know that as we choose to seek and know our Father God, He will find us; and with His infinite grace (unmerited favor) and mercy (withheld punishment) bring one into a loving personal relationship with His Triune Being through a oneness that can only be spiritually discerned. Most of us understand love as a “feeling”, which automatically implies that one has no control over its constantly changing nature; however, love is really a “decision” – a non-changing positive choice.
Knowing, loving, and obeying. In a loving relationship, we naturally want to please the other person. Children please and honor their parents by obeying them. Love is our highest positive motivation for wanting to obey, and meet the desires (by seeking the will) of the one who loves us. Two in love want to do the best for each other, once all selfishness and pride is set aside. For us sometimes, this is hard to do, or even realize, exactly because of our fallen human nature replete with our sinful pride, envy, selfishness, and a host of other non-Christlike qualities which we inherited from Adam’s fall from God’s grace; Adam and Eve were plumb kicked out of the Garden of Eden because they fell to the devil’s temptation – see Genesis, chapter 3.
Knowing, loving, obeying, and glorifying. Honoring or glorifying someone is the highest form of worthiness we can demonstrate to someone we love. It is key to understand that through obedience we honor someone. When a child obeys his or her parents, their actions certainly show a respect and honor for them. When we obey what God tells us in His Word, He receives honor and glorification. It goes without saying, that we cannot obey someone unless we know what it is that they want us to obey. In Scripture, God reveals Jesus Christ to us and the example He set for us in obeying His Father. It is important to also realize that only the Holy Spirit can allow us to understand God’s communication to us. At our moment of justification, we are 100% filled with the Holy Spirit, and positionally, but not experientially sanctified. We are justified when we truly and freely in our heart and mind choose to place our faith and trust in Jesus and become a follower, a life-long student or growing disciple of our Lord and Savior. The One who through His atoning sacrifice forgives our sins (past, present, and future) and gives us eternal life and love through and with Him.
Have you made this decision, or on the contrary, have you decided that you are a highly intelligent, good person and that your good deeds/life are your road to everlasting life and glory? Beware if you have not studied God’s Word for yourself! Ask God to reveal Himself to you as you read the entire Gospel of John. Ask a “follower of Jesus Christ” the questions you might have. Know that eternal salvation is by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8).
The evangelical Christian is sometimes accused of bibliolatry – worshipping the Bible instead of God and Christ. Perhaps this is possible. However again, we must recognize that one is known only by one’s word and deeds. To hear a person’s words (for example, God’s Word) is to know that person. Going to church out of obedience with simple mental assent (head knowledge only) that there is a God is meaningless and totally inadequate in the eternal scheme of things – unless, we have the relational heartfelt knowledge and faith certainty of who God is along with His corresponding works and activity through us. It has been said that the longest distance known to man is between his head and his heart! The trip is actually very short, but only if you choose to make it!
As we grow in our knowledge of God, we grow in our love relationship with Him and our desire to be obedient to Him thus bringing Him glory. When we use the aforementioned “Golden Key,” by reading and studying God’s Word, He will reveal to us the knowledge to equip us for the work He has for us, and in fact accomplish it through us. “All Scripture is God-breathed (inspired) and is useful (profitable) for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17
Finally, going back to the concept of glorification. Glory or glorification has different meanings in Scripture. We normally understand glory or glorify as meaning honor, or to honor someone or something. Actually, it is helpful to understand that when God is glorified, it often times means that He is made manifest or made known. Not only did Christ glorify His Father by obeying Him (to the point of sacrificing His life for us), but He also made the one true God known to the world. It is a fact, that no other person in history has so impacted the world! The unity in the Bible is absolutely incredible: one amazing unity of theme – Jesus Christ, one problem – sin and one solution – the Savior.
Jesus speaks of His spiritual oneness with the Father in John 17:21 and says: “… Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Likewise, we glorify God (our ultimate purpose in life) by making Him manifest in our earthly lives. Christ in us, our Christlikeness, is when we allow the invisible God to be made visible through our attitudes, words, and actions to a hurting and/or “spiritually blind” world. Just as Christ was sent into the world, living by always seeking His Father’s will, so too should we live. This is polar opposite of constantly living according to our will, our wisdom, and our desires, or just living for today for our pleasure without any need for God.
As we spend time in God’s precious Word, we soon learn the secret of peaceful rest as our activity is replaced with His activity through and in us, and we can discern and understand what the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Christ died so we might have eternal life, we must die so Christ can live in us – this “spiritual truth” can only be grasped with the help of the Holy Spirit.
May the Lord impart His knowledge and bless you. In His name, Amen!
“If I were the devil, one of my first aims would be to stop folks from digging into the Bible… I should do all I could to surround it with the spiritual equivalent of pits, thorns, hedges and man traps…” J.I. Packer
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