July 16, 2023


Passage: 2 Thessalonians 2:13

We pray, “God save us,” and we should.  We preach, “Jesus saves,”  and we must.  But practically, it is the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, who delivers the goods in salvation.

God the Holy Spirit is the cause of our justification by grace through regeneration, with the granting of faith and repentance.  He is the effect of our sanctification though His indwelling presence and the word of God He inspired.  And, He is the guarantee of our glorification by ensuring we are signed, sealed, and delivered to God in Heaven.

Today we want to examine the second phase of what the Holy Spirit does to save us, namely sanctification.  This occurs in between our justification and glorification, the time between our new birth (John 3:3ff) and our last breath (2 Corinthians 5:6-8).  The Scriptures are clear that every Christian who has been justified, is being sanctified, and, will be glorified.  So let’s look at how the Holy Spirit works to sanctify the children of God.

Sanctification is a Holy Work

The words “holy” and “sanctified” are synonymous.  Both mean to be clean.  Both mean to be set apart for special use.  Both apply to a genuine Christian chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and made holy, sanctified, clean, and useful by the Holy Spirit.

Take surgical tools as an illustration.  They are created for a specific purpose.  They are thoroughly cleansed before use.  They are a set, with each tool having a special purpose during the operation.  You don’t want your surgeon showing up without tools.  You don’t want those tools to be contaminated.  You don’t want the wrong tool used on the wrong body part.

God made you for a special, spiritual, and eternal purpose.  His will is for your to glorify Him and do good for others, particularly in the building up and bringing people in to the body of Christ, His church.  God bought you and cleansed you with “the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:19), which is your justification.  He aims to keep you clean and make you useful, which is your sanctification.

Unlike justification, which is monergistic, sanctification is synergistic.  It is the work of God in you and it is you working for God (ref. Ephesians 2:10).  The way the work gets done, in sanctification, is with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Bible.

Sanctification Requires Spirit and Truth

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.
— 2 Thessalonians 2:13, ESV

Election and justification always result in sanctification.  If you have been chosen by God, if you have been justified by grace through faith in Christ, you will experience sanctification before your ultimate glorification.  For this sanctification, God has given you an inner (the Holy Spirit) and an eternal (the Holy Bible) guide to keep you holy, sanctified, clean, and useful for the Lord.

“The Spirit” is the Holy Spirit, who came to you in justification, regenerating you, making you born again, bringing faith in Jesus and repentance toward God.  After He regenerated you, He remained in you, and will never leave you.  Yes, God lives in you, Christ lives in you (ref. Colossians 1:27), through the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

Jesus taught this to His disciples in the upper room:

You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you … the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things.
— John 14:17, 26, ESV

“Know” is a relationship word.  Christians “know Him,” we are in a relationship with God, who is “with you” and “in you” in the person of the Holy Spirit.  He continues His convicting work (ref. John 16:8) and perfects his converting work (ref. Titus 3:5), principally by being present to “teach you all things.”

Sanctification happens as the Holy Spirit in you teaches you to trust and obey the truth God has given to you, and God’s truth has been encapsulated for us in God’s word, the Bible.  The faithful saints of the Old Testament believed the Bible to be God’s word (ref. Psalm 19, 119).  Jesus believed the Bible is God’s word (ref. John 17:17).  New Testament Christians believe the Bible is God’s word:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
— 2 Timothy 3:16, ESV

Paul and Peter both stressed the necessity of sanctification after justification.  They both preached and wrote about the presence and power of the Holy Spirit for sanctification.  And they both stressed, in their last words (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21), the importance of Holy Scripture in sanctification.

So as God works in you, through the Holy Spirit, you must work with God, in Bible study, in a church that brings the Bible to the forefront, to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (ref. 2 Timothy 2:15).

With the Holy Spirit in your heart and the Holy Bible in your hands, sanctification unfolds.  It opens up holy desires to know and do the will of God.  It closes unholy doors to keep you from falling away from God and causing others to stumble.  It makes you holy, clean, useful to God for His glory and others’ good.

Sanctification Creates Holy Desires

The holy desires and duties inspired by the Holy Spirit and taught in the Holy Bible are too numerous to mention in one sermon.  Let me just touch on two which, if kept, will keep you holy to be sure.  One is a desire to be in the right place, the other is a desire be the right kind of person.

God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
— John 4:24, ESV

When God’s Spirit is in you, the Holy Spirit, and when truth is available to you, the Holy Bible, then you will have an overwhelming want to worship.  It becomes perhaps the most compelling desire of your life.  Pagans worship idols, the world worship politicians, sports heroes, and rock stars, but God’s people worship God, and it keeps us sanctified, clean, useful.

Worship is a private matter between God and a child of God, and it can be conducted in a thousand places.  It is a time of love, devotion, communication, meditation, prompted by the Spirit, tied to the word.  Call it a quiet time, call it Bible study, call it a walk in the woods, but call upon the name of the Lord, in personal worship, and have the word with you.

Worship is also a public matter, when the Spirit gathers Christians together to celebrate the truth.  It, too, is a compelling desire of the redeemed heart, and to forsake it is a sin (ref. Hebrews 10:25).  But to participate in public worship, done “in spirit and truth,” in the right place at the right time, is a joyful, serious, sanctifying experience, that will serve to make you the right kind of person.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
— Matthew 5:6, ESV

With the Holy Spirit in you, and the Holy Bible with you, and the Holy church around you, the hunger of your heart will be righteousness.  In the context of the beatitudes, Jesus is not talking about the condition of righteousness, which you received at justification, but the character of righteousness, which you develop in sanctification.

Righteousness in your character compels you to do the right thing.  Let by the Spirit, instructed by the word, you want to do right in your relationship with God by loving and obeying Him (ref. John 14:15).  You want to do the right thing in your relationships with others, your family, your church family, your friends and neighbors, and everyone you meet.  You want to do the right thing in vocation, an honest days work for an honest days pay.  You want to do the right thing in recreation, so you don’t cheat in golf and don’t lie about the fish that got away.

To be sure, attending worship and obeying commandments will not save you.  But if you are saved, the indwelling Holy Spirit and inspired Holy Bible will cause you to want to worship and do what is right.  This is sanctification, the conviction and cultivation of holy habits and holy character.

Sanctification Curbs Unholy Appetites

Before I close, I must deal with sanctification in a cautionary, albeit controversial, light.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.
— 1 Thessalonians 4:3

Sanctification is holiness, not unholiness.  Sanctification is obedience, not disobedience.  And it needs to be said in every age, especially our own, that sanctification is morality, not immorality.

Again, morality cannot save you, the Pharisees tried that.  But saved people should be moral.  We should be upright, honest, pure, holy, right in all of our conduct, but especially our sexual conduct.  And it is God, not puritanical preachers, who put the stress on sexuality when teaching about the sanctification that accompanies salvation.

If God’s Spirit and God’s word are our guides, and sanctification is our goal, then the five forms of sexual immorality we must abstain from include sexual violence, beastiality, adultery, fornication, and homosexuality.  I cannot conceive of a Christian even committing the first two, for people who are guilty of the first should be put away and punished to the full extent of the law, and people involved in the second should be pitied and put away in a mental institution.  But there are confessing Christians who involve themselves in the latter three.  They need to be aware of how much damage their bodies can do to their souls, and the souls of others.

When it comes to adultery, I know King David did it (plus conspiratorial murder), and he was a man of God’s Spirit and God’s word.  Yes, God forgave him and, yes, he is in Heaven (surely cringing that he’s being used again this way in a sermon).  He came clean, but he became much less useful to the Lord, if you study his trajectory before and after the affair with Bathsheba.  His sons, Absalom and Solomon, were so affected by David’s sexual sin that one almost destroyed his kingdom, while the other one eventually did.  I declare that the majority of social ills in our day have been caused by our surrender fifty years ago to a culture of adultery and divorce.

Fornication, pre-martial sex or any sex outside of marriage, is the most common sexual sin condemned in Scripture.  It is also the one most engaged in by our sex-soaked society.  For this one can be forgiven, too, but a casual attitude about sex coincides with a causal attitude towards God’s Spirit and God’s word, and does not sanctify anyone.

Homosexuality is the sexual sin we evangelicals get most up in arms about, yet it is the one that does the least harm.  I did not say it is right and I will not engage in the kind of interpretive gymnastics required to make it right, I’m just saying it has less repercussions than adultery and is no worse than fornication.  And if Christians can be forgiven for adultery and fornication, they can certainly be forgiven for homosexuality as well.

Sanctification is when desire to do the will of God is greater than the lust to gratify the flesh.  Sanctification is the holy curbing the unholy.  Sanctification is the Spirit and the word working in you to keep you at peace with God, and to bring the peace of God to others.

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
— Hebrews 12:14, ESV

Holiness is sanctification, being made clean and useful for the Lord.  Sanctification is so important, according to the writer of Hebrews, that without it one cannot consider they have really been justified, and therefore, will never be glorified.

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