If I said, “I’m perfect,” what would you say? It’s obvious that I’m not (especially if you know me), you would just laugh and say, “Yeah right.” I’m infamous for at times doing very idiotic stuff. I distinctly remember years ago being at my grandma’s house. It was getting dark and I followed her to the balcony where she was hanging her clothes on a line to dry. I, quiet and discreet as a cat, went behind her and shut the glass sliding door. I backed away and a few minutes later, as she finished hanging the wet clothes, mind you that she had just hand-washed, she turned around and walked head-on to door. What happened in the next few minutes determined whether I would live or die. I can’t even begin to tell you how remorseful I felt as she wailed and screamed. Her nose was a bit bent out of place. You see, when people question the total depravity of man, just point them to me. Thankfully she showed me mercy that night—and I am forever grateful.
Are we perfect? The only reasonable answer is an emphatic “no.” On a more serious note, there is no need for us to go to a jail facility or a strip club to find evidences of depravity. We need only examine ourselves and we see the stains of sins. On the human plane, we know our thoughts better. We know our pride. We know are desire to be recognized and applauded. We know our unkind thoughts and our evil tendencies. But then we find God, or rather God finds us.
Throughout the pages of Scripture we see God calling out a people and molding and perfecting them so that they might reflect the glory of Himself to all peoples. We see in the Old Testament with the Israelites and we see this all through the New Testament–God is in the business of changing people. It has been accurately said that God loves people the way the way there are, but he loves people too much to leave them the way they are.
Chapter 17 of John’s gospel is for me a Mt. Everest experience. In it we find the interceding heart of Christ who pleads to the Father for His disciples (and us by inclusion as well), as He knows full well that the time is near of His arrest. In verse 17 we find a beautiful statement: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” There isn’t an esoteric experience or a mystical revelation that somehow transforms us, it’s by the Holy Spirit’s illumination of the Word that we find our true sanctification. As we encounter God through pages of the Bible, we are confronted with our sin and our need for help. It is the Word where we find our sure strength for overcoming sin. The psalmist wrote, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Ps. 119:11). We are set apart, after being declared righteous by God through Jesus’ death, unto good works (cf. Eph. 2:10) by the internalizing the truth of God’s Word. This is one of the most precious means of grace that we enjoy.
Paul tells the Thessalonians, “…[T]his is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3). While the context for this command is in regards to sexual purity, we still cannot miss the heart of God whose aim is to call people of this world to live a life that is in complete obedience and surrender to Him.
Now the point must be made that God doesn’t expect us to somehow muster enough will power to be sanctified on our strength. Rather, He is the means for our being set apart. In 2 Thessalonians we find Paul, rehearsing the salvation experience to his readers who were “beloved by the Lord” and were chosen by Him “from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13, emphasis added). You see, we are set apart from sin unto God by God’s Spirit. Paul told the Philippians, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). His work in us is not complete until we bear the image of His son (cf. Rom. 8:29).
There are many seemingly contradictory doctrines in the bible. For example, Jesus is seen as both God and man. God is seen as loving (Ex. 34:7a) and gracious yet just and a consuming fire (Ex. 24:17; Heb. 12:29). When it comes to our sanctification, it is no different: In Philippians Paul encourages the believers to “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (v.12b). And then in the following verse we read, “[F]or it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (v.13). John MacArthur writes in his commentary regarding these verses,
“The [Greek] verb rendered ‘work out’ means ‘to continually work to bring something to fulfillment or completion.’ It cannot refer to salvation by works (cf. Ro 3:21-24; Eph 2:8,9), but it does refer to the believer’s responsibility for active pursuit of obedience in the process of sanctification…”
He then adds:
“Although the believer is responsible to work…, the Lord actually produces the good works and spiritual fruit in the lives of believers (Jn 15:15; 1Co 12:6). This is accomplished because He works through us by His indwelling Spirit….God energizes both the believer’s desires and actions….God’s power makes His church willing to lives godly lives…”
Thank God for His salvation and for His continual delight in conforming us to be like His Son. It is an awesome privilege that the God of the universe would find pleasure is showing mercy and grace to us. While we are on this side of heaven–in our flesh–we will never be fully sanctified, yet we do not lose hope or despair because like His salvation, our sanctification is a gift bestowed by Him. So we push forward till that day when we shall be a perfect picture of our great Savior.
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
– Phil. 4:13