You Are What You…

Have you ever heard the expression, “You are what you eat”?  No doubt this is something maybe you have said before or heard someone else say at some point.  If you constantly eat ice cream and nothing else, and I happen to really like ice cream, your body is likely to show it soon enough.  Of course, you won’t literally become an ice cream cone, and good thing.

In a similar sense the psalmist says, “You are what you worship.”  This is a paraphrase of what we read in Psalm 135,

“The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them” (vv. 15-18, see also Ps. 115:4-8).

The psalmist reflects upon the fact that those who fashion idols become like them, and so do those who trust in these idols.  In America you won’t find as many idols made of silver or gold but one idol is silver and gold.  Such a person talks and thinks about money all the time.  They find it difficult to have a conversation about anything else, or at least they don’t desire to have conversations about other things.  Of course, just like the ice cream, in being made like money they don’t literally become money.  Although there is some truth to the one who worships money becoming like cold hard cash, emphasis on cold and hard.  Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).  The fact of the matter is you cannot serve God and anything else.  He alone deserves our total and complete allegiance, no one and nothing else.

How is it true of the Christian, “You are what you worship”?  For this is the will of God, your sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3a).  We are to grow in Christlikeness.  This is God’s will for the one who has trusted in Christ rather than in idols, what they or others have fashioned (in their minds or in their hearts).  We also see this as Paul speaks to the saints (aka believers) in Rome,

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30).

God has predestined believers to be conformed to the image of His Son, to make them like the One they worship!

“S” is for Sanctification

“S” is for sanctification.  A simple definition is provided in Webster’s 1828 dictionary, “The act of making holy.”  The Greek words translated “sanctified” and “sanctification” most frequently both have the root word for “holy” in them.  I’ve also heard it defined as the process by which a believer becomes more like Christ.  That is fitting since Christ is holy and perfect.  Notice how it is a process of becoming more like Christ, or becoming more holy.

In our instant gratification culture the thought of a lifelong process sounds rather daunting and downright defeating.  When we want something we want it now.  Well it is good to want to become more like Christ, in fact that is great.  We just need to recognize that it is a lifelong process and one that is not complete in this life.  Some would disagree with this statement so let’s turn our attention to the biblical text to help clarify.

Biblical Texts

Mentioning a quick distinction will help us in understanding a number of biblical texts and for making a proper distinction between the truth of what we are and the truth of what God is making us, holier.  Some call it the indicative and imperative of sanctification.  Others speak of positional sanctification and progressive sanctification.

Positional Sanctification

Believers are declared holy because they have been set apart by faith in Christ as God’s own possession (Demarest, The Cross and Salvation, 407).  For example, Paul begins a number of his letters in the NT by addressing the believers as “saints in Jesus Christ” (see Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2).  The word “saints” is literally “holy ones.”  To the believers in Corinth Paul said, “To those sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1:2).  If you were to conclude here that the believers in Corinth had obtained moral perfection you would be incorrect.  How do we know that?  All you would have to do is get past the thanksgiving to vv. 10-12 of chapter one to see that these believers in Corinth were not perfect.  So we would say that believers are positionally holy because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ that has been imputed (or counted or credited) to their account.  Or to say it another way “Paul spoke approvingly to the Christians at Corinth not because of their deepening spirituality (progressive sanctification), but because of their justified standing in Christ (positional sanctification)” (Demarest, 407).

Progressive Sanctification

“Therefore since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).  We stand justified in the sight of God because of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.  But while we are holy positionally through justification we are to progress in holiness morally.  How do we know this?  “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor…For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thess. 4:3-4, 7).  As a quick aside many people ask the question, “What is the will of God for my life?”  Now usually this question comes with a focus on relationships, career choices, college selection, or another important decision.  My response to those seeking the will of God in these areas above is to ask them, “How are you doing with the revealed will of God?”  There are multiple times throughout the Bible that God’s will is made plain to us (see Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Thess. 4:3-4; 5:16-18).  Let’s start by focusing on being faithful there and trust that God will take care of the rest.  That was the long way of pointing out that “this is the will of God, your sanctification” (v. 3).  How important is our sanctification to God?  Important enough that it is His will for EVERY believer and so it needs to be that important to us as well.

Peter reminds us that, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pt. 1:14-16).  We progress in sanctification by avoiding the sinful patterns of our old self and the sinful behaviors of those around us, but also by putting on the new self and obeying the commandments of our Lord (cf. Eph. 4:17-32).  We are to be holy in all our conduct because we currently are not holy in all of our conduct.

Does the believer participate in this process of sanctification?  After all we have been saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  “Not a result of works” (Eph. 2:9).  The answer to this question is found in Philippians where Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).  This sounds like a cooperative effort to me.  No I am not saying you justify yourself before God but that God has decided that believers should have a part in putting to death the old man and putting on the new self (cf. Col. 3:5-17).  As a pastor friend has said,
“We can only work out what God is working in.”  That is to say that there can be no sanctification apart from God’s grace.  As Eph. 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  We are saved apart from works but we are also saved for good works.

“P” is for Pneumatology

“P” is for Pneumatology.  Even though the “p” is silent it still begins with the correct letter.  What is pneumatology?  πνεῦμα (pneuma) means Spirit, wind, or breath in Greek depending on the context.  In the case of pneumatology it is the study of the Holy Spirit.  The third person of the triune God tends to get the least amount of press and Christians tend to know the least about Him.  This blog will be a little different from the others in this series but hopefully still beneficial as we think about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.  The two sections below are statements taken from my own doctrinal statement.  The first part “Blessed Trinity” is the beginning of my confession on God (Theology Proper).  The second part is my confession on the Holy Spirit (Pneumatology).  This second statement was written not in seminary but while I was preparing for my ordination and finalizing my full doctrinal statement.  We will finish by looking at a few areas mentioned in the confession a bit further.

Blessed Trinity

I believe the one true God is eternally self-existent (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 90:2, 4, 93:2; Jer. 10:10; John 1:1; Gal. 4:4-5; 1 Tim. 1:17, 6:16) as one essence in three persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; each person is fully God, and there is only one God.  In the unity of the Godhead there is neither a mixing of the persons nor a division of the one essence.  In regard to their persons the Father is unbegotten, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father (John 1:14, 18; 3:16), and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son (Luke 24:49; John 15:26; 16:7; 1 Cor. 2:11; Gal. 4:6).  The Godhead is a community of self-giving lovers (Gen. 1:26, 3:22; 11:7; Is. 6:8; Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19; John 3:16; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6).

RC Sproul (Everyone’s a Theologian, 179) says in regards to the work of the Trinity in our redemption that “…God the Father initiated the plan of redemption; Christ performed all that was necessary to effect our redemption; and the Holy Spirit applies Christ’s work to us and makes it ours by imparting new life to dead souls, which theologians call ‘regeneration’” (see “B” is for Born Again).  As the final part of the last verse of the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” says, “Holy, Holy, Holy merciful and mighty; God in three persons blessed Trinity.”

Confession on Pneumatology

I believe in the Holy Spirit who is one in essence with the Father and the Son and also co-eternal with them (Matt. 3:16-17; Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; 2 Cor. 13:14; Heb. 9:14).  He is very God and eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son (Luke 24:49; John 15:26; 16:7; Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:11; Gal. 4:6).

I believe the ministry of the Holy Spirit after Christ’s ascension is to testify about the Son (John 15:26; Acts 5:30-32).  The Holy Spirit convicts of sin (John 16:8-11), regenerates (John 3:3-5; Tit. 3:5-6), sanctifies (Rom. 15:16), and assures the believer of their salvation (Rom. 8:16; 2 Cor. 1:22).  Upon repentance and belief in the Gospel, the Holy Spirit indwells the believer and remains with them forever (John 14:16; Rom. 8:9-11).  He counsels (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7), seals (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30), and teaches (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:11-13; 1 John 2:20, 27) the believer while guiding them to put behind the sinful desires of the flesh and clothe themselves with the fruit of the Spirit (Rom. 8:9; Gal. 5:16-23).

I believe the Holy Spirit distributes gifts to all believers for the glory of God and the edification of the church (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-31; 13:1-13; Eph. 4:11-12, 16; Heb. 2:4; 1 Pt. 4:10-11).  Believers are given different kinds of gifts so that they work together in unity and properly function as the body of Christ.  The “sign gifts” such as healing, prophecy, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues were essential for the authentication of the apostolic generation to both confirm the message spoken and the authority of those speaking (Matt. 11:2-6; John 10:24-26, 37-38; 14:11; Acts 8:4-8; 14:3; Heb. 2:1-4).  These gifts were particularly necessary when a completed canon (the Bible) was not yet finalized, and therefore are not normative for today (Num. 11:10-25; 1 Cor. 3:10-11; 2 Cor. 12:12; Eph. 3:1-6; Heb. 2:1-4).  No individual gift serves as a sign of the Spirit’s indwelling, because the Spirit’s indwelling is itself the gift (Acts 10:45; 11:15-17; 1 John 4:13).

Taking a Closer Look

One can see that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is far reaching.  In fact it reaches back to the beginning when the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep (Gen. 1:2).  The Spirit was active in creation and, as the statement above declares, is active in the re-creation (or regeneration) of individuals who were dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3).  And the Spirit is active in the process of sanctification, where believers are transformed to become more like Jesus Christ, and will be active in the believer’s glorification.  The Holy Spirit is the One whom God sends to make the believer holy.  Without the work of the Spirit we would neither come to faith in Christ, in fact could not, nor would we desire the things of God.  It is rather ironic that the Holy Spirit is often overlooked and yet He is very active at every point in the believer’s life.

It was stated briefly above in my confession on pneumatology but is worth highlighting again and that is the Holy Spirit’s work in regards to the Scriptures.  Namely, the Holy Spirit inspired the writers and now illumines the text for us.  2 Peter. 1:21 says, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  And 1 Cor. 2:11 says, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”  The Holy Spirit helps us understand the truths of Scripture by shedding light onto our dark minds.  He is the teacher of truth which is fitting since He is called the “Spirit of Truth” three times in John’s gospel (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13).

Have you ever been stuck when praying?  What I mean is, have you ever not known the right thing to say?  Maybe you found yourself in a new situation and were unsure of how to proceed forward.  Or maybe a friendship or other relationship is on rocky ground and you don’t know whether to pray for healing or for God to cut the ties with the least amount of hurt possible.  Or maybe you agreed to pray for someone who then shares with you that they are seeking prayer for something you know is not biblical.  Have you ever had a hard time praying the “right words” afraid that if you don’t ask for something just right you won’t receive it, as if God is like one of those school lockers that won’t budge unless you get the right combination.  While we may not verbalize this, but based on how we pray we reveal a lot about what we actually believe.  The author of Hebrews tells us that we can approach God’s throne with confidence and “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).  Why can we approach God’s throne with confidence?  Because Jesus, the Son of God, our great high priest was tempted like we are but unlike you and me, Jesus never once sinned (vv. 14-15).  And because of Jesus’ substitutionary death (see “A” for Atonement) on the cross for sinners we who have been brought into God’s kingdom by the work of the Holy Spirit can be confident God is able to help us.  We can also pray confidently, even boldly, because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us on our behalf.  Romans 8:26 says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”  Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15) and the Holy Spirit helps us in our weaknesses.  The blessed Trinity is active when you and I pray.  May that realization spur us to approach God’s throne today!