Sermon: Our Part in the Sanctification Process (Part One)

Cultivating the Fruits of God's Holy Spirit (Spiritual Share Croppers)
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Given 22-Dec-18; 33 minutes

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Misguided theologians have tried to create a false dichotomy between grace and works or grace and law. One of their common "proof-texts" is Ephesians 2:8-9; they emphasize verses 8 and 9, while failing to mention verse 10, which is logically connected to the preceding two verses through the conjunction gar, meaning because. Verse 10 clearly states that God has created us to do the works He was ordained for us. The scriptures are replete with cautions that God will critically appraise the works of His people. At the turn of the last century, insidious Protestant antinomian elements infiltrated into the Worldwide Church of God, savagely attacking such doctrinal concepts as "qualifying" and "building character," claiming that such concepts imply that we must work to "earn" salvation. Pointedly: We do not qualify for salvation, God has ordained that we surrender our lives to Him in order to build godly character. Because God has gifted us with free will, He cannot create character in us by fiat. Character comes only from choosing. Control over thoughts comes from choice. Christ will not control our thinking. Sanctification does not take place at the onset of our calling, but instead is a lifetime process which will not end until our death in the faith (or change at the First Resurrection). Our role in the sanctification process, insignificant as it may seem, consists of being junior partners (spiritual share-croppers), diligently cultivating the Fruits of God's Holy Spirit thought our post-calling experiences.

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Please turn over to Philippians 2:12. Most scriptural references will be taken either from the Lockman Foundation’s Amplified Bible or the Lockman Foundation’s New American Standard Bible or New American Standard Bible E-Prime. All three of these versions are available in electronic format on the CGG website.

Philippians 2:12 Therefore, my dear ones, as you have always obeyed [my suggestions], so now, not only [with the enthusiasm you would show] in my presence but much more because I am absent, work out (cultivate, carry out to the goal, and fully complete) your own salvation with reverence and awe and trembling (self-distrust, with serious caution, tenderness of conscience, watchfulness against temptation, timidly shrinking from whatever might offend God and discredit the name of Christ).

Some misguided theologians have tried to create a false dichotomy between grace and works or grace and law by either ignorantly or deliberately misapplying Ephesians 2:8-9.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God; Not because of works [not the fulfillment of the Law’s demands], lest any man should boast. [It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself.]

As the late Garner Ted Armstrong used to remark on his radio program, “Many have memorized these two verses as proof-texts, thinking they have nullified any need for effort or work on our part, feeling that grace cancels any need for works. Furthermore, they assume that Christ’s sacrifice nailed that horrible oppressive Old Covenant Mosaic law to the cross.”

But, Oh, what a difference one additional verse makes! Verse 10. Garner Ted would say, “if you don’t remember anything else from this message, remember Ephesians 2:10.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live].

Let us now go back a couple of books to I Corinthians 3:13.

I Corinthians 3:13 The work of each [one] will become [plainly, openly] known (shown for what it is); for the day [of Christ] will disclose and declare it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test and critically appraise the character and worth of the work each person has done.

In the spring of 1993, after I gave a message on building character in Advanced Homiletics Class in Big Sandy, a fellow student, who had apparently consumed a large dose of the Pasadena antinomian Kool-Aid, took me aside and cautioned me that expressions such as “qualify” and “building character” should no longer be used in sermons because they imply that we are trying to earn our salvation, a throw-back to the oppressive Old Covenant. I trust that we do not think that any of us are trying to qualify for salvation, but we are certainly qualifying and preparing for a meaningful role in God’s Kingdom for which God has called us and is preparing for us.

The charge that we are trying to qualify for salvation is an antinomian Red Herring or a deceitful equivocation, deliberately muddying the essential distinction between sanctification (the life-long process of acquiring spiritual maturity) and salvation - much the same as the “progressives” equating women’s rights with infanticide (abortion). Both equivocations stem from the same Satanic hatred of God’s laws which has obliterated the Sabbath and Holy Days in mainstream ‘Christian’ religion and has led the United States Supreme Court to establish murder (abortion) and Sodomy (gay marriage) the accepted law of the land in the name of women’s rights and tolerance for unprotected minorities.

II Timothy 2:20-21 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also [utensils] of wood and earthenware, and some for honorable and noble [use] and some for menial and ignoble [use]. So whoever cleanses himself [from what is ignoble and unclean, who separates himself from contact with contaminating and corrupting influences] will [then himself] be a vessel set apart and useful for honorable and noble purposes, consecrated and profitable to the Master, fit and ready for any good work.

Jude 4 describes a pattern which has perennially threatened, and sometimes overtaken, the Church of God from the end of the first century to the end of the 20th century.

Jude 4 For certain men have crept in stealthily [gaining entrance secretly by a side door]. Their doom was predicted long ago, ungodly (impious, profane) persons who pervert the grace (the spiritual blessing and favor) of our God into lawlessness and wantonness and immorality, and disown and deny our sole Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).

On July 30, 2017, a young pastor by the name of Steven Anderson, from the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, streamed a You-Tube sermon, titled “Anti-Christ Bible Versions” in which he lambasted the NIV for having the audacity to substitute the term “Man of Lawlessness” in II Thessalonians 2:3-4 instead of the “Man of Sin” which appears in the King James Version, assuring us that Christ did away with the law. Evidently, he has forgotten that the KJV defines sin as lawlessness, as we read in I John 2:3-4: “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” The New King James version reads: I John 3:4: “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” Anderson seems to display a greater animus against law-keepers than feminazi’s do toward pro-lifers. Fearing a massive conspiracy by the Hebrew Roots Movement, the Zionist Jews, and the Muslims to establish a one-world religion sticking us with the Laws of Moses, Steven Anderson proclaims that the Beast will force us to keep the Sabbath and the Feast of Tabernacles.

He then somberly warns his congregation, “We are being programmed in the end-time to be brought back under the Torah as law-observing Christians totally nullifying Christ’s grace.

He continues, “In the New Testament, we don’t observe the Sabbath. In the New Testament, we eat pork. In the New Testament, we eat lobster and shrimp—if we can afford it—amen. In the New Testament, we don’t keep the Feast of Tabernacles. That stuff has been done away.” I now see why Dr. Don Ward so vehemently stated, “ I hate the spirit of the Baptist Church”—a caustic combination of supercilious self-righteousness and a virulent strain of antinomianism (or law-hating) prevalent throughout most Protestantism.

My specific purpose in this message is to examine our role, meager and insignificant as it may seem, in the lifelong sanctification process, initiated by God at our calling and to make the case that we must diligently cultivate the fruits of God’s Holy Spirit for the rest of our physical lives after our calling. The title of this sermon is: “Our Part in the Sanctification Process,” with a subtitle, “Cultivating the Fruits of the Holy Spirit,” introducing a series of messages on this theme.

Those of us who have grown up on farms realize that planting seed is only the beginning of the growing and ultimate harvesting process. Much cultivation and pulling weeds is required for row crops, and extensive pruning is required for orchard crops and vineyards. Then, as Jesus’ brother proclaims in James 5:7,

James 5:7 So be patient, brethren, [as you wait] till the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits expectantly for the precious harvest from the land. [See how] he keeps up his patient [vigil] over it until it receives the early and late rains.

Just as the farmer is the junior partner with Almighty God in producing food and fiber, we, after God has personally called each of us, are junior partners with Almighty God (spiritual share croppers, if you will) in the production of godly character and righteousness, keeping His Holy Laws, including the Sabbath Day and Holy Days which most of Christendom disdains. Because God has gifted us with free will, He cannot create character in us by fiat.

Character comes only from choice or choosing. Control over thoughts come from choice. Christ does not, cannot, and will not do that for us. Making a choice would fall under the category of a work-an act of volition. This responsibility has been turned over to us as we are given the choice to establish or reject a relationship with Him. As John Ritenbaugh so emphatically stated last Sabbath, producing spiritual fruit depends on cultivating a relationship with Jesus Christ. The responsibility to develop this relationship is now on us since Christ has already loved us and has sacrificed His life for us while we were still sinners. Sadly, we find it easy to be earthy when we should aspire to the Heavenly.

Those of us who have at one time been hurt by unrequited love from someone else (that would probably be 100% of this audience) would also not want to acquire a magic love potion which would take the free will away from the object of our affection, turning our desired companion into an obedient, devoted lap dog—as one Twilight Zone episode poignantly dramatized. How much of our input does God request after calling us? Realistically, He demands a 100% commitment (but He wants it to be our choice) as we see in Romans 12:1-2.

Romans 12:1-2 I appeal to you therefore, brethren, and beg of you in view of [all] the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies [presenting all your members and faculties] as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God [which would include keeping His Sabbath and Holy Days], even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].

We must also be coldly realistic that our level-best effort will never be enough to get this sanctification or transformation process completed to the degree which God has in mind for us, but our efforts do indicate whether we really desire to reciprocate His love. Remember the lesson of the widow’s mite in Mark 12 and Luke 21 in which a poverty-stricken woman dropped two small bronze coins (worth about two cents), but in Jesus Christ’s estimation had given more than the entire fortunes of the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, J.P. Morgan, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and George Soros combined—to put it in modern parlance. Similarly, our part in the sanctification process is pitifully insignificant compared to the limitless resources provided by Almighty God.

We could make another comparison of the lop-sided ratio of our meager contribution with the infinite contribution of our senior partners in the sanctification process, God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Consider the feeding of the five thousand found in Matthew 14, Mark 6, and John 6, in which Jesus confiscates the lunch of a young boy (2 fish and 5 loaves of bread) multiplying them to feed a crowd of 5,000, which, when we factor in Matthew’s detail in verse 21 “besides women and children,” suggesting to many scholars that the crowd could have exceeded 20,000 people, with 12 baskets left over. If we calculate that this young man’s lunch could have generously fed two people, the ratio of human contribution to God’s contribution exceeds 1 to 10,000 or .00001%. When we re-evaluate or re-adjust this crude ratio to the true dimensions of God’s infinite power, our contribution becomes exponentially insignificant.

Refuting the faulty Protestant concept of eternal salvation or “once saved always saved,” we need to realize that sanctification is a progressive, incremental process spanning our entire lifetime, from our calling to our death. Like blighted fruit or abortive fetuses, we have the liberty to terminate this process if it is our will—as we soberly contemplate in Hebrews 10:26.

Hebrews 10:26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,

If we were all instantaneously sanctified at the moment of our calling, the Bible would not use the two words “being sanctified” implying a continuous, progressive, and ongoing process. Hold your finger here go back a few chapters to Hebrews 2:11.

Hebrews 2:11 “For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren …”

And again back in Hebrews 10:14,

Hebrews 10:14 “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.”

When we reflect on our own individual lives, we understand that we had virtually no choice to choose the circumstances—the family, the culture, economic circumstances, social status, or worldview—into which we were born. We often have little control over our life experiences, but we can control our evaluations of these experiences.

One individual who demonstrated this unique human proclivity was Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, as well as a holocaust survivor of multiple concentration camps, including Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Kaufering, and Tuerkheim, recording his memories and lessons for mankind in his best-selling book Man’s Search for Meaning, first published in 1946. This book chronicles his experiences as a prisoner leading him to discover the absolute necessity of finding meaning in all forms of experience, including the most brutal ones, in order to provide the motivation to continue living.

Frankl stated in his Man’s Search for Meaning, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

This particular insight is 180 degrees out of sync with the despicable victim mentality encouraged by so many radical progressive politicians today, or the passive grace without works mentality espoused by main-stream Christendom. Free will is a gift from Almighty God, enabling us to have a say in our destinies, a gift which He offered our forebears in Deuteronomy 30:19, a carrot-stick incentive we have rehearsed many times over the years.

Deuteronomy 30:19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants,

We learned last week in David Grabbe’s “Salvational versus Relational” message, that by now, we should have matured well beyond the punishment-reward motivation to the desire for quality eternal life—to know God and to be molded, shaped, and transformed into His glorified offspring-something far beyond any physical reward we could ever imagine. Frankl, as he attempted to counsel fellow concentration camp inmates, would often quote Friedrich Nietzsche’s dictum, "Wer einen Grund hat zu leben, kann es trotzdem ertragen." “He who has a why to live for, can bear with any how.”

Probably the most requested booklet distributed by the World Tomorrow program, and perhaps the first requested, was “Why were you Born?”—a booklet still widely distributed by a large number of major splinter groups of the greater Church of God. The booklet summarizes, “You were born to receive His very nature and character and eventually, eternal life on His level of existence: The likeness of God. When fully in God’s likeness, we will be able to fulfill our awesome responsibility of exercising dominion over, of assisting Him in managing the vastness of His creation.”

Almighty God, by calling each of us, has given us a sufficient “Why” to expend effort to attain this magnificent destiny. God does the major lifting, but He demands a commitment on our part to by our own volition to want this goal with all our being to the exclusion of anything else.

Turn back to where we started today in Philippians 2. If we do respond and yield to His shaping of His will, He has promised:

Philippians 2:13 [Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight.

Next time, I will endeavor to highlight specific strategies for yielding to God’s sanctification process, our meager (but nevertheless, significant and vital) efforts as junior partners (spiritual share croppers, if you will) at cultivating the individual Fruits of God’s Holy Spirit, all volitional works of choosing, contributing to our emergent spiritual godly character.

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