Sanctification: Growing in Holiness
Hebrews 10:11-22; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
I have found myself liking a piece of technology that has become my travel partner. One thing you need to know is that when it comes to directions, I am a bit challenged. I make a decent navigator because I know to consult maps and landmarks. I do not have an innate sense of direction as many others do. So my techno friend is my GPS – her name is Stephanie. I simply punch in a destination, and Stephanie maps the path for me to take. The important step for me at that point is to follow her direction. Using the means of grace discussed last week, we proceed on our Christian journey.
John Wesley often spoke of our Christian journey toward the ultimate goal of Christian perfection. God extends prevenient grace to us that is always abounding and available to everyone. Through justifying grace “God declares us righteous, or holy, because of Jesus Christ’s righteousness. In sanctification, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God actually makes us righteous.” Even while we had strayed from God, God continued to call to us, nudging us back toward a relationship with God. When we repent of sin and turn toward God, we are declared justified through the atonement of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for all. Once we have turned toward God, accepted God’s grace for ourselves, it is time to launch on our journey of faith. God has done everything for us up to this point – now we become active co-participants in our quest for Christian perfection. We grow and mature in Christ to become more like Christ, in thought, word and deed.
Those of you who are parents or grandparents or are around young children in any capacity recognize the stages of physical growth. Children go from being infants to toddlers to young children to tweens/teens and finally to adults. Each of these stages is marked by specific abilities and signs of maturity. Infants are vulnerable and fragile. They can only ingest milk or formula as they are just starting their lives after birth. Over time, these children mature in every way, eventually taking on solid food and developing strengths and skills that help ground them. Toddlers become more daring and venture out to explore their surroundings with wonder and awe. This is the time when every item in the house is placed 3 feet and higher! Young children embrace activities and experience life outside the comforts of home, continuing to hone and strengthen skills and interests. Perhaps they experience their first overnight trip to a friend’s house, with or without the midnight ride back home! Tweens and teens tend to take adventure to a whole new level, often perceiving themselves as invincible, while balancing the art of fitting in or standing out. All the while, the ultimate goal is to mature and become more skilled and secure as an adult.
Those of you who are teachers often see a similar pattern of maturity or growth among your students. I’ve heard it said that one of the greatest joys as a teacher is to watch students embrace and fully comprehend new ideas and knowledge – witnessing those ‘AHA’ moments that are simply priceless. With study and perseverance students leave a grade with more knowledge than they entered that grade. They have matured in their minds and taken on a greater understanding.
We can relate well to physical and mental maturity but often we fail to recognize the need for spiritual maturity. Wesley spoke often of going on to perfection. He saw sanctification as the “process of growing in holiness.” Our ultimate goal is to love God and love our neighbor in such a way that nothing else takes precedence. We become holy in every way.
The sermon of John Wesley for this week is entitled: ‘Circumcision of the Heart.’ That definitely sounds like an odd title doesn’t it? What Wesley means by this title is that as we continue on our faith journey, growing and maturing to become more and more like Christ, we adapt an inner sign of holiness that is expressed through our very being. We study scriptures not because we are required to as part of a group or personal Bible study but because we desire to know God more through God’s holy word. We begin to put the needs of our neighbors ahead of our own because we desire to imitate Christ who modeled this for us by becoming the suffering servant. We look at different situations in our lives not as difficulties or setbacks but as opportunities to share God’s love with others.
God declares us righteous through justification. We become righteous through sanctifying grace. As we take on this inward sign of holiness, this circumcision of the heart, we begin to express qualities of humility, faith, hope and charity.
The quality of true humility involves recognizing ourselves as beings dependent on our Creator. We set aside our vision of our own perfection and focus on becoming perfect in God. When we humble ourselves before God, we surrender our will to God’s will – a step modern society sees as defeat. Yet we are given the assurance that only when we allow God to take control of our whole selves will we truly be free from the bonds of sin and death.
The quality of faith is that unyielding certainty that our sins are truly forgiven, knowing that in spite of our sin God provided the needed atonement for that sin through God’s son Jesus. We are no longer bound by our sinful selves. We have the assurance that Christ died even for us. We are reaffirmed as children of God when we truly believe.
Our scripture lesson from Hebrews talks about the priests in the temple who were making sacrifices each day and how this was no longer needed as Christ became the ultimate sacrifice for us. We are no longer bound by sin – as the hymn tells us, ‘our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.’ As we align ourselves with almighty God we become even more assured of the grace of God which knows no bounds.
The quality of hope logically follows this faith assurance as we continue on our journey toward Christian perfection. We gain a deep knowledge that we are truly doing those things which are pleasing to God. We are overwhelmed with joy – not just for temporary fixes that are here today and gone tomorrow but with a joy that lasts through those dark and lonely places along our Christian walk. It is the hope of eternal life, knowing that this earthy realm is not our final resting place. It is the hope that God will not only see us through our times of trial but walks along with us each step of the way. There is real joy in knowing we are never alone.
From humility to faith to hope, the truly circumcised heart then takes on the spirit and command of love. We are not talking about a love for something like chocolate, or football, but a deep, pure love that embraces God and neighbor. Jesus summed up the 10 commandments into two directives – love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Only when we surround others with our God-focused love can we truly see ourselves as going on toward Christian perfection. Only then will we truly embody the Altogether Christian.
Each of us is on a journey toward Christian perfection. Some are just beginning – some have traveled the same trek of road over and over again. Some have continued along one step at a time through humility, faith, hope and love. Regardless of where you are on your journey, know that the community of faith is traveling as well. This body of Christ is moving on toward perfection that can only be realized by those who place God’s will as first and foremost in our lives. In closing, I’d like to read again those words shared for us from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 5:23-24, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (NIV). Amen.