The Grace of God: Sanctification Continued

sanctificationLast week we began considering how our hearts are purified by God’s sanctifying grace. “Little s” sin are the willful acts of disobedience a person constantly committed before he/she was justified and experienced the new birth in Christ. For the truly reborn, “little s” sin should only be the rare occasion, if at all, in the person’s life. However, “big s” Sin, the being of sin, persists in the heart and needs to be eliminated, not by anything the believer does but only by the grace of God. Remember God’s words to the people of Israel through Ezekiel, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Eze 36:26). A heart of stone lives by the law, a heart of flesh lives out love.

To receive a gift from another, a person must extend his/her hand. Extending the hand is only an act of cooperation, it does not compel the giving of the gift. Likewise, we must cooperate with God’s sanctifying grace, just as was needed with convincing grace. Two forms of cooperation were required
earlier, repentance and works evident of repentance. Parallel cooperation is needed with sanctifying grace. I spoke last week about repentance and the manner in which Wesley distinguished that which accompanied conviction and that which accompanies sanctification. The first he termed “legal” repentance and the second, “evangelical.” .” Legal repentance is our confession of our sinful acts, evangelical repentance is our confession of the persistence of Sin in our hearts, which Wesley referred to as “unholy tempers.” We need to quit pretending we are something we are not. The new birth did not make us holy just as God is holy. The new birth did make us new creations, new persons in Christ Jesus, but a process follows to become without blemish, to be completely sanctified. The born again waits for the second work of God to make him/her holy, but waiting does not mean idleness. Wesley wrote on this topic, “(we wait)…in vigorous, universal obedience, in a zealous keeping of all the commandments, in watchfulness and painfulness, in denying ourselves, and taking up our cross daily.”

Two types of works were encouraged, not to gain God’s favor, but to retain it. These are acts of mercy and acts of piety. Acts of mercy need little explanation. Jesus laid out clearly His expectations for His disciples (then and now), “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Mat 25:35-36). It is not enough to address a person’s physical needs, their spiritual needs must be met, too. Most often, the physical needs, even though ultimately of less importance, must be taken care of first. It is difficult for someone who has not eaten or is cold or sick to hear the gospel message.

These precepts are clearly stated in Wesley’s sermon “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Thirteenth”:

Over and above all this, are you zealous of good works? Do you, as you have time, do good to all men? Do you feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and visit the fatherless and widow in their affliction? Do you visit those who are sick? Relieve them that are in prison? Is any a stranger and you take him in? Friend, come up higher…Does he enable you to bring sinners from darkness to light, from the power of Satan unto God?

Clearly, for Wesley the question was always, “Do you love not just God, but your neighbor, too, with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength, and all your soul?” If so, demonstrate it.

Next week we will consider the second type of works evident of evangelical repentance: acts of piety.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Scot

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