Men at Work: Every Believer's Role in Sanctification - Part 4

Tom Pennington • Philippians 2:12-13

  • 2004-07-04 AM
  • Sanctification
  • Sermons


According to the Bureau of Transportation, there are about seven million miles of roads in the US. Over the last two weeks, my family and I saw about twenty-five hundred of those miles. In fact, on Friday, we traveled one thousand and five miles in eighteen long hours. I had a lot of time to think during those hours. And as I thought about it, it was one of the things I observed that isn't very deep but it's interesting is, how different the travel is from state to state. Have you ever noticed when you leave Texas heading east, that even if your eyes were covered, you can tell when you enter the state of Louisiana because of the state of the roads? You notice that? That's true in other states as well. There seems to be a definite atmosphere to each state, even on the interstates.

But what I did find as I traveled was that they also have many things in common. One of those is road signs, and construction. There was construction about every couple of hundred miles, or at least there was what seemed to be construction because there were these signs and there were markers. I didn't see anybody; but they said there was construction somewhere. As you travel along, you see the signs. One of the signs that I noted that regularly came up was "Road Work Ahead". But if you're like me, the sign that got your attention was the one right below it: it's a new one—I haven't seen it that much. We haven't traveled much by interstate in recent years: coming from California we're usually on an airplane, but right below the sign that says, "Road Work Ahead" it says, "Traffic Fines Doubled When Workers Present". Now that got my attention. Why is that? Why is it that traffic fines would be doubled when workers are present? There's an assumption that you need to look out for the workers because they're going to be so intent on doing their job and doing it well, that they're not going to be looking out for you.

I'm not sure that's a safe assumption about all highway workers, but it should be a safe assumption about us as believers.

We're in the middle of a series—a series I've entitled "Men at Work: Every Believer's Role in Sanctification". You see, you and I are to be pursuing our own sanctification, pursuing holiness, with such intensity, that others have to look out for our safety, because we won't. The first two weeks we looked at this issue, we surveyed all that the Bible teaches sort of in a broad sweep about this issue of sanctification. And then, the last time that I was here, a couple of weeks ago, we looked at specifically what Philippians 2:12 teaches about the issue.

Let me read that passage for you. Turn to Philippians 2, Philippians 2. As we look at this issue of sanctification, these verses frame the foundation for our study, and really was what prompted the study, as we flow through the book of Philippians. Philippians 2:12, Paul writes:

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Now, our last time together, we looked at this verse in detail, and I'm not going to review all that was there. I encourage you, if you didn't hear it, to get the tape. In fact, I hope to put these—what I believe will be five messages, one more next week—and put them into a little set on sanctification because I think there's really no more crucial issue in the Christian life than understanding the process by which we are transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.

But we looked the last time, we looked at this passage of Philippians 2, we saw several things. Let me just remind you of the flow of this verse, verse 12.

First of all, we saw the motives of sanctification. "So then, my beloved," Paul refers back to the passage about the kenosis, and he says, listen, when Christ was here on the earth, He devoted Himself to obedience, and even so, you and I should devote ourselves to obedience as well. "So then, my beloved, …" And we looked at some other motives for sanctification as well.

Secondly, we saw in this verse the pattern of sanctification. Paul writes, "just as you have always obeyed, …" In other words, you obeyed initially in response to the gospel. The gospel is a command: repent and believe. And you obeyed even then, and it's been a pattern in your life since, a pattern of obedience. "Just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, …" You don't depend on me, Paul says, for your spiritual life and growth.

Thirdly, we saw the attitude of sanctification. Paul goes on to say we're to pursue sanctification "with fear and trembling". We're to live, as it were, before the very face of God. We're to pursue holiness, realizing that, as Hagar said, "God sees me". With fear and trembling.

And finally, last time, we looked at our part in sanctification. And that brings us to the core of this sentence, verse 12, the main clause, which is "work out your salvation". Work out your salvation. That phrase describes our part in sanctification. We noted last time what it doesn't mean. For example, it doesn't mean we're to work for salvation, that is, to achieve a right standing before God. That's not what it means. We noted several other things this does not mean.

What it does mean, we saw, is that this word "salvation" is used here in Philippians 2 not in the sense of my past salvation, that is, what happened at the moment of conversion, nor is it used to describe what will happen in the future when Paul says we will be saved from the wrath of God when Christ returns, but instead that word "salvation" describes present tense of salvation: God's ongoing deliverance of me from the power and the practice of sin. In other words, sanctification. We are to work out our own sanctification. The Greek word that's translated "work out" literally means "to work at"; to work at accomplishing a task, to carry something out. I've gained, and I think some of you have mentioned to me since, that you've gained a great deal of insight, for how this word 'work out' is used in other places. In the secular Greek papyri, as well as in the in the Old Testament, in the Septuagint. It was used in Deuteronomy 28:39, for example, where it was translated 'to cultivate'. To cultivate, to work at, to work out, is to cultivate. That's a great image of sanctification.

It's a perfect illustration of sanctification because as I noted for you, when you cultivate a garden, when you're planting flowers or vegetables or fruit, or whatever you're planting in your garden, when you're cultivating that, you expend great effort; and without your effort, nothing will grow. But, when something grows, you can take no real credit for it because God is the one who put the life into that seed, God is the one who instituted the entire processes of seed time and harvest. God is the one who created the seasons. He sends the rain, He sends the sunshine, and the Scripture teaches us that God is the one who causes that to actually grow.

So, you expend a lot of effort, but in the end, you can take no real credit for what grows. That's exactly true of our sanctification. We are to work at, or cultivate, our sanctification as if we were cultivating the soil of our hearts. Paul has in mind here a continuous, sustained, strenuous effort.

In fact, it's interesting to note in other places in the New Testament, how sanctification is described. It's described in images of intense effort. For example, in 1 Timothy 6:11, it's called "a pursuit, or following after". It's as if we're at full speed, pursuing something.

In Philippians 3:12, here in the same book, he says, "I press on for Christ-likeness." That word "press on" is a word that's used in other contexts in Greek "to sprint". The description is a sprinter, who stands at the starting gate with every muscle taught, ready to spring at the sound of the gun. And it's an exercise full energy into every fiber to make that short burst to the finish line.

That's the kind of energy that you and I are to expend in the pursuit of our sanctification. But my favorite image Paul uses is in 1 Corinthians 9. Turn there for a moment. First Corinthians 9. Later this summer, we're going to have the Olympic games, or at least they're scheduled to occur. Nothing comes up, nothing happens. Well, Corinth had its own version of the Olympic games. And Paul writes to the Corinthians, and he reminds them of this, and he likens our pursuit of sanctification to someone preparing to compete in the games.

Notice 1 Corinthians 9:24. First, he likens it to a race. He says,

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. [Now, Paul isn't saying that only one Christian is going to achieve sanctification and everyone else is going to lose. He's saying, run as if you were running to win a race. Expend that kind of effort. Verse 25] Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. [In other words, you purposely choose to say no to some things, so you can be in the best shape you can be in to compete.] They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, [That's all they got for winning, no gold medal, just a wreath made out of plant material,] but we an imperishable. Therefore [Paul says] I run in such a way, as not without aim….

So he says, listen, I want the Christian life to you I want the pursuit of sanctification to be, to you, like an Olympic runner who's training for the games, and who extends maximum effort to be in the best possible shape.

Is that how you pursue sanctification? Is that the kind of effort you're expending, in pursuing personal holiness? Some of you are former athletes, and some of you are athletes now. You understand that concept. Are you expending that kind of effort in the pursuit of holiness? Paul goes on to say, it's like boxing. Notice the end of verse 26. I like Paul. "I box", he says, "in such a way, as not beating the air….". He says I'm not shadow-boxing. But instead, I don't hit my opponent, verse 27: I hit myself. I bruise my body. Now he's not talking about physically bruising himself. He's saying, I'm bringing my body into control. Some of the old translations say, "I buffet my body". That's buff-ette, not buff-ay. I buffet my body, and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

You see what Paul is saying? He's saying, listen, here's how you ought to think about sanctification. You ought to think about it like a boxer, who's preparing for the Olympic games, who's expending the maximum effort, to be in the best possible shape, so that he can win. That's how you ought to think about it. Is that how you are pursuing your personal sanctification? Are you expending that kind of effort? You see, our role in sanctification is to work out our salvation, work out our sanctification, or to cultivate it.

That raises the question in mind, as it probably does in yours, and that is, how. How exactly do we go about that? What is the actual process by which we cultivate our souls into, or unto sanctification? Two weeks ago, we examined Paul's final point here in Philippians 2:12, where he says, "work out your salvation". We saw what our part in sanctification (this final point Paul makes) I called it "our part in sanctification". "Work out your own salvation." We saw what it doesn't mean; we saw what it means. Now, today I want to look at what is the actual process of working out your own salvation. What is that process? You see, when you cultivate your yard or your garden, you need a plan and a process, or it becomes absolutely overwhelming. In the same way, God has given us a very specific process by which we're to work out our own sanctification. But that process is not found here in Philippians 2. Here he just tells us to do it.

In a parallel passage, actually in a book that was written at the same time as Philippians, from the same prison cell, he tells us how. He gives us the actual process. And in the remainder of our time this morning, I want to turn to Ephesians 4, and I want us to look at the actual process of working out our sanctification. Ephesians 4.

Now first of all, I want you to remember the context in which chapter 4 occurs. The first three chapters of Ephesians have reference to our position as Christians. This is how you stand before God. This is the incredible position you enjoy. It's the doctrine, the theology, that Paul lays as a foundation for his practical instruction. When you get to chapters 4 - 6, we leave our position and we go to our practice. This is how you ought to behave as a result of that. Notice he introduces that concept in 4:1, "Therefore" [there's his hinge word. He says as a result of all you've learned about your amazing position in Christ,] "Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called," In other words, I want your habits of thinking and acting to match your position. Walk in a manner worthy of your position.

Now in verses 2 - 16, Paul sort of enters into a parenthesis in his thought. We looked at this in detail when I first came. It lays out the mission for the church. But he returns in verse 17 to this idea of walking in a certain way, walking in a way that's worthy of your calling. Notice what he says in verse 17, "… this I say, [then] and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, .…"

Now this picture of "walking" is a consistent biblical metaphor for how you live your life: for your habits of behavior and thinking, those predictable patterns of behavior that describe you. He says, "I don't want your predictable patterns of behavior to be the same as the Gentiles." What does he mean by "Gentiles"? Does that mean that people he was writing to in Ephesus were primarily Jews? No, there were both gentiles: there were both Greeks and Jews there. He explains that reference to gentiles in 1 Thessalonians 4:5, where he says "By "Gentiles" I mean "those who don't know God". The word "Gentile", it would be like our word "pagan". He says "Stop walking like pagans." Don't live that way. Don't let your patterns of behavior be like those who don't know God.

And then in verses 17 - 19, Paul describes both how pagans live, how unbelieving pagans live, and why. Let's look at why they live they do. This describes you before you came to Christ, this describes every unbeliever. Notice how he described it. Verse 17, he concludes the verse by saying they walk, or they live, their habits of behavior, are "in the futility of their minds". The word "futility" refers to something that's fruitless. This refers to man's worthless ideas and ideologies. As one writer said, "It's the good-for-nothing notions that underlie man's irresponsible behavior."

Notice that futility, according to verse 18, is the product of a darkened understanding and alienation from the life of God. In other words, that futility of mind came from something. It came from being darkened in their understanding. You see, the power of rational thought is affected by sin. It refers to a sort of mental fog. I grew up in south Alabama. You wake up some mornings, and literally, you couldn't see more than fifteen, twenty feet in front of you because the fog had settled in. It's like (in the unbeliever's mind) a fog had settled in, that impairs thinking, impairs mind's ability to see its way through issues and problems. Or another metaphor Scripture uses is spiritual blindness. You see, for the unbeliever, not only does he live in darkness, but darkness lives in him. He can't see. His understanding is darkened.

Paul adds (in verse 18) that he's excluded from the life of God. You see, God has graciously given every human being physical, temporal life, but they are completely without the eternal life that God enjoys. They are, as it were, dead to God. Oh, they are alive; they're walking around, but they're dead to God. Excluded from the life of God. And notice that Paul traces that darkness and that deadness to a common source. Notice verse 18: they have a darkened understanding, they are excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them. There's a deep-seated ignorance that keeps them from enjoying the life of God, and it keeps them in this mental darkness. But this ignorance isn't God's fault. In fact, it's a willing, self-imposed ignorance. It's like a child who puts his fingers in his ears because he doesn't want to hear his playmate.

In Romans 1 Paul (you remember) describes the fact that God has revealed Himself. He's revealed Himself in creation. He's revealed Himself in a way that men are completely without excuse, and he says this in verse 21: "…even though they knew God," [they put their fingers in their ears] "they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened." It's a self-imposed ignorance.

Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 4:18: he says this "ignorance that is in them," is there (watch it) "because of the hardness of their heart;" It's a self-imposed ignorance. It's an ignorance that comes from a hard heart. That word 'hardness' is an interesting Greek word. You'll recognize it: "porosis" (πωρωσιν). Porosis. It's a medical word. It's used to describe the super hard calcification that occurs when a bone breaks and it's reset. You ask a doctor and he'll tell you that spot where the bone broke and then was reset, when that calcification forms, is stronger than the bone itself. Paul says that hardness is like people's hearts. Hard hearts.

Paul adds: "They have become callous". Literally, they have lost all sensitivity. One commentator by the name of Wood writes this: "Their consciences are so atrophied, that sin registers no stab of pain." It's like spiritual leprosy, where you don't feel guilt.

Now that's why unbelievers live the way they do. Now look at how they live. Notice verse 19. Since they're no longer sensitive to guilt and sin, they have given themselves over to sensuality. Sensuality means living with abandon in the pursuit of sexual gratification, sexual excess. And this terrifying self-abandonment produces, notice verse 19, "the practice of every kind of impurity". In other words, they are totally preoccupied with all kinds of filthy practices. Paul ends by saying (notice the end of the verse) that unbelievers pursue all of this "with greediness". I think the NIV gets it right when it says, "with a continual lust for more". It's a determination to pursue self-gratification at all costs. For some people it costs them their marriage. For others it costs them their job; for some their health, and for a few, even their lives. And yet they will pursue it with greediness.

You know, I think there's a perfect picture of fallen man in J.R. Tolkien's trilogy The Lord of the Rings. In the book, readers are introduced to a tragic, pathetic character called Gollum. Gollum was once an ordinary hobbit. But he became obsessed with the ring of power. He killed his best friend to get the ring, and then he became evilly obsessed with getting the ring back at all costs. All love, all kindness, all loyalty, are eclipsed by his one all-consuming passion, his all-consuming lust, to have the ring of power, which he calls "my precious".

Everyone who lives outside the life of God is just like Gollum. Oh, there may be glimpses of what they used to be, but they have become a tragic, pathetic character. And they live their lives for whatever is their one all-consuming passion: whatever it is to them, that has become their precious. Paul says "Christians, don't live like that." Stop walking like the Gentiles, like the pagans, like those who don't know God.

Notice in verse 20 and 21, there's a change that takes place. He says listen, that's what you used to be. But there's this amazing change. Notice verse 20, you have learned Christ, verse 21, … you have heard Him, and have been taught in Him." Those are all references to salvation. He says listen, you have been dramatically changed. Now, it's important for you to see the construction of the verses that follow because this frames the basis of Paul's argument. Notice in verse 21, "… you have heard Him and have been taught in Him…." And then that is followed by three Greek infinitives. Those Greek infinitives are translated this way: verse 22, "lay aside"; verse 23, "be renewed"; and verse 24, "put on". You see, those three expressions, those three Greek infinitives, "lay aside", "be renewed", "put on" summarize, or explain, the three steps to biblical change, or we could say the three ways to work out your salvation.

Here it is, where the rubber meets the road. You want to change? You want to see sanctification progress in your life? Then get a handle on these things. I can promise you this: no Christian ever progresses in sanctification without these three things happening. There is a laying aside, there is a being renewed, and there is a putting on. It's crucial that you understand how this process works. This is how God changes people. Let's look at them together—these three infinitives, translated "lay aside", "be renewed", "put on".

First of all, "lay aside", or as it's translated in some versions, "put off". Notice he says in verse 22, he says you have been taught "that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self". Lay aside the old self. What's the old self? Well, Paul had just identified it in verses 17 - 19. It's what you used to be. It's how you used to live. It's how you used to think, who you used to be. You are to lay aside what is the old self. Well, turn to Romans 6. We looked at this several weeks ago, but I just want you to see it again, because here Paul explains what the old self is. Paul wants us to know that believers had died to sin, and they now live to God. Notice 6:1. He says,

What shall we say then? [about this amazing grace that we have experienced] Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! [the strongest Greek expression for no, don't let it happen] How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus [that is, those of us who have been saved, have been immersed into Christ] have been … [immersed] into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

What's Paul saying here? He's saying listen believer, there's a sense in which when Christ died, you died with Him—who you used to be, your old self—died with Him. When Christ was buried, your old life was buried with Him. And just now, as Christ had been raised to a new life, you too have been raised to walk in a new life. You're a new creation. Verse 5, he says,

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, [if we have] certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, [Verse 6] knowing this, [There's the foundational knowledge, that you need to understand this] that our old self was crucified with Christ, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

Paul says listen, your old self, who you used to be, died with Christ, and you have been raised to walk a new life. You still have the flesh. You still have the clothes, as it were, of the old man, and you are to begin laying aside those clothes. That's what the words "lay aside" means "it has the image of clothes". In fact, it's used in Acts 7, you might remember, when it says that those witnesses who were going to stone Stephen laid aside their coats. It's the same word. They laid aside their coats at the feet of Saul, a young man by the name of Saul. So that's the picture of this word. Take off the clothes.

The Greek tense for this word "lay aside" and for the "put on" (comes later) doesn't mean this is a one-time action that you just decide at one point in life, I'm going to lay aside all that remains of the old like and be done with it. Instead, it's like a snapshot of what has to happen in all the areas in which we sin. There is a process by which we are laying aside what remains of the old life. Paul's point is this: your old self is dead. Take off the clothes that belonged to the old self. Lay aside those old clothes. Lay aside all that remains of the old life: its thinking, its desires, its self-will, its sinful habits of thinking and acting. Lay it aside. Lay aside all that remains of the old self.

Verse 23 gives us the second step in the process of our biblical change. He says, back in Ephesians 4, "and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind". So, lay aside, be renewed. Literally, "go on being renewed". It's a continuous process. But notice how we're going to be renewed: in the spirit of your mind. That's an interesting expression. In the spirit of your mind. Literally, "the spirit or attitude by which your mind is regulated". In other words, your mental outlook. There needs to be, Paul says, a radical reorientation of your mental disposition. Your outlook. Your outlook about sin, your outlook about God, your outlook about holiness, you need to have your thinking completely renewed. One writer says, "You must have a completely new attitude of mind". Now, did you notice those three expressions, "lay aside", "be renewed" and "put on"… "Lay aside" and "put on" are our actions, something you're to do. "Lay aside", "put on". But "be renewed" is passive. You see, it's something God does. God the Holy Spirit does to us. He renews us; we don't renew ourselves. But it still is a command. Be renewed. So, the clear implication of that is, God does the renewing, but either you can hinder that renewal process, or you can promote and encourage it.

Now, this renewal: what is it? Well, it's a total transformation. You remember Romans 12:2? He says don't allow the world to push your thinking into its mold; don't allow the mindset of your age to push you into its way of thinking, but instead be transformed by the renewing of your mind. That word "transformed" literally means metamorphous (μεταμορφουσθε). It is the word from which we get our word "metamorphosis". A radical transformation. Be radically transformed by the renewing of your mind.

What does it mean though, to be renewed, or to be transformed? Renewed or transformed in what sense? Well, turn to another epistle that was written about the same time in which Paul clarifies this renewal. Turn to Colossians 3. Really, a parallel passage. And Paul explains what this renewal is. Verse 8:

But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. [And] Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed [watch this] to a true knowledge….

The first idea behind renewal is that your thinking is being renewed. There is a deep and thorough knowledge of God in what He wants from me. Your thinking about God, your thinking about sin, your thinking about yourself, is all being renewed, being changed: it's being transformed. But then he said not only are you being renewed in your knowledge, but verse 10, "according to the image of the One who created him--" In other words, God. You are being renewed in the likeness of God. This is what we call "Christ-likeness". So, your thinking is being renewed; it's being utterly transformed, and who you are is being transformed, into the very image of Jesus Christ. You see, this isn't calling for mere outward change of actions and habits, but for an inward change. And when the inward change happens, the external behavior will change.

This is so much the problem with legalism. I was reminded of that even on our vacation. We had some interaction. I had a lengthy discussion with a gentleman that I respect very much, but whom I see caught up in legalism. And I was reminded of the fact that when you start on the outside, and you try to change a man, all you're doing is changing his behavior. God on the other hand, starts at the heart. He renews the mind and the thinking and the person. And then the behavior will flow from that. Hodge, the American theologian, writes this, and this is crucial. Listen carefully: "Sanctification in its essential nature is not holy acts," [it's not doing certain things] "but such a change in the state of the soul, that sinful acts become more infrequent, and holy acts more and more habitual and controlling." That's sanctification.

Now how does that happen? How does this renewal, being renewed by the Holy Spirit, how does this renewal of our knowledge and who we are, happen? Well, look at verse 16 of Colossians 3. A renewed mind is a mind that's controlled and saturated by the Word of Christ. "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you…." In other words, the renewal that we desperately need is a result of the work of the Holy Spirit using the Word of God. I think the Apostle Peter puts it much more clearly. Turn back to 2 Peter, 2 Peter 1. Notice what he says, how he introduces this book. He says in verse 2 of 2 Peter 1:

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, [in other words, you've got all the resources you need] through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. [There's that "knowledge" again. Verse 4] For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises…. [Now you tell me, where did we receive, where do we receive, the precious and magnificent promises from God? It's God's Word: it's the Bible. But watch what he says next.] so that by them [that is, these precious and magnificent promises you received in the Scripture, by them—you may become partakers of the divine nature….

In other words, Peter is saying, God transforms us; He renews us in true knowledge, and after the image of God through the Scripture. The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God. The Holy Spirit renews our mind through our consistent reading and study and meditation of the Scripture. I can't emphasize this strongly enough. Listen to me carefully: this renewal of the mind is the main hinge on which our sanctification turns. If you simply tried to put off or lay aside certain actions, and put on other actions, then you are without this renewal of the Holy Spirit; then you are doing nothing more than what unbelievers normally do in self-reformation. You are simply changing your behavior. That isn't sanctification.

You know unbelievers who decide that some sinful act of theirs is causing them too much grief and too much problems, too many problems, and they put a plan in place to stop. That's self-reformation. That is change of behavior. That is not sanctification. What makes sanctification, sanctification is not only putting off and putting on, but being renewed in your thinking: having a change of your attitude, that disposition of your mind about God, and about your sin, and about holiness. That's why when Christ prays in John 17 for His apostles and for us, He says "Father, sanctify them through, or by means of, the truth", because ultimately, we have to be renewed in our thinking by the Spirit using the truth of God.

Now that brings us to the third step in the process. By the way, stay with me. We're going to illustrate this in a moment, and it'll become crystal clear.

The third step in the process. First, lay aside; secondly, be renewed by the Holy Spirit working through the Word, be renewed by the Spirit, of your mind, the disposition of your mind, and thirdly, verse 24, "put on the new self". Back in Ephesians 4, "… put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth." Put on. Again, this is the image of putting on clothing. He's saying okay, you've laid aside the clothes that belonged to the old self, who you used to be, you've had a change in your thinking; now put on the new self. Put on the things that are in keeping with your new self. Respond in obedience. He simply means to do what you discover and learn on the pages of Scripture. Put on the virtues that you find there. Begin to apply them and enact them into your life.

Lloyd-Jones, whom I love for just how practical he is, says this. He says, "The whole matter of putting on the new man is in essence the application of truth to ourselves." There it is. Couldn't get more simple than that. "Put on" means apply the truth to yourself and begin doing it. And listen to what he says. Listen carefully. Remember, this is a man whom I respect greatly, whom I see as a mentor, but who had eminent influence in Christianity. Listen to what he says: "It is the most important thing that one can ever discover in the Christian life. What is it? We must talk to ourselves. We must preach to ourselves, and we must take the truth and apply it to ourselves and keep on doing so." There it is. "Put on" simply means understand what God has said and to expend every effort I can to do it. Put it on.

Now, in Ephesians 4, we've looked at verses 21 - 24. Those verses summarize the process. They give us the three steps in working out our salvation and working out our sanctification: lay aside, be renewed, and put on. The verses that follow, beginning in verse 25 through the end of the chapter, Paul illustrates the process. And I love this because it just helps it become clear. The list of sins here, in verses 25 and following are not exhaustive of all the sins you and I encounter; they're meant to be illustrative. They're meant to show us regardless of what sin you may struggle with, this is what it looks like. This is what the process looks like in real life.

Let's choose one of them. Look at verse 28. In verse 28, he deals with the specific sin of stealing. Now you may not struggle with the sin of stealing, or you may. But regardless, the process that he illustrates is the same for whatever sins you struggle with. Notice the putting off, the being renewed, and putting on that's found in verse 28. Alright. You have the thief. Verse 28 says, "He who steals" [there's the sin.] This is the sin in a person's life: it's a habit that is enslaving this person, "He who steals must steal no longer". There's putting off. Stop stealing. Just stop stealing. This isn't brain surgery. But, if you try to do that, whatever your sin is, if you simply try to say to yourself, "I'm going to stop this", then there will be no radical change that takes place in your life, and you'll find yourself back in the same sin again and again and again and again because that's only part of the process of biblical change.

He says, "Stop stealing". But then there's a renewing of the mind that takes place. What is the thief thinking about, when he's stealing? What's he interested in? He's solely interested in himself, in what he can get. But now the thief is exposed to the truth in somehow, through the teaching of Paul, he's renewed in his mind, a change in his entire mental disposition about work, and about possessions takes place. Notice the rest of the verse: "He who steals must steal no longer;" Now, let me make one more point here before I move into the rest of the verse. Is a thief who isn't currently stealing no longer a thief? No, he may be just taking a break; he may be frightened by the police who are combing in his area. Just because he's not stealing doesn't mean he's not a thief anymore. He's still a thief. He's got to be changed. Watch how he changes. Verse 28: Stop stealing, "… but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need."

You see how Paul is providing that radical change of thinking for the thief? He's saying, listen, you think it's all about what you can get. But let me tell you. Labor, work, is a gift from God. It's a good thing that you ought to be involved in, and it ought to be more than for meeting you and your needs, although it ought to be that. It ought to be working, so that you have enough for other people. Do you see now, and then that's what is to put on? He's to get a job. We're talking about putting on, he's changed in his thinking now, he understands that life isn't about getting and for him, life is instead about working, so he can provide for himself and help others, and so that's the change of thinking, so what does he put on? Well, he gets a job. And he starts giving some from his paycheck, to people who are in need. He's putting on the virtue that is the opposite of his vice. That's sanctification. And as that happens, God changes the heart of this thief. And he becomes, rather than a thief, he's no longer a thief anymore; now he's a person known for generosity.

That's how it works with whatever sin you struggle with. You have to identify the sin. What is it you struggle with? What is the sin? And you have to be willing to lay that aside as you would a garment, but you can't stop there. Then you need to come to the Scripture, and say, "God, open up my mind and heart. Help me to understand Your truth about my sin; Your truth about what I ought to be instead. Help me to identify the virtue that is the opposite of the vice with which I am struggling. And help me to put a plan in place to get there."

You see, as the thief identifies his sin, as he identifies the virtue that he should be putting on, generosity, as he does his homework to determine what situations most tempt him, as he creates a plan, as he expends the effort, as he expends that effort, God changes him. Very crucial for you to understand this. For you to pursue sanctification, you need to identify the sins that you struggle with; and you need to study what the Scripture says about those sins, and you need to identify the opposite virtue that should be in place of that sin. That's just as the thief, with generosity. And then you need to create a plan to get you there. And you need to expend the effort to get there.

You see, God sanctifies us by means of the truth: the Word of God. How does He do it? Well, He exposes us to the Word of God, and as He does, it identifies and convicts us of our sin, the Spirit uses the Word to renew our thinking about our sin, and what we should be. We have a paradigm shift, if you will, in our thinking because of the work of God. God teaches us the virtues that should replace our sinful habits as we come across them in Scripture, and we seek to apply the truth. Lloyd Jones again says this:

What happens in sanctification is that God takes this truth, this Word of His, and by the Holy Spirit, He opens our understanding of it, and enables us to comprehend it, so that after we have received the truth and comprehended it, we then proceed to apply it to ourselves. And the whole time, God is enabling us to do that.

You see, as we do those things, as we do what we can do, God does what we can't do: He changes us. He changes us at the most basic core level: our minds, our desires, our wills. And then of course the resulting behavior. We expend the effort. And God by His grace sanctifies. Now let me remind you that this is a marathon, and not a sprint. It's a spiritual process, a process of growth. You will never go to bed a spiritual child and wake up the next day as spiritual father. The implications of that are twofold. In terms of yourself, be content with where God has brought you, but never satisfied. By God's grace, I'm not what I used to be; but I'm not what I want to be. That should be your constant attitude. I'm not what I want to be, but by God's grace I'm not what I used to be.

Also, the implication of the reality that's a process should really make you patient with others. You would never be upset with a child for failing to act like an adult. Give people room to grow in their Christian lives. I'm not talking about excusing their sin; I'm talking about recognizing that growth is a process.

So, let me wrap my arms around all that we have studied, to give you a brief summary. How do you work out your own sanctification? Let me give you several practical steps.

First of all, believe that your old self died with Christ. You have been freed from sin's dominion. You no longer have to be a slave of your sin. You still have the flesh, and you can and must battle it.

Number two: this is crucial: discipline yourself for regular, systematic reading, study and meditation of the Scripture. If God uses the truth to sanctify, guess what? Without the truth you won't be sanctified. You must expose yourself to the truth of God's Word. Discipline yourself to do that.

Number three: as you do that, pray for illumination. Pray for God the Holy Spirit to renew your thinking (to give you a mental paradigm shift) about God, about your sin, about holiness, to change your disposition.

Number four: as you learn, respond in repentance and faith. As you come across the truth, respond and repent of your sin. "God, I realize this is a sin. I've been coddling this sin; I've been treating it as if it were a little thing; it's important to You. Please forgive me." Repent of it and believe what God has revealed.

Number five: this is crucial: determine several things. First of all, determine what sins you need to put off. You ever done this? You ever sat down and written out a list of the things that clearly you struggled with in your Christian life? You may want to burn the list after you're done, but write a list of those sins that you struggle with. Then go to the Scripture. Go to the passages that deal with that sin. While you're doing that (studying those passages) look for the opposite virtue—the virtue that you ought to be putting on in place of that sin. Put that in your little list. Have your list of sins next to it. Write the list of virtues that you ought to be putting on in place of those, that you ought to be pursuing.

If you are a thief, that ought to be generosity. If you're constantly craving and lusting after what you don't have, it's gratitude. Pursue a heart of gratitude toward God. Find out what the virtue is, that you ought to be using to replace the sin.

Number six: develop a daily plan to help you change those habits. Come up with a strategy. If you wanted to lose weight, or you wanted to get in shape, what would you do? You'd create a plan. You'd sit down and say, "Okay, I've got to get up a little earlier, and I've got to do this, and I've got to do that, and I've got to watch myself at lunch because I'm always tempted to forget what I'm eating at lunch", et cetera. You can't become physically fit by keeping your head on your pillow. You have to have a plan. And God has said the same thing is true in sanctification. God isn't going to zap you. You've got to do the work. You've got to identify your sin; you've got to identify the virtue. You've got to create a plan.

And number seven: expend maximum effort, while remembering that God has promised to change you, as you seek to be obedient. In other words, your effort is neither earning sanctification nor achieving it. God, by His grace, will change you.

Next week, Lord willing, we'll look at God's work in sanctification.

Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank You for its clarity, how it speaks to us. Lord, help us as Your people, not to be lazy. Forgive us for our complacency, for sitting back and waiting for You to zap us with some spiritual energy that's going to enable us to pursue sanctification.

Lord, help us to expend the effort, all the time realizing that if anything of eternal value is done, if true change happens in our hearts, it will be because You do it. Father, help us to get serious about holiness.

And Lord, I pray for that person sitting here this morning at the sound of my voice who is absolutely comfortable in his or her sin, who's happy to continue living the way they're living, has no interest in what we talked about this morning. I pray that you'd help them to see that may very well mean that they are outside the life of God, and under Your judgment. Lord, bring them to faith and repentance this morning.

In Jesus' name, Amen!