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We Must Pursue Holiness

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:17-24


People expend a lot of money and a lot of time trying to change. Sometimes those changes are merely physical changes, things they don't like about themselves. But people also invest a lot of time and a lot of money in trying to change who they are, in trying to change their characters, in trying to change their behavior. In our culture, for the most part, people who are not in Christ pursue change primarily through things like self-help materials, which you can find in abundance in the bookstore, or through prescription drugs, or through secular counseling.

Now, let's admit that some change is possible using those means. People can modify their external behavior. People can even modify, to some extent, certain thought patterns that are self-destructive. But understand this, you can never change your heart. You and I don't have the power to change our own hearts. And without heart change, ultimately all of our efforts to change our thinking, or to change our external behavior, are futile because the heart will express itself in some other way.

God puts it like this in Jeremiah 13:23, "'Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?'" You see, our genes dictate the color of our skin and we can do nothing to change that; the leopard's spots are part of his genetic code. So Jeremiah goes on to say, "'Then you also,'" if that can happen, if a person can change the color of his skin, if a leopard can change its spots, "'Then you also can do good who are accustomed,'" that is, who are in the practice of, "'doing evil.'" In other words, it's impossible.

Jeremiah's point is that we cannot change our nature, and because we cannot change our nature, we cannot consistently act contrary to that nature. The way Jesus put it is, "'A bad tree cannot produce good fruit.'" "'A bad tree cannot produce good fruit.'" But the good news of the gospel is that you can experience genuine change. Through the life and death of Jesus Christ, while you can't change yourself, God can and will change you at the heart level. This is the gospel. And when God changes us at the heart level, then how we think and how we speak and how we act is altered as well.

Now, I think so far what I have said most Christians would agree with, but I think that we get off the train with this next statement and that is, that Scripture doesn't merely say that change, heart change, is possible, Scripture says that heart change is that for which you and I were predestined. Not just possible but predestined. Romans 8:29, Paul says, "For those whom God foreknew," that is, those whom God chose, "He also," listen to this, "predestined."

Now take that word apart for a moment. Both in English and in Greek it has the same basic ideas, "pre" meaning before, "destined" meaning to determine someone's destiny. God pre-determined your destiny, and here it is, "that we would become conformed to the image of His Son." This was God's plan from the beginning. When He chose you in eternity past, Christian, He chose you that you would ultimately be conformed to the image of His Son. Change is not merely possible, it is that for which you were predestined by God.

Now, how does God accomplish this task in our lives? Obviously, you understand, it's through the work of Christ. At the cross Christ paid the penalty for our sin, completely, finally, fully. And then, at the moment of your salvation, listen carefully to this, Christ broke the power of your sin so that you are no longer a slave to it. Paul describes that, as we'll see, in Roman 6 when we get there. I like the way the Apostle John puts it in Revelation 1:5. He said of Jesus, "He loves us and loosed us," released us. Those of you who have any Greek in your background recognize the word luo. It means simply to loose. "Christ loosed us from our sins through His blood."

However, though the penalty of sin has been paid, the power of sin has been broken, we don't have to live as slaves to sin, nevertheless, the abiding presence of sin is still a constant reality in the life of every Christian. So how does God deal with that? Through the power of Christ you and I must continue to put to death the sin that remains in us, that remains in that part of us the Scripture calls, "our flesh," that part of us that is yet unredeemed. And the process by which we pursue real heart change, or personal holiness is a synonym, or Christ-likeness is another synonym, is called, that process is called progressive sanctification.

Here's how the Shorter Catechism defines sanctification. Listen, this is a good definition. "Sanctification is the work of God's free grace by which His Spirit continuously delivers the justified sinner from the pollution of sin, renews his whole nature in the image of God, and enables him more and more to die to sin and to live unto righteousness." That's a very thorough definition of sanctification. "The Spirit delivers the one who's already been justified," already saved, "from the pollution of sin, renews him in the image of God, and enables him to see a decreasing pattern of sin and an increasing pattern of righteousness."

Now, this process called sanctification is not optional. Christ demands it of every Christian. Sadly, however, this is another of those truths that today's church has largely forgotten, but that you and I must always remember. We must pursue personal holiness. This is incumbent upon us. Notice the key word is pursue. We're not to wait for something to happen to us, we must pursue holiness. Scripture is very clear on this front. Romans 8:13, Paul's contrasting those who are believers with those who are not and he says, "if you are living according to the flesh," that's unbelievers, "you must die." On the other hand, "if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live." He says, you want to know how to describe a Christian, a Christian is someone who is putting to death the deeds of the body.

Colossians 3:5, Paul writes, "consider as dead," literally, "put to death," "the members of your earthly body," that is, the sinful habits connected to your fallenness. Hebrews 12 is a classic text that if you don't know you need to mark. Hebrews 12:14, "pursue sanctification." "Pursue sanctification." Literally, we could translate that Greek word translated pursue here as, "be continually striving for sanctification." And then the writer of Hebrews adds this, "without which no one will see the Lord."

Listen, don't for a moment think that you can have salvation as some sort of life insurance policy you can tuck inside your pocket and you've got a get out of jail free card from God. If you aren't pursuing likeness to Jesus Christ, "you will not see God." That's what the writer of Hebrews says, because this is descriptive of all genuine Christians. So the unmistakable message of Scripture is that every Christian must pursue holiness or sanctification. That is exactly Paul's message to us in Ephesians 4 in the passage that we read just a few moments ago, particularly in Ephesians 4:20-24.

Paul tells us in this text that we have already experienced a radical change at the moment of conversion. Notice verse 20, "you learned Christ." In other words, you entered into a teacher student relationship with Jesus Christ; you became His follower, His disciple. Paul further explains, notice in verse 21, that "you heard Him." Now remember, he's writing to the Ephesian church, people who never met Jesus while He was on this earth. So what does he mean, "you heard Him"? He's talking about in and through the gospel. Like in 2 Corinthians 5, he says it's, "as though Christ is making an appeal through us." You heard Christ in the gospel and you responded to Him. That's your salvation. But then he says, "and you have been taught in Christ." This is not your conversion. Now he's talking about something subsequent to your conversion. He says, you have continued to learn Christ through the ongoing instruction that you receive from Him as your teacher through His Word. Paul then introduces us to how this change happens in our lives as Christians.

Now, let me give you a little lesson here in the structure of this Greek sentence because it's crucial to really understand what Paul is saying here. You'll notice the verb he's playing off of is in verse 21, "you have been taught." That verb is then followed in the Greek text by three infinitives and those infinitives summarize what we've been taught; they summarize the content we have learned from Christ. Now, the infinitives aren't clear in English, so let me give them to you. In English these three Greek infinitives are translated, in verse 22, "lay aside," in verse 23, "be renewed," and in verse 24, "put on." So then, when we reconstruct the sentence, we could translate it like this, "you have been taught, through the systematic instruction that you've received after your conversion, to lay aside the old self, to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and to put on the new self."

Now, that raises an immediate question. If, as Romans 6 and Colossians 3 argue, my old self is dead, why do I need to still put it off? And, if in regeneration my new self was created, why do I need to put it on? Well, this is a little confusing, but I think we unlock Paul's meaning when we observe that he mixes two metaphors, two pictures. Let me give you the two pictures. The first picture is, there has been a radical change in the past, at the moment of our salvation, in our person, a radical change in the past of our person. It's pictured in this passage in the expressions old self and new self. In addition to that, that past radical change in our essential self, Paul also describes here a change of clothing. That's pictured in lay aside and put on. So you've got a change in our essential self at the moment of salvation and you've got, and that's the new self and the old self, and you've got a change in clothing, that's lay aside and put on.

Now, here's what he's doing. When we came to Christ, our old self died and was buried. You died with Jesus Christ, you were united with Him in His death. When you trusted in Him it's as if the person you used to be died forever and you became a new person in Jesus Christ. That's regeneration. That happened in a moment when you trusted in Christ. And because of that past reality, Paul says we have been taught to lay aside the clothes that belong to our old dead former self and to put on the clothes that match our new self.

So what are these clothes describing then? Well, clearly in context, as you'll see as we go along, the clothes are talking about the old habits of thinking and behaving that we had with our old self, the person we used to be before we were made new in Christ. Because you are a new person, Paul says, take off the clothes that belong to the old person that you were. In other words, take off your old habits of thinking and acting. You're a different person. Stop acting like you weren't. Put on the new clothes that fit the new person that you are.

I think a great analogy of this, it's not what the passage itself is teaching, but I think a great analogy of this is the raising of Lazarus. You remember when Christ said in John 11, "Lazarus, come forth," Lazarus came out of the dead and he suddenly appeared at the entrance to the tomb and in verse 44 of John 11 we read, "The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. And Jesus said to them, 'Unbind him, and let him go.'" He had been physically raised from the dead but he was still dressed in his grave clothes.

You and I have been raised from spiritual death, but we still wear the clothes that belong to the old person we used to be. We developed, over the years in our old life, we developed habits of thinking and acting that perfectly fit that old person we used to be. We must lay those clothes aside and we must put on habits of thinking and behaving in keeping with our new life in Jesus Christ. So understand then, these verses provide us with a series of commands of what you and I must do in the pursuit of holiness.

Let me ask you this morning, do you want to change? Do you want to change, not merely modifying your behavior? That's fruitless, that doesn't help. That's like putting Band-Aids on cancer. It's like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. There's no benefit in just modifying your behavior. Do you really want to change at the heart level? I could tell you this, if you're a Christian you do, because you've been given that desire.

How do you do that? Well, Paul here lays out for us three basic steps to real lasting change, and change from the inside out, change at the heart level. Number one, lay aside the old self. Paul says, "you have been taught," or instructed, verse 22, "that, in reference to your former manner of life," that is, when it comes to the patterns and habits of your old life, the person you used to be before Christ, "you have been taught," verse 22, "to lay aside the old self."

Now, the word translated "lay aside" was often used simply of taking off a piece of clothing and laying it aside. I could take you to examples of that, but I think that would be unnecessary. Eventually then, this word became a metaphor for putting off an attitude or a behavior. And so Paul here tells us "to lay aside," to put off, notice what he says, "the old self," the person you used to be, not just particular sins, but everything connected to your old self, everything connected to your life when it was dominated by sin.

Don't miss Paul's point, there's been a radical change in you as a person, so change clothes. The person that you used to be, your old self, is dead; you died with Christ. So take off the clothes he wore, lay aside all that remains of that old life, its way of thinking, its desires, its self-will, its sinful habits of thinking and behaving.

Notice how Paul describes the old man in verse 22. He's "being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit." The person that I was is not only dead, he's decaying, and he's decaying because of those deceitful lusts, that is, cravings that deceive us. Boy, is that a reality. Paul says, if you want to grow spiritually you must take off all your old habits of thinking and behaving and lay them aside; stop doing them. But I can tell you, if that's all you do, they'll be back, and you know that from experience. How many times have you tried merely to stop doing something or being something? That's not going to bring about change because that's only one of three steps to real change.

Notice the second step. Not only must you lay aside the old self, secondly, "you must be renewed in the spirit of your mind." Look at verse 23, "and," Paul says, you've also been taught, secondly, "that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind." Literally, you have been taught, "to go on being renewed." It describes a constant process.

Now, there's an interesting change in his language here. Notice that "lay aside" and "put on" are active; they are actions we perform. You must lay aside. You must put on. But notice that "be renewed" is passive. It's what theologians call a divine passive. This is something that God, and God alone, does. He renews us. God renews us through the Spirit. But at the same time, even though it's passive, God renews us, it is phrased as an implied command to us, "be renewed." How can that be? Well, the implication is that while only God can renew our minds, you and I can either hinder or we can promote that renewal. And so Paul says, "be renewed." Paul is telling you to facilitate, to promote the process of renewal that the Spirit wants to do in you. What is that renewal? Specifically notice verse 23, "be renewed in the spirit of your mind."

By the way, that's spirit with a lowercase s. We're not talking about the Holy Spirit here, although the Spirit is the one who does it, what He does is to the spirit of your mind. We could say, to the disposition of your mind, or maybe I could say it this way, be renewed in the grid of your mind, be renewed in the way you see and interpret everything. This renewal then totally transforms our thinking. It's like what Paul says in Romans 12:2, "don't be conformed to this age," don't allow the thinking, the mindset of the age in which you live to push you into its mold. Rather, he says, "be transformed," the Greek word is the word from which we get the word metamorphosis, "be," if I could coin it, "be metamorphosized by the renewing of your mind."

But what exactly is our mind renewed into? What is this renewal? Well, in the parallel passage, you remember, Paul wrote his prison epistles, there are several of them, at one time from the same prison cell and so we get some similarities, and one of those parallel passages is in Colossians 3:10. And there Paul says this, "the new self is being renewed," here it is, "is being renewed according to the image of the One who created him." In other words, we are being renewed in our thinking according to the image of God. Now, that is a mind blowing thought.

Think about this, what Paul is saying is that real change only happens when you and I begin to think and to act like God. Real change is only possible when we begin to think and to act like our Lord does. So Paul here is not calling for just an outward change in our actions and habits, but he's talking about real change in the heart, where we are changed in our basic grid through which we see and interpret the world, so that we begin to think like God thinks, we begin to think like Christ thinks, and we begin to act like them. And if that happens, if we're changed on the inside, outward actions follow.

Here's how Charles Hodge puts it in his excellent section on sanctification in his systematic theology. He says, "Sanctification, in its essential nature, is not holy acts, 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." In other words, the goal of sanctification is not just to, sort of, rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. The goal of sanctification is the change of us at the most essential level, our hearts. And I hope you see that you and I cannot change ourselves in this way, we simply can't. It has to be the work of the triune God. God has to produce this change and He does so especially through His Spirit. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul says, "we are being transformed by the Lord, the Spirit." It's a work of God the Spirit. You can't do it. You can't change yourself in this way.

Now, that raises the next question. How then does the Spirit renew our thinking so that we begin to think like God thinks, we begin to think like Christ thinks? This is key. The Spirit produces this change through the use of the means that God Himself has appointed. You know, a lot of people just, sort of, sit around waiting for God to zap them. Well, yes, I want to change, but well, God hasn't done anything yet; I'm waiting. They expect it to happen while they're sitting in church, just sitting there, listening. It's like okay, go ahead God. This is not how sanctification works. God the Spirit uses means.

Listen to J.C. Ryle, in his excellent book on holiness he writes, "Many admire growth in grace in others and wish that they themselves were like them." You ever looked at somebody who lives a really truly Christian life and admired them, and said, boy, I wish I could be like they are, I wish I could respond that way, I wish I had that kind of love for people, that kind of love for my spouse, that kind of love for God? Ryle goes on, "But they seem to suppose that those who grow are what they are by some special gift or grant from God and that as this gift is not bestowed on them; they must be content to sit still." Still waiting God, here I am. He writes, "Growth in grace is bound up in the use of means within the reach of all believers; and as a general rule, growing souls are what they are because they use these means." This is how the Spirit works. Don't wait for Him to zap you, it's not going to happen. He uses means. And you will only grow if you use the means that He has given us.

So what are those means? Well, theologians identify six or seven different means. I could give you that list, but really, there is general agreement, and I certainly would say, that the other five means or so are only effective if we are truly using the two basic and primary means the Spirit has given us. And there is one brief verse that exposes us to those two means. Turn with me to John 17. It's in our Lord's high priestly prayer. John 17:17, He prays this to the Father, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth."

Now, do you see in that verse the two primary means of sanctification? Means number one, prayer. This is a prayer. Jesus is praying for our sanctification. And it is appropriate that we should pray for our sanctification as well. In fact, Jesus taught us to do that in the last petition of the Lord's Prayer. He says in Matthew 6, "lead us not into temptation, but [what?] deliver us from evil." That's a prayer for sanctification. Pray for your sanctification. Paul did it for other believers. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 he says this, "may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely." He says, that's my prayer, that God would do that in your life. Pray.

Now, many of you understand that and often you have cried out to God for His sanctifying influence on a particular sin in your life, but that's not the only means. Do you see the other means here? "Sanctify them in the truth." The preposition in, translated in other places as through or by means of, is probably better translated that way here as well. Jesus asked the Father to make those who are already His disciples progressively more holy by means of "the truth." And then in the rest of verse 17 Jesus defines the truth, "Your word is truth."

In other words, the truth, that is, the means of our sanctification, is the entirety of the teaching of Scripture. The renewed mind is one that is saturated with the Word of God. That's why in 1 Corinthians 2 Paul says, in speaking of the Scripture, "we have the mind of Christ." You know how Christ thinks about everything important, right here, in this book. Colossians 3:16 says, "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you." You see, the Holy Spirit renews our mind through the Scripture.

So what's our part in this renewal? Why does he say, why does he command us to be renewed? Well, our part in this is consistent exposure to the word that the Spirit uses. Read the word, study the word, meditate on the word, listen to the word. You know, don't complain about your lack of growth spiritually if you're not in the word. That is the primary means the Spirit uses. Don't complain about God, complain about your own laziness. It's the means. "Sanctify them through the truth."

Now understand that the renewing of our minds, the second step, is the main hinge on which true sanctification swings. Because without this work of the Spirit, putting off and putting on is merely changing our behavior. It's no different than the self-reformation or the behavior modification that unbelievers practice every day. That's why Christ prays, "Father, sanctify them through the truth." It's only as the truth changes our thinking that real change happens.

Now, there's one more step in the process of real change. Not only must we lay aside the old habits of thinking and acting that belong to the person we used to be, not only must we allow the Spirit to renew our thinking, so that we think like God thinks, we think like Christ thinks, through the Word of God, but thirdly, we must put on the new self. Verse 24, back in Ephesians 4, "and put on the new self." The word for "put on" simply means to put on clothes, again, used several times that way throughout the Scripture. Paul means that we are to think and act in keeping with our new selves. As we put off the old thinking and behaviors and as we allow the Spirit to renew the way we think with the Scripture, we need to do something. We need to begin to obey what we learn. We need to begin to practice those new patterns of thinking and acting that we learn are true of God in the Scripture, patterns that reflect the new person we've become.

Now what's our new person like? Well, look at verse 24, "the new self, which is in the likeness of God." Your new self is patterned after God. Look down at chapter 5 verse 1, "Therefore be imitators of God the Father, as beloved children." We are to think and act like our Father does. Look at verse 2, "and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma." Not only are we to imitate the Father, we're to imitate our Lord. We are to think and act like Christ does. Now, back up in verse 24, notice our new self, which is in the likeness of God, "has been created in righteousness and holiness." Righteousness means that we treat others by God's standard. Wouldn't that make for a much different world. And holiness, this has to do with our lives in reference specifically to God. This word probably implies reverence and fear for God.

So, here's the question, how exactly do you put on the clothes that belong to the new person you have become? It's very simple. Listen carefully. Here's how you put on the clothes of the new person. Apply the truth and seek to obey the truth. That's it. Apply the truth and seek to obey the truth. Listen to Martin Lloyd Jones, "The whole matter of putting on the new man is in essence the application of truth to ourselves. It is the most important thing that one can ever discover in the Christian life. We must talk to ourselves, we must preach to ourselves, we must take truth and apply it to ourselves, and we must keep on doing so." So, do you see then, verses 22 to 24, those verses summarize the process of change, we must lay aside, be renewed, and put on. But beginning in verse 25 and running down through verse 32, Paul illustrates what this process looks like in real life.

Look at the first example he uses in verse 25, "Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another." Do you see the three steps in that verse? "Lay aside falsehood." Lying, deception, stop doing that. Be renewed in your thinking. Now here he only gives us one way to renew our thinking. He says, it's that "you're members of one another." It's like one member of your physical body lying to another part of your physical body. It doesn't make sense. It's irrational; don't do it. Other places we learn other ways to renew our mind about deception. We learn in other places that our God never lies. Not one time. If we're going to imitate our Father we can't be living in lies and deception. Christ never lies. It's not acceptable for us to do so because that's not how our God and our Lord, how they act and behave.

And then we put on. Notice what he says in verse 25, "speak the truth each one with his neighbor." You see, this is really important. A liar only stops being a liar when he's known for telling the truth. Liars don't lie every moment. So how does a liar really change? When he becomes known as a truth teller. The key principle here is one of replacement. The only way to put off the thinking and practices of the old life is to get into the word and let the Holy Spirit renew your thinking and help you identify the virtues that you should put on in place of those sins.

Now don't miss this. This is key. Every sin in your life has a corresponding virtue that you should put on in its place. Every sin in your life has a corresponding virtue that you should put on in its place. If you want to put off a sin, it's not enough just to stop trying to do that sin. You must replace it by identifying the opposite virtue and putting that virtue on. Again, Paul reflects this. Let's look at another example, verse 28, he uses stealing as an example. He says, "He who steals must steal no longer." There's the laying aside, stop stealing, stop taking from other people. That's part of who you were before Christ. Whether it's time or stuff or whatever is, stop stealing. And then, "be renewed in the spirit of your mind."

Now, if we go throughout the Scripture, you learn about stuff, you learn about property, you learn that God's sovereignly distributes property as He chooses, that he makes me a steward of what He gives me. He expects me to care for my own property and to take care of the property of others. I learn that the resources He has given me are for specific purposes. I'm to meet the needs of my family. I'm to give for the advance of the kingdom. I'm to save for the future. Here, notice in verse 28, he says that I should use my resources to help others in need.

But again, a thief not currently stealing is still a thief because thieves don't steal every moment of their lives. So when does the thief become not a thief? He must put on a positive virtue. Look at verse 28, "He who steals must steal no longer," there's the putting off, "but rather he must work, performing with his own hands what is good." Let him get a job. Let him work hard. Not just for himself, but "so that he will have something to share with the one who has need." When is a thief no longer a thief? When he's not taking from others, but when he's working hard to give generously to others.

Now, maybe your sin struggles aren't these. Maybe your chief primary sin struggles aren't lying and stealing. But let me tell you something. Whatever your sin struggles are, the process is exactly the same as identified here. Let me give you that practical process, very quickly, just summarize what we've learned. Number one, identify the sins you need to put off, make a list, a mental list or an actual list, but make a list, and guys, use biblical language. Okay? Don't say, well you know, things happen, and I just get frustrated. Try to find that in your biblical concordance. What does the Bible call frustration? Anger. You got angry. Use biblical language. You didn't shade the truth, you lied.

Secondly, identify the sin in the heart that drove the external act. Don't just deal with the external act. This is what a lot of people do. To use the old image that's very common, it's like lopping bad fruit off a bad tree. You can lop that fruit all day long and it will just keep growing back. You can't just deal with the external act; you have to deal with what the sin is in the heart that's giving birth to that external act. Jesus said it's "out of the heart" that all of our sinful acts come.

Take lying for example. Why do people lie? Well, there are a whole lot of reasons, but let me just give you two examples. Why did Abraham lie? Fear. He lied about Sarah being his wife because he was afraid he was going to be hurt. In Acts 5, why did Ananias lie about the price of the piece of land when he gave the money to the church? Pride. He wanted to be thought well of. There are a lot of different reasons people lie. So, in lying, if there is an act of lying, there are two sins to be put off. There's the lying itself and then there's the sin in the heart that gave birth to the lie. Maybe pride, maybe fear, whatever it was. So, make sure you identify the sin in the heart. So, identify the sins you need to put off.

Number two, identify the opposite biblical virtue. Identify the opposite biblical virtue that you must put on. This is imperative. Sanctification doesn't happen without this. You have to understand what you should be pursuing in place of that sin. What is the opposite of lying? Truth telling. You want to become known as a person who always speaks the truth. What's the opposite of stealing? Generosity, somebody who works hard to help others. What's the opposite of lust? Instead of craving what you don't have, it's gratitude, being grateful for what you do, for all the things God has given you, and so forth. I don't care what sin it is that you struggle with, what sins would be on that list that you're making, there is an opposite virtue that you need to pursue.

Number three, study what the Scripture says both about the sin and the corresponding virtue. This is where the renewal of your mind takes place, where the Spirit changes your thinking. You study what the Bible says about both the sin that you need to put off and the virtue you ought to put on. And this is key, this isn't on the overhead, but note this, focus in your study on how the Father and our Lord, how they don't commit that sin that you struggle with, and focus on how they do manifest the positive virtue that you ought to put on. In other words, look at God. We're supposed to be imitating Him, right? So look at Him.

I wish I had time to really explain this text, but to go to 2 Corinthians 3, this is a foundational text on sanctification, 2 Corinthians 3:18. If you didn't know this verse before, star it, mark it, come back here often, because this is key. Notice what he says, "we all," that is, all believers, including those struggling Corinthians, "we all, with unveiled face." Now, in the context, he means that when we turned to Christ the veil was removed and we now see and understand the Scriptures. We get it. So, "we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord."

Now, that used to confuse me because, what do we usually think of when we look in a mirror? What do we see in a mirror? Our own reflection. And the idea of Scripture as a mirror where we see our own reflection? That's present in James 1. That's not present here. It's not our reflection we see here. In context, he's talked about Moses seeing God. How? How did Moses see God on the mount? Face to face. We don't see God face to face yet, some day we will, but we don't yet.

How do you and I see God? We see His reflection in the mirror that is His word. We don't see Him face to face, but we see His reflection here. We see Him here. And when that happens, notice, "we all, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord," as we behold Him, "we are being," there's our word, metamorphosized, "we're being transformed into the same image." Look at Scripture and look at God, look at our Lord. Notice how they don't do that sin that you do and how they do manifest the opposite virtue. And as you gaze at God, as you see Him in His perfection and in His holiness, you're being transformed into the same image, "from one level of glory to another," there's a process by which we grow. And notice, this isn't something we do, it's from the Lord, the Spirit. The Spirit does this. He transforms us as we gaze at the reflection of God in His Word.

Number four, do your homework. I don't mean your schoolwork. I mean your homework. Keep a private journal for several weeks of how you sin and what's going on surrounding that sin. Paul David Tripp, in his excellent book Instruments in the Redeemers Hands, encourages us as we study ourselves. That's really what we're talking about here. Don't just study the Scripture, study yourself. And as you do that and as you look at every time you sin, ask yourself these questions: What happened? What did I feel? What was I thinking? What was it I really wanted to do? And what did I do? What was I trying to accomplish, but then what did I do? And as you analyze every time you sin, look for unbiblical goals, unbiblical thinking, unbiblical feeling, unbiblical actions. You're studying yourself. Study the Scripture and study yourself.

Number five, create a plan to put off and put on. You see, in sanctification you and I, listen carefully, must pursue holiness. We must expend maximum effort and as we expend the effort God does what we could never do, He changes us. In Philippians 2, you remember how Paul puts it, he says in verse 12, "So then, my beloved, just as you've always obeyed, I want you to obey now especially in my absence," and here's how, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." That "work out," the Greek word there, is used in the Septuagint for cultivating a field. Cultivate the work God has begun in your soul. Why? Verse 13, "for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."

Do you notice the key attitude there in those verses in Philippians 2? Work as hard as you can, cultivate the soil of your soul, but all the time depending on God who is the only one who can do the work. So understand then, this is what we're commanded to do. Lloyd Jones writes, "What happens in sanctification is that God takes this word of His and by the Holy Spirit opens our understanding of it, 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 this." God sanctifies.

So you can see, sanctification doesn't happen suddenly. It's not an experience. It's not a sprint. It's a marathon. It's like the process of physical growth. Don't expect to go to bed one night a spiritual infant and wake up the next day a spiritual father. It doesn't happen like that. Get ready for your whole Christian life to be a constant battle that will only be complete when you die or Christ returns. But until that day, listen to Hebrews 12 again, "Pursue sanctification, without which no one will see the Lord." Beloved, the church may have forgotten it, but hold fast to the truth that we must pursue holiness. Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for the truth of Your word. Thank You for how eminently practical it is. O God, we do want to change. You created that desire in us, to be like You, to be like Your Son. Help us to follow the clear instruction that Paul has given us this morning. And Lord, help us to diligently strive after sanctification.

Lord, I pray for the people here this morning who are in slavery to their sin, who have no hope of breaking their bondage on their own. May they run to Christ. May they learn Him this morning. May they hear the Good News that the one who is in Christ is set free from slavery to sin and can now obey You. And may they repent and believe in Him even today. We pray all of this in Jesus' name, amen.