Holy and Becoming Holy
Sanctification, Holiness, Hebrews
One of the staples of going to a movie (or even watching a movie on DVD) are the previews of coming attractions. You are shown clips from movies that serve as a commercial meant to entice you to come see the entire movie.
Some of the movie clips are very entertaining. More than once I have found myself saying, “I think I might enjoy seeing that movie”. There is something we all realize however, seeing the clip is not the same as seeing the movie. The clip is made up of highlights. Sometimes they are the only good parts of the movie! The movie previews are just a shadow of the movie.
The book of Hebrews has been explaining that the sacrificial system and the elaborate purification rites that we see in the Old Testament are previews of coming attractions. They point to the message of the gospel . . . they are not in themselves the message of the gospel.
In chapter 10 we begin by going over what I hope by now is familiar territory.
The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. 2 If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.
3 But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. 4 For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
The problem with the old system (the sacrifices and cleansings) was that you had to keep doing them over and over again. They were a temporary fix. Earlier we read that Jesus was able to sit down because His work was finished. If you remember our discussion and the diagram about the tabernacle, there were no chairs! That is because the work never ended. The Holy Spirit reminds us that if the old system worked, there would not only have been no reason for the new covenant, the people themselves would have been freed from guilt and that nagging feeling that they are probably not “good enough” for God to like them.
The sacrifices reminded people of their inadequacy and sinfulness. Deep down inside everyone understood that it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away the sin and that sin nature that runs so deep inside of us.
Today there are many people who continue to live according to the old system. They do good works hoping that they will balance out the bad in their lives. Deep down they know they don’t measure up to God’s standards. Every time they read the Bible, or go to church, they come away thinking the same thing: they have to try harder in order to gain salvation and a relationship with God.
Some are so aware of their failures and sin that they give up. They see no use going to church, reading the Bible or trying to live by a Godly standard. They determine that the only thing they can do is live for the moment. They grab whatever they can, whenever they can. Their life revolves around immediate gratification.
The message of the gospel (called “the new covenant”), is a message that says Jesus paid for our sin (there is nothing more for us to do) and empowers us to overcome even the sin nature that runs deep inside of us. That’s why this is Good News!
Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a pastor, and he used to ask people this question. He’d say, “Are you a Christian?” So many times, people would say, “Well, I’m trying.” Then, he’d say, “In other words, you have no idea what a Christian is.”
A person who says, “I’m trying,” is still in the earthly tent, still doing the sacrifices, still trying to be a good person. He says, “Here’s what it means to be a Christian. Being a Christian is, first of all, primarily, supremely, a standing, a new standing, given to you at infinite cost to the Lord Jesus Christ and his blood.”
The Goal of Grace
We are told that there are a couple of benefits to this new covenant from God. In verses 17-18 we read:
17 Then he says, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.”
18 And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.
What a beautiful, wonderful and profound message! When we put our trust in Jesus, God will not remember our sin and lawless deeds. Those things that haunt us, those things we don’t want to share with anyone, those actions we wish we could erase from our memories and lives . . . are forgiven. They are no longer issues before God. Our slate is wiped clean.
When we are told that God does not remember it is not as if God forgets things like we forget where we put our keys. God does not suffer from a lapse in memory. Our sin is forgotten in the sense that it is no longer an issue. It is no longer a barrier that hinders our relationship with God.
Think about your own experience. When you truly forgive someone it isn’t that you can’t remember what happened; you remember, but it no longer matters to the relationship. You resolve the issue, it is in the past, and in that sense, it is forgotten. And, over the course of time, these things become such a “non-issue” that it is like we have forgotten them. It is buried. That is what God does with our sin in the past, in the present, and remarkably, even our sin in the future.
There is another benefit of the work of Christ is found in verse 10,
10 For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.
The idea here is that not only are we justified (our wrong is take care of); something actually happens inside of us. The Old Testament sacrifices dealt with the surface sin . . . the sacrifice of Jesus pays for our surface sin but also changes us on the inside.
The Bible says when we become followers of Jesus God sets out to make us holy. To be holy is to be “set apart” for God’s purpose. In other words we become a person who lives to the glory of God. It is to be a person who lives God’s way.
When we become a Christian two things happen. First, something happens TO US. We are declared righteous or innocent by virtue of the sacrifice of Christ. We are declared “Not Guilty”. This is called Justification.
Second, there is something that happens IN US. God not only forgives our sin but He also changes our moral base. When we become a follower of Christ we are told that “sin no longer has power over us” (Romans 6:14). Before we became a follower of Jesus sin had a hold on us. It was more powerful than we were. In Christ, that power was broken. The addiction is removed. Consequently we begin to walk in a new direction . . . in the direction of becoming more and more like Jesus. This is called Sanctification.
R.C. Sproul writes,
“This truth serves as a warning to those who hold the view that it is possible for people to be converted to Christ yet never bring forth good fruit or change in behavior. This is the idea of “the carnal Christian.”
Of course, in a certain sense, Christians are carnal throughout their lives; that is, we never in this life completely vanquish the impact of the flesh. We have to struggle with the flesh until we enter into glory. However, if someone is completely in the flesh such that there is no evidence of any change in the person’s nature, then this individual is not a carnal Christian but a carnal non-Christian. Some are so zealous to keep the number of evangelistic converts high that they are loath to consider that some make false professions of faith. But if someone makes a profession of faith yet shows no fruit of it whatsoever, there was no real conversion. We are justified not by a profession of faith but by the possession of faith. Where faith is true, the fruit of that faith begins to appear immediately. It is impossible for a converted person to remain unchanged. The very presence of the new nature–the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit—indicates that we are indeed changed and changing people.
The Practical dilemma . . . We don’t seem very Holy
If you are like me you hear these words and wonder whether or not you are a true believer. Why? Because you know that your life doesn’t seem very holy. If Holiness is a part of salvation, then, are we not be saved?
Verse 14 is important to hear carefully,
14 For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.
Notice something: we are “made perfect” and we “are being made holy”. We are considered holy in God’s eyes but the process of living out that holiness is a process.
When we become a believer our relationship with sin suddenly changes. Sin no longer has any real power to control us. Maybe it is helpful to think of it like a soldier who has been discharged from the military. He used to have to obey the orders of commanding officers. Once he is dismissed those officers no longer have any authority over him.
When we become part of God’s family we are discharged from the control of the sinful nature. It will take us awhile (a lifetime) to learn that we do not have to respond to these impulses.
The process of sanctification (being made holy) is a progress we should be able to track through the course of our lives. You and I should be able to look back over a stretch of 10 years or so and note some real progress in our Christlikeness. We are still a long way from where we need to be, but we should see that we are making progress. Our values, our habits, our relationships with others, and the things we desire should be changing.(See graphic)
This process of sanctification does not conclude until we get to Heaven. It is a process.
Perhaps it would help to draw some distinctions between justification (being made right with God) and sanctification (being made holy). Here’s a chart from theologian Wayne Grudem.
|Legal standing||Internal condition|
|Once for all time||Continuous throughout life|
|Entirely God’s work||We cooperate|
|Perfect in this life||Not perfect in this life|
|The same in all Christians||Greater in some than in others|
Sanctification is something that begins when we put our trust in Jesus as our Savior and it ends when we finally get completely free of our sinful nature when we stand before the Lord in Heaven.
People make progress in sanctification at different rates. How quickly we progress and how far we progress will depend on our how well we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our lives. We must choose to grow in holiness. Our growth will determine the level of joy, peace, and contentment we find in living. Sanctification is practical.
It is right and appropriate to ask a simple question: What can I do to facilitate the process of sanctification in my life? It is an excellent question and one we need to ask ourselves over and over again. The remainder of the book of Hebrews is actually going to focus on what we can and should be doing to facilitate practical holiness. These are not instructions on what to do to gain forgiveness . . . Jesus has taken care of that. These are instructions on how to LIVE as one who is forgiven.
A simple rule of thumb for growing in holiness is this: Read the Bible and Do what it says. Do it not because you are trying to score points with God . . . do it because you have come to see that living God’s way is the very best way to live.
Let me draw three conclusions from what we have looked at in Hebrews 10. First, we are reminded that forgiveness is not anchored to our goodness but His grace. This is such a tough concept for people to grasp. We are trained to believe that we must earn everything we receive; that good things come to those who work hard.
The paradigm shifts when it comes to salvation. It is impossible to be good enough. We cannot earn our salvation. All the good deeds in the world cannot balance out the bad things we do regularly. We find forgiveness through Christ, and Christ alone. The wonderful message of the gospel is that this forgiveness is available to any and to all who will put their trust in Him. There is nothing you must or can do to earn salvation. It is a gift!
If you live your life with your head down feeling that you are so bad God could never love you, look up! The blood of Christ can cleanse ANY one. Even you. Your past will be forgiven.
Second, our focus as believers is not about “getting saved” it is about “living saved”. Through Christ the power of sin has been broken in our lives. We sin now out of habit, not out of compulsion. We no longer have to live the way we used to live. We are saved by the work of Christ and now it is up to us to work with the Lord to live out that salvation in our daily lives. We must learn to walk as a child of the King. We must remind ourselves that we ARE saved, but we are also learning to live as one who is saved.
Ask yourself a simple question every day: How can I live as a child of the King today? Determine to make choices not based on your desires (they are still influenced by our sinful habits) but by the instruction of God’s Word.
Finally, we need to remind ourselves that the order of this process is important. You cannot and will not live a holy life until you are set free and forgiven by the sacrifice of Christ. We need the Holy Spirit within to help us grow in grace and truth. We get the Holy Spirit by becoming a follower of Christ.
So we return to the most preliminary question: “Have you embraced God’s promise? Have you received the One who died so you might be forgiven? Are you trusting Christ? If not, it is time to get off the performance treadmill and rest in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. How do you do that? You can begin with a simple prayer expressing this to the Lord.
O Lord, I believe the promise of forgiveness and new life through Jesus. I confess and acknowledge that I cannot make myself good. I cannot save myself. So, I depend on, rely on, and rest in what Jesus has done for me. I ask You to forgive my sin and to begin the process of setting me free to live a holy life. Help me, through the power of your Spirit, to live out my life as the free person I now am through Christ. Amen.
By God’s grace we stand before Him forgiven and declared holy. It is by that same grace that we are able to begin learning how to live life as a child of the King. It is a wonderful opportunity and privilege and we should embrace it fully and enthusiastically. And we should be extremely grateful.
 Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).
 Excerpt From: Sproul, R.C. “Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology.” Reformation Trust Publishing, 2014. P. 320
 Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine p. 746.