Sanctification in Practice: The Christian’s Pursuit of God-Given Holiness (Mike Riccardi)

Philippians 2:12–13; 2 Corinthians 3:18   |   Sunday, June 2, 2013   |   Code: 2013-06-02-MR



If you were with us two weeks ago, you remember that we spent quite a bit of time taking an in-depth look at one of the classic texts of Scripture on the doctrine of sanctification. Philippians 2:12 and 13 is one of the most frequently referenced, discussed, and debated passages of Scripture on the subject of the believer’s pursuit of practical holiness. And that’s in large part because of the profound and detailed insight that it provides on an issue that has caused much confusion for Christians throughout the history of the church. And we mentioned that the doctrine of sanctification is something that we can’t afford to be confused about, because it’s where we all live. We all live in between the time of our past justification and our future glorification—in the present pursuit of Christlikeness. And so we need to get this right. If we are concerned to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel, if we desire to please the Lord in all respects, if it’s our ambition to put the sanctifying power of Christ on display, then we need to be clear on how we go about growing in holiness.


And as we saw two weeks ago, Philippians 2:12 and 13 helps us with just that. In that text Paul writes, “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only but now much more in 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.” And in just those two short verses, we were able to mine out seven key truths regarding the doctrine of sanctification. Martyn Lloyd-Jones rightly calls these verses, “…one of the most perfect summaries of the Christian life to be found anywhere,” and “one of the most pregnant statements which [Paul] ever made” (Life of Joy, 160). And so we covered a lot of ground in that sermon, and if you missed it I’d encourage you to get a copy and meditate on Paul’s teaching on this most important subject. But it was a lot of information to cover in a single sermon, and a few of you had approached me and asked if we could spend a little more time on this topic. And as I sought the Lord about that I decided that that was a good thing to do.


And so what I’d like to do this morning is to revisit some of the truths that we discovered in Philippians 2:12 and 13 and tease them out and let them breathe a bit. And my goal in doing this is that we would all have a firm grasp on how it is that we are to put sanctification into practice. I want to make sure that we don’t leave this text without a sound understanding of how you can put your hand to the plow of pursuing holiness—how you can practically set about to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.


And to do that, I’m going to review just a few of those key theological truths about sanctification that we learned last time, and then spend a good amount of time looking into what the Scriptures reveal about the means of grace—about the means which believers are to take advantage of in order to put ourselves in the way of the sanctifying grace of God. We’ll have some help from our text in Philippians, but we’re also going to look at another foundational New Testament text on sanctification. And that is 2 Corinthians 3:18. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”


And so this will probably feel more like a Bible study or a lesson in practical theology than a sermon, and that means you will need to have your mind fully engaged as we look into these things. But I’m confident that the benefit will far outweigh the cost, as we become more fully equipped to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.


I. Sanctification is Fundamentally Internal and Supernatural


And the first truth about sanctification that I want to remind us of this morning is that sanctification is fundamentally internal and supernatural. We saw this in Philippians 2:13, where Paul tells us that “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” So he tells us explicitly that God is working in us, and then he says, “both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” So in the process of progressive sanctification, God is working in us not just to work, but also to will. He’s working even on our desires.


And 2 Corinthians 3:18 helps us with this concept as well. In that text, Paul speaks about our sanctification as a transformation into the image of the glory of Christ. He says that as we behold the glory of the Lord, we “are being transformed into that same image.” And that word “transformed” is metamorphóo, which is where we get the English term “metamorphosis.” But as every Greek dictionary will tell you, this word doesn’t merely refer to the outward form. Metamorphóo describes the inner transformation of the essence of a person—an inward change in fundamental character.


Romans 12:2 is another helpful verse on this subject. There Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” There’s our word again. But what’s interesting about this verse is that it uses the term “conformed” in contrast with the term “transformed.” And the Greek word for conform refers to a change in the outward behavior. So the contrast is clear. Paul is saying: Don’t be conformed, outwardly, such that your behavior is indistinguishable from the world. Instead be transformed, from the inside out. And even here, we see that that transformation happens by the renewing of the mind—more internal language.


And we could go on. Paul prays that we would be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, Ephesians 3:16. He calls us to be renewed in the spirit of our mind, Ephesians 4:23. The point of all of this is that holiness does not simply mean bringing our outward behavior into conformity to an external standard. Hypocrites can do that. The inward transformation of the mind—which is to say the character, or the affections—will work itself out in external behavior, but the transformation begins internally. The great Princeton theologian, Charles Hodge, puts it very helpfully. He says, “sanctification…does not consist exclusively in a series of a new kind of acts. It is the making the tree good, in order that the fruit may be good. It involves an essential change of character. [Just] as regeneration is…a new birth, a new creation, a quickening or communicating a new life,…so 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” (Systematic Theology, 3:226). This means that the holy person doesn’t merely “do what God commands,” though he certainly does that; the holy person “loves what God loves” and then acts in keeping with that renewed heart.


Now if this weren’t so, and sanctification were simply a matter of performing external duties, then the right way for me to exhort you to greater holiness would just be to say, “Try harder, be better, do gooder.” “Bear down, grit your teeth, and give it the old college try.” And though that’s a bit of a caricature, many Christians conceive of sanctification in a way that isn’t substantially different than that. And what you have there is the kind of moralistic externalism that depends—not on the power of the Spirit of God working within you—but on the strength of your own willpower, whether your heart is properly engaged or not.

But like I said, if holiness was a fundamentally external thing, that would be the way to go. But because this dynamic of transformation is a fundamentally internal and supernatural work in the heart of man, in which God progressively conforms our affections to the affections of Christ, our pursuit of holiness looks a lot different. If sanctification is fundamentally internal and supernatural, we need to realize that we can’t directly effect that internal transformation in ourselves.


II. Sanctification is a Sovereign Work of the Spirit of God


And that brings us to our second point: Sanctification is a sovereign work of the Spirit of God. We saw that clearly in Philippians 2:13, where Paul says, “…it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” This only makes sense. If true sanctification is not merely external but is fundamentally internal and supernatural, then we must be dependent upon the One who supernaturally works in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. That’s why, in these key texts on sanctification, you hear the passive voice being used a lot. In Romans 12:2, we are commanded—not to transform ourselves—but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, it doesn’t say, “Beholding, we transform ourselves,” but rather, “Beholding, we are being transformed.”


That’s why in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Paul prays for the believers in Thessalonica: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely….” Here, Paul ascribes the entire work of sanctification to God. And similarly, in the benediction of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author prays: “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ” (Heb 13:20–21). The God of peace is working in us that which is pleasing in His sight. And so theologian Louis Berkhof rightly concludes that sanctification therefore “consists fundamentally in a divine operation in the soul” (Systematic Theology, 532).


Now, while it’s unmistakable that sanctification is a sovereign work of God, Scripture also places particular emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in conforming believers to the image of Christ. In Romans chapter 1 verse 4, the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of holiness.” In Galatians 5:17, Paul tells us that the Spirit Himself is in direct conflict with the flesh. He says that the Spirit sets His desire against the flesh, and that “these are in opposition to one another.” And of course, in Galatians 5:22 and 23, those virtues that compose a character of holiness and integrity are called “the fruit of the Spirit.” And in fact, if you look at our text in 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul tells us there that this whole process of transformation is “just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” And so we conclude with John Owen, that the Holy Spirit is “the efficient cause of all holiness and sanctification—quickening, enlightening, purifying the souls of his saints” (Communion with God, 2:199).


III. The Spirit Employs Means in Sanctifying the Believer


So, so far we’ve seen that (#1) sanctification is a fundamentally internal and supernatural work. And because that is the case, it’s not something that we can accomplish directly in ourselves. Instead, (#2) sanctification is a sovereign work of the Spirit of God. But that brings us to the famous question: if the internal and supernatural work of sanctification is properly said to be the Spirit’s work, what does the believer do? If the Holy Spirit is the agent of this great work of effecting holiness in the Christian, do we just sit back and do nothing? Are we entirely passive, dependent upon the sovereign whims of the Spirit to sanctify us as He pleases? Does it fall to us merely to “yield” and “surrender”—to “let go and let God”?


The answer to that question is: Absolutely not! As we learned last time, it is precisely because of the sovereign work of the Spirit in us that we must pursue holiness by a diligent effort. Paul commands us to, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for—or because—it is God who is at work within you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:12–13). God’s work is not an excuse for us not to work; it is the very ground of our working. We mentioned that Peter says the same thing in 2 Peter 1. He tells us that God’s “divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness,” verse 3. He tells us that because of Christ’s work we have “escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust,” verse 4. And then in verse 5 he says, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue” (ESV).


And so on the one hand, sanctification is a sovereign work of the Spirit of God, and on the other hand believers are exhorted to work out our own salvation—to “pursue…the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). Are we contradicting ourselves here? Do we just throw up our hands in confusion and attribute this to a divine mystery? No. I don’t believe we can afford to do that, and I don’t believe Scripture leaves us with no further light on the issue. You see, while it is unmistakable that the Spirit is the sovereign agent of sanctification, that fact in no way contradicts the reality that He effects this transformation through the use of means which the believer must appropriate. And that is point number three. Number one: sanctification is a fundamentally internal and supernatural work. And because of that, number two, sanctification is a sovereign work of the Spirit of God. But, number three: The Holy Spirit employs means in sanctifying the believer. And so far from being passive in the matter—so far from merely “yielding” or “surrendering”—we are to make every effort, as Peter says, to avail ourselves of the means through which the Spirit does His work.


I love the way the Scottish Puritan Henry Scougal illustrates this. He says, “All the art and industry of man cannot form the smallest herb, or make a stalk of corn to grow in the field; it is the energy of nature, and the influences of heaven, which produce this effect; it is God ‘who causeth the grass to grow, and the herb for the service of man’ (Ps. 104:14); and yet nobody will say that the labours of the [farmer] are useless or unnecessary….” (The Life of God in the Soul of Man, 78–79). You see, man can’t make grass grow. We can’t make the land sprout fruit and vegetables. That’s God’s work. But God has ordained that the earth yield its produce by means of the farmer’s labors. In the same way, we can’t change our own hearts; sanctification is a sovereign work of the Spirit of God. But God has ordained that the Spirit accomplish this glorious work through means. And when Scripture commands us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, it is commanding us to make diligent use of the means the Spirit employs in effecting our holiness.


And so I want to spend some time briefly surveying what Scripture has to say about five means of sanctificationfive means which we can appropriate, and by doing so put ourselves in the way of the Spirit’s sanctifying work.


  1. Scripture


Number one: Scripture. The Word of God itself is often hailed throughout its own pages as a means of sanctification and spiritual growth. Turn with me to 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17. In this “ground-zero” text on bibliology, Paul tells us that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16–17). And so if you want to be equipped for every good work, you must go to the Scriptures, which teach you, reprove you, correct you, and train you in righteousness. In Psalm 19, verses 7 to 11, David tells us that the Word of God restores the soul, makes the simple wise, makes the heart rejoice, enlightens the eyes, and warns us from engaging in what is dishonoring to God.


The Scriptures are also likened to a mirror that reveals the true condition of a man in James 1:23 to 25; to a probe that discerns the thoughts and intentions of our hearts in Hebrews 4:12; and to a light and a lamp that guides our path in Psalm 119:105. And so the Scriptures are an aid in our sanctification, because they “disclose the state of [our] heart[s] and point out the remedy for failure” (Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, 292).


And so it’s no wonder that Peter exhorts the churches that have been entrusted to his care to “long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,” 1 Peter chapter 2 verse 2. You see? By the pure milk of the Word of God, we grow in respect to salvation. And of course, we have the matter stated so plainly on the lips of the Lord Jesus in His prayer to the Father in John 17:17, in which He prays for you and me: “Father, sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”


And so one of the ways we can be working out our salvation with fear and trembling is to be diligent and disciplined in reading the Word of God. And not just reading it, but studying it—meditating on it and ruminating on it throughout the day, submitting our thinking and our opinions to what we find in its pages. If we are commanded to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2), we must saturate our minds with the Scripture by which our minds are renewed.


  1. Prayer


A second means of grace that we must appropriate as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling is prayer. Now, the very nature of prayer identifies it as a means of grace, because the Father has ordained that His children receive the good gifts of His grace by means of their asking for them. And He has ordained it to be that way because He is glorified by demonstrating Himself to be the all-sufficient fountain that meets each of our needs.


And so, Jesus says in John 14:13, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” The writer of Hebrews entreats us to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). Prayer is a means of finding grace to help us in our various times of need. One example of that comes in Philippians 4, verses 6 and 7. In these very familiar verses, Paul writes, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Prayers of supplication and thanksgiving are said to be a means of banishing anxiety from the spirit and bringing peace.


And so if we acknowledge that the work of sanctification in our own hearts is fundamentally a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, we need to ask Him to do His work. We need to confess our sins, because He is faithful and righteous to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). We need to ask Him to increase our faith, to strengthen us against temptations, and to cause us to walk in His way. We need to do battle against specific sins that we face, praying that God would incline our hearts to Him, and that our various temptations would lose their luster in our sight (cf. Ps 119:37). And even the very act of humbling ourselves before God and expressing our dependence on Him in prayer exercises the soul in grace.


  1. Fellowship


A third means of grace by which we grow in our sanctification is fellowship. The reading of Scripture, regularly seeking the Lord in prayer, and now, number three: the fellowship of the local church and interaction with other believers. Turn to Hebrews chapter 3. The author is writing to a congregation of Jewish Christians who, because of persecution, were being tempted to revert back to Judaism. And in Hebrews chapter 3 verse 12, he writes, “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” So what is the means which we employ in order not to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin? It is the regular encouraging of one another, day after day, in the context of the fellowship of the local church.


Flip over a few pages to Hebrews chapter 10. And in verse 24 we have that familiar exhortation: “And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Here again, the Word of God forbids us from forsaking the gathering of ourselves together on the Lord’s Day with the Lord’s people, and charges  us to be instrumental in each other’s lives in stimulating one another to love and good deeds. Fellowship with other believers in the context of the local church is a means of grace by which we grow in holiness—by which we are stimulated to love and good deeds.


How does that happen? Turn to Ephesians 4. It is in the context of the local assembly that God has given the church spiritual gifts, verse 11: apostles and prophets in those early days, and then pastors, teachers, evangelists, and other gifts—for what purpose? Verse 12: “For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” And as each of us uses the spiritual gifts God has given us to minister to one another, verse 16: “the proper working of each individual part causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” And so when your leaders speak to you about the importance of regularly attending a Fellowship Group, and not missing the worship service, and being plugged in to a local Bible study, we’re not doing it because we want to see how much of your lives we can control! We’re doing it because we know that the fellowship of the saints in the local church is a means of growth in sanctification.


And so if you’re going through your Christian life and you feel like there are areas in which you’re losing the battle for holiness, and you’re inconsistent in your church attendance—you know, you may make it to GraceLife, but you check out early and skip the main service; after all, you’ve got your one “church” service for the day, right?—I would say you’ve found at least part of your problem right there. Or if you feel like you’re lacking the kind of true fellowship and brotherhood that Scripture speaks about, but you’re not committed to being an active participant in a small group Bible study, you’re cutting yourself off from exactly what you’re looking for! Cutting yourself off from the fellowship of the saints in these various forms is like blocking your spiritual arteries!


It’s in the fellowship of Christ’s church that we (a) expose ourselves to the regular, skillful preaching of the Word of God; that we (b) magnify the name of the Lord in corporate worship in a unique way as the gathered assembly; that we (c) minister to one another and build one another up as we use the gifts He’s given us; that we (d) lovingly confront one another and help each other deal with sin, and that we (e) partake in the ordinances of baptism and communion, which act as visible pictures of the Gospel which sanctifies us. And so if you would seek to grow in holiness, do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together with the body of Christ.


  1. Providence


Scripture is also clear that all the providential workings of God serve as a means of our growth in holiness. So number four: providence. One of our favorite verses, Romans 8:28, tells us that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him” (Rom 8:28). That means that God providentially ordains everything we go through in our lives to work for our good. And Paul defines that “good” in the very next verse, when he says, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29). Every experience we have is a minister of God’s providence that is designed to make us more like Christ.


And that’s especially the case with trials. We could go to a number of Scriptures—Romans 5:3–5, 1 Peter 1:3–7—but turn with me to the opening verses of James. James 1, starting in verse 2. James writes, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”


And so as you navigate the joys and trials and all the experiences of life, you need to face those experiences in the knowledge that all of them are providentially designed by God to make you more like Christ. When you’re facing difficulties and uncertainties—when you’re tempted to complain, and to shake your fist at God, and ask Him, “Why me?! Why now?!,” remember that His purpose in that difficulty or in that trial is to conform you to the image of His Son. And so you can go to Him and say, “Lord, your Word says you’re working all things for my sanctification. Show me how to grow to be more like Christ through this experience.”


  1. Obedience


And while there are many other means of grace by which we grow in holiness, I’ll mention just one more in this survey. And that is, number five: obedience. And for that we turn to John chapter 15. We’ve already said that practical acts of obedience are properly understood as the result of the inward sanctification that the Spirit works in the heart. But Scripture teaches that obedience is also a means of further progress in holiness. We learn this from Jesus’ words in John chapter 15. In the opening verses of the chapter, He teaches the disciples that their fruitfulness is a function of their abiding in Him, just as a branch abides in a vine. So, we will be fruitful insofar as we stay sapped to our Vine. But in verse 10, we discover that obedience is a means of remaining vitally connected to Christ. Jesus says, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love.” Love for Christ is the fuel for obedience—“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). But obedience produces more love for Christ. It’s a glorious circle of the grace of God.


IV. Beholding is Becoming (2 Corinthians 3:18)


Now, let me recap where we’ve been so far. First, we considered that sanctification is fundamentally internal and supernatural. Then, as a result of that, we considered how sanctification is a sovereign work of the Spirit of God. But then we saw how the Spirit’s work doesn’t cancel our work, because the Spirit employs means in sanctifying the believer. And we just looked at five of those means as Scripture reveals. But now I want to focus on how it is that those means actually work. In other words, I want to look at the actual dynamics of sanctification. Why is it that the Word of God, and prayer, and fellowship with the saints sanctify us?


The answer to that question comes by considering one other means of sanctification that Scripture reveals. But it’s not just another means among many. It’s actually the foundational means that renders all the other means efficacious. We find that in 2 Corinthians 3:18, so turn back there with me. Paul writes, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” Here Paul tells us it is as believers behold the glory of Christ with the eyes of their heart, they are thereby progressively conformed into His image.


Or, as the writer of Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 12:2, we run the race of the Christian life by “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.” Like Moses in Hebrews 11:26 and 27, our faith is strengthened to endure all manner of temptation by “looking to the reward,” the text says, and “seeing Him who is unseen.” Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:18 that “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.” And in 1 John 3:2, we learn that even unto glorification, our degree of Christlikeness is directly proportional to our beholding His glory. The Apostle John says, “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” And so according to these texts, especially 2 Corinthians 3:18, “the pathway to Christ-likeness is ‘beholding the glory of the Lord.’” As John Piper puts it, “Beholding is becoming” (God is the Gospel, 90).


Now why is this so? How does the spiritual sight of Christ supernaturally cause us to increase in holiness? It’s because the spiritual sight of Christ, by virtue of the delightfulness and beauty of His glory, causes us to admire Him in such a way that we are satisfied by Him, and therefore we don’t seek satisfaction in lesser, sinful pleasures. The glory of Christ captures our affections and causes us to love what He loves. Then, our renewed affections inform and excite our will, and we joyfully obey the commands of God. In one of the greatest paragraphs I have ever read outside the Bible, John Owen summarizes this teaching perfectly. He writes, “Let us live in the constant contemplation of the glory of Christ, and virtue will proceed from Him to repair all our decays, to renew a right spirit within us, and to cause us to abound in all duties of obedience. … It will fix the soul unto that object which is suited to give it delight, complacency, and satisfaction. … When the mind is filled with thoughts of Christ and his glory, when the soul thereon cleaves unto him with intense affections, they will cast out, or not give admittance unto, those causes of spiritual weakness and indisposition. … And nothing will so much excite and encourage our souls hereunto as a constant view of Christ and His glory” (The Glory of Christ, 1:460–61).


The implications of this for the practical pursuit of sanctification are staggering. This teaches us that in all our diligent efforts to appropriate the means of grace that the Spirit uses to accomplish His work of sanctification, the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ stands at the very center, giving life to all the other means. In our Bible reading, in our prayer, in our times of fellowship with other believers, in all of our experiences of divine providence, and in our obedience, we are looking to saturate the eyes of our hearts with the all-satisfying vision of the glory of God revealed in the face of Christ.


Let’s cycle back through each of those means, quickly, and see how beholding the glory of Christ undergirds each. Why does Jesus pray that the Father would sanctify His people by His Word? Well, when we consider that question in light of 2 Corinthians 3:18, we must conclude that it’s because the Word of God reveals the glory of God shining in the face of Christ. God has chosen to reveal Himself to us in His Word. If we want to see the glory of Jesus put on display, we must go to the Scriptures.


Can you see how this transforms your daily devotions? This means that you don’t go to the Word every morning just to check off the boxes on the reading plan. You’re not just reading to gather information, to learn new theology, or new apologetic arguments. It means you’re going to the Word every day to see Jesus. To get to know Him. To admire Him. It means every time your Bible is open you’re praying what Moses prayed in Exodus 33:20: “Show me Your glory!” and you’re asking the Father to give you a heart to treasure Him, to worship Him, and to obey Him.


The same is true for prayer. Rather than just praying to ease your conscience, or when you need something, or just as some sort of catharsis, you need to see prayer as the occasion for personal worship. This is the time for you to meditate on the beauty of the Lord’s manifold perfections as revealed in His Word and experienced in His providence; to praise Him for His goodness and bounty; to taste the goodness of His infinite sufficiency as you present your requests to Him. B. B. Warfield identified prayer as “conscious communion with God” (Faith and Life, 152). And as we behold His glory through that communion with Him, we are transformed into that same image of glory.


This impacts our fellowship as well. We tend to think of fellowship as simply having an enjoyable time with Christian friends, or that time in a worship service or a Bible study when the teaching is over and everyone hangs out and has some coffee and a nice snack. But because we are each being progressively conformed into the image of Christ, fellowship with other believers sanctifies us because of what we can see of Christ in each other. Anthony Hoekema writes, “Believers learn what Christ-likeness is by observing it in fellow Christians. We see the love of Christ reflected in the lives of our fellow believers; we are enriched by Christ through our contact with them; we hear Christ speaking to us through them. Believers are inspired by the examples of their fellow Christians, sustained by their prayers, corrected by their loving admonitions, and encouraged by their support” (Created in God’s Image, 89). And so the lifeblood of biblical fellowship is the glory of Christ that is to be enjoyed in one another. Shouldn’t that transform your interactions with your brothers and sisters in Christ? It would mean that the focus of the time you spend with one another would be on seeing Jesus in each other and reflecting Jesus to each other.


Providence also stands on the sanctifying foundation of the glory of the Lord. And here I need to be brief, but suffice it to say that when we learn to see all of the experiences of life—both the joys and the trials—as gracious dispensations of God’s providence, we can treasure the glory of the Giver that is revealed in His gifts, and give Him thanks and praise for “richly supplying us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim 6:17; cf. Jas 1:17). Even suffering for Christ’s sake provides new avenues for communion with Him, as Paul tells us in Philippians 3:10 that we have a unique fellowship with Him when we share in His sufferings. And of course, since “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19:1, ESV), the conscientious believer learns to see all the beauties of the creation as streams of glory that trace back to the God who is the Fountain of all goodness and grace.


And finally, the glory of Christ also undergirds and motivates our obedience. Turn with me to one last text, to John chapter 14, verse 21. Jesus says, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” So, keeping Christ’s commandments results in further disclosure of the Savior to the eyes of our hearts. This is the great motivator for all our efforts of obedience: that when I forsake sin and follow Christ in obedience, I get to see and enjoy more of Him! So fight sin like that! When you’re tempted to sin, and you don’t feel like obeying, reason with yourself. Tell yourself that all sinning will get you is a fleeting, false pleasure that destroys rather than satisfies; and that obedience will bring you a greater vision of the glory of your Savior, who is the greatest satisfaction your heart can experience.




So how can we summarize our thoughts? Well, as you seek to put sanctification in practice, let the implications of Philippians 2:12 & 13 and 2 Corinthians 3:18 have a place of paramount importance in your thinking. We can’t fall into the error of the Quietists who prescribe that we simply “yield” and “surrender” and wait to be magically catapulted to holiness. We must be active. But our study this morning guards us from the opposite error as well—the error of the moralists. And that is to conceive of holiness as merely the modification of our behavior, which we achieve in the strength of our own moralistic will-power, as we clench our fists, grit our teeth, and bend our wills to perform external duties that we have no heart to do. We don’t want to make either error. The Christian’s pursuit of holiness is, as Scripture says, a fight (1 Tim 6:12), a race (Heb 12:1), and a battle (Eph 6:10–18). But because the foundational means of our sanctification is beholding the glory of God in the face of Christ, we must recognize that that battle is fought on the level of spiritual sight. That race is run, fixing our eyes on Jesus (Heb 12:2).


As we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, we are conscious that it is the Holy Spirit of God who is working within us. And He works by illumining the glory of Christ to the eyes of our hearts, winning over our affections by the delightfulness and beauty of that glory. And then our affections inform and direct our wills, so that as a result we might will and work for His good pleasure. And precisely because He works in us in this powerful way, we arouse all diligence to put away anything that would cloud our vision of that glorious Savior, because the prospect of fellowship and communion with Him promises a greater pleasure than the false and fleeting pleasures of sin. And we make every effort to saturate our minds with the loveliness of Christ’s glory, delightfully disciplining ourselves to behold Him in His Word, to seek His face in worshipful prayer, to enjoy Him in fellowship with the saints, to see Him at work in creation and providence, and to obey Him in the hope that obedience brings greater communion with Him.


It’s fitting to conclude with the words of the 18th-century Baptist pastor, John Fawcett. Fawcett said, “Christ Jesus is the life of all the graces and comforts of a Christian in this world. By the knowledge and contemplation of Him, and of His death in our stead, faith lives, and is strengthened from day to day; all the springs of repentance are opened, and flow freely, when the heart is melted by views of a dying Savior; love feels the attractive power of its glorious object, and is kindled into a holy flame; sin is mortified; the world is subdued; and the hope of future glory is supported, enlivened, and confirmed, so as to become sure and steadfast, like an anchor of the soul.”


Let us, then, GraceLife, fix our eyes on Jesus, and run our race with endurance for the joy set before us.