Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Word & Sacrament - Gospel Sanctification

My concern is for the many out there (including myself), the often confused and wondering, asking... how do we live this Christian life?  If you haven't struggled with this, then you're not paying attention to your own conscience and how you fall short of true holiness every single day...

Continuing with sanctification.... I asked a number of questions in this article that could be summed up simply as, "How does the Holy Spirit sanctify the redeemed in the course of their earthly sojourn?"  Depending on one's school of theological presuppositions, that can be answered in different ways.  For the Deeper Life folks sanctification occurs through experiencing the inward Christ, i.e. a mystical encounter.  Others may hold to the idea of sanctifying merit through good works aided by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. Both these and other like approaches, unfortunately, turn one's eyes inward and away from Christ crucified as offered in the gospel.

What is so striking to me is that when sanctification is discussed it is almost always in the context of the believer's individual walk with the Lord, alone... out there in the world, by himself. Though that's a part of the picture, it is incomplete, for ... Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it; that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish (Eph.5:25-27).  When Christians gather for worship on the Lord's day, it is then and there that God meets them, ministers to them, nourishes and cleanses them unto sanctification by his Word and Sacrament.  That intersection of heaven and earth the bruised reeds whom he has chosen can take to the bank!

In the Old Testament there were daily sacrifices of a lamb, morning and evening, for cleansing and purging the sins of the covenant people of Israel.  And on the Sabbath day those sacrifices were doubled!  Those doubled sacrifices pointed forward to the fulfillment and efficacy of Jesus' cleansing blood for the sanctification of the people of God as offered in Word and Sacrament each Lord's day.  No striving.  No need to produce sinless works.  No mystical experiences to acquire.

On that day, the preached Word - law and gospel - again, rightly diagnoses our infirmity, i.e. the sin and stain that still touches every thought, word, and deed... yes even our very soul - and proclaims the blood of the Lamb which speaks of Jesus taking away our sins and in exchange imputing to us his righteousness. Hearing with faith and repentance we come to that fount for the purging of sin, shame and guilt as the Spirit applies Christ's merit of obedience and the power of his blood to our consciences. In the Lord's Supper believers are freely offered the bread and wine, Jesus' body and blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood (1662 BCP).  God proclaims and communicates this authoritatively and efficaciously by his Spirit through the means of his Word and Sacrament. And this double sanctifying grace of the gospel is received (upon hearing, eating and drinking) through simple faith with thanksgiving in Christ alone.

Going forth, then, into the week with various vocations, having been cleansed and strengthened in faith, we are assured that our Advocate and Mediator, Jesus, continues to plead in heaven his sanctifying blood on our behalf. Then, as guilty stains of the flesh and dust of the world again begin to cling to us, Let us [again and again] therefore draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need... with a true heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience: and having our body washed with pure water (Heb. 4:16; 10:22).

More from John Owen's Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit -
This whole matter of sanctification and holiness is peculiarly joined with and limited unto the doctrine, truth, and grace of the gospel; for holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing, and realizing of the gospel in our souls...
The “law,” indeed, for certain ends, “was given by Moses,” but all “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” There neither is, nor ever was, in the world, nor ever shall be, the least dram of holiness, but what, flowing from Jesus Christ, is communicated by the Spirit, according to the truth and promise of the gospel.
(1.) He requires nothing of us (which we had all the reason in the world to expect that he would) to make atonement or satisfaction for our sins...
(2.) He requireth nothing of us in a way of righteousness for our justification for the future. That this also he would have done we might have justly expected; for a righteousness we must have, or we cannot be accepted with him... Neither is there any mention in the whole gospel of God’s requiring a righteousness in us upon the account whereof we should be justified before him, or in his sight; for the justification by works mentioned in James consists in the evidencing and declaration of our faith by them. 
(3.) God requireth not anything of us whereby we should purchase or merit for ourselves life and salvation: for “by grace are we saved through faith; not of works, lest any man should boast,” Ephesians 2:8,9...
God, therefore, requires nothing at our hands under this notion or consideration, nor is it possible that in our condition any such thing should be required of us; for whatever we can do is due beforehand on other accounts, and so can have no prospect to merit what is to come. Who can merit by doing his duty? Our Savior doth so plainly prove the contrary as none can farther doubt of it than of his truth and authority, Luke 17:10...
Moreover, where sanctification is enjoined us as our duty, it is prescribed under this notion of cleansing ourselves from sin: “Wash you, make you clean,” Isaiah 1:16. “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved,” Jeremiah 4:14. “Having therefore these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God”...
Nothing do they more earnestly labor after in their prayers and supplications than a cleansing from it by the blood of Christ, nor are any promises more precious unto them than those which express their purification and purging from it; for these are they which, next unto their interest in the atonement made by the sacrifice of Christ, give them boldness in their approaches unto God. So our apostle fully expresseth it, Hebrews 10:19-22: “Having therefore boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water...”
The foundation of all our confidence in our access unto God, the right and title we have to approach unto him, is laid in the blood of Christ, the sacrifice he offered, the atonement he made, and the remission of sins which he obtained thereby: which effect of it he declares, verse 19, “Having boldness by the blood of Jesus.” The way of our access is by pleading an interest in his death and suffering, whereby an admission and acceptance is consecrated for us: Verse 20, “By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated.” And our encouragement to make use of this foundation and to engage in this way is taken from his discharge of the office of a high priest in our behalf: ‘“Having an high priest over the house of God, let us draw near...”
But besides all this, when we come to an actual address unto God, that we may make use of the boldness given us in the full assurance of faith, it is moreover required that “our hearts be sprinkled, and our bodies washed;” — that is, that our whole persons be purified from the defilement of sin by the sanctification of the Spirit... 
So is it in the gospel, where the blood of Christ is said to “purge” our sins with respect to guilt, and to “wash” our souls with respect to filth.

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