My goal for 2018 is to find out how to be pleasing to God and to execute the same. See my earlier post of 1/2/18 about that: A New Better Goal for the New Year (2018). I’ve been wanting to write out some of my thoughts about what I’ve been learning in this regard for some time–so here I go.
I’ve been making some progress in surrendering my own wrong desires to instead obey God, and when I fail, I’m repenting and learning to embrace my forgiveness and press on with a little more ease than in years past. In the past, after a failure/sin, I would sometimes fail to get right back into fellowship with God through repentance either because I was unwilling to forgive a hurt against me, or unwilling to obey God in some area, or because I was mad at God for not getting something I wanted, when I wanted it, or because I was so discouraged by my failure that I felt I did not deserve to and should not turn back to God. I’m learning to embrace the wonderful promise of Hebrews 4:14-16:
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.”
I’m learning that God is God and I am not, so I don’t get to decide what circumstances God allows. I’m learning to trust Him despite difficulties with my health, relationships, etc. I’m learning that God might be doing something through my particular tests, trials, and persecutions that I cannot yet see.
I’m learning that forgiveness is never optional since Jesus has forgiven me so much. This I think must be a topic for another writing.
I am learning that obeying God’s specific commands in His Word is really the best thing for me in the long run and that His commandments are really not burdensome. I’m beginning to see that obedience even in “gray areas” like what diet God wants me to eat that is best for me personally is a good surrender.
The process of practical sanctification (becoming more practically obedient, set apart for God and holy) is, I believe, a separate issue from our justification/salvation, yet of course it springs from the new nature we are given when we believe in and follow Jesus. A desire to follow God in obedience is an excellent evidence of genuine conversion/salvation. I am grateful that I feel bad about my practical sin and am desiring to become more pleasing to God. But I find it very mysterious and puzzling to really understand the “how to” of following Christ in obedience. The process is given and empowered by the grace of God, yet we are also called to cooperate with God and work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Apart from Jesus Christ we can do nothing good and accomplish nothing, yet we are called to choose to obey and serve God in the strength He provides. We are given resurrection power to overcome sin, yet we still have a sinful nature which we must choose to say no to and struggle against. I often hear people say, “We have the power to overcome sin,” and it comes off sounding so smug to me. I know this is true from scripture, yet I look at myself and others and I still see SO MUCH SIN that is not being overcome. It is mystifying to me.
I’m studying in detail a book by Jerry Bridges entitled Transforming Grace, which I highly recommend. This is the best explanation of “how to” overcome sin and pursue personal holiness that I’ve found to date. There is so much I’d like to relay from this book, but long story short, I will just say the “trick” is to begin to obey God out of love and gratitude for the great calling and salvation believers have been given, instead of trying to earn personal identity, personal worth, salvation, acceptance, love or grace–because we could never, ever earn these things. They are an undeserved gift from God by grace that we believers already fully have. But what about being pleasing to God in our practical lives? Are we to continue in sin that grace should increase? Never! Are we to just give up on the pursuit of personal holiness because our sin nature is so strong and the struggle is so exhausting? My personal temptation is to just give up because it seems hopeless. I desire quick perfection and have to remind myself that my justification is instant and perfect, but my practical sanctification here in this life is a gradual process. I am so grateful to God that He has given me the desire to be pleasing to Him practically, and I know that new nature desire is a gift from Him. So how can I find out how to be pleasing to God and how can I execute it?
I sometimes hear people say that we should not work at trying to please God because He is already pleased with those who believe in and follow Him. But I don’t see this in scripture. Those who believe in Jesus’ finished work on the cross for the forgiveness of their sin are positionally justified – declared not guilty for their sin and given right standing with God. We believers have God’s unconditional love, no matter what. We believers will be saved from God’s wrath to come and our salvation is secure in Christ, no matter what. We believers have our identity and worth secure in Christ, no matter what. As Jerry Bridges says, we do not have to work on a performance treadmill to try to earn our salvation. We do not have to work for right standing with God, or love, acceptance and identity in Christ. But does that mean we should not desire to be pleasing to God after we have believed in Jesus? I believe we should desire it, pursue it, and most of all pray for God to empower and enable us to live lives that are pleasing to God because of our great salvation.
So, for now — the answers I am learning to the question of finding out how to be pleasing to God and actually do it, from Jerry Bridges and other sources, are:
- Learn God’s specific commands from His Word (know what to obey). Pray for wisdom and listen for God’s guidance on “gray areas” to obey for me personally.
- Preach the gospel to myself every day and remember how great my call and salvation really are. Remember the wrath of God I am saved from! Recommit to obey God out of love and gratitude every day. Kindle the desire to be pleasing to God out of love, not ever to try to gain worth or right standing that I already have.
- Pray for the Holy Spirit to empower and enable me to be obedient one choice at a time, because in my own strength I will always fail.
- Repent and turn back to God quickly when I fail.
- Press on and never give up.
- Enlist the encouragement and help of fellow believers. Never isolate when discouraged.
My pastor’s teaching on a series on 1 Thessalonians has also been very instructive on living intentionally for Christ and I hope to write more about that separately.
I’ve also studied Romans in detail with Bible Study Fellowship this year (September to May) and I hope to re-study it this summer. I was looking deeply for and hoping for some big “aha moment” from Romans as to the “how to” of becoming more pleasing to God, to find a way to find more overcoming power. But, as I studied through Romans I realized I have had the answer all along — I just wasn’t choosing to apply myself to it consistently enough, nor praying enough asking for God’s transforming power. I allowed myself to listen to my enemy who wants to discourage me from pressing on when I fail. All the incredible promises of Romans 8 are mine to claim — there is now no condemnation for me since I am in Christ Jesus (my justification is always secure). But for my personal practical sanctification process, I have to learn to realize the practical getting there this side of eternity is going to be a gradual process that needs much prayer, commitment, and one choice at a time, I will get a little closer each day to the level of personal holiness I desire. The perfection I desire will never be fully realized until I enter my eternal rest — but I will press on until then. Prayers are appreciated. I pray God will kindle the desire for the pursuit of personal holiness, give us patience in the process, and give us His transforming grace to be pleasing to Him and useful for His Kingdom.
Romans 8:8-11 – paraphrased and personalized just a bit:
“***If I am operating in the flesh (under my old sin nature), I cannot please God. (But I don’t have to operate in my flesh!) However, I am not in the flesh but in the Spirit, since indeed the Spirit of God dwells in me. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, she does not belong to Him. (But I DO HAVE the Spirit of Christ in me.) And since Christ is in me, though my body is dead because of sin, yet my spirit is alive because of righteousness. But since the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in me, God who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to my mortal body through His Spirit who indwells me.”
God, please help me to listen to my new nature and stop operating under my old flesh. Help my practical daily life match up more and more to my positional right standing that is secured forever in Jesus Christ. Make me more grateful, more loving, more obedient by Your grace.
3 thoughts on “Pondering Practical Sanctification”
Great post. I have known this same struggle and it has only been in the past several years as I have begun to simply pursue God Himself instead of my own holiness, that I realize the growth in sanctification comes as a natural result without my consciously striving for it. The better I know Him, the more I want to do only what pleases Him. My first priority has switched from pleasing Him to knowing Him. The better I know Him, the more I trust Him and that is the essence of pleasing Him – “…Enoch…was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please Him…” Heb. 11:5, 6
I memorized Rom. 8 a couple years ago so that every time Satan would bombard me with his lies, I could respond with what God had to say about it. Romans is such a rich book!
Another book that has been helpful to me in this process is “The Cure” by John Lynch and Bruce McNichol.
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Yes–that makes sense — the pleasing of God will result from the knowing of Him. We must know Him to love Him and if we truly love Him we will obey His commands. It sounds so simple but is so hard to really live out. Thanks for your input. Knowing God by Packer has also been instrumental for me in this regard. So many good books by so many great teachers; we are truly blessed.