Sanctification is a messy business.
This sounds, perhaps, a bit strange, because for most of us our understanding of what sanctification means would frame itself around the belief that the Holy Spirit – a pure, perfect, opposite-of-messy Spirit – indwells in our beings to bring about sanctification.
So why messy?
Well it’s not because God is messy, or even that He prefers messiness. Indeed at the largest and smallest scale points of our known universe there is mind-boggling order.
The physical laws of our universe apply consistently to massive galaxies and new ‘particles’ being discovered in the Large Hadron Collider.
The creation narrative in Genesis describes a state of reality lacking order being brought into order. It describes the passage of night into morning – darkness into light – as each day marks a stage in creation.
No, it’s not because of God that sanctification is a messy business.
It’s because sin is messy.
When I say that sin is messy I mean it in every definition of the word; it’s untidy and unruly, and it’s like mire and filth.
In Psalm 40, David writes poetically of how he has been rescued from his impossible situation as he is surrounded by enemies. Trapped, he has received revelation of the parallel between this and his sin. He is in fact more trapped by his sin.
“For evils have encompassed me
my iniquities have overtaken me,
and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
my heart fails me.”
Sacrifices and offerings don’t cut it, won’t cut it.
Empty offerings and actions, or even sincere ones, cannot separate David from his sin – they can only help him to account for them, and make some form of payment for them.
No. His deliverance requires divine intervention. His deliverance requires sanctification.
David needs to be lifted out of his situation and then separated from his sin, and separated from his sinful flesh which is the dwelling place of all that is evil in man.
“1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.”
He can’t do it by himself as he is trapped and therefore unable to do it.
We too are trapped in our sin, and we too are unable to separate ourselves from our sin, to sanctify ourselves.
God has to reach down into the miry bog, the filthy darkness full of death and decay, stinking and wreaking of death and rotting. He has to stop us sinking in so deep that we drown in our own sin, like drowning in our own faeces.
He has to do it.
“2a He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog,”
He has to take us out of the bog – He has to separate us from our sin.
“2b …and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”
He has to set our life on a new footing where every step we take is secure, away from sin and towards His holiness and light.
“3a He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.”
He has to teach us to be thankful as the fruit of a heart that has truly received His mercy by His grace.
“3b Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”
He has to teach us to live out our holiness publicly so that people will see the change and fear and put their trust in the Lord.
At some point we have to reckon with the truth that sanctification is necessary because we continue to sin. I continue to make myself god and rebel against almighty God.
At the heart of this is not a battle between ‘gods’ but a rejection in my heart of the everlasting Father who loves me and sent His Son to die for me, and whose cross is available to me daily so that His shed blood might cleanse me daily.
Every time I sin I rehearse the cross of Christ in all its gory, deathly horror, and it’s only because I refuse to take a hard look at it, refuse to look Jesus in the eye as he hangs there, that I can merrily carry on sinning oblivious to the poison which is pervading my whole being.
But God is not like me. He is so utterly other… so HOLY.
And His will is that I share His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).
So as I can’t do it, so He does it.
He dives into my miry bog and saves me from myself.
He shows me the cross and holds my heart as I look so that the fruit of my looking won’t be guilt but repentance.
He orients my steps so that my worldview is always through the lens of the cross, and as I walk, singing the new song, I am empowered to remain focussed on the cross and not focussed on me, or the thing in front of me which is utterly limited by the constraints of this world.
This is a daily reality.
Every day I am in need of being lifted out of the miry bog, and every day I need to be separated from my sin.
Every day I need the cross of Christ, and every day I need His shed blood.
Yes I am saved the moment I believe by faith and am born again, but surely I can see that I am in need of continual saving.
And as a newborn in the Kingdom of God, surely I need to learn how to live in alignment with the holiness of God, and not walking by the sinful ways of my decaying flesh, because all I know is the way of sin until the Holy Spirit indwells.
Sanctification is a messy business, but it’s also a glorious one.
I have no faith in my own power to resist the temptations in my own flesh, but I have faith in God who cannot be tempted, which is why I pray “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.
I have no faith that I will continually choose God over choosing me and exalting myself, but I have faith in God who chose me before the foundation of the world and wrote my name in His book.
Even David saw this:
“7 Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
8 I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.””
How glorious that even if I fail, which I will, all that I have to do to both be saved and glorify God is to turn to Him and put my trust in Him once more.
How glorious that His law is in my heart and so I know exactly where the boundaries lie, and I know right from wrong, and so can see when I am sinning and confess, rather then grope in the darkness unaware that it is my sin that is killing me.
I cannot do it, but He can do it, and He will do it, because He is faithful to Himself and He desires that I not die in my own filth, but that I sing a song of praise as He lifts me up, washes me down, and sets me off on the right path, solid underfoot.
Sanctification is easier to say than to do, but if we trust the Holy Spirit to do it, and we put down our arms and lower our defensive walls, then He will do it for us, and then our lives will say it (and sing it) as it is being done.
The more He does it, the more we do it with Him, and the less we walk in the way of sinners, and the more we delight in the law of God as children who know how to love through obedience and trust.
Then , and only then, are we fit to obey His command,
“You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:16 (cited from Leviticus 11:44)