Christian Jargon #2 – Justification & Sanctification

Christian Jargon #2 – Justification & Sanctification

Theme: Christian Jargon #2 – Sacramental, Transubstantiation and Consubstantiation
Bible Reading: Colossians 1:9-21
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
ONLINE only worship – 6:30pm, Sunday 9 August, 2020

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This is one of my all-time favourite bible verses – quoted from the Good News Bible because that is the version that I first memorised it in … Colossians 1:21-22:

21 At one time you were far away from God and were his enemies because of the evil things you did and thought. 22 But now, by means of the physical death of his Son, God has made you his friends, in order to bring you, holy, pure, and faultless, into his presence.

For me it sums up the Gospel message in 2 verses

  • We were far away from God because we sinned
  • Because of Jesus death we are now God’s friends
  • And we can enter God’s presence – Holy, Pure & Faultless

Who agree with this?  Who can see the theological dilemma contained in these 2 verses?

It just seems simplistic … we weren’t holy because of the evil things we did and thought … and now because of Jesus’ death God makes us as Holy, Pure and Faultless.  OK – but who here is Holy, Pure and Faultless?  I’m not … and how does this even work?  Just because God sees us as pure and faultless doesn’t take away the fact that in reality we are not?  But we are … sort of … How does this work?

Believe it or not the answer lies in the two “Christian Jargon” words for tonight … Justification and Sanctification! 

But first, let me tell you a true story.  When I was 18 … just before the HSC started, I was allowed to go for a couple of days and visit my girlfriend who lived in a town about 90 mins away from where I lived.  Even more exciting, I was allowed to borrow the family second car for the trip.

Unfortunately, the trip did not go well.  It was fairly obvious from the time I arrived that the long-distance part of our relationship was not helpful and now being together … things weren’t great.  I suggested a picnic lunch to try and patch things up … but the whole time things felt awkward.  We were driving back to my girlfriends house late in the afternoon and this car up before me was driving really slowly – so I went to overtake them only to discover that the reason why they were slow was that they were turning right.  I don’t know if they had their blinkers on or whether in my struggle to repair the relationship that I just didn’t see, but I felt it when the car turned into the side of my car as I passed. 

Fortunately, no one was hurt in the accident – but it was the perfect way to end a car-crash of a date.  My girlfriend was not happy and it basically was the trigger for us to ultimately breakup.  The good news was that the other car was already had heaps of dents over it and the driver wasn’t worried about any follow up.  However, my car … or should I say my parents car … came off worse with a huge, obvious dent in the side door.  The other driver laughed when he saw my damage and said “don’t worry about my car … you’re going to have enough trouble explaining the huge dent to your parents” before driving off.

It was a horrible rest of the day.  My girlfriend basically didn’t want much to do with me.  I had to ring up my parents and explain how I mucked things up.  It was clear that I was in the wrong and I just felt terrible.  All I wanted to do was to just go home but my girlfriends father convinced me that I was in no state to drive and to leave it to the morning. 

The next morning, I packed my stuff and went to the car and was stunned.  The big massive dent in the side door was … well not there anymore.  There was just a few faint creases but I only noticed because I was looking for the dent.  How could a huge dent disappear?

What I didn’t know is that my girlfriend’s dad had got up early that morning and had spend hours pushing and smoothing the dent out.  I don’t know how he did it, but he basically got the car back to a point where you could argue that the accident never happened at all.

I remember thinking … this would make a great sermon illustration!  No I didn’t … but yes it is a good sermon Illustration as it sums up the heart of the gospel message.  For whatever reasons – our own bad decision, poor judgement, the impact of other people … we find ourselves in a mess.  We fall short of God’s standards in a way that is as obvious as the huge dent in the side door of my car.  We mess up our lives by sinning, but God was able to do through the cross what we could never do … God makes all our mess away … even to the point where it is as if we had never sinned in the first place.

The Jargon word for this process is Justification. 

Justification is the process where God forgives our sins and our sins are completely gone.  One way I was taught to understand this was – I’m Justified … it’s just-if-I’d never sinned.  Even though we have sinned, God forgives that sins and remembers it no more.  It is taken away from us … therefore we are made holy, pure and faultless.

But my original problem arises … through asking for forgiveness for our sins we are justified; yet the reality is that we still go on sinning.  We are not holy, pure or faultless.  How does this work?

For me the answer is found in the phrase “The Now and the Not Yet”.  I first heard this phrase in an Amy Grant song. (Who here has even heard of Amy Grant … biggest selling Christian singer in the 1980’s and 90’s)

Her song, entitled “the now and the not yet” song starts with the line, “No longer what we were before, but not all that we will be”.  Does this sum up what happens when we become a Christian?  When we are forgiven and enter into a friendship with Jesus we are changed.  We are not what we were before

 … and yet we have not changed that much.

When Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” … we would argue that it is more like, “The old is slowly going and the new is slowly coming … but that is what Amy is trying to say … we are no longer what we were before, but we are not all that we will be either.  She sums this up in the bridge of her song she sings, “I’m caught in between the now and the not yet”. 

But I think it is even more profound than this.  Let me define my two words for tonight and see if my explanation can bring this all together.  For me, Justification – is the process where if we confess our sins God will forgive us and remember them no more.  Just-if-I’d never sinned.  Through Justification God sees us as perfect – as holy, pure and faultless people.

Sanctification – is the process where the Holy Spirit working in our lives – changing us and moulding us and helping us to become the people that God designed us to be, that God sees us to be – holy, pure and faultless. 

Justification happens in a moment when we confess our sins and accept Jesus into our lives – Sanctification starts the moment after justification and lasts our entire lifetime.

Justification is the moment which God declares us to be perfect.  Sanctification is the life-long process of becoming perfect.

Or in terms of the song – through Justification we are made perfect now … but in reality we are not yet perfect.  We are caught in between the “now” and the “not yet”.

This is mind-blowing stuff.  If we are talking Religious Jargon words … Justification and Sanctification are my two favourite words because they encapsulate such a profound understanding of the way that God works in our lives.

But there are two traps with these words … two ways of misunderstanding them that can lead people into a place where God never intended.  Let me highlight these two traps for you.

Trap #1 – Thinking that we need to somehow be “good enough” before we are justified.

I apologise if you have already heard this story … but it sums it up great.  Mike Wanke is a Christian speaker who tells the story of a grandmother who dragged her marijuana smoking grandson to hear him speak a church one night.  Over supper after the service, she takes him up and pushes him in front Mike, hoping that he could somehow convert him.  After some smalltalk, the bloke asks Mike, “I have a question for you … do I have to give up smoking dope to become a Christian”.  The grandmother is silently nodding in the background.  Mike said, “No”.  The grandmother nearly dies with shock.  The bloke says, “I don’t think you understand … do I have to give up smoking marijuana to become a Christian”.  Mike said, “No”. 

He kept going, “I don’t think you understand … do I need to give up smoking this” and he pulls out a massive, cigar-sized joint and waves it around, “do I need to give up smoking this to become a Christian”  And Mike said, “No”  to which the bloke replied, “I don’t think I understand”.  Mike explained, “You don’t have to change your behaviour at all to become a Christian – Jesus will accept you just as you are!  HOWEVER … when you become a Christian, the Holy Spirit begins to work in you and you will begin to think differently, feel differently, act differently and if you become a Christian you might find that you don’t want or need to smoke that thing anymore.”

Did you get that point!  You don’t have to do anything to be good enough, to be worthy of justification.  We are not the one who do the justification … God does it for us.  Justification is a free gift from God to all who asks.   Which leads me to:

Trap #2 – Once we accept Jesus it doesn’t matter what we do because we are already justified.

The think I love about Mike’s story is that while clearly saying that we don’t have to change to become a Christian – the fact that Jesus is now part of our lives means that we will change.  Although Mike didn’t use the word, he was talking about Sanctification!

It is like with any relationship.  If you are in a close relationship with another person, their influence in your life means that you slightly change.  You are a different person from the person you would have been in they were not in your life.  It is the same with Jesus – Jesus should influence the person who you are.

But with Jesus it is more than that.  The Bible in a number of places refers to our relationship with God being like a potter and clay.  God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, wants to constantly shape us and mould us into the people he wants us to be.  This process is the life-long process of Sanctification.

Yet, we are independent people, sometimes even stubborn and we want to resist this shaping and moulding.  Sometimes we want to even argue that God doesn’t know what he is doing.  Isaiah 29:16 tells us that this is totally upside thinking – clay can’t tell the potter what to do.  We just allow the potter to do his work in us.

I find this concept of Sanctification both amazing and very challenging.  I just love the idea that God is constantly at work in my life – that next week or in a years’ time or in 10 years’ time I am going to be a better person than I am today – that I am going to be more like Jesus.  That is so encouraging.

However, it is also a challenge.  If I am honest there has been so many days in my life in which I have not let the potter have his way with me, where I have not allowed the Spirit to shape me and mould me.  There have been periods in my life where I might go 6 months or more without seeing any evidence of real spiritual growth or spiritual change in me.  Now I know that can be for a variety of reasons, but if I am honest, some of those times is because shut the potter out.  I was happy to rest with the justification and not be open to the sanctification – forgetting that the two actually go hand in hand.

So … what is God saying to you in this?  We are living in between the “now” and the “not yet”… Maybe God is stirring within you the need to experience his justification tonight; if so then reach out to god tonight, accept God’s free gift of forgiveness and love – experience God cleansing your life – just-if-I’d never sinned. 

Or maybe God is challenging you to be more open to the Sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in your life.  God wants you to grow in your spiritual life, God wants to shape you and mould every aspect of your life … all you need to do is open yourself up to that.  If so, then tonight open yourself to God.  Cry out, “Come Holy Spirit – do your work in me tonight”

It is my prayer that you will not only understand but also experience the richness and fullness of these two amazing words – justification and sanctification – in your life.  Amen.