It is a striking thing that nearly all that God does in the world today, he does by the Holy Spirit through the instrumentality of his written revelation. This is true of sanctification. Sanctification means to be set apart for God’s use. So our text tells us that the only way this will ever happen to us is by an appropriation of God’s truth as that is recorded for us in the Bible.
If we are to receive the blessings God has for his church, we must receive them in the way God has planned to give them to us, and this means that there are many ways in which holiness will not come to us. It will not come through preaching or listening to preaching, for instance. Most of us know people who have specialized in Bible conferences and conventions to such a degree that they are fully aware of what a speaker is going to say before he says it. But this alone does not produce holiness. What is wrong? Quite simply, they are looking to men for their teaching, rather than to God.
A second way in which we will not find holiness is through prayer or, still less, through prayer meetings. Prayer is most important in the Christian life, but it is not the God-ordained means for growth in holiness. Prayer is preparation for such growth. But at what point in prayer does God actually speak to us and direct us in the way we should go? Only when God the Holy Spirit brings the words of Scripture to our minds for the direction we need.
Third, we must not expect to find holiness through a special experience. Whenever you find yourself looking for an experience, you are on the wrong track and in spiritual danger. Sanctification comes rather from seeking always and increasingly to have the Lord Jesus Christ (a person, not an “it”) exalted in our lives. And the way to do that is by discovering what he desires of us and for us as that is revealed in his Word.
This brings us back to the central point. Growth in holiness is through Bible study, that alone. And therefore, the third mark of the church must be God’s truth. David asked about it, saying, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” He answered, “By taking heed thereto according to thy Word. With my whole heart have I sought thee; oh, let me not wander from thy commandments” (Psalm 119:9-10).
What does this mean practically?
Let me suggest some areas.
1) We must let it be known that we do what we do because the Bible says so. It is our authority. We must be men and women of “the Book.” We have to recover the biblical standard. We have to get to what the Word of God says. We have to study it, do our homework, and then we must ask: On the basis of this Word, what does God want for the church in this age?
2) We need to be distinct in our theology. This pays off, because where it is done those who hunger for the truth of the Word of God will come to it.
We need to articulate the great biblical doctrines, not just adopt the theology of our culture. We need to speak of the depravity of man, of man in rebellion against God, so much so that there is no hope for him apart from God’s grace. We need to speak of God’s electing love, showing that God enters the life of the individual in grace by his Holy Spirit to quicken understanding and draw the rebellious will to himself. We must speak of perseverance, that God is able to keep and does keep those whom he so draws. All these doctrines and all the supporting doctrines that go with them need to be proclaimed.
3) We have to be distinctly different in the area of our priorities. Our priorities are not going to be the world’s priorities but the priorities of the Word of God. This does not mean, let me say, that we will therefore neglect social concerns. That is part of the priority of the Christian life. But it does mean that we will not reject the gospel of salvation through faith in the vicarious atonement of Christ either. And we will make the proclamation of this gospel our number one priority.
4) We need to be distinctly different in the area of our lifestyle.
One of the priorities we must have concerns our time. Sport has almost become the religion of America. It is what many people do on weekends. And there are evangelicals who find their time so taken up with sports that Christian activities are crowded out. Is that right? Is this not an area in which we have to say that the drift of our day is not in the direction we want to go?
The second area where I raise the question of proper priorities is the amount of time spent watching television. The average American watches television over four hours every day. These figures are true, I am convinced, of Christian people also. Is the tube worth that time? The Bible says, “Redeem… the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians. 5:16).
How about the use of Sunday? I do not believe in proscribing what is proper and improper Sunday activity for anybody. But how do we use Sunday? Do we want to worship God? Is sixty minutes, seventy or eighty minutes, on Sunday morning really the whole of our Sunday commitment?
Public schools are increasingly scheduling school events for Sunday, and this is having its effect on our children. We are going to see more of that, and Christian people are going to be confronted with it again and again. Are these activities more important than having our children in church? Even if it means that our children are not going to be as popular as we would like them to be – we must say, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15). These are areas where Christians are going to have to show that they are distinct.
5) Perhaps the most pressing area in which we have to be distinct is sexual ethics, particularly in our conception of marriage and the way we conduct our marriages. It is not easy to have a Christian marriage today. Everything in the world works against it. The great and overriding concern of our time is for personal satisfaction, and there is always that in marriage which does not seem personally satisfying. We wish things could be different. But the question is: What are we in the marriage for? Are we in it for personal satisfaction above all? Or are we there because we believe that God has brought us together with our spouse to establish a Christian home in which his truth can be raised high, Christian values demonstrated, and children raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?
6) Finally, we must be distinct in our use of money and other resources. How do we use our money? All of us are hit by inflationary times. But if we compare our standard of living in theUnited States with the rest of the world, compared to most others we are all millionaires. All of us have money we could use in the Lord’s work. Do we thus use it? Are we faithful in that area? Some of us do not even give the Old Testament tithe, let alone our life and soul and all that we have to be used in the Lord’s own way. I have given four areas in which we need to be distinctly different: the areas of our authority, theology, priorities, and life style. All these correspond to the areas of secularization delineated earlier. But there is a fifth point which we need to add. We need to be distinctly different in our visible dependence upon God. I am convinced that nothing less than this will capture the attention of a secular world.
How can Christians change the world? The Lord Jesus Christ gave the answer in the Sermon on the Mount. He did not say that we are to maneuver the world. He did not say, “Get elected to high positions in the Roman Empire. See if you can get an evangelical to be promoted to emperor.” Not at all! It could happen, of course. He did not forbid it. But that is not the option he gave. He said, “Ye are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). Then he said, “Ye are the light of the world” (v. 14).
Salt does a great deal of good, but it does no good at all if it has lost its saltiness. It is only when it is salty that it is effective. So, if we are those in whom the Spirit of God has worked to call us to faith in Jesus Christ, we must really be Christ’s people; and it must be evident that by his grace we are not what we were previously. Our values must not be the same values. Our commitments must not be the same commitments. Our theology must not be the same theology. Rather, there must be a new element in us and, because of us, in the world.
We are also “light.” If salt speaks of what we are, light speaks of what we do. The purpose of light is to shine, to shine out. So the Lord said, “Look, nobody lights a candle and puts it under a bushel. It is to be set up on a candlestick where all will see it.”
What are we to be? We are to be lighthouses in the midst of a dark world. Being a lighthouse will not change the rocky contours of the coast. The sin is still there. The perils of destruction still threaten men and women. But by God’s grace the light can be a beacon which will bring the ships into a safe harbor. That is what it means to be set apart unto God, to be sanctified. We are to be a beacon, knowing that as we are that, there will be cause for great rejoicing, and the evangelical church will be blessed by God and thanked by those who have found the Lord Jesus Christ through her witness.
This is the third in a series of six posts by Dr James M. Boice concerning the characteristics of a healthy church.