By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman
In any organization, including the church, you can see over periods of time the swing of the pendulum between extremes.
I worked in sales for a major soda company during the 80s and it seems that during my 10 years with them we floated between market share and sales. We knew when the pendulum was about to swing because a new regional vice president would be hired to undo the supposed mess his predecessor had created. It really created problems for those of us who worked daily with grocery outlets to keep good relationships with our customers. I’m almost sure the same extremes in marketing emphasis continue today.
The church is no different. What often happens is, in over-correcting one perceived extreme, we tend to throw out the baby with the bathwater as the pendulum swings to the extreme opposite side of the center. We sometimes can’t see that there is truth on both sides of the center, in spite of the extremes that often accompany those truths. It’s these extremes and the hurts that often come with them that the church has historically reacted to, but in doing so we have lost emphasis on core teachings that became perverted in their extremes. Some of these truths have taken generations to resurface in a useful form that captures their essence without regurgitating the extremes associated with them. It takes Christian maturity to see these extremes and act to bring them to a place of balance without the reaction that pushes to the opposite extreme.
I believe we are now in such a time of over-correction. The Holiness Movement carried with it the extremes of legalism, which brought about much hurt in the body of Christ. In fact, some reading this now may have been under legalism for the greater part of their Christian lives and can attest to the damage that’s been done to them because of it. But in the over-correction of those extremes, we seem to have lost the proper role of sanctification in our personal lives and corporate life as the church.
This reaction comes across in many ways. You see it when sin and personal responsibility before God is no longer preached in the church. Even more, you see it when the convicting preaching of the Word is all but replaced in some meetings by what amounts to a “don’t worry, be happy” cheering section, devoid of anything that might offend someone or make them feel uneasy about themselves. We’ve focused so much on the love of God in justification that we fail to ask the question of Romans 6:1: “Should we continue then in sin that grace may abound?” So we have numbers of carnal Christians being raised up that attribute conviction to the work of the enemy and are out for all they can get without a thought of what God would have them give. And I don’t mean money. It will take mature thinking and action by leadership not afraid to promote sanctification in a scriptural way that will restore health and vitality to the body of Christ. Out of balance is no balance at all. Without a resolve in the pulpit and in the pew, the potential problems for the church are as great as those caused by legalism. And the hurts will be just as damaging.
Before we look at sanctification, it’s important that we understand the difference between sanctification and justification. Blurring the two, as many cults do, leads to legalistic thinking and practice. Justification is a state of being where the righteousness of Jesus is reckoned to the sinner so the sinner is declared by God as being righteous under the Law. This righteousness is not earned or retained by any effort of the saved. Justification is an instantaneous occurrence with the result being eternal life. It is based completely and solely upon Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and is received by faith alone. No works are necessary whatsoever to obtain justification. Otherwise, it is not a gift. Therefore we are justified by faith. The church seems to have a pretty good handle on justification.
Sanctification, however, has two distinct meanings. One is being set apart for God’s work and the other is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ. Therefore in one sense we are already sanctified, or set apart for God’s work while we are at the same time being progressively conformed into the image of Christ. This conforming to Christ involves the work of the person. But it is still God working in the believer to produce more of a godly character and life in the person who has already been justified. Sanctification, in the imaging sense, is not instantaneous because it is not the work of God alone. The justified person is involved by actively cooperating with God by being willing to submit to God’s will, resisting sin, seeking holiness, and aspiring to be more godly. Significantly, sanctification has no bearing on justification. That is, even if we don’t live a perfect life, we are still justified. Where justification is a legal declaration that is instantaneous, sanctification is a process. Where justification comes from outside of us, from God, sanctification comes from God within us by the work of the Holy Spirit in accordance with the Bible. In other words, we contribute to sanctification through our efforts. In contrast, we do not contribute to our justification through our efforts.
So is the condition of the heart important to God? We are going to look at three instances in the Bible where we see that God certainly is concerned about the human heart condition; one from the Old Testament, one from the teaching of Jesus, and one from the book of Acts. We’ll start in 1 Samuel 16.
(1) And the LORD said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons.
(2) And Samuel said, How can I go? if Saul hear it, he will kill me. And the LORD said, Take an heifer with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice to the LORD.
(3) And call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will shew thee what thou shalt do: and thou shalt anoint unto me him whom I name unto thee.
(4) And Samuel did that which the LORD spake, and came to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, Comest thou peaceably?
(5) And he said, Peaceably: I am come to sacrifice unto the LORD: sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice. And he sanctified Jesse and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice.
(6) And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the LORD’S anointed is before him.
(7) But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.
(8) Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, Neither hath the LORD chosen this.
(11) And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither.
(12) And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he.
(13) Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.
Several points for our discussion tonight are that Jesse and his seven eldest sons were “ceremonially sanctified” by Samuel, yet were rejected by God. Samuel was ready to anoint Eliab when God spoke to him, “, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.”
“for not as man seeth” in the Hebrew means not so much how God looks but WHAT He looks at. God perceives and regards at a heart level, not on outward appearance. We do see David described here as ruddy, or red in complexion or hair, with a beautiful countenance. This was merely a description of David, not a qualifier of his election by God as king. It’s not so much that God looks in a different way; He looks in a different place. So here we see the shepherd brought in straight from the field, probably smelling like the sheep, not having been ceremonially cleansed, anointed as king. It was the heart of David that set him apart from his brothers.
We see this same problem of how men look in Matthew 23. This whole chapter is Jesus’ scathing rebuke of the Pharisees, but tonight we’ll focus on verses 25-28.
(25) Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
(26) Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter that the outside of them may be clean also.
(27) Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
(28) Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
In verses 25 and 26, Jesus is telling them that in spite of their best efforts to clean the outside of the cup and platter, it is really no cleansing at all. He tells them to clean first what is inside the cup that the outside would truly be clean. In verse 27 Jesus likens them to white-washed tombs that appear beautiful but are full of all uncleanness. Here we need to look at Jewish customs to get the full meaning of this verse. Sepulchers here is not referring to the large rock sepulchers that the wealthy owned, but are referred to as common graves. If a person died along the road or in a field, that is where they were buried. At Passover, a huge crowd of people came to Jerusalem from all the known world. Coming into contact with a dead person would make one unclean. To prevent that happening, men would go out about a month before Passover and whiten the common graves with lime. This was the time when Jesus gave this object lesson to them. The people were well aware of the whitened graves and perhaps could see them as Jesus was teaching. The word beautiful comes from the Greek word, hora, from which we get the word hour. He’s telling them they look good at the appointed time, but it’s all a sham, because inside they are dead.
Verse 28 again shows man’s weakness for looking on the outside. Righteous, in this verse, means one who acts conformable to justice and right without any deficiency or failure. Ye appear outwardly righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
One of the problems, when the message of true sanctification is lost, is that outward appearance becomes the new gauge of holiness in the eyes of men. Visualize with me two identical buckets. One is empty and one is ¾ full of rocks. Imagine water filling both buckets and overflowing onto the floor. From the outside, the overflow looks the same. But the overflow coming from the bucket with rocks comes from shallow water. It looks the same, but it has no depth. The deep bucket represents the Christian who has embraced the message of sanctification and has cooperated with the Holy Spirit to unload his rocks. The shallow is the Christian who chooses to live with his rocks in a shallow Christianity. We can name the rocks. They are the works of the flesh that keep us heavy inside. Christ paid the price for the unloading but we have to be willing to be unloaded. This is sanctification; getting rid of our rocks. In this next example, we see how mature leadership responds by looking at the heart condition of a man and giving him the correct steps to unloading his rocks.
Saul was persecuting the church in Jerusalem to the extent that all but the apostles were forced to leave. And Phillip goes to the city of Samaria and begins to minister in signs, wonders, and the Word. Revival breaks out and many are being saved and water baptized. Among those saved was a man named Simon who was a well-known sorcerer who had amazed the city with his magic arts. He was known as “The Great Power of God”. After Simon is saved and water baptized, he becomes a companion of Phillip. Now when the apostles got word of the revival that was happening, they sent Peter and John to see that the converts were filled with the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. And now we’ll pick up the story in Acts 8:18:
18) And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,
(20) But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.
(23) For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.
(24) Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.
(25) And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.
Simon was saved, water baptized, and we can assume from the text that he also received the Holy Spirit. He was hanging out with Phillip. Surely Peter and John would have ministered to him the same way they ministered to the rest. So Simon, saved, baptized, and filled with the Holy Ghost, in envy of the ability of Peter and John to impart the Holy Spirit, offers them money to get the same gift. Peter saw what the problem was. He didn’t sugarcoat it or use pop psychology to try and massage it into something it wasn’t. Peter didn’t hang back in fear of offending Simon. He wasn’t concerned that Simon, a man of reputation and influence in the community, might leave the church. There was no compromising here because Peter knew all about compromise and the hurt it can bring. Remember Peter looked into the face of Jesus after the cock had crowed the third time and went out and wept bitterly. Peter wasn’t speaking on his own accord when he confronted Simon, but as a qualified leader in the Church. Peter boldly told it like it is: “For thy heart is not right in the sight of God.”
And Peter didn’t sugarcoat the solution either. He didn’t offer Simon an easy way out. Exhibiting outward manifestations was not a part of the process for Simon. Peter instructed Simon in a way he knew would have a good outcome in Simon’s life if he would only do it: “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” It’s a heart thing. Repentance and prayer is at the core of sanctification. We must have a life of prayer and repentance. This is the process of sanctification, the process of unloading our rocks. We must have mature leadership and sound preaching that will lead us to repentance. A leadership that’s not afraid to tell it like it is. We need leaders with strong character. I read this quote last night on Facebook from Lyle Dukes. “Strong character is necessary – because many times your gifts can take you where your character can’t keep you.”
We also see that Peter had discernment: “For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.” We need leaders who can discern beyond the surface level and get to the heart of the matter. We need leaders who can see past the symptom and perceive the cause of our disease, and help us to heal. I’m not talking here about legalistic leadership that has their nose in all our business, but mature leaders who can see past the outside into the heart and direct us to a place of healing.
Sometimes leaders who have been hurt by legalism find it hard to admonish others because of the extremes of legalistic rebuke and admonition they received at the hands of someone else. True admonition is always done in love to help the person grow more Christ-like, not more entrenched in a legalistic system of outward rules. We need leaders who recognize the hurt in their own lives and are working with the Holy Spirit to heal those hurts so they can be more effective in their ministry.
We notice in verse 24 Simon’s response to Peter’s admonition: “Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.” This is the problem in raising up carnal Christians. They haven’t been taught about personal responsibility before God. Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t go to our brothers and sisters in Christ for help if we need it. Of course, the body is designed to help each other in times of need, both physically and spiritually. But as I heard one pastor say, “When people call me up to pray for them, the first question I ask them is ‘How long have you prayed and sought the Lord concerning this yourself?’” Simon wanted the easy way out of personal responsibility before God. The body of Christ desperately needs leaders who will act in love, move with discernment, preach with conviction, and call us to a life of biblical holiness.