Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sanctification and humility

Believers who experience dramatic growth in their walk with Christ can sometimes be filled with pride. They can be tempted to look down on other believers who have not had the same experiences of closeness with Christ. They can act as though they have discovered a secret that others have not yet discovered. They can deceive themselves into thinking that they have humility. But it can be pseudo humility. They can exude to others a kind of spiritual smugness, a sense of spiritual superiority. They can see themselves as being "on mission" to bring everyone else up to their level of spirituality. Or they can begin to act as though the “less enlightened” are not worthy of their fellowship.

The result is a destruction of biblical unity in the body of Christ. Any expression of discipleship that makes one feel superior or causes one to pull away in pride from other faithful believers is defective. “[Do not] take pride in one man over against another. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (I Corinthians 4:6b-7).

We must keep in mind that the church is filled with people who are in varying stages of spiritual growth. Any discipleship process must affirm those who are taking the first steps toward spiritual maturity as well as those who are seasoned saints. The most mature should never think of themselves more highly than they ought (Romans 12:3). They should never seek to associate only with those who are at their level of spirituality. Instead, they should patiently, humbly, and lovingly seek to bring others to higher heights of spiritual development.

Believers who are growing in sanctification seek to overcome a critical and judgmental spirit toward other believers. They must trust that the same God who is doing a work in their lives is doing a work in His way and in His time in the lives of others. They know that Philippians 1:6 is true for all believers. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” The harsh spirit that demands that others approach spirituality the same way as they do is laid at the foot of the cross.

There is no room for pride in the life of a growing believer. The more sanctified we are the more conformed we are to image of Christ. We will grieve over every lack of conformity in our lives to the holiness of God. We will see the majesty of God more and more. Our love for God will grow in intensity. We will yearn to reach the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. And we will be all the more conscious of the ugliness of the sin that remains in our lives. And we will hate our sin more and more. And we will love the Savior who has forgiven us. There is no room for pride in our lives if we remain aware of all these truths.

Therefore, I believe that the Bible teaches that true biblical sanctification produces an ever increasing humility in the lives of believers. I do not believe that the Bible teaches any view of sanctification that lends itself to a sense of pride or spiritual superiority.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sanctification and the body of Christ

The church has a long history of people who have, for various reasons, “given up on church.” Local churches do have problems. Too often, churches are filled with pettiness, political infighting, power struggles, grumbling, wrong priorities, irrelevance and red tape. This can be discouraging and disheartening for passionate, pure-hearted, and motivated followers of Christ. Often, we will find ourselves wanting to give up on the church.

But the church – with all its community groups, ministries, and missionary activities – is one of the indispensable means God uses in the process of our sanctification. Analyzed grammatically, it is evident that the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is primarily a command to make disciples – to help believers grow in sanctification. And it is the church that has been given this command.

The local church is the body through which the full range of spiritual gifts can be exercised. And what every believer needs is influence from an entire church family. When the entire church family is operating as it should, a full range of discipleship opportunities exist for every believer. In a church, believers can see many people teaching and modeling loving God, loving each other, and loving the world.

No one person has all the spiritual gifts. Therefore, a believer needs exposure to many prophets, servants, teachers, exhorters, givers, and leaders (Romans 12: 6-8) in order to grow in sanctification.

Sanctification should be seen as a corporate process. It is something that happens in community, not in isolation. We are admonished, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Together we are to “encourage one another and build one another up” (I Thessalonians 5:11).

Therefore, I believe that the Bible teaches that sanctification takes place in the context of community – in the context of the body life of local churches. I do not believe that the Bible teaches that true, biblical sanctification takes place in a believer’s life who in any way lives isolated from the influence of a wide variety of spiritually gifted men and women.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The “higher life” movement and sanctification

Some believers seem to be looking for some kind of secret “key” to victorious Christian living. And they take in various conferences, teachings, books, and seminars that promise victory over sin in glowing and romantic terms. They are looking for the “quick fix” that will offer life on a higher plane.

This kind of teaching has been called the higher life movement, the Keswick movement (named after the town in England where conferences were held), or the victorious life movement. The teaching often emphasizes that the believer who senses his need of sanctification may enter into the blessings of Romans 6:1-14 through a kind of deep and cataclysmic “surrender,” “consecration,” “yieldedness,” or “brokenness” coupled with faith. People in this camp sometimes speak of this as a new and blessed experience, as a “second conversion,” or as a “second blessing.” They sometimes speak as though they have gained an instantaneous experience of liberty from sin. The experience of Paul’s struggle with indwelling sin recorded in Romans 7 is often regarded by higher life teachers to be unworthy of the truly consecrated believer. Higher life teaching sometimes offers itself as the apostolic secret to progressive sanctification, a secret that has long lain dormant.

It apprears to me that the mysticism inherent in higher life teaching makes the individual vulnerable to both pride and antinomianism. It is ultimately an offer of victory to the impatient.

Where victory and sanctification are promised upon the condition of yieldedness, there is room for great disillusionment. Those who agonize over indwelling sin are often left discouraged and despondent over their failure to achieve any semblance of the higher life. Those of a more sanguine temperament experience a pendulum swing in the other direction. For them, false assurance and self-confidence abound.

To be sure, significant growth in sanctification and greater victory over sin can and does happen for believers in moments of brokenness and repentance that result in revival and renewal. We should long for and pray for this to happen. There is always a need for further surrender, consecration, yieldedness, and brokenness in the life of every believer. But these things are not to be seen as “the key” or “the secret” to victory over sin.

Christ is the Author and Finisher of our faith. He calls us to make progress in holiness by steady, humble persevering and by the classic spiritual disciplines such as Bible intake, prayer, watchfulness, self-denial, worship, and good works.

There is no “quick fix,” no single key or secret to holiness. God’s way of holiness is for the persevering. It is a wearying process because it involves warring with the enemy and wrestling with God.

Therefore, I believe that the Bible teaches that sanctification comes as believers seek to apply the means of grace – the classic spiritual disciplines of Bible intake, prayer, worship, fasting, service, etc. I do not believe that the Bible teaches that there is some kind of a “secret” formula for spiritual victory, for overcoming sin, for sanctification.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Spiritual warfare and sanctification

There is a movement among some believers that seeks to cast out demons from believers in order to enhance the spiritual growth process and to enable the believer to live in victory. These believers sometimes blame a lack of spiritual development on demons that supposedly inhabit a believer. This can create real problems when it comes to the process of spiritual formation

This sometimes causes some believers to neglect the classic spiritual disciplines for Christian growth and maturity because they are looking for the quick fix of “casting out a demon” to help them overcome some sinful behavior rather than doing the hard work of consistently applying the classic spiritual disciplines over a long period of time.

I do believe that casting out demons from non-believers is clearly a biblical practice. In fact, in the past I have helped to lead a team of people involved in praying for a non-believer to be delivered from demons.

But when it comes to casting out demons from believers, I think that this is an unbiblical practice that hinders the process of biblical sanctification, confuses the saints, and divides the church.

To be sure, there can be varying degrees of demonic attack or influence in a person’s life (see Luke 4:2; II Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 6:12; James 4:7; I Peter 5:8). But believers have already been delivered from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13). Through the Holy Spirit, believers are actually in Christ and Christ is in them. They have been set free. And because of the power of Christ in a believer's life, a believer’s will cannot be completely dominated by a demon so that that believer has no power left to choose to do right and obey God. Scripture guarantees that sin shall have no dominion over a believer since believers have been raised with Christ (Rom. 6:14, see also vv. 4, 11).

Let me be quick to say that I do believe that our enemy is real and tempts us in a many ways. And these attacks can and do hinder our sanctification. But our mode of warfare is taught in Ephesians 6:10-20: reliance on the power and protection of God, embracing the Word of God, specific obedience, fervent and focused prayer, and the aid of fellow believers. Spiritual warfare with the power of evil is a matter of consistently and repeatedly turning from darkness to light by applying the classic disciplines of our faith. We resist the devil through disciplines such as prayer, reading scripture, memorizing verses, meditating on the Word, repentance, faith, obedience, worship, service, stewardship, evangelism, fasting, accountability, and solitude. Following Jesus in this way releases the power of God in our lives.

The attempt to achieve greater levels of sanctification by the so-called “casting out of demons from believers” is often is the result of a lack of maturity in the lives of many believers or is the result of a poor understanding of the biblical process of sanctification.

Therefore, I believe that for believers to grow in sanctification, they must engage in spiritual warfare to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. I do not believe that seeking to cast out demons from believers, though, is part of the process of sanctification.
Abiding vs. trying in sanctification

While I believe that practicing the classic spiritual disciplines are the means by which we strive for holiness, I do not think that self-effort will in any way accomplish our sanctification. Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).

Pursuing sanctification while not abiding in Christ equals doing good things through self-effort (in our own strength). According to Jesus, that's a sure-fire way of doing nothing of eternal value. Sanctification through self-effort is fruitless. Ecclesiastes calls it “chasing after the wind.” I Corinthians calls it “wood, hay, and stubble” that burn up on the day of judgment. Galatians calls it “running in vain.” Philippians calls it “laboring in vain.” Hebrews calls it “dead works.” We reject anything that hints of “prayerless self-reliance.” Efforts to progress in sanctification that are contaminated with self-confidence and self-righteousness will be unfruitful.

G.K. Chesterton once said, “Anything done in our own strength will either fail miserably or succeed even more miserably.” Deeds done when we’re not abiding in Christ may be successful in men’s eyes, but they are not successful in God’s eyes. And, in that sense, they fail. And to make matters worse, the “success” can reinforce even more self-effort on our part.

Trying to be better servants in our own strength won't produce sanctification. Only God produces the fruit – a grateful, strengthened, sanctified servant. Therefore, we must learn to abide in Christ.

We must be “actively passive” as we grow in godliness. Or perhaps we could think of ourselves as being “passively active.” “Abide,” Jesus says. Don’t miss the command. Abide is an imperative – not a suggestion or a request. To abide, we must act. To abide means to remain, to stay closely connected, to settle in for the long term. Jesus is teaching all believers how an ongoing, vital connection with Him will directly determine the amount of His supernatural power at work in our lives for our growth in godliness. The branch with the largest, least-obstructed connection with the vine is abiding the most and will have the greatest potential for holiness. No one can grow in holiness unless he abides in Christ. Christ is the vine from which every believer must draw his strength to grow in godliness.

Abiding is the way we access all the benefits of our union with Christ. The infinite benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection life are given to every believer (Romans 6:14-22). Abiding secures the benefits of our union with Christ.

THerefore, I believe that scripture teaches that abiding in Christ vitally important for true sanctification. I do not beliieve that the scripture teaches that self-effort and self-dependence can accomplish anything good, lasting, and godly no matter how virtuous various spiritual practices may seem.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The work of God and the work of man in sanctification

The role that we play in sanctification is both a passive one in which we depend on God to sanctify us and an active one in which we strive to obey God and take steps that will increase our sanctification.

What may be called the “passive” role that we play in sanctification is seen in texts that encourage us to trust God or to pray and ask that he sanctify us. Paul tells his readers, “Yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life” (Rom. 6:13; cf. v. 19), and he tells the Roman Christians, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom. 12:1).

Some have called the “passive” role by the name “quietism.” According to this teaching, the believer is to be passive (quiet) in the process of spiritual growth and let God do everything.

The extreme variety of this quietism results in spiritual passivism where God becomes wholly responsible for the believer’s behavior and the believer feels he must never exert personal effort to pursue righteous living. Unfortunately today, this “passive” role in sanctification, this idea of yielding to God and trusting him to work in us “to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13), is sometimes so strongly emphasized that it is the only thing people are told about the path of sanctification. Some quietists have popularized the phrases, “Let go and let God,” and “I can’t, He can.”

But this is a tragic distortion of the doctrine of sanctification, for it only speaks of one half of the part we must play, and, by itself, will lead Christians to become lazy and to neglect the active role that Scripture commands them to play in their own sanctification.

The opposite of “quietism” could be called “pietism.” According to this teaching, believers must work hard and practice extreme self-discipline to achieve personal piety. Pietism stresses aggressive Bible study, self-discipline, holy living through diligent obedience, and pursuit of Christian duty. Extreme pietism doesn’t stop there but often becomes legalistic.

But the Bible teaches both the passive and active roles for the believer when it comes to sanctification. Paul tells the Philippians, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).

In verse 12, Paul sounds like a pietist: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” In verse 13 he sounds like a quietist: “God is at work in you.” Believers are working in verse 12. God is working in verse 13. God’s power is the basis for our effort in sanctification. There is an undeniable link between divine enablement and human exertion. Many of the passages that call for exertion also contain an indication of God’s power toward the believer. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness… Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (II Peter 1:3, 10).

Therefore, we must see sanctification as a cooperative effort between God, who is at work in the believer, and the believer himself, who must strive for holiness. We must never take credit for God’s work in our lives, but neither do we sit around idly, counting on God to do something in us apart from our active participation.

We are to “Strive…for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Peter tells his readers to “make every effort” to grow in character traits that accord with godliness (II Peter 1:5).

The New Testament does not suggest any short-cuts by which we can grow in sanctification, but simply encourages us repeatedly to give ourselves to the old-fashioned, time-honored means of Bible reading and meditation (Psalm 1:2; Matthew 4:4; John 17:17), prayer (Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6), worship (Ephesians 5:18-20), witnessing (Matthew 28:19-20), Christian fellowship (Hebrews 10:24-25), and self-discipline or self-control (Galatians 5:23; Titus 1:8).

It is important that we continue to grow both in our passive trust in God to sanctify us and in our active striving for holiness and greater obedience in our lives. If we neglect active striving to obey God, we become passive, lazy Christians. If we neglect the passive role of trusting God and yielding to him, we become proud and overly confident in ourselves. In either case, our sanctification will be greatly deficient. We must maintain faith and diligence to obey at the same time.

Therefore, I do believe that the scriptures teach that the role we play in our sanctification is both “passive” and “active.” I do not believe that the scriptures teach that the role we play in our sanctification is purely “passive.”

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification

Certain groups of Christians teach that baptism in the Holy Spirit subsequent to salvation is necessary if believers are to grow into fully devoted disciples of Jesus. This view results in the (often unspoken) belief that there are supposedly two categories of believers in the church: 1) people who have been baptized in the Spirit and are living in a more greater victory in their walk with Christ and 2) those who have not yet been baptized in the Spirit.

The New Testament itself teaches no such two-level or two-class Christianity. Nowhere in the epistles do we read of Paul or Peter telling a church that is having problems, “You all need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.” Nowhere do we hear of the risen Lord Jesus speaking to the troubled and weak churches in Revelation 2-3, “Ask me to baptize you in the Holy Spirit.” It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the two-level or two-class view taught by all of these groups throughout history does not have a solid foundation in the Bible itself.

What is the problem with viewing Christians as existing in two categories like this? The problem is that it contributes to a “we-they” mentality in churches, and leads to jealousy, pride, and divisiveness. No matter how much these people who have received this special empowering of the Holy Spirit try to be thoughtful and considerate of those who have not, if they genuinely love their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and if this has been a very helpful experience in their own Christian lives, they cannot help but give the impression that they would like others to share this experience as well. Even if they are not proud in their hearts with respect to this experience, such a conviction that there is a second category of Christians will inevitably give an impression of pride or spiritual superiority.

We believe that baptism in the Holy Spirit occurs at conversion. For example, the Bible says that all the believers at Corinth were baptized in the Holy Spirit with the result that they became members of the body of Christ: “For we were all baptized in one Spirit into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13 NIV mg.). “Baptism in the Holy Spirit,” therefore, must refer to the activity of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the Christian life when he gives us new spiritual life (in regeneration) and cleanses us and gives a clear break with the power and love of sin (the initial stage of sanctification). In this way “baptism in the Holy Spirit” refers to all that the Holy Spirit does at the beginning of our Christian lives. But this means that it cannot refer to an experience after conversion, as the Pentecostal interpretation would have it.

But having stated this, we do not in any way want to minimize the ongoing need for the work of the Holy Spirit in our process of sanctification. Believers should seek ever increasing sanctification by ongoing repentance, renewed commitment to Christ, and faith that the Holy Spirit can work much more powerfully in their lives. It is the Holy Spirit who produces in us the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23). In addition, the Holy Spirit is the spirit of holiness, and it is He who produces holiness within us.

We should pray that the Holy Spirit would fill us in accordance with the will of God as expressed in Ephesians 5:18. We understand that the filling of the Holy Spirit not as a one-time event but as an event that can occur over and over again in a believer’s life. It may involved a momentary empowering for a specific ministry (such as apparently happened in Acts 4:8, 7:55), but it may also refer to a long-term characteristic of a person’s life (see Acts 6:3; 11:24).

It might be helpful to think about the filling of the Spirit as the filling of a balloon. A balloon can be “full” of air even though it has very little air in it. When more air is blown in, the balloon expands and in a sense it is “more full.” So it is with us: we can be filled with the Holy Spirit and at the same time be able to receive much more of the Holy Spirit as well.

When it comes to sanctification, we must be seeking to be more and more filled with the Spirit as we progress through our lives as we 1) yield our lives fully to God (Romans 12:1; Galatians 2:20), 2) depend fully on God for power to live the Christian life (Romans 8:13; Galatians 2:20; 3:2-3), and 3) obey the Lord’s commands in our lives (1 John 2:6).

I believe that the Bible teaches that filling of the Holy Spirit is necessary for believers to grow in sanctification. I do not believe that the Bible teaches that believers need to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit subsequent to their conversion in order to grow in sanctification.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The word of God and sanctification

Some methods of discipleship focus on imparting biblical truth in classroom settings. Some methods of discipleship focus on hands-on application. And sometimes, proponents of each approach present their approach as the best way to make disciples.

I think that the Bible teaches us to take a both/and approach to this issue. Effective discipleship programs must focus on both the knowledge of the Bible and the application of its truths.

There can be a danger of underestimating the value of Bible knowledge. Some have taught that God transforms believers in ways that can by-pass the mind and impact the heart. This is potentially dangerous because it can lend itself to an “experience-based” or “impression-based” approach to spirituality. A foundation of knowledge of the Bible and its doctrines are essential for spiritual maturity.

The Holy Spirit works in us through our minds, wills, and emotions. He causes us to comprehend the reasons for conformity to God’s will. He convicts us of sin and causes us to feel guilt. He operates through the rational exercise of our wills.

An important verse in discussing spiritual transformation is Romans 6:17. “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.” In this verse, we see that spiritual growth takes place as the mind, the will, and the emotions are all impacted. The will of the believer has been changed (“you… have become obedient”). The emotions have been engaged (“… from the heart”). The mind has been enlightened (“…to the standard of teaching”). God does not by-pass the mind to speak to the heart. The truth of God’s word enlightens the mind, engages the heart, and impacts the will. Any process of discipleship that overemphasizes or underemphasizes the importance of any of these will eventually be shown to be defective. (See also I Peter 1:22 where it evident that the mind, the will, and the emotions are all engaged in the process of sanctification.)

While there is a danger of underestimating the value of Bible knowledge, there is also a danger of overestimating its value. It is true that Bible knowledge is foundational for effective discipleship, but we must remember that Bible knowledge alone is not transformational. Biblical or theological knowledge that is devoid of love and obedience does not and cannot yield true spiritual maturity. Bible scholarship without glad-hearted application leads to pride, not holiness.

The Scriptures consistently teach us that Bible knowledge must result in visible acts of love. “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (I Corinthians 13:2). We simply cannot divorce love and truth. “This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight” (Philippians 1:9).

The process of discipleship must include many opportunities for not only learning, but applying biblical truth. Information without application equals spiritual stagnation. But information with application equals spiritual transformation. Effective discipleship produces doers of the word, not hearers only (James 1:22).

So, any discipleship process must include not only the transmission of biblical truth, but the encouragement and opportunity for believers to live out the truth. This is why providing ministry and mission opportunities for the people of CVC is so vital.

So, I believe that the Bible teaches us that sanctification takes place as God and His truth impact the believer’s mind, will, and emotions. I do not believe that the Bible teaches us that sanctification occurs as merely the result of an increased knowledge of the Bible or that growth in sanctification somehow takes places in ways that by-pass the believer’s mind.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The progressive nature of sanctification

The Bible teaches that sanctification is not instantaneous. It teaches that we progressively become more and more like Christ as we live our lives. Much of the New Testament deals with instructing believers on how they should grow in likeness to Christ.

For the believer, sanctification will increase throughout our Christian lives. The Bible says that throughout the Christian life “we all… are being changed into his likeness [the likeness of Christ] from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). Although sanctification will never be completed in this life, it should never stop increasing in this life.

There is a Wesleyan/Holiness tradition within Protestantism where the experience of sanctification is sometimes viewed as a single event subsequent to conversion. This involves a Christian attaining a higher level of holiness, a level sometimes known as “entire sanctification” or “sinless perfection.”

While most Protestants would say, “I am being sanctified,” some within the Wesleyan/Holiness tradition would say, “I have been sanctified.” They are referring to an experience after conversion. They say that it is possible for believers to experience a freedom from committing any conscious sin. A life of constant unbroken victory is considered possible.

But there do not seem to be any convincing verses in Scripture that teach that it is possible for anyone to be completely free of sin in this life. Any view of sinless perfection tends to externalize sin and to minimize the ongoing battle with indwelling sin as described in Romans 7.

In I John, the Bible does teach that a child of God will not continue in a pattern of sinful behavior. But the scriptures also says clearly, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

Therefore, no believer can ever think of himself as ever having “arrived” as a disciple. No one other than Jesus has ever been “fully surrendered” or “totally consecrated.” There will always be room for further growth into Christ-likeness for every believer in this life. Wherever a believer is in his pursuit of godliness, there is more to pursue.

Therefore, I believe the scriptures teach that sanctification for believers is progressive. And I do not believe that the scriptures teach that sanctification is ever instantaneous or complete in this life.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Sanctification

At CVC we say that we are seeking “to help people grow to be passionate followers of Christ.” In the statement we trust that the concept of spiritual growth is prominent. We do not think that it is acceptable that believers stay stagnant or regress in their spiritual development. We pray that spiritual progress characterizes the lives of the people at CVC.

In fact, that is why we are in a series right now in Romans 8. It's a great chapter in the Bible about the doctrine of sanctification.

The church uses a variety of words to describe this process of spiritual growth. Words and phrases like edification, a changed life, transformation, growth in godliness, the pursuit of holiness, spiritual maturity, discipleship, and spiritual formation all express the concept of spiritual growth.

Many theologies present this concept of spiritual growth under the heading “sanctification.” Throughout the history of the church, the doctrine of sanctification has been quite controversial.

This is of utmost importance because the views concerning the doctrine of sanctification will shape the kinds of relationships, practices, and environments we will seek to encourage the people of CVC to experience in the discipleship process.

In the days ahead, I am going to be blogging about some biblical truths about sanctification. We'll deal with the following issues: the progressive nature of sanctification, the word of God and sanctification, the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification, the work of God and the work of man in sanctification, abiding vs. trying in sanctification, spiritual warfare and sanctification, the “higher life” movement and sanctification, sanctification and the body of Christ, sanctification and humility, and sanctification and unity. In most cases, the errors about the doctrine of sanctification are either misinterpretations or misapplications of spiritual truths that can result in a seriously flawed discipleship process in the life of a believer.

It is important that we understand the true nature of sanctification. These posts will hopefully be a helpful guide for us as we seek to grow as disciples of Jesus.

Friday, July 04, 2008



Disciple-making

At CVC, we have defined our goal this way: We are helping people grow to be passionate followers of Christ.

We have also asked the question, “What does a passionate follower of Christ look like?” We have said that a PFC looks like someone who is loving God (LG), loving one another (LOA), and loving the world (LTW).

Most of the people we know in NE Ohio aren’t really living this way. They are not LG, LOA, and LTW. They are lost.

And it’s our mission to catch them.

Let me give you a picture of what I mean.

Maybe you could think of our church as a fishing boat. We’re moving together toward heaven. But this is not a pleasure cruise. Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Our church is to be a working, fishing boat. And what are we fishing for? We’re fishing for sharks. For people who don’t yet LG, LOA, and LTW.

It’s a shark-eat-shark world out there. People are not loving God; they are loving themselves. People aren’t loving one another; they are using one another. People aren’t loving the world the way Christ did; they are out to enjoy the world, to own the world, to abuse the world for their own selfish ends. It’s a shark-eat-shark world out there.

And God has called us to catch sharks. As we love one another, love God, and love the world, we fish. We are fishermen cleverly disguised as homemakers, businessmen, carpenters, students, teachers, etc. And we catch sharks.

And because of the transforming power of Christ, we find that sharks turn into sheep. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things pass away and new things have come” (II Corinthians 5:17). A shark becomes a passionate follower of Christ – someone who is LG, LOA, and LTW. A shark becomes a sheep.

In much, much more profound and authoritative terms, Jesus talks about this in Matthew 28:19-20.

“Go therefore and make decisions in all nations…” Is that right? No.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

See, at CVC we cannot be satisfied with decisions for Christ. We are commanded by God to make disciples – people who love God, love one another, and love the world.

Listen carefully. We must grow more and more passionate about helping our people go 3 for 3. LG. LOA. LTW. And at CVC, we are becoming more and more clear that all three are essential to discipleship. They are not optional.

So, in essence, we are seeking to be used by God to go and make disciples – to catch sharks and watch God turn them into sheep – sheep who are mature in Christ, who LG, LOA, and LTW. In other words, the sheep become fishermen. They are on mission to catch more sharks.

In the past, we’ve been too OK with just landing the sharks on the boat – landing people in the church. And I’m seeing more and more clearly that if we are satisfied with just that, all we’ll have is a crowd, not a church.

So, that has to change. The sharks become sheep who learn to love God passionately. The sharks become sheep who learn to love one another maturely. The sharks become sheep who learn to love the world missionally. And together we catch more sharks who become sheep.

In the past we’ve had too much of what we’re calling a “silo” approach to discipleship. It’s understandable that various ministries have seemed to advocate their part of the discipleship process while being a bit lukewarm about what others are doing. We seeing that we need more synergy among all our ministries.

We have to tear down the silos. All areas of ministry win or lose together. If our numbers are up in the community group area (the LOA area) but only a small percentage of our people are on mission Loving the World then things are not good. If we have a lot of people in worship but they are not moving forward in the process of Loving One Another by serving in a ministry of CVC then we are not doing well. If the discipleship process is working well for AM but 707ers Our young adult Sunday night ministry) are not connected in this way, then there’s a serious problem for CVC as a whole. The walls simply have to come down. We can only celebrate individual department achievements as they relate to the whole process.

Think about it. If the linebackers on a football team have a great game, but the defensive line and the defensive backs don’t, then the team loses.

We think that the best delivery point for full-fledged discipleship for us is through our community groups/life groups. Therefore, our best disciplers must become our community group leaders. They must absolutely become the best disciplers in all of NE Ohio. We simply must do a better job in vision casting with our CG leaders. They must understand what we are seeking to produce in the lives of our people. They must see that their role is critical for our success in fulfilling the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Our strategy must include accountability for our CG leaders to make sure they are fully equipped and engaged in our holistic discipleship process. They must see to it that each member of their group is growing and moving forward in Loving God, Loving One Another, and Loving the World.

And when it comes to LG, LOA, and LTW, our staff, our CG leaders, and our members must be tour guides rather than travel agents.

What’s the difference? Travel agents say, “Go there. That will be a good experience for you.” Tour guides say, “Come with me. I’ve been there. Let’s do this together.”

So, here’s what you can expect as we move toward the end of 2008 and enter 2009. God willing, we’re going to ask God for grace to do better and better as elders, staff, and community group leaders to model LG, LOA, and LTW. And we’re going to ask God for grace to help more and more of our people join us in the process.

Ultimately, true success in ministry is seen when lives change – when people are actually becoming more and more like Jesus. And what does that look like? A passionate follower of Christ who loves God, loves one another, and loves the world.

Won’t you join us in this kingdom-building mission? Jesus will be pleased and you will hear, “Well done” one day from His lips. It’s a worthy cause I can give the rest of my life to. How about you?

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Some responses to succession planning at CVC
As you can imagine, there have been a variety of responses to the annoucement that at CVC we will start looking for a co-teaching pastor who may one day become the senior pastor of CVC.

One young mother came up to me after the announcement and expressed her displeasure. The next day, she wrote:

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I wanted to take a moment to first apologize for my unfiltered response to the news last night. I don’t like change, and I especially fear losing such genuine God-driven leadership in my church...

I am praising Him this morning despite my desire to have you behind our pulpit indefinitely (I never said my plans made sense!) because I trust Him. “It is better to place your confidence in God than to trust in man” (Ps 118:8). So I’m excited for His plan to take place even though I’m sad that we will be saying goodbye to you [as our primary teacher] sooner rather than later. It was never you. And I knew that. It was God who spoke to me through you. God will continue to speak to me, and He will use whomever He chooses to do so. I need only trust Him and continue to seek Him.

I will continue to pray for this church, my church family and you, Rick. I know my response may not have been pretty but it was honest, and I know how to pray for those who share my response. I also know that what you do every week takes courage, humility, sacrifice and a measure of obedience I can’t even begin to imagine. So I will pray for the man God chooses to fill your place in our church, that he will be as strong in his weakness as you have been, and that we as a family will open our arms and accept him.

Thank you for following where He has led you, and thank you for taking us with you. I’m excited for what He will do in your life next and will be praying for that too. In case no one has ever told you… God is truly glorified in you.

All my love in Christ,

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Below is response that was also encouraging.

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When I was growing up, my pastor had a stroke and almost died. He was never the same, and yet he continued to try to preach and lead our church. That particular local church ultimately closed and all of the sheep were scattered.

The next pastor I had developed cancer and died without transitioning the congregation into new leadership. That church has never been the same and has suffered from divisions ever since.

In both of those situations I am convinced that those men truly believed that they were doing what God would want them to do...to "die in the saddle" as it were...preaching until they could barely speak and "filling the pulpit" until they had nothing left to give.

With those past experiences in mind, I find myself reflecting today on last night's service. I am sad in small part but i find myself strangely encouraged.

Do I want things to change so drastically? No way. Do I want Rick Duncan to stop being the Senior Pastor of CVC? Never.

And yet, we all know that we cannot continue as we are forever. Even if we change nothing, you are a mortal being and we will not always have you, no matter how healthy you are.

Who do we have forever? Our precious Lord Jesus....our omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God and Father.

I thank you for reminding us that our roots need to be placed in Him and not in you. [My husband] and I are very grateful to God for your leadership and service. We both grew up without fathers and appreciate your Godly example of fatherhood and manhood more than you will ever know. We look forward to how our relationship with you will grow and change as you enter your new role at CVC and in our lives.

Thank you for letting this congregation belong to God and not to you. The steps that you are taking will lead all of us down the road of spiritual maturity, integrity and deeper love of Christ that it's going to take in order to work this transition to God's glory.

Gratefully,

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So, keep praying for our succession planning. I believe it's "of God." Therefore, He will do abundantley beyond all we ask or think!

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