by Mike Ratliff
1 Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. 2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. 8 So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 (NASB)
Holiness is commanded by God. He wills it. Our Lord Jesus Christ requires it and the Word of God calls for it. The goal of our redemption is that we become Holy as God is Holy. Our Lord died on the cross in order that all of His people would be justified. This justification is God’s declaration that we are righteous having Christ’s righteousness imputed to our account. This had to come first in order that we may be sanctified and made Holy.
“To be a saint means to be separated. But it means more than that. The saint also is to be involved in a vital process of sanctification. We are to be purified daily in the growing pursuit of holiness. If we are justified, we must also be sanctified.
Luther used a wonderful Latin phrase to describe the status of the justified sinner: simul justus et peccator. Let’s look at the phrase a word at a time to discern its meaning for us. Simul is the Latin word from which our English word simultaneous is derived; it means “at one and the same time.” Justus is the Latin from which our word just comes, and et is the Latin word for “and.” The word peccator is probably least familiar to us. We derive the English words impeccable and peccadillo from it. It is the Latin word for “sinner.” Putting the words together, we get simul justus et peccator: “at the same time just and sinner.” That is what saints are, people who are at one and the same time just, yet sinful.
That saints are still sinners is obvious. How then can they be just? Saints are just because they have been justified. In and of themselves they are not just. they are made just in God’s sight by the righteousness of Christ. This is what justification by faith is about. When we put our personal trust for our salvation in Christ and in Him alone, then God transfers to our account all of the righteousness of Jesus. His justness becomes ours when we believe in Him. It is a legal transaction. The transfer of righteousness is like an accounting transaction where no real property is exchanged. That is, God puts Jesus’ righteousness in my account while I am still a sinner.” 1
The believer can become quite confused about this condition. On one hand, they are called to be Holy by God, but their flesh and the enemy seems to continually pull and push them into sin. They are driven back and forth between gross sin and tearful repentance. They read in the New Testament that they are called to become Christ-like, to become conformed to Jesus. That means that they must first begin to think as Jesus did. This is what is called, “having the mind of Christ.” Having the mind of Christ means valuing what our Lord values while despising what He despises. It means having the same priorities that He has. How does this happen?
It can only happen as believers develop a mastery of God’s Word. The key to spiritual growth unto Christ-likeness is in-depth Christian education that requires commitment and a serious level of sacrifice.
“Let us therefore look diligently whereunto we are called, that we deceive not ourselves. We are called, not to dispute as the Pope’s disciples do, but to die with Christ that we may live with him, and to suffer with him that we may reign with him. We be called unto a kingdom that must be won with suffering only, as a sick man winneth health. God is he that doeth all things for us and fighteth for us and we do but suffer only. Christ saith (John 20), As my father sent me, so sent I you. And (John 15), If they persecute me then shall they persecute you. And (Matthew 10), saith Christ, I sent you forth as sheep among wolves. The sheep fight not: but the shepherd fighteth for them and careth for them. Be harmless as doves therefore, saith Christ, and wise as serpents. The doves imagine no defence nor seek to avenge themselves. The serpent’s wisdom is to keep his head and those parts wherein his life resteth. Christ is our head and God’s word is that where our life resteth. So cleave therefore fast unto Christ and unto those promises which God hath made us for his sake is our wisdom.” 2
God is sovereign. His sovereignty is complete. He is the one directing our paths and guiding us into the circumstances and situations wherein we must exercise our faith in either trusting Him in obedience or fleeing from the fires of sanctification in our self-centered, flesh-driven disobedience. This is why it is imperative that we become masters of the Word of God. We must get it into us, learn it, know it, and apply it in every part of our lives. As Tyndale said, “God’s word is that where our life resteth.” We must cling to Christ and those promises which God has made us for his sake in our wisdom. How can we do this if we don’t know His word?
Instead of wasting your life on self-gratification why not invest it by getting God’s Word into you as you immerse yourself in it. The byproduct of this will be a life that is growing strong in its likeness of our Lord. The state of being Spirit-filled will not happen unless God’s Word takes precedence in the heart. As this process does its work, the believer will find that the mind of Christ is taking form in them. They find themselves submitting to more and more people, even the unreasonable ones, for Christ’s sake. Their relationships with everyone around them become colored by this new profound character development within them.
Holiness is the substance of which happiness is the product. If we chase happiness by pursuing self-gratification we miss it. However, if we pursue holiness through the grace of Christ, happiness of spirit comes unasked. This is joy and it is our strength to continue in the journey, cleaving fast unto Christ and unto those promises which God hath made us for his sake which is our wisdom.
Soli Deo Gloria!
1Sproul, R.C. The Holiness of God (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois, Second Edition, 1998) 164-165.
2Tyndale, William. The Obedience Of A Christian Man (Antwerp, 1528) 8.