Archives For Sanctification

Self-control is an important biblical concept. Without it, we’re out of control. Those who lack self-control perfectly fit Paul’s description of a person who says, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19).

The problem is, self-control is a bit of an oxymoron. Because from a biblical perspective, we can’t control ourselves. That’s actually Paul’s point in Romans 7: we want to do what we know we ought to do, but we can’t get ourselves to do it. The man in Romans 7 can do nothing better than cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” The self needs to be control, but this man is forced to look elsewhere.

Nevertheless, the Bible commands us to control ourselves. In 2 Timothy 3:3, one sign of the godless is that they are without self-control. Peter commands us to “make every effort” to supplement our faith, virtue, and knowledge with self-control. And in Galatians 5:23, self-control is listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit.

So we have to control ourselves, but we can’t. Frustrating, right?

But God doesn’t leave it at that. This is exactly the problem that Romans 7 leaves us with, that people “in the flesh” cannot control themselves. But the solution comes immediately afterward, in Romans 8. What the person in the flesh can’t do has been made possible through the Spirit of God. The Spirit takes our dead selves and gives them life.

And take a closer look at Galatians 5:22–23. These qualities, including self-control are the fruits of the Spirit. The fruits of the Spirit. The fruits of the Spirit. Are you seeing it? These aren’t things that we conjure up through intense effort. These are fruits. They’re produced, grown. And where do they come from? The Spirit.

So self-control is commanded, and it’s possible. But not if we think of self-control as self-control. It’s really Spirit-enabled-control. It’s self-control, but not until your self is brought under the control of the Spirit.

So next time you’re struggling with sin and are tempted to pull yourself up by your spiritual bootstraps, read Romans 7 and resonate with the description of the person who tries to please God apart from the Spirit. Feel the hopelessness of that approach. Then continue reading into Romans 8 and be inspired by the power available to us in the Spirit. Be empowered and filled with the Spirit of God, and then get that “self” in control.


At the request of one of our graduates, we are going to begin featuring a (not necessarily monthly) Book of the Month. Kelsey (the graduate) mentioned that she gained so much through her studies at Eternity, but now that she has graduated—and therefore is not being forced to read books—she is not in the loop on which books might be worth reading. I’m sure that many of you are in a similar boat. There are so many books out there, how do you choose which books you will read?

Hopefully you don’t trust us enough to be the lone voice in telling you what you should read, but our hope is that this feature will turn your attention to some books that we have found worthwhile, and maybe you will to. I don’t think I have ever read a book that I agreed with 100% (I feel compelled to add, “except for the Bible,” because I know some Bible college students are reading), so please don’t take these recommendations as affirmations of every detail of every book. We simply find these books helpful and think you might as well.

So our first ever Book of the Month is You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions
by Tim Chester. This book recently became required reading for our Discipleship and Counseling class. Chester is a trusted voice for us, and his book Total Church, co-authored by Steve Timmis, is also a must-read.

The title of the book sounds a touch self-helpish, and in a sense, that’s exactly what it is. But the key difference between your average Joel Osteen become a better you type of book and You Can Change is that Chester is incessantly gospel-focused. Addressing the sin issues in our lives is not about techniques, self-imposed disciplined, or therapy that only a highly trained professional can administer. It’s about the gospel:

“We become Christians by faith in Jesus, we stay Christians by faith in Jesus, and we grow as Christians by faith in Jesus…It’s not just that trying to live by laws and disciplines is useless—it’s a backwards step. It’s a step back into slavery, which ends up undermining grace and hope (Galatians 4:8-11; 5:1-5).”

Chester stays focused on the gospel as God’s power to free us from the sin that enslaves us. You Can Change is intensely practical, teaching us to identify the sin in our lives; assess it’s affects on our thoughts, lifestyle, and relationships; and pursue God’s power through the gospel and the Spirit of God to free us up to glorify God in these areas. Chester places our issues within a theological framework so that we can see how our sin relates to God, but he does so in terms that are very simple, easy to understand, and easy to follow.

So who would I recommend this book to? Well, if you struggle with sin, this book is meant for you. A book on its own won’t be a magic bullet to solve your problems, but if you approach this book thoughtfully and use it a means to draw closer to God in these areas of your life, I don’t doubt that it could have a huge impact on you. But this book is also very helpful for those who want to help other people think through their problems. Whether you are a professional counselor or just someone who cares about other people, You Can Change will help to prepare you to minister to the people around you.

I recently did a series of posts on sanctification, and I used some of Chester’s thoughts throughout. If you don’t want to read a whole book, you can pick up some of his insights in these posts:

If you’re interested in buying the book, here’s a quick link:

Free, Yet Still Imprisoned

Mark Beuving —  February 23, 2012 — 2 Comments

A Christian is a person who has been set free. “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1). Whereas we were enslaved to sin—its pull, its deteriorating influence, its consequences—we have been liberated. Romans 6 powerfully proclaims that through sharing in the death of Christ, we have died to the power of sin. Sin can no longer control us.

Yet how many Christians do you know who live as though they are free? I would answer, “Some, but not many.” How is it that Paul can proclaim us free from sin, yet most of us live as though we were enslaved? We are free, yet we still live as though sin is our master.

Tim Chester states it graphically:

“We’re like a freed slave who still jumps at his old master’s voice. We’re like a man with a healed leg who still limps out of habit. We’re like a former prisoner who still wakes at prison hours.” (You Can Change, 49)

If we are still being bullied by sin, can we really claim to be free? That’s the beauty of Romans 6. Paul informs us that we are free from sin, then calls us to live as though that were true. He calls us to present our members to God as instruments of righteousness. So the gospel first sets us free, then calls us to live as free.

Paul seems to be suggesting that we don’t realize what has happened to us in the gospel. For those of us who are united to Christ by faith, there is a huge difference between who we were and who we are. Tragically, many Christians still view themselves in terms of who they were. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul lists everything we used to be. If we’re honest with ourselves, we resonate with part(s) of this list. But then Paul turns the whole thing on its head:

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Yes, you used to be a sinful person. BUT—you were washed, sanctified, justified in the name of Jesus! Do you have any idea who you are? You’re not defined by your sin. You shouldn’t identify yourself based on the sins you struggle with. You are a child of God, and as such you have been cleansed of your sin.

Paul is so clear on this point: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). That’s who you are. You’re not a prisoner to sin. You’re not even you. You’re a new creation. Who you are is fundamentally different than who you were.

So back to Paul’s point in Romans 6—you have been set free from the power of sin, so live as though you were free. Don’t keep offering yourself up to sin as though you were its slave, offer yourself up to God as His slave.

How do you do this? Well, it’s impossible—for the old you. For the you without the Spirit of God. Paul’s instruction on how to put sin to death in our lives is as simple as it is mysterious: “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13).

God wants us to be holy (1 Thess. 4:3). That’s a truth that is pretty well known in Christian circles. But how exactly do we grow in holiness?

In theory, we’re probably pretty united on this point: we become more holy as God’s grace works in our hearts and transforms our lives. But in practice, we tend to make a fatal mistake in our pursuit of sanctification: we try to sanctify ourselves. In part, this means that we try to grow through our own effort. But it also means that we try to grow through our own strategies.

We have all tried sanctification strategies: holding one another accountable, surfing the internet under the supervision of Christian software, governing our relationships by strict rules and guidelines, pursuing discipline through strict scheduling, etc. Let me be clear that all of these things can be extremely helpful. They may well aid our sanctification. But none of these things (nor any combination thereof) will create holiness in our hearts and lives.

Paul says:

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:20-23)

All of our strategies for sanctification focus on “human precepts and teachings.” Some even include “asceticism and severity to the body.” But Paul is clear: “they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”

The gospel is all about God’s grace, not our hard work. This is as true in sanctification as it is in salvation. Tim Chester says that our efforts to sanctify ourselves are more than ineffective—they’re destructive:

“We become Christians by faith in Jesus, we stay Christians by faith in Jesus, and we grow as Christians by faith in Jesus…It’s not just that trying to live by laws and disciplines is useless—it’s a backwards step. It’s a step back into slavery, which ends up undermining grace and hope.” (You Can Change, 43-44)

Ultimately, only the gospel can rid us of the sin in our lives. John actually says that through the gospel, God pardons our sin (1 John 1:8-9). In Christ, we have an advocate who takes away our sin (1 John 2:1-2). We can go through counseling, hold each other accountable, and discipline ourselves in order to manage the sin that pops up in our lives. But no other method, strategy, or therapy can actually deal with sin.

This realization doesn’t make sanctification easy. But it does show us where hope lies. Hope has only ever been found in the grace of God. Through His Spirit we can expect to grow in our battle against sin. It will take us a lifetime, and we will fail continually, but the gospel ensures our ultimate victory.