Charles Stanley - The Process
When you trusted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, what did you expect after that happened? Did anybody sit you down and say, "Now, here's what you can expect. Here's what your responsibility is. And here's how the Christian life works". Or did they say, "We're just so happy that you have been saved and we just praise the Lord and just thank Him for that. Have a good time"! In other words, nobody ever instructed you as what to expect and how to deal with the expectations. In other words, after all, are you gonna sin again, and if you do, is God gonna wipe you out? And are you supposed to be baptized or not, join the church or not? In other words, what about all the things that you'd heard about? You trusted Christ as your Savior, then you didn't know what to do.
Well, more than likely, that's what's happened to most people. In some churches, they walk down the aisle and they sign a card, and it's like sign that card, you've signed your eternal life, and so therefore it's up to you from then on. But it's not really just up to you because God is very clear about what is going on in your life and mine now that we've trusted Jesus Christ as our Savior. And if you happen to be one of those persons who's never been saved, and you're thinking, "Well, the reason I'm not is because I don't think I can live a sinless life". Right. "I won't know what to do". Probably that's true. What I want to help you to understand is what to expect, what God's gonna be doing the rest of your life as long as you're on this earth, and how He's gonna be able to do that.
So I want you to turn, if you will, to Second Timothy, chapter two, beginning in verse nineteen and reading verse nineteen, twenty, and twenty-one. And the title of this message is "Sanctification: The Process". In Second Timothy, chapter two, beginning in verse nineteen, Paul said to Timothy, "Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, 'The Lord knows those who are His,' and, 'Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.' Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself," or herself, "from these things, he," or she, "will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work".
Now, what Paul has written to Timothy is this. He says there are all different kinds of members in the church. There are those who are very honorable and growing in the Lord. There are those who are not so honorable and not growing. He says you liken those unto those vessels, he calls them, that are gold and silver. And then those who are not doing so well as wood and hay or stubble. He says now, if you really want to be a vessel of honor and you want to be used by the Lord, here's what he says. Verse twenty-one, "If you will cleanse yourself from these things," those things that are dishonorable, things that don't fit who you are as a child of God. He says, "Cleanse yourself from these things. You will be a vessel of honor, sanctified," set apart, made holy by God, "useful to the Master and prepared for every good work".
That is, God uses those who are being progressively sanctified. What in the world does that mean? Whatever it means, it's very important in the mind of God and in the Christian life. So, what I'd like to do is I'd like for us to begin with talking about the very nature of sanctification itself. So, I want to define a couple of terms. For example, the word "sanctification" means holy. A person or a thing that has been sanctified is something or someone who has been set apart by God, for God, for sacred, holy purposes. Every single one of us who is a believer is one who has been sanctified, set apart by God, for the purposes of God. The word also not only means to be separated but it also is the same word from which we get our word "saint". A saint is a person who's trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, and one in and through whom the Lord Jesus Christ is progressively moving them to be conformed to His likeness, in their character, their conversation, and their conduct. So that's what sanctification is all about.
Now, there are three stages to sanctification. Stage number one is simply this: when you and I trust the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and we become a child of God. At that moment, He sets us apart from our past life into a new life. Old things are passed away, behold, things have become new now. Because you have a new destiny, a new Lord, a new sense of direction. And God begins at that moment to alter and to change your life.
So, the first stage is salvation. He sets us apart at that moment. Then there's the second stage of progression. That is, from the moment we trusted Him as our Savior, at that moment it is His purpose that you and I so live a life of progressing in our understanding, in our conformity to the likeness of Christ, that all the rest of our lives, we are being continually sanctified, being continually set apart, being continually made holy and conformed to the likeness of Jesus. This stage lasts all of our life from the moment we're saved till the moment we die. It's the most difficult stage. It's the hardest one. It's this stage in which you and I hit temptations and trials and difficulties, disappointments in life, and we have to learn how to respond to those things.
Then there's the third stage and the third stage is at death, when at that moment before we walk in the presence of God, we are ultimately and absolutely perfected. So, we have the stage of a change of position, the stage of progression, the stage of perfection from the moment we die, what happens? Our soul and our spirit are absolutely perfected. And then at the resurrection, our physical body will be perfected. He says it will rise, he says, listen, "Fashioned like unto the body of the Lord Jesus Christ". So there are three stages to sanctification. It's salvation, the progression all of our life, and then at death and then the resurrection.
Now, with those things in mind, how do these things become a reality? How is it that you and I are able to live a sanctified life? Remember, I didn't say it was sinless. But we're continually progressing in our walk and in our relationship with Him, becoming more intimate, more obedient because, listen, the passion's growing, the love for Him is growing, the desire for Him is growing, the hunger for Him is growing, the thirst for Him is growing, and the thirst to see other people saved and other people's lives changed. Something's happening on the inside of you. You know what?
So often, and I know in my own life, I can look back at times and there has been such a change maybe in some aspect, I can, suddenly I wake up to the realization, "Well, God, just a few weeks ago, this is the way I was sorta thinking about that. Now I'm thinking this way about it. Thank You. Thank You, thank You, thank You". Listen, God is willing to affect change in your life far more rapidly than you realize. He's willing to affect change in your life in areas that you don't even realize need to be affected.
When you say, "Lord Jesus, I want to walk a holy path. I want to be obedient to You. I want to walk in Your way. I want holiness and righteousness and obedience to be characteristic of my life. I want people to meet me and meet Jesus in the process". You know what, God goes to work because that's what He wants for every single one of us. Now, how do these things come about? What means does He use? Well, first of all, let me say that God certainly can speak to us in prayer, for example, and speak to us straight, right to our spirit, right to our minds. But usually, that is His choice tools of perfecting us, and that is His choice tools of sanctifying us are four. And let's look at them.
Number one is certainly prayer. When you and I begin to pray and to talk with the Father, here's what happens. We talk to Him, we develop a relationship with Him. We talk to Him, He speaks back to us. He impresses our spirit. We are very convinced and persuaded that the Spirit of God has impressed us to do or to say something. And so we develop a fellowship. We develop a companionship. He becomes our friend, not just our Savior and our God. There's an intimacy, there's a friendship that develops between us and Him. You know what's happening? What's happening is we're growing.
In fact, one of the most exciting, I think probably the most, THE most exciting and the most rewarding thing about our relationship is that we can grow in our intimacy with Him. Sometimes we take baby steps, sometimes we take leaps. Growing in an intimate relationship with someone. If you're in love with someone and someone loves you, you know how absolutely rewarding it is when that person says or does something and just gives you this whole renewed sense of "Gosh, you love me". Am I grateful you bless me? Amen?
Well, I can see some of you don't get much of that, but when, listen, when we fall in love with the Lord Jesus Christ, we begin to grow in our intimacy with Him, there'll be times when the only thing you can do is either just laugh or cry because there's an overwhelming sense of joy that He's loving you and He is becoming intimate in your relationship. If there's gonna be any sanctification process going on in your life, prayer is absolutely essential. Talking to Him daily, telling Him how you feel, how you hurt, what you want. You don't like what His will is in this particular area. It's fellowship, it's companionship, it's intimacy, it's growing. That is absolutely one of His primary means of sanctifying us.
A second means is the Word of God. He says the Word of God is a lamp, He says it's a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. That is, the Lord is using His Word, it's His divine revelation. Somebody says, "Well, what does God think about this or what does God think about the other"? And oftentimes we forget His Word. The hundred and nineteenth Psalm is full of how God thinks about His own Word. Now, you cannot, listen to this, you cannot, not may not, you cannot live a godly life and, listen, keep that book closed from Sunday to Sunday. It won't happen.
Let me ask you this, what would you say, for example, if I said, "Now, today when you go to lunch, I want you to eat enough's gonna last you for a whole week". Now, some of you might say, "Huh, I do that every day"! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Eat enough to last you the whole week. You'd say, "Well, first of all, I couldn't digest that much. And secondly, that's not the way life is, and so therefore, that's not God's plan for me, and so, you know, I'm not gonna do that. I'm just gonna eat what's good for me today". So, what do you do? You eat lunch today. You'll probably have either a snack or dinner tonight. Tomorrow morning you either have breakfast or snack and lunch and dinner. And you do that seven days a week. Why do you do that? I mean, why isn't just one meal a week sufficient?
For the same reason reading this once a week is not sufficient. You, listen, the way you feed your soul and your spirit is the Word of God. This is the way you feed it. He says this is the bread of life. It's the water of life. Listen, this is where life comes from. If we subtracted this Bible from your hands and all the knowledge from your brain that you have ever conceived of about scripture things, you would be a very, very empty, unnourished, anemic, sick person. And there are a lot of believers who are very sick. They're anemic, they're not being fed properly. If you are not reading His scriptures daily, what you're doing is you're missing out on one, listen, on a vital element in the process of sanctification. I'm telling you, you cannot, you will not, you won't, you can't live a godly life and neglect the Word of God. You can't do it.
Because think about this, think about all the sounds you hear in a given week. All the voices you hear, whether it's people you work with, people you live with, or the television or whatever it might be. When you fill your mind with enough of the world's ways, there's such a conflict in the world's ways and this Book, then you say, "Well, I don't have time to read". No, that's not the issue. You could have stopped fifteen minutes early, thirty minutes early. You could have got up early in the morning, whatever it might be. People don't want to feed on this after they have, listen, after they have been addicted to junk! When you're addicted to junk and addicted, listen, addicted to things that are poison, you don't want what's good. A person who's an alcoholic, he's not very interested in drinking ice tea because his addiction is to something else.
Then there is a third means by which God progresses our sanctification, and that is His church. You cannot, you will not, you cannot, listen, be progressively being sanctified and ignore the church. Let me just say this, I do understand this. There are some places in this country and many places in the world where there is no local church. When you and I think in terms of a local body, small or large, there are some people who've been saved and out there where they can't get to church. I do understand that, but that's a rare exception. And so they watch television or they listen to tapes or whatever it might be, and even those people, and every once in a while I'll meet somebody who lives somewhere in this country so far away from church, it's a long time getting there, and so they don't go very often, but they do go once in a while.
But the person who says, "I don't need Church". Yes, you do. "Well, prove it". I am going to. Ephesians chapter four, look at this. Look what he says. Ephesians chapter four. And oftentimes people say that in a very boastful fashion. "I don't need the church". What you're saying is you don't need what Jesus died for. That doesn't sound very good, does it? You don't need what Jesus died for. All of us, He died for us and saved us, and He put us together. And we can all live together in heaven in some form or fashion. Listen to this now, beginning in chapter four of Ephesians, beginning in verse eleven. When He says He gave some, that means He gave to the church gifted men who have the following responsibility.
Verse eleven, "He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers". That is, that phrase is pastor/teacher, which means pastor should also be a teacher. Now, he says what did He give the church? What did He give this local body or the local bodies? Why does He give them pastors and teachers and evangelists and so forth, listen, "For the equipping of the saints," and that is building up the children of God in the faith, "for the work of service, to the building up of the whole body of Christ". That is, who makes up the body? Each of us individually make up the body of Christ. So, what's He doing? He says, listen, God gave pastor/teachers in order to do what? Build up the body, teach them the truth, strengthen them in the Word of God so they'll do what? Grow in their Christian life.
Now, watch that, how many times He mentions that. As a result, for example, he says, "Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man," or woman, "to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ". That is, He's growing us up in Christlikeness. "As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming".
Here's what he says. He says, when we meet together like this, one of the things we do, of course, is to worship Him and to praise Him and to adore Him, but to be instructed in such a way that, listen, you'd learn biblical principles and truths so that you're not blown off course, off of His path, by every wind of doctrine, all the false, erroneous doctrine that comes down the track. When you hear it, you know it, you can identify it, and you don't get swept out by it. This is why people, some particular cults, can do so well. You know what they go after? They go after church members. They go after church members who do not know what they believe and why they believe it and can't defend what they do believe.
And so, a part of the purpose of the body of Christ and the pastors, our responsibility is to give instruction from the Word of God, instruction that will equip you to understand the ways and the will and the Word of God in such a fashion that you will grow in your personal life, and that you'll be able, listen, to identify error and defend yourself. For example, suppose we had somebody speak next Sunday, and he's preaching on the person of Jesus Christ. And he talks about that He's the Son of God, that He's eternal, always been, and the crucifixion and the resurrection. Then he pops up in the middle of his sermon somewhere and says, maybe toward the end, he says, "You've heard that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin. But Jesus Christ wasn't born of a virgin. He was just born of another young woman".
Now, let me ask you: If somebody said that, what would you do? What would happen on the inside of you? Well, you wouldn't sit there like that. I guarantee you. All of a sudden, here's what you'd be doing. "Mm-mmm, mm-mmm, ain't no way, mm-mm-mm-mm-mm, we know better than that". He says the responsibility of pastor/teachers is to equip the saints, build them up in the faith so that when they hear false doctrine, they don't get swept up by it.
This is why I've said to you as parents: you need to have your kids in church learning the Word of God so that when they walk into a college classroom and somebody starts spouting off a bunch of erroneous garbage that's heathen, ungodly, unscriptural, your son or daughter can sit there and say, "Mm-hmm, I got warned about you. I got warned about you". In one ear and out the other. "I know what I believe, and I know why I believe it". And then you start praying for the professor because he's the guy who's in need. He may have a lot of intellectual knowledge, but listen, you can have all the knowledge in the world, if you don't have the truth of this book, you are ignorant.
You're ignorant about the thing that, listen, that determines your eternal destiny. You'd better learn something about the Word of God. Very important we understand the importance of God's Word in our life and what He's trying to do. And when it comes to the church and the importance of the place of the church in our life, very important. Because listen, let's keep reading here just for a moment in Ephesians. Listen to what he says. He says now, verse fifteen, "But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up," look at that, not just sit and stagnate, grow up, "in all aspects," every aspect, "into Him," that is, "who is the head, even Christ".
That is, we're to grow in our relationship with Him. That's what the sanctifying process is all about. "From whom the whole body," that is the whole, all the Christians, "being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies," or the local church, "according to the proper working of each individual part," or member, "causes the growth of the body for the building of itself up in love". My friend, the body of Christ, the church is one of the primary ways in which we learn and we grow and are sanctified. There's one other way, one other primary way, and that is in suffering. One of God's, listen, one of His tools for sanctifying us is suffering.
Now, watch this. There are no shortcuts in growing in the Christian life, no shortcuts to sanctification, but if there were a shortcut, if there were a possible shortcut that would cause us to take big leaps forward in our relationship to Him in our growth, it would be suffering. For example, suppose you went to the doctor tomorrow and he said, "This is not just my opinion, this is the opinion of four other medical professionals. The most you have is thirty days to live". What would be the most important thing you own? All of a sudden, it's become more important than television, radio, magazines. Who'd be the most important person that you want to talk to? God. You know what would have happened? You would have been taking itsy-bitsy steps, and all of a sudden, you would have taken this giant step forward.
I got thirty days. What am I gonna do? Here's what that would do. Send you straight to your knees in absolute, total submission, total surrender. God, what do You want? Whatever You want, God, that's what I want. Whatever You will, God, that's what I will. Your prayer life would take off like a rocket. Your interest in the Word of God would be so absolutely intense, why? Because suddenly you began to realize you're going to meet the One who created you, saved you, and who's been in the process of sanctifying you. But you've been taking little bitty-itsy-bitsy steps, and sometimes you take like this and sometimes you walk back like this and you're half back-slidden and trying to walk in the Lord. And all the different kind of things going in your life. All of a sudden, that change.
You say, "Well now, why would God use suffering to sanctify us"? Because, listen, suffering gets our attention, amen? In other words, God doesn't have to wave any more flags. Suffering gets our attention. Heartache, trouble, trial, tribulation, all those things get our attention. He uses those to do what? Get our attention. And you know what happens? When you get driven to your knees, you begin to see things in your life that you never saw before. And I mean, you talking about cleansed, and I mean, you can't get enough hot water. Because you know, you don't want any of this stuff if you're gonna meet God... Well, the truth is that's where we should live every day. Why wait till suffering and bad news comes? Why not just let Him progressively sanctify us? Which He is willing to do and ready to do.
Now, one last thing I would say. There's one caution about this whole issue. Now, we've said, remember now, there are three stages. First stage, salvation. That's when we get in. Second stage, growth, our progression, all the way through to death. At death, absolutely perfected, later the body at resurrection's perfected. Now in this stage, all of... now watch this carefully. All of us are somewhere. Sometimes we make the mistake, we look at other people and we say, "Well, I just don't understand how you could trust the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, and you don't know any more than that". And I mean, it's easy to criticize other people. I, as a pastor, I get challenged that once in a while.
Now, here's what I want you to remember. Here's what I have to remember. Number one... now, are you listening? Say amen. You don't know where they started. And I've seen some people who've been saved who've come from way, way, way below zero. Then I've seen some Christians, some people who've been saved, who had a big background, wonderful background. And oftentimes a person who comes from the furthest down, once they understand what it's all about, and somebody explains it to them, you know what? They want, listen, they have this tenacious desire to learn everything they can learn, experience everything they can experience, you know why? Because they realize what they have missed all these years.
So, we have to be careful about judging where someone else is. The truth is we all should be progressing, but where do we start from? I was saved when I was twelve years of age. My mother was a godly woman. She taught me to read the Bible. She got down by the bed with me every single night on (when I was a kid growing up, by) on her knees, beside the bed, prayed for me. I can still hear her talk and calling my name, reading the Bible to me before I even really knew what it was all about. Am I responsible? You better believe I'm responsible. But I think about all the kids who didn't have that, and how blessed I am that she got me off to a good start. And I got saved at the age of twelve and called to preach at fourteen. I got a great start.
Have I had my heartaches, troubles, backsets, sins, disobedience, rebellion? Yes! But I had a wonderful start. And I am compassionately concerned for people who don't have a good start. So, I would never be critical of you no matter who you are and where you are. If you've trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, listen carefully, it's not where you came from. This much I know. You have an awesome privilege of being where all of us want to be, in the center of the will of God, doing His will, learning as we go along. Do we stumble? Yes, we do. Are there times when we disobey God? Yes. But there's that instantaneous confession and repentance and moving on in the Christian life.
So, don't look back and become discouraged and say, "Well, there's so little I do know". You know what, all of us started out ignorant about the Word of God. Some of us just started out realizing we were ignorant earlier than other people. The only person who has a right, a divine right to judge where anybody else ought to be is God Himself because, listen, He's the only one who has all the facts. He's the only one who has all the facts. He's the only one who knows the opportunity and the privilege.
And sometimes I meet people who've been in church years, years, they never heard anything about the blood of Jesus. They never heard anything about the cross. They never heard anything about the Holy Spirit. And they don't even understand when they walk in here and everybody's got a Bible and notepad and they're thinking, "What's going on"?
Would I be critical of a person like that? Never! So let me ask you the last question. When somebody meets you, what do they feel? Do they sense a passion for God? Can they see on your countenance a sense of tranquillity and contentment? Can they hear in your voice a sense of joy and peace? Can they watch your movements and know that, somehow, you're a godly person? If not, what you should ask is, "Lord, what area of my life am I overlooking in this sanctifying process, that I've missed something, that some aspect of my life is not radiating the very life of Jesus Christ Himself"?
He will show you what it is, and then you have to make the decision: Are you willing to surrender that, lay that aside, abstain from that, and allow Him to change this? And when it comes to, listen, reflecting the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, would you not agree that whatever we have in our life that doesn't belong there, doesn't fit there, is worth laying down in order to be able to know in your heart everybody who meets you meets Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in you. And that's my prayer.
Father, how grateful we are that You would even think about loving us enough to save us and forgive us of our sins, that You would even think about wanting to conform us to the likeness of Your Son, that You'd even think about wanting to spend eternal life in heaven with us, but that's the kind of awesome God You are and we want to say thank You. And I pray the Holy Spirit has spoken to multitudes and will speak to millions of people through this message to understand what this Christian life is all about, what You're up to, and what we ought to be up to, what we can be up to, and what we can enjoy. In Jesus's name, amen.