Christians, by definition, start with the Spirit when they are saved because there is no salvation apart from being born of the Spirit. But many Christians make the mistake of beginning with the Spirit, then abandoning the Spirit and essentially relying on themselves for the remainder of their spiritual journey. They get busy at church, they sacrifice, they serve, they can even go on missions, but it’s quite possible to do all of these good things without depending on and being filled by the Holy Spirit.
How can we tell whether someone is serving out of their flesh or serving out of the Spirit? You can tell by their character and how they treat others. It doesn’t matter how many people I lead to Christ, or how many churches I plant, or how many mission fields I visit, if I have a nasty temper and I am proud and I tear others down with my words, these are signs that I am serving out of my flesh. Some pastors and ministers do not resemble Christ at all. They do not possess even an ounce of humility. They treat others harshly and enslave the members under a heavy load of legalism and ministry. The sheep stumble under such leaders and they leave the church damaged to the point that they never want to step foot into another church again. These are signs that Christian ministers lack the Holy Spirit.
If I were serving out of the Spirit, then my life would be characterized by humility, a selfless love, a love with no strings attached, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control, the fruit of the Spirit. Now, I am recapping the sermons from Galatians. I hope you are beginning to see links between the various books of the Bible. We need the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is working in you continuously, then you will bear its fruit and you will relate with others in a way that is consistent with the Spirit.
Jesus was full of the Spirit. Before Jesus began his earthly ministry, the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove. Jesus is the embodiment of the fruit of the Spirit because the Spirit had filled his life to overflowing. So when we say, sanctification is the process whereby we are conformed to the image of Christ AND we talk about the need to be filled with the Spirit, we are saying basically the same thing. Sanctification equals becoming the radiant bride, which equals becoming increasingly like Christ, which equals being filled with the Spirit. How on earth can you and I become Christ-like without being Spirit-filled continuously?
I bet many of us here want to be become a radiant bride who reflects Christ-likeness and is Spirit-filled. Who wouldn’t? Now the questions remains, how do you and I get there? In other words, how does sanctification work? God has several tools in his toolbox to sanctify us. One tool is called suffering. There are many things in spiritual life that simply won’t make sense to us until we have suffered. You can enter into a special level of fellowship with Christ through suffering because Christ himself suffered. And when we share in Christ’s sufferings, God can refine our faith in ways that are simply not possible while we are comfortable.
Another tool that God uses to sanctify us is church. You might argue, there is no Hill Community or Redeemer or Bethlehem Baptist Church in heaven so what’s the point of joining a specific church here on earth. Hey, I am part of the universal church. I don’t believe in the institution of the local churches because there is no perfect church. As a pastor, I will be the first to admit that there is no perfect church. I am an imperfect person. This church is filled with imperfect people.
Why do you need to commit to and join a local church when there is no perfect church? Simple. Because you are not perfect either. Many Christians who know very well that they themselves are far from perfect demand perfection in churches. Kind of a double standard, don’t you think? When Christians with this mindset encounter a problem at a church or a conflict with a brother or sister in Christ or a disagreement over doctrine, what do most people do? They jump ship. They church hop. Or they stop going to church altogether.
What happens to the person who keeps church hopping or they stay at home because no church is good enough for them? Answer: they don’t change. They remain as they are because they are not submitting to one of the primary tools that God uses to sanctify his people. We were saved and brought together into the body of Christ so that we can learn how to love and carry burdens and ask for forgiveness.
Show of hands–is there anyone here who is an only child? Using this logic, I’m sorry but you are probably less sanctified than the rest of us. Just kidding. In my family, when I have one on one time with my kids, it is amazing how well-behaved they are. They listen. They don’t fight because there is no one to fight with. They are angels. They are calm. I can actually go to a cafe when it’s just one on one and can get some reading in. When all 3 kids are together, however, something changes. There is screaming and kicking and fighting. Right boys? I don’t mean to pick on them. We are all like that. We are all saints when we are by ourselves and sipping our coffee with our bibles open and soft music playing in the background and the waves from Ventura beach are splashing onto our toes. But when you are around people, you have to deal with your pride, your ego, your irritations, your judgmental attitude. That’s why the local church is such a necessary and effective tool in our sanctification.
And so is marriage. Marriage is a very effective tool in our sanctification.
Listen to verse 25-27 again.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. 27 He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless.
Notice how Paul starts by talking about marriage and in mid-sentence he switches to Christ and the church. The sanctification that occurs in marriage and the sanctification that occurs in church are like mirror images of one another. Marriage and church mirror one another in terms of their interactions and in terms of their goal. Husbands and wives interact with each other in a particular way and this mirrors the church and how brothers and sisters interact with each other and how all believers interact with Christ. Christ is the Head and we as believers submit to him and Christians, we submit before one another. Sound familiar? Also, in marriage and in church, the goal is the same–sanctification. We are sanctified through marriage and we are sanctified through church.
You can’t miss this next point. When I first learned this, I was blown away. The reason why marriage and the church are so closely linked is because the gospel is embedded in both. In a church setting, the gospel is obvious. Jesus submitted himself under the will of God the Father. Even right before going to the cross, at the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus anguished in prayer, but he ended his prayer in submission–not my will, but your will be done. And from that moment, Jesus resolved to go to Calvary and die on a cross. He submitted to the will of the Father. You could say he modeled perfectly what godly femininity looks like by submitting to his equal. On the flip side, he displayed perfectly what godly masculinity looks like. He didn’t lead the church like a tyrant. Instead, he came to serve not to be served. He laid down his life in sacrificial service.
Likewise, how is the gospel embedded in marriage? Husbands, lead and love your wives by laying down your lives. Wives, submit to your husbands and respect them and support their leadership. Jesus fulfilled both roles of laying down his life and submitting to the Father in a singular gospel act. But in marriage, the roles are separated. Husbands and wives are each fulfilling their complementary roles and playing the role of Jesus to their spouses. Equally important but different roles. One sides loves primarily while the other respects primarily and both are roles Jesus himself played. The result? By serving one another in our distinct roles, we accomplish a common goal–we are sanctified into the spotless bride of Christ.
C.S. Lewis describes marriage as two friends standing shoulder to shoulder and staring at a common horizon. The common horizon is the future glory self when we are fully mature in Christ. People enter marriage knowing that they are not what they ought to be, but with God’s help and by putting on a ministry mindset, husbands and wives can help each other take one step closer to their future glory self. This is the profound mystery Paul alludes to in v32. The gospel is re-enacted in marriages that follow God’s design.
What is the chief obstacle in our sanctification? What is the chief problem in marriages? What tears churches apart? One word. Self. Selfishness is the essence of sin. Why do more than 1 in 2 marriages fall apart? Selfishness destroys marriages. Any Christian would agree with the statement–I am selfish. No argument there, but I don’t think we know to what extent this statement is true of us until we are married.
Your parents tried to tell you growing up that you were selfish, but you didn’t listen. As teenagers, you closed your ears and you shut your room doors and turned on the music so that you didn’t have to listen to what your parents had to say. Or, you excused yourself, they are no better. Or, my parents don’t understand me. Ever heard that one? Or your siblings tried to tell you, but you reasoned, what do they know? They are younger than me or they are worse than me so I don’t have to listen. And if it got really bad, you could just tell yourself, well, when I am 18, I’m outta here so what my family has to say about me will soon be irrelevant. So you don’t change. Your friends and roommates tried to tell you that you are selfish, but you didn’t listen. If things got bad and you couldn’t stand the person anymore, you could just move out. Find a new friend or a new roommate. Our selfishness derails God’s plan of sanctification in our lives.
In college, I lived with 23 other brothers from church. It was like a Christian frat house. I was one of the older brothers so I was the one of several managers of the house. I think Matthew was living there although I don’t remember seeing him much. In a house of 23 immature college guys, you need rules and you need to rule with an iron fist in order to keep order. I don’t think we expected too much. We had simple rules that any decent human being could follow. We were not seeking any high virtues like suffering for the sake of others. The standard was very low–just live in a way that shows that you are slightly more advanced than the rest of the animal kingdom.
Rule #1: clean up after yourself. Rule #1A: cleaning up after yourself means if you make dishes, clean your dishes. College students need everything spelled out with main points and subpoints. You would think, a group of Christian college brothers could follow Rule #1 and #1A. But no, someone or some ones didn’t follow these simple rules. Without fail, there would always be dishes in the sink. Back then, we didn’t have all of the modern technology. I couldn’t set up a hidden camera because it was the mid-nineties and those devices were not readily accessible. Maybe Brother Matthew was the culprit. Only God knows.
Rule #2: Take your shoes up to your room. We had many guests coming by to the house and you can imagine, if each person left 1-2 pairs of shoes multiplied by 23 and then you add in another 5-10 pairs of shoes from the guests, soon enough, you had a sea of hundreds of shoes blocking the entrance. Like a good, humble older brother, I gave warnings on a whiteboard near the front door. Please take up your shoes. Next day, same number of shoes. I would write in bold and underline, PLEASE take up your shoes. Third day, same situation. By this point, I was writing threats. If you don’t take up your shoes, I will throw them away and they will burn in hell forever. I guess the brothers thought I was bluffing so on the 4th or 5th day, I dumped all the shoes in a trash bag and I threw them away. No, actually, I am a nice guy so I dumped all the shoes in a trash bag and I hid the trash bag. Finally, I had gotten their attention and I had to sit the house down and lecture them about their selfishness.
What if someone in the house didn’t like being lectured and he wanted to throw his shoes wherever he wanted like an animal, then it was his prerogative to move out. He was not bound by law to stay. He could leave and keep his selfishness intact and undisturbed.