on how we are sanctified – a difference with a friend

Pastor Chris Anderson is one of my great online friends. I really appreciate his ministry. We most often agree on many matters. But…

But we have a difference on a matter of sanctification. I don’t know if we have wrestled through this on his blog or elsewhere before, but this week I expressed some differences with him on this topic. You can read about it in the comments section of this post.

There are a couple of possible explanations for the difference that might make our difference not much of a difference at all. I could be totally misunderstanding what Chris is saying. Or I could be abysmally inarticulate in attempting to express my point of view. Or both.

There is a particular point of view that Chris seems to be articulating in his post. As I understand it, this view comes from a reading of Piper, Owen, perhaps Edwards, and others. The notion is that the key to sanctification is a sort of mindset of meditation and contemplation on the glories and beauties of God (and of Christ). Somehow, such meditation is supposed to make you so in love with God that you will have less of a desire to sin and hence more victory. [Perhaps I am misstating the case, if so, I’d appreciate clarification.]

Chris quotes someone named Kelly Kapic who is in turn supposed to be quoting Owen, but I haven’t been able to see the Owen quote in context. [If someone has a link, I’d be interested in seeing it.]

So the path forward is not to decrease one’s affections but rather to enlarge them and fill them with ‘heavenly things.’ Here one is not trying to escape the painful realities of this life but rather endeavoring to reframe one’s perspective of life around a much larger canvas that encompasses all of reality. To respond to the distorting nature of sin you must set your affections on the beauty and glory of God, the loveliness of Christ, and the wonder of the gospel: ‘Were our affections filled, taken up, and possessed with these things . . . what access could sin, with its painted pleasures, with its sugared poisons, with its envenomed baits, have unto our souls? Resisting sin, according to this Puritan divine, comes not by deadening your affections but by awakening them to God himself. Do not seek to empty your cup as a way to avoid sin, but rather seek to fill it up with the Spirit of life, so there is no longer room for sin.’

Well…

You can read the back and forth on Chris’ blog. I don’t want to dominate his blog with a long essay from me, so I am going to use my own blog to work through a few points that Chris made in his latest response to me. He can respond wherever he likes, whenever he likes, or not at all if he so chooses.

Here is the last comment from Chris on this:

Don, I can’t pursue this further today. However, your suggestion that meditating on and worshiping Christ isn’t the way of sanctification is mistaken, probably because it compartmentalizes aspects of the Christian life in artificial ways. (This is worship; this is sanctification; etc.) I don’t think that demonstrates a right understanding of either, frankly.

Psalm 115:1-8 and 135:15-18 indicate that our worship greatly influences our character for good or bad–we become like what we worship.

Much more clearly, II Cor. 3:18 teaches that looking at Christ in the Scriptures and meditating on His person and work is the key to being changed into His image through the Spirit’s ministry. I can’t think of a clearer passage on our sanctification. True sanctification and worship are absolutely inseparable.

Some things to consider, anyway.

First, to respond to paragraph 1:

Which comes first, worship or sanctification? I think this is where my comments have been particularly inarticulate. Sanctification produces worship produces sanctification. I am fine with that notion. Meditation is a tool that can and does produce sanctification, as long as meditation is on the right object. I don’t think I am compartmentalising things, just having difficulty expressing my misgivings about statements such as the one quoted.

Now, as to Ps 115 and 135, let’s see what they say before we make statements concerning them:

Ps 115.1-8

NAU Psalm 115:1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us, But to Your name give glory Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth. 2 Why should the nations say, “Where, now, is their God?” 3 But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. 4 Their idols are silver and gold, The work of man’s hands. 5 They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see; 6 They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell; 7 They have hands, but they cannot feel; They have feet, but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat. 8 Those who make them will become like them, Everyone who trusts in them.

Ps 135.15-18

NAU Psalm 135:15 The idols of the nations are but silver and gold, The work of man’s hands. 16 They have mouths, but they do not speak; They have eyes, but they do not see; 17 They have ears, but they do not hear, Nor is there any breath at all in their mouths. 18 Those who make them will be like them, Yes, everyone who trusts in them.

I assume that it is the assertions of Ps 115.8 and Ps 135.18 upon which Chris bases the notion that our worship “greatly influences our character for good or bad–we become like what we worship.”

First, it must be said that these passages only affirm a sort of ‘negative sanctification’, if any at all. But do these passages actually teach that idolaters will become blinder, dumber, deafer, etc as a process of negative sanctification? The notes of the NET Bible on 135.18 suggest this:

Because the idols are lifeless, they cannot help their worshipers in times of crisis. Consequently the worshipers end up as dead as the gods in which they trust.

I offer this not as proof, but to point out that at least one interpreter looks at the passage and sees it as a reference to the judgement the idolater receives, not the process which he undergoes. [Although I must say that Chris is in good company in his view, John MacArthur declares it an ‘inexorable law’ that you become like what you worship, citing the Ps 135 passage. — Master’s Journal, Spring 1994, p. 15.]

Other commentators see the verse as referring to the dead spirit the idolater possesses, he who thinks he is enlightened by his worship of something other than the true God is in fact in darkness and is as blind, deaf, and dumb as his idol.

Can we turn these passages around and make them say that the converse is also true, that if we will but contemplate the glories of the person of Christ, we will automatically by virtue of such meditation become like Christ?

MacArthur says yes:

If the heathen become like the lifeless gods they worship, how much more like Christ will Christians become, since they have the Holy Spirit working to accomplish that very goal? As they fix their hearts on Christ, they discover their worship has the effect of conforming them to His image…
The Master’s Seminary. (1994; 2002). Master’s Seminary Journal Volume 5 (5:15). Master’s Seminary.

These passages cannot bear this interpretation by themselves, as MacArthur turns quickly to the next passage Chris cited, quoting immediately after his statement above, 2 Cor 3.18.

Chris says:

Much more clearly, II Cor. 3:18 teaches that looking at Christ in the Scriptures and meditating on His person and work is the key to being changed into His image through the Spirit’s ministry. I can’t think of a clearer passage on our sanctification. True sanctification and worship are absolutely inseparable.

All right, let’s look at 2 Cor 3.18:

NAU 2 Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

Does this verse make worship the key for sanctification? Note again my friend Chris’ statement: “looking at Christ … is the key to being changed”. Does the passage actually bear that bold statement?

Look at the context:

NAU 2 Corinthians 3:7 But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. 10 For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. 12 Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, 13 and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. 14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. [italics mine]

In the passage, what is veiled? From what is the veil taken away when we turn to the Lord? Is it not the Law, i.e., the written revelation of God? What are the glories by which we are transformed but the glories found in the Word?

Meditate in order to grow, yes, but meditate in the Word.

Worship in order to grow, yes, but worship according to the Word.

Am I making too fine a point? I admit that I react to Piperism. I believe that Piper is mistaken on this point and that he has misled many by his mistake. I believe that the emphasis on a mystical experience with Christ is no better a means of sanctification than the Keswickian ‘Let go and let God.’

The Bible pattern is found in Romans 6-8 and Ephesians 4-6 and Colossians 3, among others.

In the end, it is the hint of mysticism that I react to. It is not that we shouldn’t meditate and worship, of course we should. But sanctification is not a simple process and I find it dangerous to suggest to young people that if they will just love the Lord enough, they don’t have to sweat sanctification. And isn’t that what the Kapic quote is saying?

So the path forward is not to decrease one’s affections…

…rather to enlarge them and fill them with ‘heavenly things.’…

…not trying to escape the painful realities of this life…

…rather endeavoring to reframe one’s perspective of life…

To respond to the distorting nature of sin you must set your affections on the beauty and glory of God, the loveliness of Christ, and the wonder of the gospel…

Resisting sin … comes not by deadening your affections but by awakening them to God himself.

Yes, worship, but don’t assume that you don’t have to put to death the old man. Don’t ignore self-denial and keeping the body under.

~~~~

I hope that all makes some sense and that I am not making a distinction without a difference!

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Comments

  1. AVU says:

    Don,
    The interaction on this topic interested me. Just finished a paper on Galatians 5 that dealt with some of this. Perhaps this link will be of interest in this discussion. I think you both have hold of part of the concept of sanctification. Sharpen me please. http://mytrailthoughts.blogspot.com

  2. Jerry Bouey says:

    I see six sermons in this series listed so far, but your next blog entry refers to the seventh sermon (which is available from your blog). Have you put this one on your site (“The Saved are Being Saved”), perhaps under another title? If not, here is a gentle nudge to add it.

    I have appreciated this series so far (reading the fourth one now). It has been food for thought. What I have read I have agreed with – but it has encouraged me to think about some of the underlying reasons for my positions on this subject (such as devotion to Christ being the motivating factor, rather than simply outward conformity).

    Thanks for posting this series. May the Lord richly bless you.

  3. Jerry Bouey says:

    Meditate in order to grow, yes, but meditate in the Word.

    Worship in order to grow, yes, but worship according to the Word.

    Could your friend possibly be referring to meditating on Christ as He is revealed through the Word? If He was referring to some kind of meditation on Christ apart from the reading and studying of the Word of God, then there would certainly be a problem with what he was saying.

    I do believe one of the key elements of our growth is learning about the Lord Jesus Christ as we dig into the Word of God (as 2 Peter 1:2, 5-7 and 3:18 indicate; also Matthew 11:29-30).

  4. Don Johnson says:

    Hi Jerry

    Yes, I forgot to post the notes to that message. You can find them now at the blog entry entitled:

    on the next installment of our legalism series

    that post is dated July 30.

    Sorry about that.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. Don Johnson says:

    Regarding meditation…

    I think that my friend does mean to meditate on Christ as revealed in the word. He certainly doesn’t mean to meditate on something outside the Word.

    My objection to the way this is expressed is that the impression is given that somehow if you just meditate on the right subject, you will automagically be sanctified. This seems very little different to me than the Keswick Deeper Christian Life movement that speaks about becoming ‘wholly consecrated’, ‘relying totally on Christ’, with no struggle. Somehow if you just delight in God enough, that’s all that is needed.

    I don’t think my friend advocates the idea that there is no struggle in sanctification, but he uses language that suggests it. The language comes largely from the teaching of John Piper, I believe. I think that language at least leaves room for a serious error, if not being a serious error itself.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  6. Jerry Bouey says:

    Bro. Don, I would certainly agree that meditating upon Christ plays a big part in our sanctification – but not without effort and application on our side. We still need to die to self, apply Biblical principles, be diligent about our growth (2 Peter 1), strive against sin, etc. It is my looking more steadfastly to Christ that leads me to strive against sin even more – it is when I take my eyes off of Him that I start to slip.