Growth in Christ is a progress in life whereby we are made more and more like our Lord in righteousness, truth, and practice. Paul testified to the Church: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Paul’s witness resounds in every true Christian’s life: “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). For Christ “is the principle of my life; from his fullness I live, as the vine branch lives from the root” (Thomas Watson). This is the meaning of ‘sanctification’—to be enabled by the Spirit through the Word of God to live by faith, to know “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (S.C. 35, What is sanctification?).
Christ prayed to his Father for his disciples, “Sanctify them, through Thy truth: Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). This is not a new work of God. For his Word has been his people’s hope and strength in every generation; from birth to death the Spirit has revealed his truth. The Psalmist firmly testified: “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Ps. 73:24). Paul encourages the Thessalonica saints that as they have received from his ministry “how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more” (4:1). The Christian is to continually “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). This is the Christian who has been redeemed by the “precious blood of Christ;” being born anew “by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (1 Peter 1: 19, 23). Therefore, the “God of peace…Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Heb. 13:20–21).
We are to see ourselves as a vessel which houses a precious soul: “That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor.” This vessel should be very precious to each of us who bear the name of Christ, for “the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them who are his;” therefore, belonging to God our Father as a valued vessel: Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (1 Tim. 2:19). Thus the sanctification of his ‘vessels’ is part of our being disciples of Christ: “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (1 Tim. 2:20–21).
Paul understands sanctification as an active or decisive walk with Christ, exhorting the Christian as “how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more”—“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor.” The saints are not to live “in the lust of concupiscence,” lusting for what is forbidden, “even as the Gentiles which know not God.” We are not to live as the world around us, whose darkness we once walked: “For a time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banqueting, and abominable idolatries” (1 Peter 4:3).
Let our actions reveal the love of Christ, vessels that honor our Savior; as Paul encourages the saints: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).
Righteous conduct is revealed in the Ten Commandments of our Creator and God; being so summed up in these words of our Savior: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 22:37–39). It is not hard to see how the wicked defraud one another, even ourselves. We live amongst evil knowing “that the Lord is the avenger of all such.” God is the Judge of the wicked. “He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit.” M. Henry wrote: “The contempt therefore of God’s law and gospel is the contempt of God himself.”
However, we live not by the will of man, but by the will of God who has given us the comfort and presence of the Spirit. “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” Therefore, “whatsoever ye do in word and deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col. 3:17). The life of a Christian, which glorifies Chris, is that of one whose conduct reveals the love of God: “According as (the Lord’s) divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity” (2 Peter 1:3–7).
Paul further teaches us about brotherly love: “But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you; for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.” It is God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who teaches us, trains us, and encourages us, through his Word and presence, to love one another. In the words of Calvin, “that their hearts were framed for love; so that it appears that the Holy Spirit inwardly dictates efficaciously what is to be done, so that there is no need to give injunctions in writing.” The Christian is one in whose love toward the brethren is revealed the divine love of God in Christ Jesus. “Whoever does that which is good is taught of God to do it, and God must have the glory. All who are savingly taught of God are taught this lesson, to love one another. This is the livery of Christ’s family” (M. Henry).
The love of a Christian, taught to him by divine purpose, cannot be hid under a basket. It must and will be the light that shines in every nation. “And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more.” We ought not to be slothful in our study of God’s Word and the practice thereof. For the encouragement of God’s love in Christ must be seen by others, especially those in persecution. Our slothfulness in practicing true brotherly love does not glorify God, and surely does reveal our forgetfulness of those who are fighting the good fight of faith in this nation and others.
Our faith and works must increase more and more as we study in quietness of spirit, going about our own work, not intruding ourselves on others, that we “may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.” Even in our daily walk we must represent the Gospel of Christ (not only in the preaching and hearing thereof), not being busybodies; “Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. But ye brethren, be not weary in well doing” (2 Thess. 3:12–13).
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