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City Church of Chattanooga
Series: Understanding the Big Words
Message 4: Sanctification – Living Free From Sins Bondage
March 25, 2001
For the past several weeks, I have been speaking on the subject of “Understanding the Big Words.” We started out
talking about predestination, and I told you God knew you before you knew Him. We talked about justification, that
through the grace of God, you could be declared not guilty. We talked about regeneration through which God brings new
life, and you can start again. Regeneration is the big word for the little phrase “being born again.”
You may recall that I told you in this series of sermons that every one of us inherited three consequences of sin from
Adam. I also said that God has a work of grace for each one of the consequences of sin. One of those consequences is
guilt. We all owe a debt that we cannot pay. We were born guilty. Justification is God’s answer to human guilt. In
justification, through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross and by our faith in Him, we can be forgiven. Our spiritual
death is addressed in regeneration. We can be born again.
Today, we come to look at a very special word – SANCTIFICATION. It is the work of God’s grace that addresses the
moral depravity (sinful nature) that we inherited from Adam. Sanctification can be defined as…
The work of God’s grace by which believers are made able to die more and more to sin and live an increasingly godly life.
Through sanctification, a believer is made free from the bondage of sin, is enabled to live in complete devotion to Christ, and
is empowered by the Holy Spirit to be holy. There is a divinely produced character change, freeing us from sinful habits, and
forming within us Christ-like affections, dispositions, and virtues.
When you read that, doesn’t it sound like something you want? Do you say, “That’s the kind of person I want to be? I
want to be a person who’s more like Jesus. I want to be a person who is more holy. I want to be a person who is free
from sinful habits. I want to be a person who is able to die more and more to sin and live an increasingly godly life.”
That is what sanctification is all about.
I want you to understand something: God did not save you just to give you a fire escape from hell. You weren’t saved
just so you wouldn’t go to hell. God saved you to bring you into the life of conformity to Jesus Christ. God saved you to
make you into something special. He saved you to make you into a vessel of honor in His name.
In every Jewish home, there were two vessels. There was a vessel of honor, and you drank water from this vessel. But
there was a vessel of dishonor, and that is where you threw all your garbage. Paul said that in the house, talking about
in the church, some people are vessels of dishonor. They have got all kind of garbage on the inside of them. But God
wants to take dishonorable vessels and make them honorable vessels--vessels that pour forth pure water so that others
can drink of the overflow of the blessing of your life. God wants you to become a vessel of honor. That is what
sanctification is all about. God wants to clean up the inside.
You were positionally sanctified when you decided to trust Christ and follow him. What I mean by that is the moment
you were saved you, were sanctified by the fact that you were separated unto God. The Bible calls every Christian a
saint. I’m Saint Mike. We are all saints. However, God says he doesn’t just want to just give us a position of
sanctification; he wants to sanctify you wholly on the inside.
That aspect of sanctification is what I want to talk about today. Think of the story in the Bible when the children of Israel
were brought out of Egypt. Coming out of Egypt symbolizes coming out of the bondage of sin, and it symbolizes being
saved. Isn’t it interesting that it is called the “Red Sea?” That symbolizes the red blood of Jesus Christ. When we come
through the red blood of Jesus Christ, we have crossed out of Egypt’s land and are no longer in the bondages of sin.
That means we are saved.
But, God did not bring them out of Egypt to lead them around in the wilderness for forty years. It was never His plan for
them to stay in the wilderness. They were supposed to go straight to the Promised Land. It didn’t take forty years to
make that journey. But they chose to stay there by their own doing. They wouldn’t let God work in their life. Those who
entered into Canaan were entering into the victorious life, and God wants every one of you who are in this building today
to be a victorious Christian. That is God’s plan for every one of you. That’s the normal Christian life. That’s entering into
the Promised Land.
Every one of you is in one of three places spiritually. You are either in Egypt, which means you are still not a believer in
Jesus Christ. Or you are in the Promised Land, which means you are living in victory, and your life is conformed to Jesus
Christ. Or you are in the wilderness. You’re not in Egypt. You’re saved, but your certainly not living an overcoming life.
Every one of us is in one of those three places. Today, I want to talk to you about how to get into that land of Promise
as we talk about sanctification.
You will notice that while I was in Japan, I had time to play with the computer a
little bit. I drew people. Well, I kind of drew people.. I took a picture and
imposed things on it. I want you to know, folks, it took three hours to figure out
how to do this and you better like it!
We are going to call this guy Joe. I could put any name on him. He could be
any one of us. This is Joe as a Pre-Christian. This is Joe before he got saved.
Notice what we see about Joe. That circle represents Joe’s soul. What you see
is that his soul is in darkness - his soul is dead. All of us are born in this type of
condition. You will notice right in the center of the darkness of his soul there is a
sinful nature, which I symbolized with the skull and crossbones. It symbolizes
death. The Bible says we are all born spiritually dead. This is how we look.
We’ve got the frown on our face because we are born spiritually dead and the
sinful nature is within us.
Here’s what Paul has to say about this in Romans 7:5, 18, 25:
We were controlled by the sinful nature…Nothing good lives in my sinful nature. I desire to do what is good but I cannot
carry it out…In my sinful nature, I am a slave to sin.
In Ephesians 2:1-3, Paul describes us:
You were dead in your sins…You followed the ways of the world…gratifying the cravings of your sinful nature.
This is our Pre-Christian state. Before we make a commitment to Christ, the sinful nature is in control; it rules our lives;
there is spiritual darkness; there is no life; we can’t do anything pleasing to God. Jesus said, “Without me, ye can do
nothing.” That is the condition we are in.
Notice Joe accepts Jesus. He puts his faith in Christ and experiences regeneration. The Bible says in Ephesians 2:4,5:
God has made us alive with Christ.
I Peter 1:3, 23 says:
Praise be to God. In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope…For you have been born again through the
living and enduring Word of God.
Paul says in Romans 8:10:
If Christ is in you, your spirit is alive.
In Colossians 2:13, it says:
God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all your sins.
Now that’s what happened to you when you put your trust in Jesus.
Notice, that which was dead is now alive. That which was in darkness is
now in light. When the Holy Spirit brings Jesus Christ into your heart,
represented by the cross, when you became a believer in Jesus Christ,
He, by the Holy Spirit came to live in your life, brought life and light and
you were born again. Old things passed away. All things became new.
Your sins were wiped out. You were justified. You stood in the presence
of God just as if you’d never sinned. All of a sudden, your eyes were
opened to things you’d never seen before. Your ears understand things
you never understood before. Why? Because life has come into you and
you’ve been born again and you are a new creature in Christ Jesus. Am
If you look up at Joe, you notice the skull and crossbones are still there. In fact, it’s in the light now and you can see it
very well. You become aware of that sinful nature that’s within you because when you got saved, that sinful nature didn’t
leave. I don’t have to tell you that. You know that. You know every now and then that sinful nature is still there. You
know you can still sin. You know you can still disobey God. You know you can do things God is not pleased with.
What happened is that Christ came in but the sinful nature is still there.
What often ensues after that is spiritual struggle. Paul said in Galatians
For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is
contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other.
In Romans 7:21, 23, Paul is talking about his own experience. He says:
When I want to do good, evil is right there with me…I see another law within me,
waging was against my mind, making me a prisoner to the law of sin.
Now I’m talking about a Christian experience that we’ve all had. You know
what it’s like, if you’re a Christian, to sense the battle going on inside of you. You know what it’s like to sense the Holy
Spirit and the flesh fighting each other. That’s a spiritual struggle. In fact, it will not be long after you are born again
that you will experience that spiritual struggle. You will experience the tug of war going on inside your soul. Paul said
that the Spirit is in conflict with the sinful nature. It is a conflict, and there is a battle. Do you know why they are in
conflict? They are in conflict to determine which one of them is going to rule, which one will be in control of your life –
whether you are going to be controlled by the Spirit or by the flesh. There is a war going on inside of you.
Paul began to say there are two possible outcomes of this war. One of those is to be a defeated Christian – spiritual
defeat. Do you know what that is? It’s when you live in the wilderness. That’s when you are a believer, you trust Jesus
and you really do love the Lord, but yet, you are living a defeated life. Your life is in bondage to habits. Your life is in
bondage to all types of sin. You are a Christian, but you are in bondage. That’s one of the most miserable places to be.
In fact, I’m convinced it’s probably more miserable right there than it was
when you were unsaved. Because when you weren’t saved, you didn’t give
a rip. Now there’s a part of you that wants to do right, but the flesh is
squeezing that desire to do right.
I’m so glad Paul put the seventh chapter of Romans in the Bible. Paul, this
great man of God, Paul, this man who probably did more to advance
Christianity than any other human being who ever lived, Paul, this man who
was willing to suffer all kinds of persecution and all kinds of loss for Jesus
Christ, Paul, this man who gave us the theology of justification and
regeneration and the new birth and the book of Romans and Galatians and
all of his writings, then talked about in Romans seven, his own personal
I am sure that Paul was talking about a struggle that had occurred in the past in his life. He was talking about a time
when he knew he was a follower of Jesus, but he knew that the sinful nature was dominating his life. Let’s hear what
Paul had to say in Romans 7:14-20:
Sin is my master…I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead I do the very thing I hate…It is sin inside me
that makes me do these evil things…The sin within me is doing it.
There have been some who have wanted to interpret this passage from Paul as if Paul was talking about his preconversion
state, that he wasn’t saved yet. I don’t believe that. Because, first of all he says, “I want to do what is good.”
He said, “With my mind, I serve the law of Christ, but in my flesh, the law of sin.” I want to tell you something: that is a
Christian. That is a person who says, “I want to do what’s right.” He says, “There’s two laws within me warring against
each other: the law of the Spirit of life and the law of death.”
But he’s talking about a time in his life where he was losing the battle, where the sin nature was dominating the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit within him was being frustrated. Did you realize that the Holy Spirit inside of you can be frustrated? I
know there are times in my life the Holy Spirit has been frustrated inside of me because of my actions. The Bible says
the Holy Spirit inside of you can be grieved, that the Holy Spirit weeps inside of you over some of the things you are
One of the ways you can grieve the Holy Spirit is when you entertain bitterness and anger in your heart against others.
It says the Holy Spirit is grieved when you do this, which means that the sinful nature is in control (Ephesians 4:25-31).
The Holy Spirit can be frustrated. The Holy Spirit can be grieved. The Holy Spirit can be quenched, that means pushed
down and pressed down by the flesh.
So what you see here is a defeated Christian. This is a Christian who, when he dies, will go to heaven, but who is living a
pretty miserable life right now because they haven’t totally surrendered everything to Jesus. The sanctifying work of God
is not in his heart. He is losing the battle against the flesh.
Notice what else Paul said about this defeated condition. He was writing to the Corinthian church and said in I
But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh.
Now Paul was writing a letter to a church that was filled with strife. The Corinthian church was filled with arguing and
strife. It was a horrible church. And he said he couldn’t even write them as spiritual men, but as men controlled by the
sinful nature. Notice the picture. What is in control of our friend, Joe’s, life? It is the sinful nature that’s in control.
When Paul wrote the people of Corinth, he called them brothers. He recognized them as Christians. He said, “I wrote to
you BROTHERS, not as spiritual men…” You can be a spiritual Christian or a carnal Christian. A carnal Christian is one
controlled by the flesh. The word carnal comes from the word carnivorous. Carnivorous is a flesh-eating animal. If you
are a carnal Christian, it means the flesh is in control of your life.
Then Paul, in his own desperation, wrote this in Romans 7:24:
What a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life dominated by sin?
He was a Christian when he wrote that. Have you ever met any miserable Christians? Have you ever been a miserable
Christian? Are you at this moment a miserable Christian? We’ve all been there at some time in our life.
“What a miserable person I am!” Then Paul says this: “Who will free me from this life dominated by sin?” What Paul
has just described is a defeated Christian. It’s a Christian living in the wilderness. It is a Christian who is not spiritual,
not where God wants them.
That brings me to the final picture. That’s the picture of sanctification.
Sanctification is where God gets all after that skull and crossbones in your
life. Sanctification is where the role is reversed. That sinful nature is still
there. It won’t be removed ultimately until we are in Christ’s presence,
glorified, then the sinful nature will be gone. In the meantime, we can have
the victory over that sinful nature. This is what sanctification is all about.
Toward the end of Romans chapter seven, when Paul asked this question,
“Who can free me from this life dominated by sin?” in the very next verse,
he answered his own question. Verse 25 says,
Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
He says, “I know who can deliver me. Jesus can!” I want you to understand this. Here is one of the struggles we have
in the Christian life. We see part of our life under the control and dominion and power of sin. We know we are
Christians, the power and sinful nature is on top, frustrating the Holy Spirit. Many of us think, “What I really need is to
get into a support group. What I really need is to get into some sort of self-help thing.” We have a gazillion support
groups here because we believe in the power of discipleship, and God wants that. I want you to understand something:
Sanctification is not just a discipleship program. Sanctification is not just an effort to do better. Sanctification is not just
learning more scriptures. Sanctification is not just a case of trying to do better. Sanctification is a work of Jesus Christ by
which He breaks the bondage of sin in your life and which, by His power, the Holy Spirit overcomes and it is a work of
God, not a work of man.
It is what John Wesley experienced when he went into the Aldersgate Hall in England. John Wesley was a young man
who wanted to serve God, but he was like Paul. He saw so much sin in his life and so many things in his life that weren’t
going well. He went in and knelt and began to cry out to God at Aldersgate. He said, “I felt my heart strangely warm
within me.” He said when he left that place, “I knew that how I came in was not ay I was leaving. I went in a Christian
who was dominated by sin. But I walked out with the power of the Holy Spirit, and I knew I could live it. I knew I could
walk in it.” And from there on, John Wesley began to talk about a sanctified life, a holy life.
You can live clean. You can live victorious. It doesn’t mean you’ll never sin, but it means you’re free to live right. Why?
Because God has done a deep work in your heart. That’s what sanctified is.
When I grew up in church, we used to give testimony, “Thank God, I’m saved, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost.”
We didn’t know what it meant, but we hoped we had it.
It doesn’t mean you’ll never sin, that the sinful nature is gone. It means you’re free. It means now the flesh is being
frustrated by the Holy Spirit. Now the flesh is being grieved by the Holy Spirit. Now the flesh is being quenched by the
Holy Spirit. It happens when you surrender your heart to God, and there’s that moment when God says, “Now is the
time,” and the Holy Spirit brings out the power that’s within you and the flesh is now being crucified. That’s what Paul
meant when he said, “I am crucified with Christ, yet I live. Not I, but Christ lives within me” (Galatians 2:20). That’s
what it means.
People will ask me, “Do you believe sanctification is an instantaneous thing or a progressive thing?” My answer to that is,
“Yes!” I have been instantaneously sanctified several times. Let me explain what I mean by that.
There have been times in my life--I’m sure, just like yours--where the flesh was in control and I hated what I was doing.
I’d ask God to forgive me then do it again. I’d ask God to forgive me, and He did. But there came a point in crying out
to God and seeking God that God instantaneously sanctified me. I knew when I got up from that time of prayer that
issue would never be in control of my life again. It would never control me again.
How did it happen? It happened by the grace of almighty God, by the power of the Holy Spirit. How did that happen?
It happened by seeking God. There has been more than one time in my life that I have experienced that kind of
sanctifying power, when God broke a chain of bondage in my life. I believe at that moment, I was instantaneously
sanctified in that area of my life.
I also know there is the walking it out every day. It is not just a matter of trying to do better. It’s submitting yourself to
God. Paul said in Galatians 5:16:
If we walk in the Spirit, we will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
That means when I walk away from it that time, I know that I know that it has been broken in my life.
Here’s what I believe. I believe that when you are born again, instantaneously the Spirit of God comes into your life.
You receive Jesus by faith, and the Holy Spirit comes in. But I believe this sanctification thing, many times, is a wrestling
match between you and God because your sinful nature is strong. That’s why sanctification, many times, is spending
time in prayer with God.
I tell people when Jesus Christ comes into your heart, it’s like the Marines have landed at the beach. The flesh is firing
because it doesn’t want God to be in control. But the King of Kings and His forces have arrived on the beach. But Jesus
is not satisfied staying on the beach. The purpose of landing on the beach was not to stay on the beach. The purpose
was to reach the control center of the enemy and to fight into the control center.
Sanctification is you seeking God and, by the Spirit, He is moving into the control center of your life until He captures it
and, as the scripture says, “brings everything into obedience” (2 Corinthians 10:1-6). We pull down every stronghold,
every area of flesh, every area of spirit domination, and we pull it down and bring it under the control of Jesus Christ.
We don’t do it, but He does it.
Coming to that point in a sanctified life, many times, is a wrestling of the Spirit of God within you. That’s what Paul was
talking about. There is a fight going on inside. Here’s what many of us do. We get tired of the fight and give up. We
decide to live as a defeated Christian. We never experience that breakthrough of sanctification by which God will sanctify
and cleanse you. God wants you to have a breakthrough of sanctification by which, when you leave that time of prayer,
you know that you know you are not the same person who walked through that door when you came in.
That is what sanctification is. It is the cleansing, the freedom to walk free. That’s why Paul said in I Thessalonians 5:23:
May the God of peace sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit, soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the
coming of our Lord.
I heard a story one time of a little lady who went to a small church. Every service, she would kneel at the altar and have
her prayer time. But there was always a man kneeling there next to her, having his prayer time, and she couldn’t help
but hear what he prayed about every now and then. She noticed he would pray a common prayer. He would say, “Oh,
God, would you take your heavenly broom and sweep these spider webs from my soul.” Next week, he would kneel and
say the same prayer, “Oh, God, would you take your heavenly broom and sweep these spider webs from my soul.”
Sunday after Sunday, he would say, “Oh, God, would you take your heavenly broom and sweep these spider webs from
my soul.” Finally, the little lady couldn’t take it anymore. She leaned over and whispered, “Why don’t you tell God to
take the broom and kill the spider?”
That’s what sanctification is: when God takes the broom and swats the spider. You see, many of us live defeated lives.
Every week we come and say, “Oh, God, here I am. I blew it again. I sinned again.” God is gracious and merciful and
will forgive you.
But that’s not how God wants you to live. God doesn’t want you to live from one defeat to the next defeat. The Bible
says, “With unveiled faces we behold Him and we are changed from glory to glory, from grace to grace, from faith to
faith.” That’s how God wants you to live.
You saw the pictures of Joe up here. If we took Joe’s name off, which one of the pictures would you put your name on?
Are you the first Joe – you’ve never really become a Christian? Let me ask you a question. Do you know one of the sure
ways you can know if you are a Christian? Do you remember when you weren’t a Christian? Only a Christian can
remember when he wasn’t a Christian.
Some of you may have been like me and got saved when you were very young, and I remember when it was. But I’m
saying, do you remember when you weren’t a Christian? If you can’t remember that, chances are, you’re probably not a
Christian now. Christianity is not something that you kind of ooze into. You can’t just say, “Well, I guess I’m a Christian.”
You’re not a Christian just because you were born in Chattanooga. You are a Christian because there was a point in your
life when you moved from darkness into light, from death to life. My question to you, is the first picture a picture of you?
Maybe you are one who says, “I’m a Christian, but there is a spiritual struggle going on inside of me. In fact, that picture
where it showed the sinful nature dominating is me. I’m living a defeated life. I know I’m saved because I want to do
right, but I’m living defeated.” Is that you?
God says you don’t have to keep living that way. He offers you the freedom of sanctification. There will be some
wrestling going on inside of you as the Holy Spirit works, but there’s a point where that picture can be reversed, where
the Holy Spirit is on top, where the flesh is being frustrated. That’s how God wants you to live.
Series: Understanding the Big Words - City Church of Chattanooga, Chattanooga, TN
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