Excerpt of Be Holy: Learning the Path of Sanctification

Posted On January 1, 2015

Editors Note: Recently our executive editor Dave Jenkins endorsed a new book Be Holy: Learning the Path of Sanctification by Jason Garwood. Here is what he had to say: “We are living in a time (and culture) when great confusion exists in the Church regarding how we are to grow in Christ. While many people rightly teach the biblical balance between grace and effort in the Christian life–some overemphasize grace to the neglect of effort . . . . This is why I’m thrilled to recommend Be Holy: Learning the Path of Sanctification. Garwood understands firsthand the struggles people face because he deals with them every day in his own life and pastoral ministry. He writes to help Christians and the Church to think through the issue at hand in order to more fully understand what sanctification means. . . . Jason follows in the tradition of the Reformers and the Puritans, and contemporary authors like John Piper and Kevin DeYoung, who understand this biblical balance. I highly recommend Be Holy and pray the Lord will powerfully use it in the life of His people, and for the edification of the Church, for His glory.”

The rest of this post is an excerpt taken from Jason’s book.

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41LL5X8-TdLTHE GOSPEL OF REPENTANCE

Those who wish to be holy are those who mourn over indwelling sin, not minimizing it, self-medicating with false contrition or justifying it, but rather mortifying it, putting to death the sin the lurks behind the heart. At the center of this is the biblical doctrine of repentance.

Westminster Confession of Faith 15:2 describes repentance for us,

By it, a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature, and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of His mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavouring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments.

Repentance is a change of mind, direction, will, and emotion. Here is a biblical look at repentance:

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? —Ezekiel 18:30-31

“Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. —Ezekiel 36:21

“Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!” —Isaiah 30:22

“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.”—Psalms 51:4

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” —Joel 2:12-13

“Therefore I consider all your precepts to be right; I hate every false way.” —Psalms 119:128

“I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” —Psalms 32:5

The very first word of the gospel of the kingdom is “repent” (Mk. 1:15). Repentance is a change of mind, change of attitude towards sin (you are sorry for it), acknowledgment that you did it, prayer for forgiveness of the specific sin, a belief in the gospel of Jesus that realigns where you went off track, an obedience to God’s law, and a tireless search for more repentance in your life. It is ongoing. We are to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8) because God “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

In sanctification, what we lean on for meaning, purpose, and identity—both in happiness and in misery—is our functional motivation for growth. If it’s anything other than the gospel, we have crossed the line into idolatry. This ties in to the differences between attrition and contrition. The former is sorrow because you got caught; the latter is Godly sorrow and penitence because you’ve offended God. The first is man-centered, the second is God-centered. If we do not rely on the gospel of Jesus Christ to focus our view of the law, specifically the law’s role in the believer, then we will not adequately deal with sin. The good news of repentance is that through the work of the Spirit, you can get to the heart, because, “Holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing, and realizing of the gospel in our souls.”[1]

Repentance is the realization that you can no longer trust yourself. In other words, you cannot trust your bought-with-a-price-made-new nature that still enjoys the sinful thought or two (even though you are no longer under the dominion of sin!) because the sinful flesh’s natural response to sin is to downplay it. Sin denies itself. You can’t trust your emotions, you can’t always trust what the world thinks. Repentance trusts what God thinks. You see, sanctification is oftentimes aligning your heart and emotions with the truth of God’s word. Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17:17 to, “Sanctify [us] in the truth; your word is truth.” The Spirit sanctifies us when the Word of God takes primacy in our lives.

The worship of the Triune God involves our heads, hearts and hands, but if truth does not prevail, the danger of emotionalism and works righteousness comes into play. For example, if we simply go with our hearts, as explained previously, truth will not guide our thinking. If we do not work out our sanctification from our justification (declared to be righteous and holy), then we will work out our sanctification to our justification, which is the problem of works righteousness.

So what do we do?

We preach the gospel to ourselves. Tell your soul how great God is until your heart bends to that truth. Tell your soul to “hope in God” (Ps. 42:5). Tell your mind to think on heavenly things (Col. 3:2). Tell your hands to work in the Lord because it’s not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). This process is rediscovering the wonder, beauty, and awe of the gospel. Tim Keller is helpful. “The key to continual and deeper spiritual renewal and revival is the continual re-discovery of the gospel.”[2]

Your soul needs to be realigned to the truth of God’s Word. Tim Chester has written a wonderful book on the subject of change and I highly recommend it. In You Can Change, he describes the “4G’s” that can help with this realignment process. The four G’s about God are:

  • God is great—so we do not have to be in control.
  • God is glorious—so we do not have to fear others.
  • God is good—so we do not have to look elsewhere.
  • God is gracious—so we do not have to prove ourselves.

These truths are meant to be a “powerful diagnostic too for address most of the sins and emotions with which we struggle.”[3]

Whether it is an attitude, emotion, insecurity, or behavior, truths such as these serve as an avenue to proclaim the good news of the gospel to ourselves and to each other. Since God is great, we do not have to control people or situations. He is sovereign overall and His providence is for my good. Since God is glorious, I need not fear other people, nor be crippled by the thought of having to impress them, because I fear God more. God is good, which means He is the one true source of infinite satisfaction and unending pleasure, so I need not look anywhere else for it. Finally, God is gracious, and because of His unending mercies that are new each day, I have nothing to prove, or earn. I can rest in His justifying verdict over my life. It’s not enough to just hate sin; we must replace those affections with bigger truths.

I often tell my congregation to look and stare at the cross throughout each day. What I mean is, “Look at the cross, see your need and how helpless you are, and in the same look, see how sufficient He is for you! Look again, and again, and again!” The gospel is the proclamation to end all false proclamations promised by sin, idols and evil. The heart is miserable apart from Christ. And so we repent with faith over and over again, refusing to deny our sin, lest we make God a liar (1 Jn. 1:8-10), and instead choosing obedience.

[1] John Owen, The Works of John Owen. Ed. William H. Goold. Vol. 3. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark), 370-371.

[2] Tim Keller, “The Centrality of the Gospel,” available online, http://download.redeemer.com/pdf/learn/resources/Centrality_of_the_Gospel-Keller.pdf.

[3] Tim Chester, You Can Change (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 80.

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