Will you turn to today’s verse, Ephesians 5:26? It runs from verse 25, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”
This is the whole truth of sanctification. To sanctify is to set apart from yourself, from the world and to God. It’s to set apart from and set apart to, therefore two-fold. And so it’s a cleansing out of the old and a filling in with the new.
For all of us that have been concerned about sanctification, or the clean heart, the key to it is the introduction that is given here. Christ gave himself up for the church. He gave himself up — that’s the key. Stephen Hawking calls it a singularity in the sense that the quantum physicists mean some point when the whole thing started and in that sense they agree with scripture. At some point in the midst of eternity, God made everything. And that’s the way to think of it. You think of eternity as being a line that goes forever with infinity at each end. Then at some point in the middle, God created and God acted. And then there is a little bit of time there. But it was at some singular point that God did everything.
We read that he did it in his own son. He made in his own son the whole universe, this whole world. And nothing was made outside Jesus. Everything was made inside of him. God made the world in Jesus and the world was made whole and good. The streams flowed as they were meant to flow and the rivers flowed into the oceans and the oceans were filled with fish. The mountains were steady and stable. The sun shone regularly each day and beauty reigned throughout the world.
When God put people on the earth at the very beginning they loved him and they loved each other. But then, some of them felt they ought to have more than they possessed. So they fought for the “more” and wars began to develop in the world itself. And while at that time they didn’t drill for oil under the oceans, yet they did similar things that affected the world itself. It’s just as we say today that the dam that the Chinese are building is so heavy with concrete that it is actually tipping the axis of the world.
All kinds of things happened which men and women began to do against each other that affected the nature and stability of the world that God had made in his son. Despite that, all that was kept in existence by the life of the son. The life of Jesus surrounded that world and those people. And whatever they did he kept the thing holding together. And as they began to fight each other and cause each other to bleed to death he held them all within himself. He held all of that and felt it. There wasn’t one person that died in war or battle that he did not feel in his own heart and life. In some sense, Jesus kept them in existence in the eternal world even though they lost their physical life. He kept them alive in the eternal world of his father because all of it was made inside him.
And so the world went from bad to worse. All this was foreseen by God before time ever began. The Father saw all of this. He saw what would happen when he gave us our free will. He saw how we would mutilate each other, how we would destroy the world, how we would bring chaos all around us. He saw
how we would spoil even the operation of the natural world. And it all took place inside his son so that in his graciousness he could preserve us in existence despite the life that we started to live.
It was then that all humanity became perverted. Where we were meant to understand with our minds what our Father was saying to us, we began to ignore that and to use our minds to work out how to manipulate the circumstances around us to bring us what we wanted. And so that’s how our personalities became perverted and twisted.
All that happened back then (pointing to a time line). God is not the God of time. He is the God of eternity and sees everything at one moment. He saw all that was yet to come before it happened. It’s just foolishness for us to say that it hadn’t happened yet. It had happened and he dealt with all the reality of that in his mind before ever it appeared in the midst of time. And so in that singular moment, when all that took place, Christ gave himself for the church. He did it because all of that had to be changed and reversed.
God could not allow all that to continue. He could not allow the beings he had made to become perverted, introverted, selfish, self-centered, and egocentric. He had to change all that, reverse it, save them, deliver them and bring them back to be what he had made them. God did that in his beloved son and he did so back then in Jesus.
At that time Christ gave himself up for the church. If God had not done that in Jesus, you and I would have no chance of being delivered from self. If that had not happened; if our old self was not crucified with Christ, there is no way in which we can overcome it. That’s what happens in “bluff (or false) sanctification”.
There are many misconceptions about sanctification. One big one is when people think it’s THEM repressing or suppressing the attitudes of anger, bad temper, envy or jealousy that they have. And so they actually live lives of suppression if it’s conscious or repression if it’s unconscious. They try to hold the wrong attitudes down but there is no way.
If God has not reversed the whole thing in his son there is no way that you can reverse it yourself. All of the errors we often make in sanctification is that we treat it as a do-it-yourself repression or suppression. We don’t realize that the whole key to it is faith in the work done. It’s faith that Christ has already given himself up for the church and has taken all this to death. He has reversed it all. Our old self has been wiped out by the power of God in his son and that is the object of our faith.
The object of our faith is not our own selfishness, anger or envy. The focus, purpose and object of faith is that all has been done in Christ. Christ has given himself up for the church and given us up with himself. That has all been done and that is reality. It’s all already taken place. He was crucified before the foundation of the world and it’s all done.
A simple question is, are we going to believe that and live in the light of it? Or, are we going to disbelieve it and live in the light of our own inability to overcome what is evil within us? So it is important that you check out, by the power of the Holy Spirit — where is the focus of my faith? Is it on what has happened to me in Christ or is it in my own ability to overcome these feelings within that are so strong?
Of course the heart of sanctification is God making real in you what has already taken place in his son. And sanctification therefore is the cleansing of all that by the Holy Spirit in the light of your own willingness to allow it to be cleansed from you. So, day by day, the reality is that you are a changed person in Christ. The old self has been crucified.
The verse today is important because it talks about the washing of water in the word and the word used is rhema. We have often talked about rhema as the word that is spoken, or the word that comes home to you as real and true. Rhema is oppossed to the word ‘logos’ which is the written word. But do you know that the word rhema is even more immediate to us? Rhema is utterance which puts the emphasis on something uttered to you at this moment.
That’s how we come into the reality of our crucifixion with Christ. Those moments in the car when you’re driving and you suddenly see how egotistic, and egocentric my attitude is on this. It suddenly comes to you as if for the first time. You’ve never seen it so clearly. That’s rhema. That’s God’s Holy Spirit endeavoring to wash you in the water of his word. He is revealing to you that you have a whole position in Christ that is different from the position that you’ve had and thought of yourself as being in.
All of us have those moments. I’ve had them particularly in the twilight hours — before you’re properly awake. But I think all of us have had them in moments during the day. It’s those odd times when we see, “that’s completely ridiculous and I’m so wrapped up in myself I cannot believe it”. That’s a rhema. That’s God’s Holy Spirit washing you in his word and bringing you into the position that he has given you in his son.
Sanctification is a very real, alive and dynamic thing. It’s a purifying and that’s part of the verse — that Christ purified us. It’s a purification or washing out of what is not him in us. And then it’s a sanctifying — a bringing in of his Holy Spirit and his own attitude. So it’s an exchanging that he does with you.
It is like that picture that I thought somehow we might be able to reproduce on the web where you would have you there and then you’d have Christ fading into you. It’s that. It’s you being washed out and Christ himself coming into you and taking your place. It is the exchanged life. And that is made possible because God has already done it in his son before the world was.
I think often it becomes for us the power of positive thinking. I have to think, “No, I’m not my own, I was bought with a price, this is not my life, it’s Christ’s and I must remember that.” That’s not it. That’s the power of positive things which is the human attempt to repress and suppress the self within. Sanctifying faith is believing that this has happened in Jesus. That has already been dealt with and he now is revealing a particular expression of that in you. And it’s almost that “now you see it , now you don’t”.
There’s a time when you don’t see the self at all. And then there is a time when you see it. I don’t know about you but there is a definite time when I’ve felt, “I’m frowning!” I could not believe it. I was lying in bed frowning! I suddenly became aware that my face was all taught and tense. The Holy Spirit makes you suddenly aware of a whole attitude you have that is unreal. It is not resting in Christ. It is utterly occupied with yourself. And that’s what God has for us. So it is a kind of dynamic alive thing. It’s not an old, dead, dry as dust, believe in sanctification. It’s a living
thing exchanging with Jesus through his Spirit every moment.
I don’t want to say that it’s fun, but it is satisfying, health giving. It’s living. It’s only possible because the work has been done. This is something that God has already done. It’s a pain that Jesus bore himself. He knows every attitude in you that is unbalanced and is untrue and unreal and debilitating. He knows everything, has borne it in himself and has replaced it with himself and his own attitude. And through his Spirit he’s endeavoring to let you see that. That’s why we use the phrase at times, “is there any of you hanging off the cross?” Is there a bit of you hanging off the cross. Is there a bit of you that isn’t quite on the cross?
I would encourage us not to get down about this whole thing. We should not be saying, “now I have it, no, I’m almost there.” No, say instead, “Lord I know you have done this already. I know I have been changed in you, now through your Spirit show me if there is anywhere that I’m not living in the power and the joy and the life of that.” That’s it. Then as you relax into that faith then the rhema begins to come through to you and begins to give you light. And of course you can see that it’s a miraculous thing because you can’t bring eternity into time. Nobody can bring eternity into time. Only God can do that. Only he can actualize in you something that has happened in eternity.
And that’s the powerful work of the Holy Spirit to actualize in you what God has already done in his Son. And that’s why it’s something that isn’t human. It’s something to look out to the Holy Spirit to do. You need to see the Holy Spirit as that real person who is able to do in you and make real in you something you can’t do and make real in yourself. That’s what is so holy about it. I’d encourage you not to get “dry as dust” about it, not to get all disciplined and uptight about it. Let your eyes go out to what God has done in his son and then let your eyes and ears to to the Holy Spirit. Listen for his word to you.
If you would ask me, “Do you not get down and discouraged?” I want to know where I’m wrong. I hate it when I’m wrong to my dear girl. I hate it. But I want to know that because that’s the place that Christ is trying to get in. That’s a place where he has life for me. If you say, “Are you always trying to prove you’re not sinning?” No, I want to know where I’m sinning. I want to know where I’m not living in the life of Jesus, where he is not living in me. I want to know that. That’s why Wesley said, “Are you pressing onto sanctification? Are you pressing on to holiness?” That’s why Jesus said, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
So, I’d encourage you to go for it — for complete and absolute victory over all of sin. Because that’s what God has done in his son. And that’s what Jesus bore. That’s why Jesus gave himself up for the church. He gave himself up to be the block upon which sin could be destroyed. He gave himself up to be the table on which God could beat down and destroy sin. He gave himself up for that so he has borne all the pain of it. And we have the opportunity to let him bear in us the victory and the glory.