Sanctification Isn’t An Event, It’s A Process (a really, really long process)

intent
Replica of a diagram found in Scott Brown’s “Intentional: A Disciple Making Catalyst” material

As I write this, I can hear the Shabbos tunes my (Jewish) wife is playing on her iPad. Seems appropriate, although quite frankly, neither of us are observing Shabbos in any sense.

Several weeks ago, I attended an all day Saturday workshop at the Lutheran church where I take Mom. It was presented by Scott Brown of Chosen People Ministries. Scott lives in New Zealand and his ministry down there is called Celebrate Messiah. It specializes in evangelizing to the tons and tons of backpackers New Zealand gets every summer (and since it’s south of the equator, it’s actually winter there right now).

Actually, “Celebrate Messiah” specializes in evangelizing Israeli backpackers, of which there seems to be a lot. I told my wife this (and she’s not Christian or Messianic) and she pretty much just sneered. It was the sort of look I’d expect from the Rabbi of our local Chabad or really, a lot of Jewish people, even secular Jews.

But I’m not writing this missive to talk about that.

Notice the drawing above. I did my best to replicate it from the material Scott handed out at the workshop. It was called “Intentional: A Disciple Making Catalyst”. I can’t say I agreed with everything he said, but he made some good points, including the one illustrated in the diagram I’ve posted.

It was the clearest explanation of the “Christianese” terms “justification,” “sanctification,” and “glorification” I’ve ever heard, making the information very accessible to me, and I’ve been a believer for over 20 years.

It was also a great explanation about why I still screw up.

Really, there have been times I’ve been convinced that the Holy Spirit didn’t take up housekeeping inside of me and that I wasn’t actually a Christian. There were times when I considered that maybe the Calvinists were right (they’re not) and that God simply didn’t “choose” me to be saved. If that were the case, nothing I could say, do, or believe would ever reconcile me to God.

Oh, actually this is also a really good explanation as to why King David could commit adultery with a married women, get her pregnant, murder her husband, and then lie about the whole thing until confronted about it by the Prophet Nathan, yet still be considered a “man after God’s own heart.”

But let’s take a look at Scott’s source material first. All Bible quotes are from the NASB translation unless otherwise specified.

Spirit

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… –Romans 5:1

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. –1 Corinthians 12:13

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise… –Ephesians 1:13

Soul

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. –Philippians 2:5, 12, 13

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. –Romans 12:2

Body

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. –1 Corinthians 15:51-53

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven… –2 Corinthians 5:1-2

I’m not a big fan of citing short passages of scripture to make theological points, but this is what Scott presented with his diagram.

It explains why we can indeed be “saved,” as traditional Christians say, but still keep “backsliding” into sin.

Before coming to faith, traditional Christianity considers people as slaves to sin. We just can’t help ourselves from sinning if, for no other reason, we don’t know the difference between a sin and being able to please God. We may not be in it just for ourselves, and we may give to charity, be good parents, be kind to small animals, and help our neighbor shovel snow off of his driveway in the winter (I live in Idaho, your mileage may vary), but we are still sinners, isolated from God.

Upon becoming believers, devotees and disciples of Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ), as the diagram and the scriptures say, we are dead to sin and alive for Christ:

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. –Romans 6:5-7

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. –Ephesians 4:20-24

Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. –Colossians 3:9-11

In other words, the person who was a slave to sin was symbolically buried in the tomb with the dead body of Jesus through baptism, and the person who rose out of the tomb/waters with Rav Yeshua is a completely different individual, one who is a slave to our Master and not sin.

Does that mean we can’t sin? Absolutely not. But then why do we sin if we aren’t a slave? Two reasons. The first is that we still have free will and can choose to sin. But then, you’d think it would be a no brainer to choose not to sin. The second reason is that our neurology, our habits, our behavioral patterns are still locked in our brains. If a guy likes to look at porn before he becomes a believer, even after the conversion, he will still tend to be attracted to porn.

In his presentation on people he has discipled, Scott referenced numerous men who had big, big problems surfing porn. I’m not picking on men. I’m sure that women who become believers still have all of that “fleshy” stuff in their behavior patterns as well.

So what to do?

Scott said it’s not just a matter of behavior modification. After all, a secular person can modify their behavior through various means and they’re still secular and in their sins.

For the believer, it seems like a war between their neurological behavior patterns and having the “mind of Christ.”

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ. –1 Corinthians 2:14-16

There was one thing Scott didn’t mention, and perhaps it was because he was talking to a roomful of Christians (though a significant minority seemed to be “Messianic” and a few even sung the beginning of the Shema). In his focus on Christ, he forgot about Rav Yeshua’s source material:

Behold, days are coming – the word of Hashem – when I will seal a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah; not like the covenant that I sealed with their forefathers on the day that I took hold of their hand to take them out of the land of Egypt, for they abrogated My covenant, although I became their Master – the word of Hashem. For this is the covenant that I shall seal with the House of Israel after those days – the word of Hashem – I will place My Torah within them and I will write it onto their heart; I will be a God for them and they will be a people for Me. They will no longer teach – each man his fellow, each man his brother – saying, “Know Hashem!” For all of them will know Me, from their smallest to their greatest – the word of Hashem – when I will forgive their iniquity and will no longer recall their sin.” –Jeremiah 31:30-33 The Stone Edition Tanakh

I’ve previously written about the New Covenant and the Gentile as well as how Gentiles actually have no formal covenant relationship with God. I know, controversial stuff, right?

The only conclusion I arrived at is that we are adopted in by God, not through any covenant, but by God’s sheer mercy and grace to the human race as a whole, that is, the nations of the world, all who turn to him through our devotion to Rav Yeshua.

But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” –Matthew 28:16-20

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. –2 Peter 8-9

Actually, this wasn’t something God invented with Jesus. It was his plan all along:

Also, a gentile who is not of Your people Israel, but will come from a distant land, for Your Name’s sake – for they will hear of Your great Name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm – and will come and pray toward this Temple – may You hear from Heaven, the foundation of Your abode, and act according to all that the gentile calls out to You, so that all the peoples of the world may know Your Name, to fear You as [does] Your people Israel, and to know that Your Name is proclaimed upon this Temple that I have built –1 Kings 8:41-43 The Stone Edition Tanakh

Hashem has reigned: Let peoples tremble; before Him Who is enthroned on Cherubim, let the earth quake. Before Hashem Who is great in Zion and Who is exalted above all peoples. Let them gratefully praise Your great and awesome Name; it is holy! Mighty is the King, Who loves justice. You founded fairness. The justice and righteousness of Jacob, You have made. Exalt Hashem, our God, and bow at His footstool; He is holy! Moses and Aaron were among His priests, and Samuel among those who invoke His Name; they called upon Hashem and He answered them. In a pillar of cloud He spoke to them; they obeyed his testimonies and whatever decree He gave them. Hashem, our God, You answered them. A forgiving God were You because of them, yet an Avenger for their iniquities. Exalt Hashem, our God, and bow at his holy mountain; for holy is Hashem, our God. –Psalm 99 The Stone Edition Tanakh

I am Hashem; I have called you with righteousness; I will strengthen your hand; I will protect you; I will set you for a covenant to the people, for a light to the nations; to open blind eyes; to remove the prisoner from confinement, dwellers in darkness from the dungeon. –Isaiah 42:5-7 The Stone Edition Tanakh

In fact, this last passage is very similar to the haftarah Rav Yeshua read in the Nazareth synagogue (Isaiah 61:1,2 [see Septuagint]; Isaiah 58:6):

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. –Luke 4:16-20

But what’s all that have to do with Scott’s diagram?

I believe that the process of us being sanctified is ongoing. Certainly, we haven’t been glorified yet because Rav Yeshua hasn’t returned and we haven’t gotten our glorious, immortal physical forms yet.

New Covenant times have cracked the door of reality but aren’t actually here. Thus having the “Torah written on our hearts” (I’m not sure how that works for a Gentile given our non-covenant status or the fact that we are not obligated to Torah in the manner of the Jewish people or Israel) is in process but not complete. We are in the long-lasting process of sanctification, which only makes the struggle with our “flesh” more difficult.

Scott was clear on the point that the old man is truly, irrevocably dead. Struggles with sin are not a fight between the old man and the new man (or woman). Our old nature is gone forever, according to Scott, but our old patterns and habits (the flesh) are still present. Being sanctified is ongoing and will continue until the prophesy in Jeremiah 31 is realized. No wonder this stuff is hard.

Still, I take comfort in reading Paul’s letter to the Romans, which I just completed as part of my annual cover-to-cover Bible reading:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. –Romans 8:1-11

Actually, the entire chapter encapsulates Scott’s remarks and my renewed understanding.

Bottom line. We have something to shoot for. The struggle with being human, the habits of a lifetime, the difficulties that continually assail us as mere mortals is real, but the goal isn’t just to modify our old behaviors, but to live out the fact that we are in the process of becoming new human beings one day at a time.

There’s hope.

Oh, this is all derived from only part of one page in Scott’s material, so I’ve got plenty of data from which to craft additional more blog posts. This is only the beginning.

And Now For Something Completely Different

If you are a science fiction fan, I invite you to pop over to my other blog “Powered by Robots”. I was recently interviewed by Will Martinez of Dark Fringe Radio about my SciFi short story “The Recall.” I haven’t had the nerve to actually listen to it yet, but anyone who wants to can go for it. Let me know what you think.

EDIT: My wife was listening to this, and I didn’t realize how much I needed to hear it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVhE7_AUtNI

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12 thoughts on “Sanctification Isn’t An Event, It’s A Process (a really, really long process)”

  1. Inspiring music video … and the essay wasn’t exactly chopped liver either! I find that many people don’t have a good handle on the notion of “spirit”, or “soul” for that matter, hence a chart such as you showed doesn’t necessarily help as much as it might do. The notion of “spirit” is such an ephemeral component of the human makeup, reflected in fleeting emotions, and attitudes of outlook, and even in fundamental beliefs (sometimes fleeting, sometimes entrenched). But the decision and commitment to pursue the results of repentance, turning to the ways of HaShem and repudiating former errors and wrong behaviors, as well as adopting the hope of doing rightly, and the optimism that doing so will be beneficial both individually and corporately, changes the former spirit at its most fundamental level. It can still be contaminated by exterior assault, like being splattered by mud, but it can be quickly re-cleansed because its basic interior nature and commitments weren’t affected.

    A similar cleansing can be performed on a “soul”, but it takes longer because it consists of long-standing patterns of habit and learning and conviction. These same elements can strengthen it when they are changed to right patterns, but they inhibit the process of correction from wrong patterns. We can see an extreme illustration of this in addicted behaviors and the difficulty of rehabilitation. Among the elements of the corrective process are changes in former assumptions and beliefs and self-image. Inculcating these changes, and internalizing them thoroughly, can be as difficult and conceptually painful as writing the instructions for new behavior patterns directly onto the muscle of the heart. Obviously this metaphor of the heart is not literal but an expression of rewriting the neural software stored in a human brain. Neural programming is characterized by repeated patterning of various sensory inputs, stored memories, and the endocrinal responses of the body. Many of these patterns are formed from a lifetime of processing beliefs and experiences. Changing these programmed responses can require similar amounts of time, though the time may be able to be shortened by increasing the intensity of the reprogramming patterning. But whoever said that writing a proper Torah on a human heart was easy?

    1. As always, you bring up many good points, PL. In future blog posts, I’ll try to fill in the gaps since, you’re right, the topic is complex with a lot of “spinning wheels.”

  2. I am going to copy/paste this into a Word doc, including PL’s cogent comments, single-space it in Ariel 12, and then print it to read slowly, thoughtfully, with a highlighter and pencil, as well as save in a folder that I need to make so I can gather all my James Pyles docs in one place.

  3. Good music video. I love their other songs, ‘All you Got’ and ‘Ya’alili’. I see they have many songs I have not heard. I always enjoy what you write. Personally, I believe these are the days of the spirit of Elijah- restoration of Torah, not only to Israel, but to those whom are coming to the reality of a Jewish Savior. Shalom, friend.

  4. May I ask you a different question James? How is it like to live with a Jewish wife who don’t believe Yeshua as Messiah? i guess love is stronger than faith (1 Cor. 13:13), so in His Chesed and Word and Spirit, Christian can be united and become one flesh with a Jew. yet just curious how do you deal with times when you confront with your wife in major theological and practical matters?

    1. There’s a quotation by William Booth that begins, “The chief danger of the 20th century will be religion without the Holy Spirit …” I would have agreed with this in the past but I no longer do. I don’t think there is any evidence that Yahweh’s spirit has been active here on earth in any way comparable to what we read of in the New Testament. Instead, Christianity has just claimed for 2000 years that God dwells in Christians and gives them power unbelievers lack, but I see no proof to back up this faith claim.

      I disagree with Scott’s view that sanctification differs from behavior modification. I think they’re one and the same and this is why adherents of every religion (or those who aren’t even religious) are able to do it with similar results.

      1. You might consider, Peter, that behavior modification is accomplished by means of external stimuli, whereas sanctification proceeds from internal stimuli. The difference in results might be detectable in terms of the degree of self-actualization, but I’m not certain because I’ve never considered how one might monitor, document, and test the alternative processes to compare them. As for the miraculous activity of HaShem’s Spirit in the modern era as compared with the reports recorded in the apostolic writings, or in earlier Tenachic literature, there are several problems associated with the validation of such anecdotal reports. We are unable to evaluate the quality of the ancient writer’s observations or their psychological state, and we are even limited in our appreciation of their terminology and cultural referents. Numerous modern observers have reported occurrences of numinous activity; but moderns often seek non-numinous explanations for the events, and any evidence that might verify a numinous instigation that might verify HaShem as the source is ephemeral and non-persistent, hence unverifiable. Even the parting of the Red Sea in ancient times can be explained as weather-related phenomena, though its coincidental timing must also be taken into account. A healing of one reportedly born blind might be explained as a psychologically-induced relief from a childhood inducement of an “hysterical” (i.e., trauma-induced) blindness. Have such things happened in the modern era? We might ask how they would have been recorded or reported even if they did occur. I can report my own anecdote of a close encounter with HaShem’s Spirit, in terms comparable to the events reported at the beginning of Isaiah’s and Jeremiah’s prophetic ministries. Does that really prove anything about the activity of His Spirit in the modern era? It certainly has had great impact on my life, but should it be deemed important to anyone else? All that I can say about it could be reduced to little more than Shakespeare’s comment from Hamlet to his friend Horatio, that one may know there is more in heaven and earth than dreamt in his philosophy. I can say that the veil between heaven and earth, between the numinous and the material, can be very thin at times to those with eyes to see. Can one research reports of such events to become sufficiently aware of them so as to increase the probability of encountering them personally? Perhaps so. That was the advice I heard offered some fifty years ago by someone who had done so. In my case, no such research was required. The event just came upon me; and it was during the process of a later discussion about it with someone experienced in such matters that the advice was offered for comparison.

        As for the distinction between Christians (or Jews like myself) and “unbelievers”, vis-à-vis the power of HaShem’s Spirit within their lives: no one should expect those whose lives are committed into HaShem’s care should be expected to demonstrate the powers of a superhero, on demand. But an observer of their lives may be able to detect a difference that could be attributed to that Spirit, whether or not specific numinous events happen to transpire in addition. The lack of faith-based miracles can be attributed, however, to another cause — which is a kind of ignorance about how and why such events may occur. It is also a consideration that HaShem may deliberately refrain from extraordinary action, or hide His activity, for reasons of His own. One such reason that I would suspect is to prevent it from being confused or conflated with counterfeit phenomena that have been merely psychologically induced. Humans have been performing such “magic” or “ecstasies” for a long time, in various religious frameworks. The more prevalent is such behavior in any given locale or era, the less I would expect to see direct intervention by HaShem. One exception, notable for it rarity as well as for its severity, was the contest between the prophets of Ba’al and Eliyahu for the allegiance of the people of Israel to their covenant with HaShem. That’s the kind of event one should not expect to see more than once in an hundred generations. One should not therefore draw the false conclusion that HaShem doesn’t continue to take some sort of active role in our history.

      2. ProclaimLiberty, I appreciate your thoughtful reply. I used to have events that I used in my life as proof of the Holy Spirit’s activity, but when I recently decided to evaluate them more closely, I realized they could be attributed to my imagination or power of suggestion.

        I’m not convinced God’s spirit is active in this world in any supernatural way. Instead, when I consider the lack of evidence, I’m more comfortable taking a deist approach and saying God likely uses the laws of nature to bring about that which he desires. (Unlike most deists, however, I’m not comfortable saying miracles could not happen.)

        If it were just a lack of miracles, I might still argue (as I did in the past) that God now works in more subtle ways sanctifying his children, but as I mentioned in my earlier reply, what we call “sanctification” seems indiscernible from what the rest of the world calls behavior modification.

      3. Perhaps the fundamental question, Peter, is one of how it might be possible to discern a difference between an externally-driven, numinous event, and one that is merely internal and psychologically driven. In my case, I have an advantage in that there was nothing to attribute to the power of suggestion. The surroundings could not have prepared me for the experience, nor did any of my prior experiences. It was quite unexpected. Hence it could be deemed easier to discern, and I would venture that criterion of unexpectedness as more generally useful. However, beggars can’t be choosers, and one must discern as best one can within the characteristics of a given event. I agree that some events could be entirely indistinguishable from extraordinarily psychological or physical events, more’s the pity. But some degree of discernment might be obtained from an examination of subsequent effects, insofar as they impel one or more individuals to align themselves better with HaShem’s Torah principles, or in the case of Jews, with its specific cultural praxis. In other words, you shall know them by their fruit. The difficulty there is one of subtlety, from the narrow perspective of trying to verify external influence and distinguish it from solely internal events.

  5. The work of the Holy Spirit is available today. However, since early in the centuries, the emphasis of power in public view was redirected. Likewise, many people (most) today are confused in thinking they have accessed the Holy Spirit to change their lives when what they’ve done (what they’ve been evangelize to) is about a counterfeit political movement.

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