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Ask the Pastor: On Sanctification and Relationships

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Question:

Pastor Josh, 

In your sermon from September 10, 2017, you quoted R.C. Sproul: 

“Hardly a day goes by that I don’t hear someone say, ‘Doctrine doesn’t matter. What matters is relationships.’  If doctrine doesn’t matter, then truth doesn’t matter, and if truth doesn’t matter, our sanctification doesn’t matter, because sanctification doesn’t come through relationships.  Our sanctification comes from the Word of God and from the truth that is poured into our souls, truth that renews our minds, renews our thinking, and renews our lives.  That truth in turn, defines godly relationships.  You can’t have a godly relationship without being in the truth. You can’t even know what a godly relationship looks like without understanding the content of the gospel. Doctrine does matter.” 

Based on John 17:17-19, you stated the "agents" of sanctification are Scripture and Jesus Christ. What would you categorize things like marriage, kids, trials, etc., that are not truth, but that God uses to make us more Christlike?

Answer:

So a couple of things first... The means of grace are necessary but not sufficient for our sanctification. Means of grace being: the preached word, prayer, the gathering of the saints, etc. They are necessary in that although God could have worked sanctification in us without these means, He chose to make them necessary for our sanctification. (Much like the connection between Romans 9 and Romans 10. Election is only dependent upon God's sovereign will, but He chooses to effect salvation through the preaching of the gospel). However, the means of grace are not sufficient.  If the Holy Spirit doesn't act through these means, they will not effect us at all.  Thus the Puritan who said, "If you don't have the Holy Spirit you might as well throw your Bible away" was correct. With that being said. There are instrumental causes in our sanctification that drive us to God's word, and therefore God Himself.  In your question, you were zeroing in on this by using the language: "What would you categorize things like marriage, kids, trials, etc., that are not truth, but that God uses to make us more Christlike?"  So, below is my attempt to show how God uses those things to drive us to the Word which is the agent of sanctification.

  • A hard trial that we are facing might drive us to believe (James 1:2-4)
  • The death of a child might drive us to believe (Romans 8:28)
  • A great marriage might drive us to believe (Ephesians 5:32-33)
  • A faithful friend might drive us to believe (Proverbs 18:24)
  • A impossible job might drive us to believe (Genesis 3:17-19)
  • A fight with horrible cancer might drive us to believe (Philippians 3:10)
  • The beauty of a rainbow might drives us to believe (Revelation 21:1)
  • The fulfillment of relationships might drive us to believe (John 17:24)

God is aiming at our belief in all of these providences.  Belief in what?  Belief in Him and what He has promised.  Where do we find what His promises?  In His Word.   These things (relationships or anything else in life) by themselves can't shape us into what God desires because they are shadows, and not the substance itself.  And we know this experientially.  If we are going through a very difficult time, where do we find comfort and hope?  In His promises. Everything else we turn to is like gravel in our mouths.   Conversely, if we are in a gloriously wonderful season, it can quickly become empty and meaningless if we don't turn our eyes to Him (Luke 10:20) and bring Him glory.   

So yes God uses relationships and other things in order to make the Word come more alive.  And it's the Word that is the proper agent of our sanctification. 

*This question and answer session was based on the sermon, The Life of God in the Soul of Man, which you can find HERE.*

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