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Living a Life Empowered by the Holy Spirit
By A.B. Simpson
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1991 Christian Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The prominence given to the subject of Christian life and holiness is one of the signs of our times and of the coming of the Lord Jesus. No thoughtful person can have failed to observe the turning of the attention of Christians to this subject along with the revival of the doctrine of the Lord's personal and premillennial coming. The very opposition which these two subjects have received and the deep prejudice with which they are frequently met emphasize more fully the force with which they are impressing themselves on the mind of our generation and the heart of the Church of God.
A clear illustration of this fact can be seen in a weathervane. The only way we can often know the direction of the weathervane is by the force of the wind. The stronger the wind blows against it, the more steadily does it point in the true direction. The very gales of controversy indicate more forcibly the intense interest with which the hearts of God's people are reaching out for a higher and deeper life in Him, and are somehow feeling the approach of a crisis in the age in which we live.
These two truths—holy living and Christ's Second Coming—are linked closely together in First Thessalonians 5:23–24. The former is the preparation for the latter, and the latter the complement of the former. Let us turn our attention, in prayerful dependence upon God and careful discrimination, to the explicit teaching of this passage respecting the scriptural doctrine of sanctification. May the Holy Spirit so lead and sanctify us both in our thoughts and spirits that we will see light in His light clearly and our prejudices will melt away before the exceeding grace of Christ and the heavenly beauty of holiness.
The Author of sanctification
The name, God of peace, implies that it is useless to look for sanctification until we have become reconciled to God and have learned to know Him as the God of peace. A justification so thoroughly accepted as to banish all doubt and fear and make God to us the very God of peace is indispensable to any real or abiding experience of sanctification.
Beloved, is this perhaps the secret cause of your failure in reaching the higher experience for which you long? "When the foundations are being destroyed,/ what can the righteous do?" (Psalm 11:3). Are there loose stones and radical difficulties in the superstructure of your spiritual life, and is it necessary for you to lay again the solid foundations of faith in the simple Word of Christ and the finished work of redemption? Then do so at once! Accept without feeling, without question, in full assurance of faith, the simple promises, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life" (John 3:36) and "... whoever comes to me I will never drive away" (John 6:37). Then take your stand on the Rock of Ages and begin to build the temple of holiness.
The expression the very God of Peace further suggests that sanctification is the pathway to a deeper peace, even the "peace of God, which transcends all understanding" (Philippians 4:7). Justification brings us peace with God; sanctification, the peace of God. The cause of all our unrest is sin.
But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. "There is no peace," says my God, "for the wicked." (Isaiah 57:20–21)
On the other hand, however,
Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. (Psalm 119:165)
So we find God bewailing His people's disobedience and saying,
If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea. (Isaiah 48:18)
Sanctification brings the soul into harmony with God and the laws of the soul's own being. There must be peace; there can be in no other way. Sanctification brings into the spirit the abiding presence of the very God of peace Himself. True peace is then nothing less than the deep, divine tranquility of His own eternal calm.
The deeper meaning of the passage is that sanctification is the work of God Himself. The literal translation of this phrase would be the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly. It expresses in the most emphatic way His own direct personality as the Author of our sanctification. It is not the work of man nor means, nor of our own strugglings, but His own prerogative. It is the gift of the Holy Ghost, the fruit of the Spirit, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the prepared inheritance of all who will enter in, the great obtainment of faith, not the attainment of works. It is divine holiness, not human self-improvement or perfection. It is the inflow into man's being of the life and purity of the infinite, eternal and Holy One, bringing His own perfection and working out in us His own will.
How easy, how spontaneous, how delightful this heavenly way of holiness! Surely it is a "highway" and not the low way of man's vain and fruitless mortification. It is God's great elevated railway, sweeping over the heads of the struggling throngs who toil along the lower pavement when they might be borne along on His ascension pathway, by His own Almighty impulse. It is God's great elevator, carrying us up to the higher chambers of His palace without our laborious efforts, while others struggle up the winding stairs and faint by the way. It is God's great tidal wave bearing up the stranded ship until she floats above the bar without straining timbers or struggling seamen, instead of the ineffectual and toilsome efforts of the struggling crew and the strain of the engines, which had tried in vain to move her an inch until that heavenly impulse lifted her by its own attraction. It is God's great law of gravitation lifting up, by the way of sunbeams, a mighty iceberg that a million men could not raise a single inch, but that melts away before the warmth of the sunshine and rises in clouds of evaporation to meet its embrace until that cold and heavy mass is floating in fleecy clouds of glory in the blue ocean of the sky.
How easy all this! How mighty! How simple! How divine! Beloved, have you come into the divine way of holiness? If you have, how your heart must swell with gratitude as it echoes the truths of the words you have just read! If you have not, do you not long for it and will you not now unite in the prayer of our text that the very God of peace will sanctify you wholly?
The nature of sanctification
What does sanctify mean? Is there any better way of ascertaining than tracing its scriptural usage? We find it employed in three distinct and most impressive scenes in the Old Testament.
Sanctify means to separate. This idea can be traced all through its use in connection with the ceremonial ordinances. The idea of separation is first suggested in the account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis, and there, probably, we see the essential figure of sanctification. God's first work in bringing order, law and light out of chaos was to separate, to put an expanse or gulf between the two worlds of darkness and light, of earth and heaven. He did not annihilate the darkness, but He separated it from the light, He separated the land from the water, He separated the waters of the sea from the vapors of the sky.
We see Him in the spiritual realm, immediately afterwards, separating His people. He separated the family of Seth from the worldly race of Cain. He separated Noah and his family from the ungodly world. He separated Abraham and his seed from an idolatrous family. He separated Israel from Egypt and the surrounding nations. The very meaning of the word church is called out or separated. To each individual the same call comes still,
"Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you." "I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."
Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (2 Corinthians 6:17–7:1)
Sanctification then means our voluntary separation from evil. It is not the extinction of evil. It is the putting off, the laying aside of evil by the detaching of ourselves from it and placing an impassable gulf between us and it. We are to separate ourselves not only from our past sins but from sin as a principle of life. We are not to try to improve and gradually ameliorate our unholy condition. We are to put off the old life, acting as if it were no longer ourself, and separating it from our sinful self as the wife is divorced from her husband, and as the soul is separated from the body by death. We are to reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin just as much as though we were no longer the same person, and the old heart was no longer that true self (see Romans 6:11).
We are to refuse every manifestation of evil, whether from within or from without; every suggestion and temptation; every impulse that is not of God. We are to be in the attitude of negation and resistance with our whole being saying no! We need not annihilate the evil or resist it in our own strength but simply, by a definite act of will, separate ourselves from it, hand it over to God and renounce it utterly. Give Him the absolute right to deal with it and destroy it. When we do so, God always follows our committal with His almighty power and puts a gulf as deep as the bottomless grave of Christ and a wall as high as the foundations of the New Jerusalem between us and the evil we renounce.
We separate ourselves; God makes the separation good. The first decisive step in sanctification is an act of will by which we renounce evil in every form in which it is made manifest to our consciences and brought into the light. We deny further not only evil in its manifestations but also the whole evil self and sinful nature from which each separate act has sprung.
We also separate ourselves from the world and its embodiment of the old natural condition of things and the kingdom of the prince of evil. We recognize ourselves as not of the world even as He was not of the world. We put off, not merely that which is sinful, but that which is natural and human that it may die on the Cross of Jesus and rise into a supernatural and divine life. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The Holy Spirit leads us to a deeper separation, not only from the evil but also from the earthly. He lifts us into a supernatural life in all respects, and prepares us, even here, for that great transformation in which "the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:54). For as the first man was of the earth, earthy, even before he fell, so will he give place to the second man who was made a living spirit and who has lifted us up into His own likeness.
The practical force
What then, is the practical force of this thought? As God shows you your old sinful self and every evil working of your own fallen nature, you are definitely to hand it over to Him, with the full consent of your will. He then will separate it from you and deliver you wholly from its power. You are to reckon it as being in His hands and no longer having control over you or in any sense belonging to you. As He leads you further to see things that might not be called sinful and yet are not incorporated into His life and will, you should separate yourself and surrender them to Him so that He may put to death all that is apart from Himself and raise up in a new and resurrection life our entire being.
You will see that you are delivered from the death struggle with evil and the irrepressible conflict with self. Your part will be simply to hand Agag over with your own hands for execution (see account in First Samuel 15), and gladly consent that the Lord should slay him utterly and blot out the remembrance of Amalek forever.
You must surrender
Beloved, have you thus separated yourself for God to sanctify? Yours must be the surrender. God will not put His hand on the evil until you authorize Him with your glad consent. Like Joab's army of old, He encamps before your city and sends you the message that Sheba must die or the city perish, but your own hands must deliver him over. Have you done so or will you do so? Will you not now with glad consent lay your hand upon the blessed Sin-Offering's head, and transfer your sinful heart and the dearest idol it has known, to Him who "made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Sanctify means to dedicate. It is not only to separate from but to separate to. The radical idea of the word is to be set apart to be the property of another. We offer ourselves to God for His absolute ownership, that He may possess us as His peculiar property, prepare us for His purpose and work out in us all His holy and perfect will. This is the meaning of the appeal made by Paul in the statement:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)
This too is the meaning of those oft-repeated expressions where we are spoken of as God's peculiar people, which literally means, a people for a possession. This is the very ground on which the Scriptures appeal to us to walk in holiness, because we are not our own; we are bought with a price and should glorify God in our body which is God's (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).
It is true that God has bought us, but here again His infinite condescension refuses to compel our surrender, and will accept nothing but a voluntary gift. So, gladly constrained by love, we feel it a privilege to belong to Him and have Him stoop to take us in our worthlessness and be responsible for all the risks of our momentous existence.
This is what the term consecration properly means. It is the voluntary surrender or self-offering of the heart, by the constraint of love to be the Lord's. Its glad expression is, "I belong to my lover" (Song of Songs 7:10). It must spring, of course, from faith. There must be the full confidence that we are safe in this abandonment, that we are not falling over a precipice or surrendering ourselves to the hands of a judge, but that we are sinking into a Father's arms and stepping into an infinite inheritance.
It is an infinite privilege to be permitted to give ourselves up to One who pledges Himself to make us all that we would love to be—all that His infinite wisdom, power and love will delight to accomplish in us. It is the clay yielding itself to the potter's hands that it may be shaped into a vessel unto honor, and meet for the Master's use. It is the poor street waif consenting to become the child of a prince that he may be educated and provided for, that he may be prepared to inherit all the wealth of his guardian. How ashamed we may well feel that we ever hesitated to make such a surrender, or that we ever qualified it with any condition but His good and perfect will!
Beloved, have you made this full surrender? If so, how gladly our whole being says "Amen" to all that we have said of the blessedness of being only the Lord's! If not, let it be done this moment and at His feet of love prostrate yourself as a whole burnt offering and cry,
Take my poor heart and let it be,
Forever closed to all but Thee;
Seal Thou my breast, and let me wear
Thy pledge of love forever there.
Sanctify means to fill. The literal translation of the old Hebrew word to consecrate is "to fill the hand." It suggests the deepest truth in connection with sanctification, viz., that Christ Himself must be the substance and supply of our new spiritual life and fills us with His own Spirit and holiness.
After the most sincere consecration, we are but an empty possibility that He must make real. Even our consecration itself must look to Him for grace to make it faultless and acceptable. Our will must be purified and kept single and supremely fixed on Him, by His continual grace. Our purity must be the imparting of His life; our peace, His peace within us; our love, the love of God shed abroad in our hearts. Our very faith, which receives all His grace, must be continually supplied from His own Spirit.
Excerpted from Wholly Sanctified by A.B. Simpson. Copyright © 1991 Christian Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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