You cannot rightly call yourself a Christian if you haven’t repented. Do you recall the first time you repented before the Lord of glory? No feeling in life can transcend higher and be more satisfying than to be at peace with God. Yet, for many Christians, repentance is merely a thing of the past—something they did when they entered the family of God, but not something they do on a regular basis. Take this opportunity to pause and consider how the child of God should repent frequently—perhaps even daily.
The Privilege of Repentance
We were once enemies of God. That’s what Paul writes in Romans 5:10. Take time to let that thought sink in for a moment. We had rebelled against holy God and rejected his sovereign rule. We transgressed his holy law and walked in disobedience to his good commands. Yet, God graciously came to us and sought us when we were strangers wandering from the fold of God. It was sovereign grace and mercy that granted us the privilege of repentance. In our culture that’s saturated by “rights” that are demanded and expected, we must remember that God did not owe us the gift of repentance (2 Tim. 2:25). In Matthew 3:2, we are called to repent. The word repent is taken from the Greek term, “μετανοέω” which literally means to change one’s mind, to change direction as a result of conviction and remorse.”
Beyond salvation, the privilege of repentance is granted to God’s children on a daily basis. We have access to the throne of God and we have a glorious mediator who is none other than Christ the Lord (Heb. 4:16; 1 Tim. 2:5). Why would we have such privilege and access to God’s throne and forsake it? Has God and his throne become too common and casual for us that we have been tempted to neglect such privileges? What about the responsibility of repentance? Have we simply failed to obey God by avoiding repentance?
The Posture of the Christian Life
When rightly understood, the Christian cannot fulfill the Christian life outside of a proper posture of repentance. A life of pride and self-sustaining knowledge and power displeases God (James 4:6). When rightly understood it will be clearly seen that every area of your life is stained by sin and stands in need of repentance on a regular basis. Repentance is difficult because it requires us to be honest about ourselves and we don’t enjoy being honest about our own failures. John Flavel stated, “It is easier to cry against one-thousand sins of others than to kill one of your own.”
While justification is a one time legal declaration—a verdict that will never be repeated, sanctification is something that is in progress. The forward motion of sanctification demands repentance. When properly understood, even our worship stands in need of repentance. If we’re honest and if we undergo a proper examination, even our prayers stand in need of repentance. The totality of who we are is corrupted by sin.
The proper response to the sins of our flesh as we journey onward in this body of sin—is genuine and honest repentance. Without repentance, it’s impossible to walk with God. A.W. Pink once stated, “The Christian who has stopped repenting has stopped growing.” Who among us can honestly state that they have lived a life of genuine perfection since their conversion? Even the smallest sin stands in the way and holds us back from properly glorifying God and enjoying him forever. We must find ourselves turning to God regularly as 1 John 1:9 teaches.
When Paul found himself held captive once again in the grip of sin—he turned to God. He didn’t look inward to himself or to the outward world of psychology for a self-esteem boost. He looked upward to God. Notice Paul’s prayer at the end of Romans 7:
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin (Rom. 7:24-25).
I once heard a man lament as he was looking at the schedule of a Christian conference. His complaint was that the upcoming session was going to be centered on John 3:16 and according to his thinking, he didn’t need to hear another sermon on that since he was already a Christian. Perhaps we have all been guilty at times of thinking that the gospel was only needed to save us, but it’s not needed to keep us faithfully walking with God. A person who rejects the need to repent is someone who is likewise rejecting their need for God. Without a walk that includes repentance, we cannot faithfully walk with God.
With much talk about being a radical Christian in this life, I would argue that what’s desperately needed is faithful sanctification of believers as they live out ordinary Christian lives in the face of a present evil culture. What should be seen as radical is the acknowledgement of Christ without a pursuit of holiness. For the Bible clearly states that without holiness, “no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Therefore, what’s required in this life is a steadily and consistent pursuit of Christ and without it, we have no assurance of salvation.
Sanctification: Pursuing Christ Daily
When it comes to sanctification, we see that God has sanctified us set us apart positionally from slavery to sin (Rom. 6:20-23). However, there is a progressive nature to sanctification whereby the Holy Spirit causes true believers to pursue Christ on a daily basis. Paul prayed for the believers in Thessalonica—for them to be wholly sanctified (1 Thess. 5:23). He understood the process had begun in them, but he was praying for that work to be continually (daily) working in them.
Far too often, Christians live with an eye on the past while completely ignoring the present nor having any serious concern for the future. For many, Christianity has been relegated down to a past decision rather than a present and ongoing reality. It is the calling of the Christian life to daily follow Jesus—not just one time in the past. If we daily follow Jesus, the path we decide to walk will be drastically different than the many worldly paths that compete for our attention. It is through Christ that we are daily transformed as Paul stated to the church in Philippi as he was personally striving to achieve (Phil. 3:12).
Sanctification Leads to Transformation
What Christian denies the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? However, it should go without saying that if the Holy Spirit lives within God’s people—his ministry is to make us holy. He is not the carnal Spirit nor is he the worldly Spirit. God has made it clear in Scripture, that his calling upon his people (both OT and NT) is a consistent call to pursue holiness (1 Pet. 1:16). Such a pursuit of God in sanctification leads us to a life that is transformed by the power of God. In short, it looks different than the world and different than it did from the first day we started to follow Christ (1 John 2:15).
Once again, as has already been stated, for too many Christians the eye is focused on the past. That initial transformation that took place through the new birth which resulted in a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). However, there is more to the story than the initial transformation. There is a constant transformation that is the result of a progressive pursuit of Jesus. In Romans 12:2, we find Paul stating the following:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
The “transformation” that comes as a result of the renewed mind is obvious to the individual and those who know the person best. Such a transformation comes through repentance of sin, victory over sin, and maturity in the faith. We are called to pursue Christ, but this pursuit is an ongoing growth of spiritual maturity that results in a sanctified life—a life of holiness.
Sanctification: Spiritual Warfare
Sanctification is not for sissies. The man or woman who takes the Christian life seriously and pursues God faithfully will begin to see that it’s filled with conflict. There is both internal conflict (Rom. 7:14-25) and external conflict as a person breaks with friends and habits who are tightly tethered to the tentacles of this evil world. Such conflict is often difficult and burdensome.
It was the Puritan William Gurnall who once described the spiritual warfare of the Christian and his struggle with Satan’s forces as a war that made all of the bloody battles of human history look like “sport and child’s play.”  To war against the flesh is a horribly difficult battle and it’s precisely that battlefield where we will spend much of our time until we are ushered into the presence of King Jesus by death. It is through daily repentance that a believer gains strength and victory over formidable forces that stand against us and hate us due to our relationship to Christ.
Whoever said the Christian life would be a cake walk? However, if Christ is our Master—it is our duty and high obligation to pursue him faithfully to the very end. May the aged accusation of our churches being filled with hypocrites die a final death as the children of God not only repent of sin and follow Christ in the beginning, but continue to repent and follow him on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis.
We must find hope in the words of Scripture that point to the promise of God’s completed work in us (Phil 1:6). As John Flavel stated, “Did Christ finish His work for us? Then there can be no doubt but He will also finish His work in us.” This world is filled with ordinary sinners, but what we need is for the world to be filled with ordinary Christians.
- William Gurnall, The Christiain in Complete Armour: A Treatise of the Saints’ War against the Devil (1662-1665; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 2.
I recall walking into my father’s room as a boy and seeing him sitting in the bed reading his Bible. It was his custom to read in the evening just prior to going off to sleep. When we traveled together, I recall him reading his Bible in the hotel room in the evening, at the beach condo, and in the tent while on a hunting trip. In fact, the habit of reading the Bible daily was something that I can recall my father doing and I also recall how he taught me to do the same thing (as he often encouraged a Proverb per day along with other readings).
When it comes to our physical health, doctors tell us that our eating habits will shape us (both externally and internally). If eating habits and exercise habits are important for the physical body, how much more are the spiritual habits of those who are children of God? Jerry Bridges once penned these words, “Habits are the thought and emotional patterns engraved on our minds. These internal habit patterns play just as forceful a role as external influences on our actions – in fact, perhaps more so.”  We are called to a life of sanctification, always moving and always learning which will lead to a life that is always conforming to the image of Christ. In order to do so, we must develop good habits that will shape us in the journey of faith.
Bible Reading: If you read four chapters of God’s Word each day, you can read the entire Bible in a year. I remember David Miller (an evangelist friend) who has much of the Bible memorized telling me once that he went for a span of ten years reading sixteen chapters of God’s Word every single day. That allowed him to read the Bible in its entirety four times each calendar year. No matter if your goal is to read the whole Bible within the span of twelve months or to simply be reading the Bible everyday, it’s a good habit to form and it helps you worship God on a daily basis. Look for good plans (in both print and app version) to help you stay on track daily over at ESVBible.org.
Prayer: One way to commune with God on a daily basis is through his Word and that naturally opens the heart to pray. We must move beyond using God as a glorified bellhop to bring us answers to urgent needs or blessings to make our heart rejoice. We must carve out time to adore God and to thank him for what blessings we’ve already received from him. Consider how the habit of prayer will transform your life, your speech, your anxiety, and your worship.
Christian Fellowship: Far too much effort is placed on secular fellowship to the neglect of Christian fellowship. Read in the book of Acts and throughout the epistles and notice how often the church is spending time together in fellowship, prayer, breaking of bread, and all of this was on a daily basis. It really is true that the people you spend time with will shape you and leave a mark upon you. We need good marks and in order to be shape others and be shaped by others is to intentionally carve out time for Christian fellowship. How many times have you heard of someone in your local church complaining about not connecting well with others all while they spend more time complaining than they do intentionally inviting others into their lives. Christians need community and friendships that are robust and healthy—producing a higher fellowship than can be attained through a football gathering over pizza.
Journaling: You might not be the diary type, but a journal where you track your progress in prayer and Bible reading along with your own progress in the faith is a very healthy habit. In this journal, you might have some longer entries while others might be brief. At times you might just doodle and write down simple thoughts, but it will serve as a means of charting progress in the faith.
Fasting: One of the great disciplines in the Christian life is fasting. To go without food deliberately for the purpose of spiritual progress through prayer and Scripture intake can be enormously helpful in demonstrating the need for God over food. The body will scream for food, but as you continue to give your body more of God—you begin to settle into a sanctifying dependence that awakens holy affections and enables you to mortify sin.
Note Taking: Beyond the practice of journaling, the art of note taking can help a person connect thoughts and put on paper helpful nuggets of information that will increase learning and provide easier opportunities of discipleship. Some people prefer to use shorthand during note taking, but whatever works best for the individual should be the method while at the same time staying away from complete sentences when possible. There have been studies that link handwritten notes and the brain (especially in men) to a greater capacity of retain information.
Reading (other than social media): One of the best ways to grow as a Christian is to read good biblical literature. This would involve a good commentary and it could include resources such as technical, pastoral, and even study notes in a good study Bible. Going beyond the typical devotional reading is best. To take on a book on a particular subject by a reputable author is a good practice that will help you think through theological issues and increase your faith in God. If you don’t know where to begin, consider looking for a good reading list potentially on your church’s website or through another trustworthy ministry. You can always begin by asking your pastor for suggestions.
Serving: What a blessing it is to serve others. God has called us to serve and to exercise our spiritual gifts within the context of our local church, but we can go beyond to serve our community and those with needs in our community. It’s always a blessing to serve others and to give rather than to always be on the receiving end of such service. When it comes to the life of the church, do you show up expecting for others to serve you or do you have a desire to serve in and through your church? Faithful serving produces greater humility and prevents a selfish personality from developing.
Building a Vocabulary (especially theological): Have you been listening to a sermon from your pastor or a lesson from a Bible teacher in your church and couldn’t understand specific words he was employing? Rather than being frustrated with your inability to know the words, try jotting them down and making some effort to learn the words yourself? In fact, reading and searching through good dictionaries and theological concordances can help you build your theological vocabulary which will enable you to add additional layers of learning and discipleship as you grow as a follower of Jesus.
Exercise: It may sound crazy and a bit out of step with the rest of this list, but if you put effort into your mind and discipline yourself in discipleship, it would be a good idea to take care of your body too. Not only will a regular exercise routine decrease your stress levels and increase your physical health, it will enable your mind to think on the things you’ve been reading, the words you’ve been learning, the books you’ve been reading, and the sermons you’ve been taking in. In addition to this meditation, you can spend good quality time in prayer as you exercise. We should not neglect and harm the body that the Lord has given us. Better health leads us to a better quality of life and enjoyable ministry.
No matter what we do—whether we pray or journal or read—we must do all for the glory of God.
Why is sanctification essential for the Christian? Quite simply put, it’s God’s will for his people to be sanctified and it’s through this sanctification that each of God’s children receives the assurance of their salvation. Without sanctification there is either rebellion as a child of God or proof that a person is not a genuine Christian. “Sanctification” comes from two Latin words: sanctus which means holy, and ficare which means make. So, in a most literal sense, to sanctify means to make holy. True progressive sanctification leads away from legalism and toward joy in Christ.
Hindrances to Sanctification
The Christian life has been described as an uphill journey. Others have labeled it as an upstream lifestyle, which is the direct opposite of the lazy lagoon method of so many people who simply go with the flow through life. The world, the flesh, and the devil are actively seeking to pull God’s children off course. When Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress followed “Vain Glory” off course, it led to a discouraging end—the dungeon of Doubting Castle.
Following Bad Examples: All through the New Testament, we find Paul encouraging others to follow in his footsteps. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, he said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Ultimately we follow Christ, but in this life, we must consider the examples who walk before us. At times, we will have poor examples and we must have discernment to withstand the temptation to follow in their footsteps. Far too often Christians become lazy in their walk with the Lord and find themselves following the example of people who are often not genuine Christians or those who are living in sin.
It’s essential to follow the example of those who walk closely with the Lord. We find these words in 3 John 11, “Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.” Ultimately, the elders of your church should be setting a good example worthy of imitation as noted in Hebrews 13:7, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”
Disconnecting Yourself From the Local Church: It goes without saying that the local church is God’s will for the Christian. To disconnect yourself from your local church is problematic relationally. We need the community of the local church, not just the pulpit of the local church. It has never been God’s will for his people to journey alone in the Christian life. The “one another” and “together” passages are essential for us to consider through the New Testament. Paul writes the following in Romans 12:10, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” In Romans 16:16, Paul writes, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” The affection that we see among the early church is key to their commitment to caring for one another (see also Acts 2:42-47).
Neglecting God’s Word: Two of the most common ways to neglect God’s Word involve personal and corporate study. The first involves a lack of personal intake at home through the week. In such cases, life gets busy and the Bible remains closed as it rests on the coffee table or in the backseat of your car. The second involves a lack of intake of God’s Word through your local church. This is often due to a neglect of church attendance and a refusal to show up to be nourished in God’s Word. Many times Christians claim that they are not being fed spiritually within their church, but in all reality they’re not showing up to receive the Word of God. We must have a steady intake of God’s Word in order for us to grow spiritually and pursue holiness.
The Joys of Sanctification
The sanctified life is filled with joy because at the heart of true biblical sanctification is the pleasure of God. If the pleasure of God and a desire to be conformed to the image of Christ is not at the heart of sanctification—it quickly becomes legalism and empty religiosity. This is why Paul delighted in the law of God (Rom. 7:22), because his delight was in God—not checkbox religion. We enjoy charting the growth of our children by marks on the wall in their bedroom, but when was the last time that you charted the growth of your soul spiritually? Do you love the Bible because of your love for God?
As we grow in our faith and become more sanctified, it provides us proof that we are the children of God. It is God who sets us apart through “sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13). This is the initial work of salvation and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in bringing us to faith in Jesus. However, as we continue to walk in the Spirit, we are progressively sanctified. Jesus prayed for this work in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Paul writes the following to the church in Thessalonica, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).
Charles Spurgeon once remarked, “There can be no peace between you and Christ while there is peace between you and sin.” It’s essential to wage war on sin and to overcome it. However, shallow and empty checkbox religion describes sanctification as merely the work of “mortifying” sin, but far too often it neglects the joyful submission to Christ and the beauty of holiness. As a person is clothed in holiness, there is great joy in pleasing God and walking in glad submission and obedience to him. It is through this glad submission that true assurance of salvation (John 14:15) and spiritual fulfillment floods the soul of God’s children.
Puritan Thomas Watson explains the joys of sanctification by writing, “After the fall, the affections were misplaced on wrong objects; in sanctification, they are turned into a sweet order and harmony, the grief placed on sin, the love on God, the joy on heaven.”
Perhaps it happened this past week during your pastor’s sermon. Did you hear your pastor apologize for “preaching to the choir” during his sermon? Far too often preachers apologize when in all reality every pastor is called to preach to the choir.
If a pastor dares to “preach to the choir” in many churches, he begins to feel pressures from the “power players” to tone down his message. That phrase “preaching to the choir” carries the meaning that a preacher is now directing his message to the core of the church – the most committed within the congregation. Isn’t that exactly what pastors are called to do? Why must preachers apologize for laboring a point, ministering the Word, caring for souls, and working hard at discipleship?
If a pastor approaches his sermon with the mindset that he will be merely preaching to the choir, he is guilty of assumption and that is extremely dangerous in pastoral ministry. Pastors cannot assume that the church knows the truth, and in many cases, knows the true gospel. Therefore, it’s vitally important for pastors to preach faithfully without assuming that everyone is on the same page theologically.
Pastors Watch Over Souls
According to Hebrews 13:17, pastors are called to be shepherds of souls. The pastor is not a talking head for Sunday religious commentary. The pastor is not a religious politician. The pastor is not called to be the Sunday morning comedian. According to Hebrews 13:17, your pastor will stand and give an account to God for how he cared for your soul. If he is made to feel that he cannot preach to the choir and that all of his attention must be directed and devoted to the unbeliever while preaching to a predominately Christian audience – that would be unprofitable for the entire church. How will the church grow and mature in the faith if the pastor is not preaching specifically to the people within the church?
Pastors Confront Sin
Paul’s final words to young Timothy were pointed and reassuring at the same time. As Timothy was laboring within the Ephesian context of ministry, it was a difficult setting in a difficult city full of difficult people. Paul sent Timothy these words:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,  and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:1-5).
It is not the job of your pastor to make you feel good every Sunday. It’s not your pastor’s duty to make you laugh out loud in every sermon. The duty of your pastor is to preach God’s Word to you, and if in his preaching you are not made to feel uncomfortable at some point due to your sin, he isn’t doing his job. The process of reproving people of sin and placing a spotlight upon error is never an easy job for a pastor nor is it a pleasing process for the church, but it’s absolutely essential to the health and vitality of the church as a whole. The church that’s left to consume sin and sit under preaching that’s theology-lite and lacking a confrontation of sin will lead people to become moralistic and happy, but they will not be holy. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his well known book, Preaching and Preachers, writes, “The business of the preacher is not to medicate symptoms, it is to treat the disease.” 
Pastors Lead People to Sanctification
The pastor’s main job and duty is centered upon caring for sheep. In short, the pastor is to spend the majority of his time with the sheep, leading the sheep, feeding the sheep, and protecting the sheep. The pastor is called to a sheep ministry – not a goat ministry, therefore his sermons should be directed to the sheep – not the goats. Although it is the duty of the pastor to do the work of an evangelist, that work is primarily done outside of the church worship setting. His primary objective on the Lord’s day in his preaching is to lead the people toward holiness. Andrew Bonar once said, “A holy minister is an awesome weapon in the hands of God.” 
Paul’s words to the church at Galatia in his letter speak volumes of truth regarding the pastor’s desire to see the church growing in holiness. He writes, “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19)! The goal of every pastor should be to see Christ formed in the lives of his people. That’s his heart, his prayer, and his intent in preaching.
Consider the danger of a sin bloated church. When a church consists of people who are not pursuing sanctification, it dishonors Christ. For a pastor to direct all of his time and attention to the lost in his preaching is to abandon his post as a pastor. Psalm 23 is a wonderful picture of the shepherding role of God and it’s literally the backbone of what pastoral ministry looks like within the church. The shepherd leads and guides, but he also has a staff for protection and correction. The pastor that does not lead the church to sanctification has missed the point of pastoral ministry.
The next time you hear your pastor apologize for preaching to the choir, take time to thank him for preaching to the choir. Take time to thank him for caring for your soul. Take time to express your appreciation for a corrective application to his preaching. It’s good for you, for the church, and for your pastor that he labors in his preaching with joy. You may not think you need it, but your pastor is called to preach to the choir. You need it. The church needs it.
Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
- Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 145.
- Andrew A. Bonar, Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Carlisle, PA.: The Banner 1 of Truth Trust, 2004), 282.
This year I have set in motion some resolutions that need to be revisited in my spiritual life. Feel free to join me in this set of spiritual resolutions for the glory of God!1. Reread the Bible in 2008 (more than one time).2. Reread the Abstract of Principles – The oldest confessional document of the Southern Baptist Convention.3. Reread Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan.4. Reread Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.5. Revisit Greek and Hebrew memory cards in order to sharpen my vocabulary.Although this may seem like a short list, it is added to the pile of other “to do” things of 2008. It seems that all Seminary students compile quite a listing of things to read and to accomplish once they graduate – and I am not an exception to that rule. It is my prayer that 2008 will be a year of wonderful spiritual advancement in my life and ministry for the glory of God!Rev. Josh Buice