The Sanctification Cycle

Several weeks ago I preached a message at Hope Church called The Sanctifying Work of the Holy Spirit (audio is above) as part of our 5 Marks of a Healthy Disciple series. A big chunk of this sermon was taken up by an explanation of what I call the sanctification cycle. I have found that sanctification happens in four general phases. (I use the word phases rather than steps because these do not always go in order, they often overlap, and sometimes happen all at the same time.) These phases represent the cyclical work of the Holy Spirit as he forms believers into the image of Jesus. Just as we are never truly done with phase one, we never truly master phase four in this life.

As you journey with Jesus, perhaps the sanctification cycle can serve as a sort of map for where the Spirit has you. On what is the Spirit focussing his sanctifying efforts in your life? Identifying the work of the Spirit in specific terms will help you cooperate with him to achieve his goals for your good. Is he convicting you of sin? If so, what sin? How can you focus your energies on overcoming that sin? Is he empowering you for mission? If so, has he given you specific direction? Of course, it may not be so easy to identify the work of the Spirit, but having a map could help you hear his voice more clearly.

Phase One: Conviction of Sin

The first phase of the sanctification cycle is the conviction of sin. As he was describing the work of the Spirit, Jesus told his disciples that one of his primary tasks was to convict the world of sin and righteousness. This is true for every believer, too. One of the most important tasks of the Holy Spirit is to name our sin and call us to repentance. Unnamed sins maintain their hold on our lives, but God longs to set us free from the power of sin. He wants us to live in the same freedom, and with the same power over sin, in which Jesus lived.

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My last sermon as a pastor at Grace Church was from John 5:16-30. It is a rich passage in which Jesus argues for his authority to heal and judge, and I was only able to scratch the surface of it in the thirty minutes I had to preach. There was so much that I wanted to get into but couldn’t, including how Jesus referred to his resurrection, the closeness of Father and Son, and just exactly what he meant when he spoke of “life.”

Sermon-Quote-Autonomy-1Instead, I talked about why the Jewish leaders were persecuting him and how tightly they held to Sabbath-keeping. There was almost nothing that a Jew could have done in those days that would have been more offensive, more disgraceful, to both his heritage and his people than to break the Sabbath. And this is precisely what Jesus had done when he healed a man who had been crippled for 38 years, and then told him to carry his mat home with him on the Sabbath. Because of his blasphemy and sacrilegious disobedience of the Sabbath laws, Jesus was labeled a dangerous heretic.

The Sabbath had become the dominant means by which faithful Jews identified themselves. It was a primary cultural identity marker, so deeply ingrained in their way of life and thinking that it could never be called into question. We have something like that here in America: Freedom. Freedom is the American Way. Freedom is the American Truth. Freedom is the American Life. But, by making freedom a cultural idol, we have distorted and perverted it.

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The zombie phenomenon is fascinating. Our culture has become obsessed with the undead, and no show on television is capitalizing off of this phenomenon – or driving it – more than The Walking Dead. At first blush The Walking Dead appears to be nothing more than a serialized monster movie, a sprawling scare fest creeping its way into a fifth season. But I believe that the show is so much more than it appears.

Underneath that scary, monster movie exterior, is a host of deep questions that are being asked with sincerity and earnestness: Questions of the limits of science and the trajectory of society; Questions of God, faith, and the end of all things; Questions of humanity and what it means to be human – and not just to be human, but to also be good.

The zombie phenomenon in general, and The Walking Dead in particular, represents a dramatic shift in our culture toward something I call PostScience. Like postmodernism, PostScience is the belief (or perhaps the fear) that all of our scientific knowledge and technological advancement is either destroying us or will be powerless to save us from disaster. A zombie represents postmodernism’s greatest suspicion that we are doing irreversible damage to ourselves.

Beneath the suspicion of science, technology, and modernism is the terrifying idea that we cannot trust either ourselves or one another. We are postmodern not so much because modernism itself failed, but because we failed to live up to its ideals. We are PostScience not because we don’t believe in science, but because we cannot be trusted with the power science allows us to wield. It is we who have failed, and the subtle message of The Walking Dead and other zombie movies is that, with all of this great power we possess, in the end we have managed only to make monsters of ourselves.

What is the Christian response to this? Find out in my sermon from The Netflix Gospel on The Walking Dead.

This morning we began a new series at Grace Church called The Netflix Gospel. This was an idea I had several months ago, based on a series we did at LifePoint Church last year called Now Playing. At LifePoint, we examined several movies (which were in theaters at the time) for their spiritual insights and messages. In this series at Grace, we’re doing the same thing, but for TV series currently available on Netflix.

The first series we looked at was Fringe, a science-fiction epic (think: X-Files) that ran on Fox from 2008-2013. I first discovered the show on Netflix last fall, and very quickly became a fan. It follows the story of three FBI operatives as they unravel the secrets behind a mysterious sequence of events called The Pattern. The central character, Walter Bishop, is a brilliant but broken scientist trying to make up for a lifetime of destructive choices.

The spiritual arc of the show follows Walter’s journey from atheistic hubris to theistic humility. In the message, I shared two powerful scenes from the second season that demonstrate Walter’s journey into brokenness and, ultimately, a redemptive belief in God. Many folks expressed an interest in the show after the message this morning, and while I highly recommend it to adult viewers, please be aware that it gets very grotesque at times. There is a lot of blood and other disturbing material along those lines. There is also a significant amount of drug content – typically in the context of Walter’s fondness for using LSD in his experiments.

The series continues next week as we look at Breaking Bad. (Yes, I said Breaking Bad.) Then, two weeks from now, we finish out by examining the spiritual elements of The Walking Dead. (I know.) All in all, it was a fun weekend, and I think it’s just going to get better from here!

This morning I preached a sermon at Grace on Matthew 12 called Sacred Cows. Jesus and his disciples were walking through a grainfield on the Sabbath, and because they were hungry, his disciples picked some heads of grain and ate them. The Pharisees, who enforced strict Sabbath-keeping laws, were incensed by their irreverence for the Sabbath, which had become the theological symbol of Moses’ law and the litmus test for Jewish faithfulness. The Sabbath had become a sacred cow for the Pharisees, and Jesus and his disciples were, in a sense, kicking the cow. He responded to their outcry with a bold claim: The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. 

We all have sacred cows, the things that have become primary identity markers, or litmus tests of faithfulness. It could be any number of things, including politics, our family, an ideology, or even the Bible. But when Jesus declared himself Lord of the Sabbath, he made the powerful statement that he is greater than all of our sacred cows. He is the Lord of all of our sacred identity markers and theological litmus tests. When any of these things come into conflict with him – as they did through the hunger of his disciples in that grainfield – we must choose him. We cannot serve two masters; we cannot serve both God and Sabbath.

If you’ve been holding onto something the way the Pharisees held onto the Sabbath, it’s time to let go. You’re crushing it under the weight of your expectations and demands. What the Pharisees should have done, and what we need to do, is to remind ourselves of this truth and live in it daily: Jesus is greater than. Because when you get that right, Jesus can do to the Bible, and to your family, and to your politics what he did to the Sabbath – he can redeem it from a dead list of dos and don’ts and transform it into something that breathes life into your spirit, sustains your soul, and brings healing and freedom to your whole being.

 

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