Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sanctification Question

Here's the scenario.

A young man comes to you and confesses that he is in bondage to something addictive (whether drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography...whatever.)

He is in distress and near despair because of his lack of victory in this area.

He is a confessing Christian, and aside from this confession, has never seemed to bear the fruit of a false convert. There's nothing you've observed in his life that would've led you to suspect that he's anything other than a growing, though imperfect, sincere believer in Christ.

Now that he's laid bare his soul to you, his desire is freedom from this sin.

What is your counsel?

(The reason I ask is because I was "raised" as a baby Christian with a Pentecostal view of sanctification, and am interested in other ideas. I'm not so much interested in your theology of personal holiness as I am what your specific counsel to a man like this guy above would be. I'm interested in how the rubber meets the road in your theory of sanctification.) nice and try to keep responses to something less than thesis-length.


TheoJunkie said...

1) There is no condemnation for those in Christ. It is proper that he is convicted (convinced) of his sin... but he should not let himself be distressed (he should not condemn himself because he is not condemned by God).

2) Thank God for him because of the evidence of Grace that his conviction demonstrates. God chastises those he loves (Heb 12)... if he felt no conviction he would be an illegitimate son. But as it is, this conviction and struggle (and pain) is evidence to him that he is God's and that God is working in him.

3) Turn to the Cross (quit focusing on his sin, and focus on the cross instead). Lay his problems before Christ, pray constantly that he may be relieved of this burden. Pray before going places where he may be tempted. Pray when he is tempted. Pray when he drops the ball. Give thanks and praise when he succeeds, and give thanks and praise when he rebounds from a fall. Give thanks and praise for every twinge of conviction when he fails, for God is treating him as a son. But do not focus on the sin, focus on Christ, the founder and perfecter of our faith. In this knowledge of the Grace of God, lift up his drooping hands and strengthen his week knees, and make straight paths for his feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather healed.

TheoJunkie said...

PS... the above -- #3 especially-- is meant as counsel/instruction for him to put into practice... not for "his friend" to "pray for him".

Gordan said...

Thanks Theo. Just the sort of thing I'm after. Please stay tuned for a bit. I'm going to wait a day or so for any more suggestions/responses, and then start asking a few follow-up questions. I'd very much like to interact a bit on this.

TheoJunkie said...


Dustin said...

Regarding your third paragraph/sentence there -- I would first ask him exactly why his lack of victory in this particular area is causing him distress.

I think it's important to figure out whether his distress has to do with the sin causing him to doubt, to any extent, the reality of his salvation. Are you distressed simply because you want God to be more pleased with you, His beloved child (which you are thoroughly confident you are), or are you fearing the fires of Hell, because this sin may be evidence that you're not His beloved child at all?

After you nail that down, you've got one of two paths to go down with the rest of what you say. You either need to 1)make him more confident in what Christ has done for him (BECAUSE he's sinful, not in spite of it), or 2)give him "practical" advice on how to get rid of this annoying, joy-stealing (but not damning) pet sin of his. But doing the latter when he actually needs the former would be, I think, a huge mistake.

TheoJunkie said...

Dustin, I agree with you... one note I would add:

or are you fearing the fires of Hell, because this sin may be evidence that you're not His beloved child at all

Fearing the fires of hell may also be simply because he has been taught bad theology his whole life (I think it is possible to inwardly trust truly-- be a real child of God-- but have this trust be overlaid with doubt due to the particular indoctrination one has been subjected to in their life).

Dustin said...

Yeah, I'd totally agree with that. I think that's what I was getting at, actually. I think lots of Christians (truly saved Christians) are hounded and tortured by bad theology--to the point of pure, paralyzing neurosis--their whole not-quite-sure-their-saved lives. (Big forehead-slapping moment once they die and find themselves in Heaven... even despite that tendency during their puny earthly life to occasionally visit that one website...)

Gordan said...

So, Theo, and Dustin, is the guy's repeated failure then due to a former lack of prayer?

If he prays really hard, will the problem go away?

Dustin said...

Dang, I just lost a brilliant rambling answer trying to post.

Oh well, short answer: no. (Not unless the pain - psychological and otherwise - of his sin has become great enough so that, in conjunction with the praying, he is also compelled to do what he needs to do to make the problem go away.)

TheoJunkie said...


Without retyping too much of what I already said... no, or yes in a sense... though not quite as you framed the question.

My main point/theory is that his repeated failures in the area are probably due to his trying to cure the problem himself. In other words, he has probably been spending a lot of time focused on the fact that he is sinning, and telling himself that he "won't do it next/this time again." Relying on himself alone, is probably his problem.

That said, his cure from this particular sin activity will come when God is good and ready to make it go away. I say this carefully, because God's sovereignty in timing of sanctification is not to be construed as any sort of license. (It is not a valid excuse to go on sinning with a rationalization that "if God wanted me to stop, he'd make me, therefore God must be ok with me sinning like this.").

Note also: Everybody is different-- I'm speaking in hypothetical generalizations, thus my excessive use of the word "probably". His particular reason for continuance in this particular sin may be something else.

Strong Tower said...

I came into the church through the Pentecostal back door too, but their not the onliest ones that play the Holiness card. Southern Baptist play it all the time.

Interesting thing that is done with sin is how we discriminate, no? Sin is sin, but how often do you have a young woman come in whose besetting sin is gossip? How's about the little white lie that we call a fish story embellishment of the one that got away. My favorite is telling my kids stories of my yoot. When telling one, they are always quite different than the way I honestly remember them...

In this I am not suggesting minimalization or equivocation, nor am I not acknowledging the severity of the sin or its impact. Merely, to put more emphasis to Theo's iteration of Romans Eight.

I had a friend who was an alcoholic. AA did him no good. AA is a typical reform program with less than a 3% success rate. Beside AA he was a Veteran and availed himself of VA recovery programs which boast a >1% success rate (statistically zero). Nothing worked. The long process of working with him was met with lies, break-ins of my residence, thefts, et cetera. One thing about him though that I knew to be true was his broken heartedness over his sin. And though I often spoke with him about Romans 8 (this was even before I became reformed), it was of no avail.

He attended SunnySide Baptist with me for a while and the most disgusting thing was the way the people there treated this man's sin. Though the pastor long endured (he was a counselor at the VA where I worked) my friend's problem, the congregation's approach was deplorable. Several did as I did, but the prevailing attitude was of condemnation. And why? Because their own sins were acceptable.

Sin though is like any other addiction even when it is only occasional. You see my friend was a binge alcoholic and the difference between that and a chronic maintenance alcoholic was the fact that his alcoholic consumption was cyclical, intermitted with periods of dryness. In other words, his sin was like that occasional sin except for the expressed manifestation.

Oh yes, the occasional lust for a new CD or beauty bar is not so bad, but wait, can you say that you will never do that again? See, it is nature and even though it might not be a maintenance addiction of everyday unfufilled anxiety until you get a fix, it is nonetheless habitual. Like my friend, once having dried out, that was just setting the boat upright so that it might be capsized again.

Another friend, a Deacon, confessed about his recent bout of anger that he had not lost control like that for some time. He believed he had achieved mastery over that sin of the flesh. But you see, and he was a Deacon that I later lead in the DoG, he did not reckon that the Scripture said that it is God who both wills and works the doing of his good pleasure.

Once we realize that it is by God's grace and mercy that we do any good, we find ourselves much more compassionate when we see our brother caught in a trespass. We are to take care lest we fall, knowing that if we stand, it is by grace. What do we have, except that which has been given to us?

Even in the most extreme cases of a brother who is unrepentent we are told not to abandon them, but to treat them as an unbeliever. Then what of the one who is broken, or at least appears so? If our neighbor comes in the middle of the night to ask for aid, do we turn him away. No, even the evil neighbor, because he is bothered will give.

True enough, we must be discerning so that we are not manipulated, but that too, will be made manifest if by the exercise of the word we have our senses sharpened to discern good from evil.

In all this ramble, I have hoped to maintain the doctrine of grace and as the man who went down to his house justified, when my brother comes confessing, would it be a demonstration of the ministry of reconcilliation to not receive it, not render aid through the ministy of the words of grace, and send them away without that which they needed? We must contend with our own sin in hope of grace no matter the extent of our slight of God, don't we? For sin is sin and worthy of death, and the only way a man is justified by the law is if he keeps it without blemish. So we should be quick to snatch our brother out of the fire and hate the sin, to give him a drink, to clothe him and not let him be seen naked (Ham's sin) and in keeping with the Lord's parable, we being evil managers of the Lord's goods, should be wise enough to give to those under our supervision so that we might be welcomed into their graces if we were likewise in need. Do to others...

The paraphrase portion of Philippians I offered, Theo completes with this thought: "sanctification is not to be construed as any sort of license." We understand, we know the fear of the Lord Paul says elsewhere, and it is that fear which works in us repentance. Think back, "Who has warned you to flee the wrath of God?" It is the same warning for the Pharisees as it is for the soldiers, "What must we do." Paul in Philippians says we know what is right, we know what is wrong and at the same time tells us that in working out this salvation we do so because it is God who is working. So Theo's advice and discernment about attempting self-sanctification is well stated. It is God who is faithful, who will complete what he has started. That comfort is our greatest weapon against sin; to put the deeds of the flesh to death by the Spirit our only hope.

We are no different than the young man exemplified and as my Deacon friend came later to recognize, the way that Christ has provided as a means of escape is still the same one, "repent and believe and you will be saved." Christ has provided himself the surety of our sanctification, Isaiah and Hebrews tells us, and because he has purchased it with the blood of the everlasting covenant, it will do what he has promised it will. It is not up to us to apply that blood. The blood was applied by the High priest and Hebrews tells us that the High Pries has entered the Sanctuary. Unlike the Levitical HP of the OT, our High Priest has sat down on the mercy seat having once for all offered the perfect perfecting sacrifice. We are to approach boldy the throne-room of grace where he is seated forever a High Priest after the order of Melchizedec. Further, Ephesians tells us that it is already concluded that we are seated with him in the most holy habitation of God. We entered in, in him, the day that he was offered a blood sacrifice and cleansed the heavenly vessels (us) forever.

What then? If he so long endured our sin, does not the Scripture instruct us to be likewise and bear one another's burdens. So goes the story anyway of "Take up your cross and follow me... No greater love has any man than he who would lay down his life for a friend.

Gordan said...

Very good. I'm pretty impressed with the answers, I think.

I was secretly hoping someone would get on here and offer a list of things the guy needs to do.

You're all too savvy for that.

For me, the answer is the gospel, pure and simple, really regardless of the man's standing before God, which I can't judge anyway, at least not infallibly.

I mean this: The Christian grows in grace and sanctification the same way he the hearing with faith, as Paul reminds the Galatians.

That, right there, is the answer. Christ, the cross, being united with Him.

This is precisely why we who are pastors do our flocks no favors by seeking at some point to move on to "greater things," as if Christ and Him crucified is merely the starting point, from which we ought to graduate fairly quickly.

Thank you for a helpful discussion, gentlemen.

Joshua Boyce said...

That was a wonderful and wholly encouraging post!