Though the Holy Spirit initially sanctified me, i.e., set me apart from worldly-thinking to heavenly-thinking, when by grace I trusted in Christ (1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 2:11; 1 Pet. 1:2), the Lord calls me still to continue in that holiness, that sanctification, deeper and deeper, fuller and fuller, living and thriving in the sanctified life (1 Thess. 4:3). I have, at times, neglected my own part in the sanctifying process and the consequences of that self-hindrance resulted in some painful experiences, not only for myself but for others, as well. Yes, our progressive sanctification, our growing in holiness, can be hindered.
The apostle Paul writes: "For you know the instructions we gave you, instructions that came through the Lord Jesus. Now this is God's will for you: set yourselves apart and live holy lives; avoid polluting yourselves with sexual defilement. Learn how to take charge over your own body, maintaining purity and honor." (1 Thess. 4:2-4, emphases added) Because I disobey the command to "avoid polluting myself with sexual defilement," I begin an objectifying process in my heart and mind, and hinder my own holiness experience.
Perhaps we all wrestle with objectifying people to some degree. Even if we do not do so sexually, we categorize people, and treat them as objects. People may be considered, derogatorily, liberal, conservative, black, gay, fundamentalist, tramp, rag-head, chink, redneck, wop, bum. In whatever manner we categorize a person without measuring their worth as a human being created in the image of God we objectify them and sin against them andtheir Creator.
People are not objects; and I have had to learn to extinguish all words from my vocabulary which are used toward the objectification of others. Otherwise, I will revert to lusting after objects I create in my own fallen nature, disobey Scripture, and sin against God and those whom He created. Again, the apostle Paul writes:
Don't let the swells of lustful passion run your life as they do the outsiders who don't know God. Don't violate or take advantage of a fellow believer in such matters. As we told you before and warned you: the Lord will settle the score with anyone who does these things. Here's why: God does not call us to live impure, adulterous, scandalous lives, but to seek holiness and purity. If you ignore this message, then you're not only rejecting us but you're rejecting God, the One who has given His Holy Spirit to live in you. (1 Thess. 4:5-8)
God's grace put an end to me continuing to objectify human beings whom He created in His own image. God's mercy kept me from the consequences I deserved. God's love keeps me from faulty, sinful thinking. God's Son cleanses me from all sin. God's Spirit continues to point me toward winning the battle for holiness and purity of heart and mind, as well as planting within me a longing, desire and love for holiness.
That God does not direct us in any sense into sin is obvious from even a cursory reading of Scripture. He despises sin, its effects, and its consequences. He even sacrificed His only Son in order to redeem us from sin. So we can be certain that He would never cause or decree for us to commit sin, hinder us from pursuing holiness (Heb. 12:14), nor fail to extend grace along our journey toward purity. Therefore, our relative freedom to commit sin can be thought to be a curse. Still, we can love holiness by the grace of God, and pursue it. But we must continue to remember that perfection is a journey more than a destination.
If we are honest with ourselves we will admit that at times we do not want to obey the Lord. Still, we are able to do that which we do not want to do. Obedience is not so much of a wanting to do what is right but of a willing to do what is right.
Oswald Chambers writes: "Whatever awakens my person awakens my want." In other words, a desire (a want), whether good or evil, is awakened when we become cognizant of a possibility. Without a bank there would be no bank robbers. Without the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the command not to eat from it, sin may not have entered the world. While encouraged to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, we are reminded that God is at work in us, "both to will and to work for his good pleasure." (Phil. 2:12, 13) We can, by the grace of God, obey the Lord.
Can we choose not to sin -- not to hinder the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit -- so as to walk in holiness? Absolutely! Can we do so by the inherent power within us that belongs to our fallen nature? Absolutely not! The spiritual abilities we possess flow from the Holy Spirit living within us: technically, the Godhead living within us, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (John 14:15, 16, 17, 20, 23). Fruit-bearing, so we call it, happens only through the living and indwelling Christ (John 15:5). We have both a passive and an active role to play in our sanctification. We passively allow the Spirit to perform His work within us, not resisting Him in any way, and then we actively respond to that work in the doing of whatever He calls us to do. How does desire play a factor?
Oswald Chambers correctly notes that the want or desire of our consciences and our hearts spurs us to action in obeying Jesus. To anyone who will confess, "Lord, I will follow," Chambers writes: "In his conscience, in the deep depths of his personality, there was awakened the desire to follow Jesus and to be like Him. The measure of a man's want is seen in the nature of the power that awakened it." So, when the Holy Spirit awakens within us a desire to obey the Lord and to be holy, we can by His grace obey and live in holiness.
Chambers reminds us: We read that when Jesus preached His first public sermon, all the people "wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth"; their hearts were inspired as they listened to Him, their instincts turned in the right direction; then their prejudices came in the way and they closed down the witness of their hearts, broke up the service and tried to fling Him over the brow of the hill (Luke 4:16-30).
The same can happen to us. So Chambers encourages us: "Always let the instinct that rules you in the presence of Jesus lead. "The moment the Holy Spirit is calling and enabling us toward some holy state we should both passively allow Him to continue that work, not resisting His grace, and actively obey from the heart, knowing that He will also grant us the ability (will) to do all that is pleasing to God. We should never "postpone a moral decision. Second thoughts in moral matters are always deflections ... in the presence of God never think twice -- act."
This post was written by William Birch. You can find his blog here: http://www.williambirch.net