Holiness, Repentance, Surrender – Keys to the Christian Life
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©2004|
|Dr. Ankerberg explains that, if God calls us to holiness, true repentance and total surrender of ourselves to Him, it must be for our own good! But what are they, and how do we walk in those ways?|
Holiness, Repentance, Surrender: Keys to the Christian Life
We have been examining in the last few weeks God’s solutions to the battles that Christians fight within, that is, their own sinful desires and habits, and the fight without—circumstances, other people, the world, and temptations.
This week I want to talk to you about three of the most important questions any Christian could ask. First: “How does God lovingly motivate every Christian to progress in holiness?” Second: “Why is daily repentance so important for all of us in living the Christian life?” And third: “Why is totally surrendering our lives to God the only way to really experience life?”
Now, you don’t hear a lot from preachers today concerning holiness, repentance and total surrender to God. It’s not because you don’t find a lot of information about these in Scripture. The Bible is loaded with information about these topics.
Most likely, the reason you don’t hear anything about these topics is that it’s not very popular to speak on holiness, repentance and surrendering to God. Sadly, the Christian church today seems to prefer hearing about success and positive feelings, getting health, wealth, freedom from care, good sex and happy families.
In fact, let’s take a test right now. How long has it been since you heard a sermon on holiness, repentance or total surrender to God? Shall I guess? Well, stick with me and listen. Take heart that if the God of the Bible calls us to holiness, true repentance and totally surrendering ourselves to Him, it must be for our good. If you belong to Him, then out of love and respect to God at least listen to what He has to say. It may change your life.
Well, let’s begin with holiness. What is it? One summer a few years ago, we spent two weeks away on a family vacation. My two sisters and their families, my mother, my wife, my daughter and I all got together. Every day for devotions, we told our five children, who ranged in age from eleven to nineteen, that they could pick any topic or question they wanted to talk about one day, and the next day it would be the adults’ turn to pick a topic and so on through the two weeks. One day the question came up, “What is holiness?”
Here’s how old Uncle John answered this one. I put three glasses of water before them and said, “If you had been outside playing volleyball, were hot and sweaty and came in wanting a cool drink of water, which of these three glasses of water would you choose to drink from?” In one glass I had put some water that I had taken from a lagoon. It was slimy, green and dirty. It looked and smelled terrible. In the second glass, I put some grape juice and milk, then mustard, ketchup, black pepper, oregano, and castor oil. In the third glass I put crystal clear water. Which do you think they picked?
Well, obviously they all picked the glass with the pure water in it. So I took that glass and moved it over to the side and I said, “Okay, if you were choosing, you would take this glass with the clear, pure water in it. So let’s take it and make it holy—that is, let’s separate it from the two glasses with the dirty, contaminated water in it.”
This is what the word holy means. It means to separate something or someone from sin unto God. You’re actually set aside for God’s use.
Now, the doctrine of holiness is made up of three specific truths; first, our positional holiness; second, our experiential holiness, and third, our ultimate holiness.
What does Scripture teach about our positional holiness? The moment we put our faith in Jesus Christ and ask Him to forgive our sins, according to Romans 4, God makes a wonderful legal declaration about us, declaring that we are justified, that is, free from the penalty of all of our sins for all eternity. He will never hold those sins against us and punish us in hell because of what we have done. He gives us total forgiveness as a gift. God can give us this gift because Jesus paid for it when He died on the cross. At that time He took our sins upon Himself and paid the penalty that we deserved.
The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “Christ became sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” So, God forgave us our sins and declared us justified.
But at the same time God justified us, He also gave us a new identity, a new status—a new standing before Him in holiness and righteousness. This holy standing before Him was also a gift. It means we don’t have to perform good deeds to gain God’s love and acceptance. But here is a question for you. How righteous are we in God’s sight as we stand before Him? Well, we all know that while Jesus lived here on earth, He lived a perfect life. He never sinned once. According to the Bible, the track record of Jesus Christ, His perfect life, was imputed or credited from Jesus’ account to ours when we put our faith in Christ. God gave us this position, this standing, before Him as a gift. So we stand before Him each day as absolutely holy and righteous in our new position. How do I know this?
Hebrews 10:10 tells us that all who have put their faith in Jesus “have been made holy…once for all.” Here is our position before God. The Bible says we have already been made completely holy by God once for all. He has separated us unto Himself. We are His. We belong to Him. He has made it an unchanging fact that we will forever stand before Him as perfect, holy, and righteous. But then in the very same chapter we see the second part of holiness, our experiential holiness.
Hebrews 10:14 says, “By one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those [that’s us] who are being made holy.”
So in the same Bible verse we who are already holy are also in the process of being made holy. In brief, because God has graciously given us our new identity and status as a gift, He then asks us to start living out and enjoying our new identity and status that He has given to us.
1 Peter 1:15 tells us, “But just as God who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written, ‘Be holy because I am holy.’”
Paul says something similar in 2 Timothy 1:9. Paul writes that God has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done, but because of His own purpose and grace.
Now, always remember this: Holiness starts with God’s calling us to Himself and saving us. Before you put your faith in Jesus Christ, you were convicted of your sins. That was God lovingly drawing you to Himself. As a result, you decided to put your faith in Christ, and entered into a relationship with God in which He immediately forgave you of all your sins forever, and also gave you your new status of perfect holiness.
But then, because He has done all of this for us and because we belong to Him and are fellowshipping with Him, He asks us to live like Him in every part of our life. So God first makes us holy and then He says, “Separate yourself unto me.” Just like this glass of water, you are to purify yourselves, set yourselves apart for God’s use. As you do, you will come to know God in an even more intimate way, and you will be a Christian God will use to represent Him to the world.
By the way, has anyone ever called you a saint? Well, according to Scripture, if you put your faith in Jesus Christ, you are a saint positionally. God made you one. The word saint means, “a holy one, a person who is set apart for God’s use.” Now, sainthood is not attained by you or me doing great works. That’s the world’s definition. Biblically, sainthood is a state into which God in grace places every believer. Then God asks His saints to cooperate with Him, to sanctify or separate themselves, to make themselves pure for His use, and live up to the status He has given them. Now, before you get off the track telling me how hard it is for you to live holy, let me tell you a secret. When you placed your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, God did something wonderful to you.
In Ezekiel 36:26 God said, “I will give you a new spirit and [in addition] I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
According to this verse, when we believed on Christ, God gave us a new spirit, that is, a new spiritual nature. In addition, He gave us the Holy Spirit who took up residence in our life.
Further, God says in Jeremiah 31:33, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.”
Now, here’s the secret. When you placed your faith in Christ, God gave you a new spiritual nature, which inherently desires to love and obey God. As the Bible says, your new heart “is careful to keep God’s laws.” The Holy Spirit who takes up residence in your life also moves you to live purely, righteously, and to love God. You’ll never be the same again because you have been given a new nature that loves God and wants to obey Him. Now, that doesn’t mean you’ll never sin again. No.
According to Romans 6 and 7, because of your old nature still being present, even though it has lost its legal position of mastery over you when you became a Christian, you will still be tempted to sin. But if you sin now, your new nature and the Holy Spirit will bother you, will convict you, and will make you feel miserable. This struggle is described by the Apostle Paul in Romans 7 and Galatians 5.
But 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” That is, your true self, your new spiritual nature will always want to obey God—when all is said and done. That doesn’t mean you will, but you will be drawn that way by your new heart that God has given you. Romans 7 and 8 show that even Christians who have a new heart, a new spiritual nature, will be defeated if they try to live the Christian life in their own strength—their own self-effort. Victory comes when we turn to and depend on the Holy Spirit to live the way we should.
Then the third biblical truth concerning holiness is our ultimate holiness. While living on this earth, none of us will experience total experiential holiness. The Apostle Paul, at the end of his life, denied that he had “arrived” or was totally holy or perfect in his walk with the Lord.
In Philippians 3:12,13 he said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.”
Only when we die and go into Christ’s presence will we experience total, complete holiness in our existence. But today, God asks us to live as holy as we can so that we can draw closer to Him, to know Him better, to be more like Him, to walk with Him in everyday life.
Isn’t it exciting that God wants us to have a deep relationship with Him? But remember, we cannot walk with God in our own self-effort. God makes even our walk with Him possible by giving us the Holy Spirit to help us conquer the sinful desires in our life, to meet temptations, and to face the tough situations.
This brings us to the next question: “What is true repentance, and why is repentance so important for us in living the Christian life?”
The word repent comes from the Greek word metanoia. It emphasizes a change of mind and attitude. To repent is to make a decision that changes the total direction of one’s life. When Jesus preached, He issued a call to repentance which was a call to people to change their mind about Him and to make a personal commitment to Him. Repentance is an abandonment of those courses of action in which we once defied God and embraced those things which God dislikes and forbids. The Hebrew word for repent signifies a turning away from sin to God, or a returning to God. The New Testament Greek word carries the sense of changing one’s mind so that one changes one’s ways. Full repentance means altering one’s habits of thought, one’s attitudes, outlook, policy, direction and behavior just as fully as is needed go get one’s life out of the wrong shape and into the right one.
But changing in this way is only possible for Christians, believers who have been set free from sin’s dominion and made alive to God. Repentance comes as a result of putting one’s faith in Jesus Christ. Repentance flows out of true faith. It is the fruit of faith and as such, is a gift of God, according to Acts 11:18. Repentance is not that which saves, but it is the opposite side of the same coin as faith. One cannot have true faith unless one turns away from believing in himself and turns to believe in Christ alone to save, forgive and empower him to change.
Once again, true repentance is only possible for Christians because it’s only the Christian who in relationship with God starts to have God pull off the blinders of his life. The Bible tells us we do not even know how self-deceived we are about our sins, according to James 1:22 and 1 John 1:8. So once we place our faith in Christ, bit by bit God shows us that our deeds, our lifestyle, our thinking, our acts have offended Him. This awareness that we have offended a holy God is the basis or the seed bed from which repentance grows all during our life. True repentance includes a contrite heart, sorrow and remorse in having dishonored God’s goodness and love to us. The kind of repentance that is a false repentance is that which shows only regret for sin prompted by fear for oneself, not love for God. Repentance brings on our reverent request of God’s pardon, cleansing of conscience and help not to lapse into the same sin again.
In his book, Rediscovering Holiness, J. I. Packer says repentance is 1) a person discerning the perversity, folly and guilt of the sin he or she has done; 2) the desire to find forgiveness, and the willingness to abandon the sin and live a God-pleasing life from now on; 3) deciding to ask God for forgiveness and power to change, and then actually talking to God; 4) demonstrating, whether by testimony, confession, or by changed behavior that one has left one’s sins behind.
Martin Luther taught that all of life was to be repentance toward God. That is, as we walk with God, He will reveal to us things about ourselves that we didn’t know—sins and habits which need to be abandoned.
Such recurring repentance is the life of the adult disciple. Keep in mind that when you put your faith in Jesus Christ, He gave you a new heart that desires to obey God. You will only be happy and joyful when those things that offend God are turned away from and you’ve asked God to forgive you and to cleanse you.
Paradoxically, such action brings more joy because God draws closer to you and you experience more of Him. You can refuse to repent. But you should know that you will run the risk of being disciplined by God. Read Hebrews 11 and 12. God disciplines His children because He loves us and He won’t stand by and allow us to ruin our lives.
This leads, then, to our third important question: “Why is totally surrendering our lives to God the only way to really live and experience life to the fullest?”
Proverbs 3:5,6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.”
Well, you and I both know we have a lot of decisions to make about our future. We have a lot of decisions that we must make today to get through this day. God says He wants to lead and direct you moment by moment. Of course, you can always depend just on your own intellect and experience.
But if I were to ask you this question, “Who is smarter, you or God? Who knows more about the future, you or God?”
When put that way, we would all say, “Of course, God is smarter than I am. He knows everything—even the future. He’s God.”
Well then, why don’t you allow Him to lead you in the decisions that you need to make concerning the future, concerning the decisions you need to make today? Can you trust Him? That question is almost blasphemous to ask.
If you need proof that you can trust God and that He loves you dearly, just draw a picture in your mind of Jesus dying on the cross, shedding His blood, and ask yourself, “Why was He there?”
The answer will come back, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son….” God loved you and made your salvation possible before you ever knew Him. He didn’t have to do it. He gave it to you as a gift. If He went that far to show you that He loved you, don’t you think you can trust Him and surrender your life to Him so that He can love you even more by guiding you with His great wisdom and care?
So let’s summarize. God has called us to Himself by convicting us of sin. One day we responded and placed our faith in Jesus Christ and God gave us His gift of salvation. God’s gift included complete forgiveness of our sin and the status of being righteous and holy before Him. From the moment we believed, we positionally stand before God just like this pure glass of water. We have no sin and are clothed in Christ’s righteousness.
But we’ve also seen that experientially, God calls us to live holy, to purify ourselves. In brief, we are asked by God to separate ourselves unto His personal use. Ultimate experiential holiness will not be achieved until we go to glory.
Then we saw that true repentance is daily for the Christian. It includes being open to God, allowing His Spirit to show us anything that might displease Him. We are to bring that to Him, confess it as sin, and to leave it, abandon it. As we do so, God will draw closer to us and bring us great joy and contentment. We will experience God’s dynamic, living presence all day long.
And finally, why should we totally surrender our lives to God? It’s because He is the One who knows what’s best for us. He loves us more than anyone else. All the real blessings of life are in His hand. He gave us our bodies and our talents and abilities and knows just how to use them if we will surrender them to Him. To the extent that we are lazy and undisciplined and keep God from certain parts of our life, we will do this to our own detriment. But God gives us that choice. It’s part of the learning process as Christians. Remember, He gave us a spirit, a heart that loves to obey Him, wants to be with Him, and so when we sin, we are really going against our true nature, what our heart really desires.
Right now, in light of all of these things God has done for you, would you say, “Lord, help me to live a holy life. Lord, the sins of my life that I know about that you’ve shown me, I have offended you, please forgive me and cleanse me. And Lord, I totally surrender my life to you. I love you. Use me as you see fit. Let me not miss out on any part of the adventure that you have for me.”