Pastors often ask, “Should I preach sanctification?” The smart-alek in me wants to answer, “Are there any other parts of the creed you want to omit from your preaching?” But the question is really another way of saying, “I do not understand the difference between sanctification and third use of the law.” A simple solution is that 3rd use of the law=law, sanctification=gospel. But third use of the law is not the same as preaching good works. God will use the law for whatever purposes he sees fit. We need not worry about that. We must preach good works (our confessions say that we do it) and we must preach sanctification. We must also make sure that we do not confuse the two.
This is a real problem in our churches. Evangelicals preach too much law, (“You are saved if you…) and we want to make sure we don’t. So, we do not want to preach good works, lest we are accused of neglecting the Gospel, which should predominate in our preaching. And we want to make sure that our Law is applicable to everyone, so instead of speaking of specific sins and specific good works, we preach against “sin”, with its antidote “grace”. It has made preaching flat and lifeless, with a law that has no teeth, and can merely gum you to death, and a Gospel that never answers any real problems of sin. Instead of being healers of the soul, we trade our sophisticated bag of theological tools for a bottle of theological aspirin. Take two of these, and call me in the morning, if you don’t improve. But since that is our solution week after week, our people assume that we have nothing more to offer them. They don’t call in the morning. And we are left wondering why our people think of us as good natured, but mostly harmless, fools. We are like chicken soup for the soul: We don’t really help anything, but we probably don’t hurt either. We offer little substantive nourishment., If someone needs real theological medicine, we have grown so out of practice in prescribing it that we are no longer certain what we should even do. (How many pastors are prepared to offer the “Additional bible verses” spoken of in the order of private absolution, should someone need to hear them? Or do we just assume that the Spirit will give us the words, should the situation ever arrive, and we need not prepare for it?) (And yes, I know I have about a dozen mixed metaphors in the previous paragraph. Too bad.)
None of the above is my sermon. It is after the jump, for those who want to see how I handled preaching about sanctification. A couple of caveats. 1) It is not always in complete sentences, because it is cobbled together from a few typed and handwritten notes, and reconstructed based on my memory of what I preached last evening. 2) I assume that midweek services are a chance to be more catechetical in my preaching, and this sermon reflects that. 3) Midweek sermons generally are based on the Epistle reading for the previous Sunday, (in this case, 1 Thess 4:1-7). With that in mind…
Paul says, “This is the will of God, your sanctification.”
Does he mean, “This is the will of God, that you be sanctified, and that you do so in the following manner”?, or does he mean, “The will of God, who is your sanctification, is that you do the following things…”
It is the second.
First we must ask what is sanctification? What does it mean to be sanctified?
What does that mean? Scripture doesn’t really define holy except in terms of holiness itself. Something that has been made holy by God is holy. It is holy because God has made it so.
Holy – think of as sinless, but not.
Book of Leviticus has two separate categories.
1) Clean vs. unclean (pure vs. impurity, sin vs. sinless/righteous)
2) Holy vs. not consecrated (unholy, common)
Holy is to be consecrated, set apart for use by God.
Made holy – set apart by God. God is our sanctification – many think that good works is sanctification, that is we are justified (forgiven), which happens to everyone who believes, and then we must work at being sanctified (lifestyle), which is just for those who really want to follow Jesus.
In this way of thinking, we are sanctified by our good works. But not true.
You can not separate sanctification from justification, as if they are two separate things, and you can have one happen, but not the other.
We are tempted to think that, because we hear James say, “faith without works is dead”. We think, I have faith, so now I need to work on works. But one can not be separated from the other.
A tree has leaves. If you have a tree that has no leaves year after year, what you really have is a stick. A dead tree. A hunk of wood. A tree that never gets leaves is no tree.
If you have a mighty apple tree, and it produces fruit year after year, and then one year doesn’t, and the next year doesn’t, you think, “That tree is dying.” Just as a tree in your yard w/o leaves in summer is a dead tree, so works naturally follow faith. They are the fruit of faith. But they are not sanctification.
To be sanctified is to be make holy or set apart, and that is a gift of God.
Sanctified by God. He makes us holy. Good works result of that – not the cause of sanctification.
Holiness given by God is given, just as forgiveness is – given as gift to those who believe the promise.
Think that we sanctify selves when we live holy lives.
Luther in LC says, “Holy Spirit, as his name implies, makes us holy.” He is the sanctifier. The one who makes holy.
Holy is gift that is given to you.
Of course, things that are impure, unclean can not be made holy. They must first be cleansed. In Leviticus, on the day of atonement, when the high priest would offer the sacrifice for the sins of the people, sprinkling the blood of the lamb on the mercy seat, the first thing he would do is sacrifice a bull to cleanse himself and his family, and he would sprinkle that blood on the mercy seat so that he would be clean and could offer the sacrifice.
That is why Paul says:
that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.
Can not be holy if impure, unclean. The priest after offering the sacrifice for himself would wash and then put on the white linen robe before offering the sacrifice. Water, cleansing: That’s Baptism talk. But to live holy life is to live life God gives you – Luther says significance of baptizing w/ water:
Old Adam drowned and die w/ all sins, new man daily come forth arise.
What we do, what Paul is talking about in Epistle reading – dieing to sin, living to righteousness.
This happens by contrition and repentance. Daily living in the word of God.
“Consider your place in life according to the ten commandments.” hear God’s word regarding your conduct, and know that you have broken his law.
Contrition – sorrow over sin.
Then repent. Hear the word of forgiveness through Jesus sacrifice. Repentance is the faith that grabs hold of the promise. Trusts that Jesus saves you from your sin by his sacrifice.
Hebrews – the blood of bulls and goats can not take away sin. Had to be offered again the next year. Jesus entered holy place once for all with his blood. Took sins away.
So now you have new life, not life of sin, but new man comes forth and arises. That new man is gift of God and his word. Not your work, but Jesus work for you.
That’s why you have to stay in the word of God. Hearing, speaking, singing that word together as you do in his HOLY church.
HOLY church. A place set apart for the people whom God has set apart to come together and receive his gifts : Forgiveness, life and salvation, which given for Jesus sake, by Jesus work, and in Jesus name.