I'm going to start today with a quotation.

“The shrill ring of the telephone shattered the stillness of the morning. At the end of the line was one of those individuals God seems to have sprinkled around on earth to test the … patience of his children. He was in top form that morning – arrogant, impatient, demanding. At the end of the call, I hung up the phone, seething inside with anger, resentment and perhaps - even hatred.

Grabbing my jacket, I walked outside into the cold air to try to regain my composure. The quietness of my soul, so carefully cultivated in my … time with God ... had been ripped to shreds and been replaced with steaming, emotional volcano. It was only 8:30 ... and my day was ruined. Not only was I discouraged, I was confused. Only two hours before, I had read Paul’s emphatic declaration in Romans chapter 6 “

For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

But despite this nice-sounding promise of victory over sin…I was locked in the vice-like grip of anger and resentment. ‘Does the Bible really have any answers for real life’ I asked myself that morning. With … my heart I desired to live a holy and obedient life, yet …I was…defeated by one telephone call.”

Ever had an encounter like that? I have, and I suspect most of us have. Nasty bosses, difficult relatives or perhaps, even other Christians having a bad day! Regardless of the specific rights and wrongs, situations of various kinds will inevitably come along that Christians will find difficult to deal with appropriately and that may perhaps cause them to doubt their motivation and relationship with God. It can be very demoralising. Now maybe, in this particular case, the author was being a little over-scrupulous in his reactions. Under the circumstances I not sure that there would have been anything sinful about him feeling not very well pleased – I know I wouldn’t have been. I'm not suggesting of course that he should have harboured or cultivated a grudge or an attitude of hatred against the individual on the other end of the line.

But the key point of this story is that as Christians we can feel that we are growing and making progress in our relationship with God, and yet then something comes along which reveals the fact that we are a bit more flawed and imperfect than we had thought.

Now in my experience, the average non-Christian is pretty relaxed about the fact that he is imperfect. OK, there might well be some people who aren't, but the average person when they are being honest is happy to admit to personal flaws. As Christians it can be a bit more difficult. Because we are all aware that the Christian faith has high standards. In fact, Christ even called on his followers to be perfect.

Matt 5:48 (KJV)

48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Now we can read scriptures like that probably in one of three ways. One way – which I suspect is the surprisingly common even among Christians – is to say “how interesting”. “That seems quite a difficult standard to achieve. Still, perhaps I'll worry about it later – some other time”. Then we turn over the page and within a minute or two it goes out of our mind and it's as if we never read it. We just forget about it and carry on without thinking about it.

Another approach is for us to think very, very deeply about this – perhaps a bit too deeply – and reflect at length on the glaring contrast between Christ's command that we should be perfect, and the reality of our only too obvious imperfections. Like the man I quoted to you earlier that can be a demoralising experience, which can cause us to wonder what kind of Christians we are, or even whether we are really Christians or not.

The third approach is to insist that as perfection appears to be a requirement for Christians, it must be achievable, and by the way, of course after a lot of effort, and struggle. You'll probably recall Winston Churchill's famous expression blood, tears, toil and sweat. And perhaps we feel that we have at long-last achieved this exalted position of perfection. Of course, if you are perfect, by definition you have got to remain perfect all the time. You can't be perfect today then imperfect tomorrow. No – if you really are perfect, you obviously need to be perfect all the time. In a world which itself is clearly imperfect, this obviously creates a problem.

One commentator I read recounted that “I ran into this problem very early in my training for the ministry. When I first went to college, I shared a room with a young man who was also himslef studying for the ministry. And he was a nice boy in many ways. The only trouble with him was that he was perfect. When I first met him, he introduced himself and informed me that he had not committed a sin in many years. I've forgotten exactly how many years he said it was. It shocked me to meet someone who didn't sin, and I hoped he would become my friend, but he wasn't a friend. You see, in every room where I have ever lived, things go wrong once in a while. And there I was living in a room in which there were only two of us, and one of us couldn't do anything wrong. So inevitably when something did go wrong, guess who was to blame?”

Now, personally I am rather embarrassed to say that I have had pretty much the same experience in the Worldwide Church of God. Sometimes I've been on the receiving end. Sometimes, alas, I might have been the perpetrator. It's certainly been my experience that “perfect” people do tend to be very difficult to get along with! Strange, that.

When we first start reading the Bible, and especially when we actually become Christians, we start to come across a number of obscure and rather technical-sounding terms. Such as justification, propitiation, mediation, or predestination, but there are plenty of others. You do notice that they seem to be much loved by theologians, and you are sure of course very worthy, but somehow or other they seem desperately dull! Well, today, I need at this point to refer to one of those words, which is sanctification.

According to the dictionary, to sanctify is "to set apart or observe [something] as holy" or "to purify or free from sin." These definitions reflect the fact that in the Bible the word sanctification is used in two main ways: 1) to refer to a special status, that is, being set apart for God’s use, and 2) moral behaviour—thoughts and actions appropriate to a holy status, thoughts and actions that are in keeping with the way God wants.

The first meaning is sometimes called relational or positional sanctification – that is something to do with our relationship with God - and the second moral or practical sanctification – that is, something to do with our behaviour.

Relational sanctification means that, through Christ, we have been set apart to belong to God and to serve Him. It stems from the fact that flows from the cross, where God through Christ purchased and claimed us for himself.

1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul wrote

2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:

And in Acts 20:28 Paul said to the elders of Ephesus

"Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

Those statements are equally applicable to the church here in London. We are set apart to serve God, and the price that was paid for that was the sacrifice of Christ.

So we are not talking about some light or trivial matter. It's something of the highest importance.

No need to turn there, but I think we all know from John 6:44 that humans cannot of themselves choose God. “No man can come to me unless the father draw him.” God’s intervention is needed before a person can have faith and turn to him. God is the one who does the choosing. He selects people for his use and thereby sanctifies them or sets them apart from others.

In the OT, God sanctified or set apart the people of Israel from the other nations around them. He set them apart for his use. Of course, the nation refused to be used by God, except for very short periods and in the end were set aside and went exile as a result.

Christians, are also set apart, but in a different way. We read in

10 By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:28-29
28 Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?

Christians throughout the NT are referred to as “saints”. That is their status.

1 Corinthians 14:33 (NKJV)
33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

And we already read

1 Corinthians 1:2 “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints...."

Well that’s about our relational sanctification. But what the second definition in the dictionary, that of “moral” or “behavioural” sanctification?

That second definition reflects the fact that God’s purpose for his people goes beyond a simple declaration of a new status—it is a setting apart for his use , and his use involves a moral transformation in his people. So relational sanctification is not an end in itself - it leads on to behavioural or practical sanctification.

Now this is a subject where I think we can get a little confused, and it's easy to see why. Because practical experience alone has the habit of teaching us that although we may well be saints in theory, in practice our behaviour can be far from “saintly”.

In the NT you could hardly do much better than use the example of the church in Corinth. So, let's turn over there and see.

1 Corinthians 1:1-2 (NKJV)
1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,
2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:

The Corinthians were saints – that was their relationship. But what about their behaviour?

1 Corinthians 1:10-11 (NKJV)
10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgement.
11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you.

Well, the first thing you notice that there were contentions among them. That wouldn't be a problem in North London, would it? In the Corinthians case, they were following and identifying with different teachers.

1 Corinthians 1:12-13 (NKJV)
12 Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptised in the name of Paul?

Paul has to ask the rhetorical question “Is Christ divided? A good question to ask. I think.

1 Corinthians 3:1-4 (NKJV)
1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.
2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able;
3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?
4 For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not carnal?

Notice that Paul said that they were behaving like mere men – that is men and women of the world who were not converted. It's not that they actually were unconverted. This did not affect their actual status because remember, he's previously referred to them as saints. It's just that their behaviour did not accord with their status.

Their ability to receive spiritual truth was very limited, and they were largely putting the focus on human leaders rather than on God. In the world, people focus on political leaders, or sporting heroes, or entertainment superstars, and the Corinthians were doing more or less the same in the church.

But their problems didn't stop there. There was gross immorality in the church and they were tolerating it.

1 Corinthians 5:1-3, 6 (KJV)
1 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife.
2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.
3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,

6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?

What were they glorying about – was it that they were so tolerant? Alas, anybody who reads the daily newspapers these days will know that there is a distinct tendency in some churches for the Christian virtue of forgiveness to be corrupted, by degrees, into a toleration of open sin. It happens today – so this particular issue is bang up to date.

But their problems didn't stop there. They were going to court and suing each other!

1 Corinthians 6:1, 5-8 (NKJV)
1 Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?

Another translation says ..1 Corinthians 6:1 (GW)
1 When one of you has a complaint against another, how dare you go to court to settle the matter in front of wicked people”...

I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? 6 But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers! 7 Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? 8

No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!

They are doing things that Paul describes as cheating! These are the saints, remember. You have to keep on saying it to remind yourself!

But their problems didn't stop there.

1 Corinthians 11:17-22 (NKJV)

Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse.

20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper.

Or as another translation says “you can't possibly be eating the Lord's Supper”.

Why not?

21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk.

By the sound of things it was “every man for himself”, and probably a fairly undignified occasion.

It might be helpful here to insert a bit of historical background. Some commentators think that in the NT church the Lord’s supper was originally eaten in the context of, or immediately following, a meal. This certainly was the case when it was instituted by Christ himself, as you can see from the accounts in the gospels where it describes the context of the observance as being the Passover meal.

The other point is that in our culture we are used to the idea that meals are fairly egalitarian affairs in that people are either served the same thing as others, or at least have a choice of the same menu. That is not what used to happen in ancient Rome, where it was perfectly normal for different people attending the same meal to be served different things depending on their wealth and social class.

So unfortunately this would have provided an opportunity for the Corinthians, influenced as they were by Roman culture, for certain people to over-indulge while allowing others to be completely neglected. This, immediately before an observance which supposedly “proclaims the Lord's death till He comes.” as it says in verse 26, and that they were all one body in Christ.

One of the things that comes across to me strongly in Corinthians is that some of the members were not clear that they were part of one body. They regarded themselves as just a collection of separate individuals, and were essentially just out for themselves, to “get their salvation” . They seem to have had little interest in, or concern for, other members of the congregation.

And what was the result?

27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

And, of course, Paul has already told them that that was exactly what they were doing.

Wow! What can you do with this lot?

Now, not everything about the Corinthian church was bad. At the beginning of chapter 7 Paul writes

1 Corinthians 7:1
1 Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me…..

So they are trying to learn more about the Christian faith.

In 1 Corinthians 11:2 Paul writes that
2 Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.

So at least some of them are paying attention to what Paul says. And II Corinthians, although we won’t go there, we can see that later the Corinthian church did change for the better.

The reason why I’ve taken some time to highlight the Corinthian church is simply that we know quite a bit about them. Not all of it bad. But it does serve as an illustration that we ourselves as individuals and as church congregations are not perfect. In fact as I said earlier in the sermon, relational sanctification – our new relationship as Christians with God through Christ, is not automatically reflected in our moral or practical sanctification – that is, our behaviour. We have to choose to make that happen.

Now I suppose one could say at this point something like “let’s get real, this is the way it’s going to be in any church at any time. But I think we’d all agree that it would be better, if we can, to avoid repeating in our own way the experience of Corinth.

So I’m going to ask what can we do as individuals planted in a specific congregation to bring our behaviour in line with our status?

Now I’m sure we could all come up with many points. I’ve just got three of them, and I don’t think that these will be points you have not heard before. However, I think they are important and in any case, sometimes it’s just good to be reminded of things we already know.

My first point is: Get the focus on things above .

I’m sure you will recall Colossians 3:1-5 (NKJV)

1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.
2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Gal 6:7-8 (KJV)

7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. 8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

Underlying this statement is a simple principle of cause and effect. Which is, that you tend to get what you seek. If you seek the things that are above (verse 2) that is what you will tend to receive. On the other hand, if you seek things on earth – surprise, surprise - things on earth is what you will tend to receive. For you died (verse 3) and your life is hidden with Christ in God. That was their status. And as a consequence of their status (verse 4) they would be glorified with Christ.

Rom 8:5-6

5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

Col 3:5 (NKJV)

5 Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

There are quite a few references to death there. Now if you are dead, of necessity, you tend not to be very interested in earthly matters! So I think that this is effectively saying align your behaviour with your status. And the way you do that is to get your attention where should be and away from where it should not be .

You can see another example in

Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV)
1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

I like the way the Amplified Version puts the beginning of verse 2, which is

Hebrews 12:2 (AMP)
2 Looking away [from all that will distract] to Jesus…

This does point out that there is a choice to be made. [..demonstrate..] If I look in this direction, I cannot at the same time look in that direction.

1 John 2:15-17 (KJV)
15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

Is that saying that we should try to cut off all contacts with this present world and go off somewhere else and live like a hermit? I don’t think so. Christ himself said that we should be like light and salt as far as this world is concerned, and they should give glory to God when they see our good works. That can’t happen if you are physically separate.

This is the cue to move on to my second point: Love your neighbour, and by that I mean everyone you come across and not just people we know at church.

OK, I know, we’ve all heard this one before. So why do I emphasise it again?

The reason I emphasise it is that our personal example – the extent to which we model the example of Jesus Christ in our personal lives - can have an enormous impact on other people. We can’t be like the apostles of the 1st century who went over the known world of the time witnessing to Christ, but to the extent that we model Christ in our own life we can be witnesses to our friends and family, and very effective ones too. We can show that Christianity really is the right way to live - or we can give the opposite impression - and we primarily do that to the extent that we model Christ’s love for others.

Let me give you an illustration.

We are meeting today in the Indian YMCA, and this particular hall is called the Mahatma Gandhi Hall, and over the top of the entrance as you came in you could see a painting of the great man himself. Gandhi was a Hindu, but was very familiar with the teachings of Christianity, for reasons I’ll explain in a minute.

He was once asked by some Christian missionaries what he thought of Christianity, and how it could make more progress in India, and he said the following.

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

If you want Christianity to make more progress in India, Firstly, I would suggest that all Christians … begin to live more like Jesus Christ. Secondly, practice it [Christianity] without either adulterating it, or toning it down. Thirdly, emphasise love and make it your working force, for love is central in Christianity.

If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.”

Wow, that’s quite a ringing endorsement of Christianity, don’t you think, from a non-Christian of such eminence?

Well, alas, behind that story there is another story, rather a sad one I think. Let me briefly tell you the story of how Mahatma Gandhi did not become a Christian.

When Gandhi was a young man, he lived in South Africa and practised as a lawyer. During that time he became very interested in the Christian faith and the teachings of Jesus Christ and began to study the Bible intensely. He seriously considered the possibility of becoming a Christian, and then discovered that there was a small church meeting in his locality.

So one day he went there, and when he arrived he found an elder of the church standing at the doorway. "Where do you think you're going, the elder said to Gandhi, using a certain racially-charged epithet.

Gandhi replied, "I'd like to attend worship here."

The elder said to him, "There's no room for people like you in this church (using the same epithet again). Get out, or I'll have my assistants throw you out." South Africa of course did have this tradition of racial separation.

And from that point on, Gandhi never ever again considered becoming a Christian, although he never lost his respect for the teachings of Christ.

So here’s the point: how we treat other people, whether they are Christians or not, is in my opinion the single most important factor that will authenticate the Christian faith - or not - in the eyes of others, and will show like almost nothing else what our relationship really is with God.

On a personal note, I started attending meetings of the Worldwide Church of God in the late 1970s. And for two years I attended services, I went to Bible studies, and I went to the church festivals. But I hadn’t been baptised. And looking back, what I can mostly remember is not so much sermons or discussions on church doctrines – although I’m sure there must have been plenty of them - but how members of the church behaved towards me and towards each other. Because I suppose, subconsciously, the question I was asking myself was: are these people genuine? Do they really have the love of God? At the end of two years I came to the conclusion that yes they did, although they clearly weren’t perfect. Well, that was OK because neither was I.

Which leads me on to the third point, which is: Examine your motives

Or to put it another way, why are we here? I mean, why are we really here? If you want a headline here, it is that “motives matter”. Motives are almost like a gravitational force, or magnetic attraction in the spiritual realm. They tend to have very real effects, maybe not immediately, but in the long term, definitely. They influence our decisions and subsequent actions. In fact I know that some people go as far as to say that our thoughts tend to predict our own future, in the sense we tend to become what we think. So not surprisingly, our motives are a matter of great concern to God. And I’d go so far as to say that God is often as concerned about why we are doing something as he is with what we are doing.

A quick example, this time from the OT. You may recall that King David was described as a man after God’s own heart. But David had a very tempestuous life. Not every decision he made was good. But the reason God respected him was that his motives were fundamentally good.

But it can work in reverse too. Sometimes we do something that is good, or at least it appears to be, for the wrong motives. An example is in Acts 5, which we won’t turn to for the sake of time. You may recall that the circumstances were that there were people in the early NT church who had certain physical needs, and that what the church was doing about it was for some of the wealthier members to sell property in order to provide support to less well off members who were in need,.

In Acts 5 Ananias and Sapphira appear to do the same. But in reality they keep some of the proceeds themselves, lie about it, and then are struck dead. (Acts 5: 1-11)

I don’t think that Ananias and his wife were struck dead because God wanted more of there money. The reason they were struck dead because they lied to the Holy Spirit, and the reason they lied is that because their motives were wrong in the first place. What they fundamentally wanted the plaudits of the congregation, not the praise of God. And to go back to the previous points I mentioned, were they seeking things the things above? I don’t thing so, they were seeking things on earth. Were they loving their neighbour? I don’t think so. They wanted the praise of the congregation more than they actually wanted to help the members.

A couple more scriptures to close.

Matt 5:8

8 Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.

In the original Greek, the word pure has a much broader meaning that what we would probably associate with the English word “pure”. It really means not mixed with anything that is base, inferior or defiled. So it is really saying blessed are those whose motives are undefiled, for they shall see God..

Last scripture

1 John 3:1-3 (NKJV)

1 Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

So this is the final result of sanctification. That we shall see God as he is, and will share his likeness.

In conclusion, we are never going to be perfect in this life. It’s when we see God - when Christ is revealed at his return - that the command of Christ in Matthew 5 will be fulfilled, and we will finally be made perfect.

Peter Howick

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