Many Christians make a mistake, trusting in their own power to make them holy for God. It doesn’t matter how many promises you make to God or to yourself - if you are still trusting your own power you will not stop sinning. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5). It is not just a matter of deciding, “That’s it! From now on I sin no more.” Of course you must desire to stop sinning or you will not stop sinning. The person who doesn’t want to stop sinning is not saved, because there is no longer repentance in their life! But just deciding to stop sinning doesn’t guarantee sucess.
The key to overcoming sin is not trying harder. It is not imposing rigid and harsh treatment of the body on oneself (Colossians 2:21-23). Isolating oneself from the world is not God’s plan for holiness. Jesus told us to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13,14). We must go into all the world and preach the gospel (Mark 16:15) - not run away from the world. We must love the people as God does. Self-isolation is not the key. Indeed, the Bible says “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment.” (Proverbs 18:1).
Criticising oneself or condemning oneself does not produce holiness, although it is important to judge ourselves at times (1 Corinthians 11:31). “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1). If we know we have sinned, we should confess it, repent of it and look to God - not meditate on our sinfulness. If we don’t know where we have sinned, then we should humble ourselves and ask God to make things clearer to us. We should resist Satan’s condemnation and accusations.
Trying to keep the laws of God does not make us holy. It will either condemn us - if we feel we have failed to keep the law - or it will make us self-righteous - “God I thank you that I am not like other men.” (Luke 18:11). Pride in what we have done through our own power is sin (1 John 2:16).
Worse than trying to be holy through keeping God’s laws in our power is trying to be holy be keeping man-made rules which have been added to the commandments of God. Such rules are typically special rules for how to eat and dress - or rules about how to have church services. When we focus our energy on keeping man-made rules we are far from God (Matthew 15:8,9). We become like the Pharisees, who were very proud of their efforts to keep the traditions of their elders. None of this will lead to the holiness of heart and life which God desires. God wants mercy, not sacrifice. The Scripture verses found in Matthew 15:11, Hebrews 13:9, Romans 14:17 and 1 Timothy 4:3-5 should make it clear to us that rules about food are not the key to sanctification. Rather, they can become an obsessive distraction.
As we have seen is lesson 4, the law was designed to show us our sinfulness (Romans 7:7). The law can show us our need for forgiveness and sanctification, but in itself it never produces what we need for salvation. What we need for forgiveness and sanctification was provided for only at the cross of Christ.
Romans 7:14-24 describes a man who is trying to overcome sin and be sanctified through his own will-power. Paul describes it as follows: “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practise; but what I hate, that I do.” (Romans 7:15). He goes on to say, “For I know that in me (that is in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practise.” (Romans 7:18,19).
Note the accent on personal will. That the phrase “I will” is so often repeated here is not an accident. Despite the good resolutions and willingness, the power of sin is still ruling. It requires something more. Some have suggested that Paul here is talking about himself before he was saved. In any case it is clear that the man of Romans 7 is sincere - but he is bound by a power of sin he can’t control. He would like to do what is right. Paul says here, “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man” (vs 22). He is not indifferent to the law of God. But here he is trying to overcome sin by the power of self, armed with the knowledge of the law. This kind of attempt is doomed to failure in anyone’s life. In our flesh dwells no good thing. It takes a life lived in Christ, in His power, in His grace to overcome sin.
It is clear therefore that sanctification requires more than simply an act of the will. Our wills are involved however, as we will see - but not directly in efforts to keep the law. Our wills must be used to keep our focus on Jesus. Our wills must surrender to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Keeping focussed on Jesus will enable the Spirit to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The normal way to keep focussed on Jesus is to focus on His Word. Sanctification is part of our salvation which we must receive. Like justification, sanctification is by faith in Jesus (Acts 26:18). “Whatever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Therefore we can see that faith is the key to sanctification, through which all the other gifts and means by which we receive God’s grace are received and made effective.
“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.” (Hebrews 10:29).
The Scripture teaches us that the blood of the Jesus sanctifies us. Not only does it justify us or make us right with God - it also sanctifies us. It changes us.
The first step for any person coming to God is to believe in the power of the blood of Jesus. This blood represents the payment for our sin. It takes sin away. We must believe that through the blood of Jesus we are forgiven. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Knowing we are forgiven and free from guilt, we can serve God with a clear conscience and without fear (Hebrews 9:14). We can go forward in our walk with God.
But the blood means more than forgiveness. It involves sanctification. It is the blood of the covenant. A real Christian is in blood covenant relationship with God. It is time we realised what this means. Blood covenants, still practised today in some parts of the world - are the most serious types of agreements between two men. Their blood is actually mixed. Being in blood covenant with someone means “All that I have is yours, and all that you have is mine.” We must realise that this is our relationship to God. All that we have is His (1 Corinthians 6:19), and yet all that He has is ours in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:21; Romans 8:17; Romans 8:32; Matthew 7:7). The way this works in practice is detailed in the New Testament or New Covenant. This is another reason why it is important to study the New Testament. It is your contract with God.
When we realise that the blood of Jesus means that God has bought us and all that we have and are belongs to him - this has a powerful affect on our lives if we truly believe. We realise that we are no longer our own to go off and do whatever we choose. We must now listen to God. The knowledge of this blood covenant can change us.