It’s a privilege to be back with you. In my first session yesterday we explored the sufficiency of Scripture as it relates to our evangelism, and we learned that Scripture is the sole instrument by which God accomplishes the great miracle of regeneration. Almighty God overcomes the moral and spiritual blindness of mankind by shining into our hearts the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ by opening our blinded minds, by uncovering our veiled hearts and freeing our wills from the bondage of sin. And we learned that He does that great miracle by means of the Word of God and the Word of God alone. He brought us forth by the Word of truth. You are born again through the living and enduring Word of God. We are effectually called to life through our gospel. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. So if we’re a spiritually dead sinner to come to life and faith in Christ, nothing more is needed than the power of the Word of God united with the power of the Holy Spirit of God who breathes out that Word.
But that was for regeneration, that was for conversion, that was for entering into the faith. What about for sanctification? What about for the Christian life and growth and holiness? What about the period in-between the conversion of the past and our glorification that comes in the future in the present pursuit of Christlikeness where we each live every day? Each and every one of us who has been regenerated by the work of God and has been justified by faith alone lives every moment of every day smack dab in the middle of progressive sanctification. We have been commanded, Philippians 1:27, to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel. We have been commanded, 1 Timothy 6:12, to fight the good fight of faith. We’ve been commanded, Hebrews 12:14, to pursue the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. We’ve been commanded, 2 Peter 3:18, to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What about that? Is Scripture sufficient for that? Is the Scripture that is sufficient to get sinners saved sufficient to sanctify saved sinners? That’s the question we’re concerned with in this session. And if we’re to look to broader evangelicalism, if we were to consider the cacophony of voices claiming to speak for Jesus in Christianity, we find several reasons to believe that the collective wisdom of the contemporary church answers with a resounding no to that question. If we were to observe the doctrine of sanctification of many professing Christians and Christian teachers and leaders, we are shut up to the conclusion that many believe that Scripture is not sufficient for our sanctification.
One of the chief opponents of the sufficiency of Scripture for sanctification is what we might call traditionalism, the practice of adding manmade traditions to the Bible to secure a greater degree of holiness. This is the idea that Scripture is helpful, that Scripture is even necessary, but that it’s not sufficient to safeguard the wayward human heart from sin. We see this most clearly in all forms of legalism, whether it’s explicitly requiring obedience in addition to faith for justification, like you see in Roman Catholicism where sacraments supposedly communicate grace. We see it in cults like Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Black Hebrew Israelites, the Hebrew Roots movement, all adding works to faith as the sole instrument of justification.
We also see it in the kind of conscience-binding legalism of cultural fundamentalism, where genuine Christian liberty is snuffed out by manmade rules concerning things like dancing and makeup and food choices and second and third-degree separation. The commands of Scripture aren’t enough to sanctify God’s people. They’re not enough to regulate a Christian’s conduct. God’s own Word isn’t enough to produce holiness in the lives of His people. These sets of rules and rituals are how you become a really spiritual person, how you make progress in real holiness.
The most notorious biblical example of this kind of traditionalism is the Pharisees. The Pharisees believed in the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures, they did; but they didn’t believe that the Scriptures themselves were sufficient to produce the kind of purity of life God demanded. And it sometimes said that they put up fences around the law of God, prescribing manmade traditions so that people wouldn’t even get close to breaking an actual biblical law. They’d break some of the manmade laws and they wouldn’t even get close to breaking God’s law; and that would safeguard them from any unholiness. And so they imposed upon the people complex stipulations for tithing, for fasting, for swearing oaths, for ceremonial washings, and they measured people’s holiness, they measured their own holiness by whether people adhered not merely to Scripture, but also to these extrabiblical self-imposed standards. And even if their intent is to safeguard the Scriptures, inevitably, these manmade traditions end up eclipsing the Scriptures. And in Matthew 15, verse 3, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for that very thing. He says, “Why do you transgress the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” It always happens that way.
Another inevitability is that these extrabiblical traditions externalized one’s view of sanctification. Manmade traditions very rarely focus on one’s heart or attitude, because those things aren’t so easily measured; they’re often restrictions on behavior, and they take the form of a rigid ceremonialism. And so, without exception, you focus on these external traditions, and it sucks the life and vitality out of true worship, out of real holiness. And holiness is reconceived as formalism, just going through the motions of external behaviors and rituals without the genuine affection, without the genuine love that marks all true obedience. In that same passage, Matthew 15, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for that very thing as well. He quotes Isaiah 29:13 and says in Matthew 15, verses 8 and 9, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. In vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”
Another threat to the sufficiency of Scripture and sanctification, really the opposite side of the spectrum as legalistic traditionalism, is the antinomianism of what’s come to be known as the Deeper Life movement or the Higher Life movement. This is that brand of spirituality that was popularized by the Keswick movement in the 19th century in writers like Andrew Murray and Hannah Whitall Smith, who taught that the key to sanctification was to cease striving for holiness and to passively yield yourself up to God to sanctify as He pleases. This is the let go and let God approach to sanctification, which has found its contemporary expression in the so-called Free Grace or Hyper-Grace movement. This is the idea that the reason you’re struggling to be holy is because you’re struggling to be holy. You need to surrender. You need to recognized that you are entirely unable to affect your sanctification at all. You need to just sort of melt into a passive puddle of goo that the Lord will reshape Himself by His sanctifying hand, not by yours. And once you’ve figured out how to adequately surrender, you live on this higher plane of spiritual victory. You’re no longer a carnal Christian, but you’re on a level of sanctification that was previously unattainable when you were struggling to make yourself holy by your efforts. And that undermines Scripture’s sufficiency in sanctification, because when that’s your model for the pursuit of holiness, all your focus turns away from the objective revelation of Scripture and from the Christ that Scripture reveals and it puts that focus inward on yourself.
You say, “Why?” Because when you say, “Stop striving, just yield and surrender,” you start striving to yield and surrender, You try not to try, and you’re flung into this morass of your own heart and you tie yourself in knots trying to figure out whether your efforts were fleshly or spiritual, whether you’re genuinely surrendering or if you’re only trying to genuinely surrender and it’s in the flesh, rather than going to the text of Scripture to hear the voice of your God and then to set out to obey it. You hop on this hamster wheel of assessing your own emotions and you spend so much time on that hamster wheel that you don’t ever actually spend too much time obeying. Or, you eventually become so exhausted by all that introspection that you despair of any real process and you make peace with your sin. You’re hopelessly sinful, after all, and you have Jesus’ perfect righteousness credited to your account for justification, and you’ll be holy when you’re glorified and not before then, and so one way or another the sanctification process is fatally hamstrung.
Another threat to the sufficiency of Scripture and sanctification has been the influence of psychology and psychiatry in our culture. Our culture needs to do whatever it can to keep convincing itself of the lie that people are basically good, that the effects of sin that are so obvious throughout our society are not really the results of sin, though the results of illness, the results of disease. You see someone go on a rampage and kill people with machine guns and this and that; and what do you always hear? “Oh, we need to do a better job about mental illness,” not because that person’s heart is corrupt and it’s in the heart of man to hate and to kill. No-no-no-no-no, people, you understand, aren’t perpetrators. People aren’t sinners. My goodness, they’re victims.
And it’s not just the people who commit heinous crimes that we see on the news; you are victims, too. Did you know that? You’re not a drunkard, you have the disease of alcoholism. You’re not enslaved to drugs, you’re not enslaved to pornography, you suffer from addiction. You’re not sinfully anxious, you have an anxiety disorder. Your problem is wrong thinking, sinful desires, poor choices, your problem is bad brain chemistry, and that means your solution isn’t to be transformed by the renewing of your mind as you saturate your mind with God’s Word, it’s not to wield the sword of the Spirit against your fleshly desires and put to death the deeds of the body by the Sprit; it’s to take this pill.
You say, “Well, that sounds easy, Doc. Will it cure me?” “No, no. Cure you? No. Your disease can’t be cured.” “Well, but if my problem is chemistry and the pill alters the chemistry, it should care of it, no?” “No, no.” You know, “There, there,” pat on the head. “We can manage your symptoms, but this is something you’ll suffer with for the rest of your life.” And yet, God’s Word commands you not to be drunk with wine, to look not after another with lust in your heart. God’s Word commands you to be anxious for nothing. And then alongside those commandments, the Scriptures offer you the hope of the freedom from the dominion of sin through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.
There’s probably no greater contemporary hindrance to the sufficiency for Scripture for our sanctification for the Christian life than the doctrine of continuing revelation, as popularized by the charismatic movement. And you’ve seen them in the more egregious iterations of contemporary charismaticism, genuine spirituality, which is characterized by sobriety, self-control, and holy living, has been hijacked and redefined into mindless emotionalistic chaos, typified even by babbling gibberish, uncontrollable laugher, and other asinine displays like rolling around on the floor and even barking. People in this movement are taught that unless they experience these signs of being baptized with the Holy Spirit, well they’re not Spirit-filled. And if you’re not Spirit-filled, you’ve got no hope of making progress in holiness because you need the Holy Spirit’s work in you to be holy. If you’re not speaking in tongues, if you’re not receiving direct revelation from God, whether in that still, small or some subjective impression whose significance you have to discern by some sort of semi-divination, then you just aren’t going to be victorious, you’re not going to be sanctified, and you’re not going to make progress in holiness.
So what does that do? If true spirituality is marked by receiving direct revelation in addition to Scripture, what sense does it make to do the hard work of laboring to understand and apply the Scriptures themselves? I mean, exegesis isn’t easy. Eisegesis is easy, but exegesis sure isn’t. I mean, historical context, syntactical analysis, lexical study, the analogy of faith, meditation, prayer, applying to my life – why bother with all of that when I can get fast-track to holiness with some gibberish and a liver shiver?
There’s so many opponents to the sufficiency of Scripture for our sanctification, but we must stand against all of those alternatives. We must descent. We must stand and declare that the answer to that question that I asked originally, “Is the Scripture that is sufficient to get sinners saved sufficient to sanctify saved sinners?” We need to declare that the answer to that question is a resounding, “Yes!” We must declare, 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17, that all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. We need to insist, 2 Peter 1:3 and 4, that God’s divine power has granted to us everything we need for life and godliness, through the true knowledge Him who called us by His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, as we have them recorded in Scripture, so that by them we might be conformed into the divine image.
And I hope that this message equips you to stand and declare those things. And to do that, we’re going to consider a number of passages of Scripture. But we’re going to anchor our thoughts in one text in particular, and it’s back in the book of 2 Corinthians, this time in chapter 3, the final verse of chapter 3, verse 18, a verse that has massive implications for the doctrine and practice of sanctification.
Second Corinthians 3, verse 18, Paul says this: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” And from that text, along with the help of several other texts, we’re going to observe five key truths about sanctification, five key truths about sanctification that are going to teach us much concerning how Scripture is sufficient for our sanctification.
Now the first key truth about sanctification that I want to draw from this text is that the believer’s growth in holiness is, number one, fundamentally internal and supernatural. It’s fundamentally internal and supernatural. And you say, “Where do you get that from 2 Corinthians 3:18?” Well, Paul says that, “As we behold the glory of the Lord” – look at it – “we are being transformed into that same image.”
And that word “transformed” is the Greek word metamorphoō, which is where we get the English term “metamorphosis.” But as every Greek dictionary will tell you, this word does not merely refer to the outward form. Metamorphosis, something changes in its external appearance, but not internally. Not so with the Greek word metamorphoō. That describes the inner transformation of the essence of a person. It describes an inward change of fundamental character.
Philippians 2:13, another key passage on sanctification also affirms this reality there. Paul says explicitly that God is working in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure. So in this process of progressive sanctification, God is working in us not just so that we might work, but also that we would will and work. He’s working even on our desires.
Romans 12:2 is another one: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed” – same word – “by the renewing of your mind,” more internal language. And we could go on. Paul prays that we would be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, Ephesians 3:16. He calls us to be renewed in the spirit of our mind, Ephesians 4:23.
So the point is, holiness does not simply mean bringing our outward behavior into conformity with an external standard. It means that, but that is not all that it means. Why? Because you don’t need the supernatural power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to do that, you just need a strong willpower and a sensitive conscience.
As we saw in the case of the Pharisees, hypocrites can conform to the external trappings of religion all the while remaining destitute of holy desires. “This people honors Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.” And that is not the sanctification to which we are called. The inward transformation of the mind, which is to say the character, the affections will work itself out in external behavior, to be sure; but the transformation begins internally.
And so the great Princeton theologian Charles Hodge puts it very helpfully. He says, “Sanctification does not consist exclusively in a series of a new kind of acts, it is the making the tree good in order that the fruit may be good. It involves an essential change of character. Just as regeneration is a new birth, a new creation, a quickening, or a communicating a new life; so sanctification in its essential nature is not holy acts, but such a change in the state of the soul that sinful acts become more infrequent, and holy acts more and more habitual and controlling.”
Hodge says, “Sanctification is making the tree good. It’s uprooting the plant and planting it into fertile soil, so that that tree can bear fruit.” You don’t take fruit and staple it to a tree. No, the fruit has to be produced by the life of the plant, and that life only flows as we the branches remain sapped to Christ our vine, as that life comes only through union with Christ, which means that the believer’s progressive growth in holiness is not an endeavor of mere outward reform or conformity to an external standard. God is at work in us not only to work, but to will and to work for His good pleasure.
And so the sanctification that we’re seeking is both internal and external. We want to have sanctified affections as well as sanctified actions, because God commands us not only to behave righteously, He also commands us to be holy. And that means the truly holy person doesn’t merely do what God commands, though he certainly does that. But it goes deeper than that. The truly holy person loves what God loves, and then acts in keeping with that renewed heart.
People talk today about, “Well, I have these desires; but as long as I can stop the behavior, then I’m okay. Those desires themselves are neutral. I don’t have to mortify those desires, that’s just who I am.” Bologna. The desire for sin is sinful. You want something that your Father, full of wisdom and grace and truth, says is not for you to have. To want what your Father says is not for you to have is sin.
And so, as God works in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure, what does He do? He inclines our hearts to treasure the glory of Christ. And as we behold Christ with the eyes of our hearts, with the eyes of faith, our minds and our affections are renewed, so that we love Him more and love sin less. We’re transformed from the inside out.
Now if that wasn’t the case and sanctification was simply a matter of performing external duties, then the right way for me to exhort you to greater holiness would be to just say, “Try harder, be better, do gooder. Bear down, grit your teeth, and give it the old college try.” And what you have there is the kind of moralistic externalism that depends not on the Spirit of God working within you, but on the strength of your own willpower, whether your heart is properly engaged or not.
If holiness was a fundamentally external matter, that would be the way to go – Nike sanctification; just do it. But because this dynamic of transformation is a fundamentally internal and supernatural work in the heart of man in which God progressively conforms our affections to the affections of Christ, our thinking to the thinking of Christ, well our pursuit of holiness looks a lot different. If sanctification is fundamentally internal and supernatural, we need to realize that we can’t directly affect that eternal transformation in ourselves.
And that brings us to a second key truth. Number Two: Sanctification is a sovereign work of the Spirit of God. Sanctification is a sovereign work of the Spirit of God. Philippians 2:13 says that clearly: “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” And this only makes sense. If true sanctification is not merely external but it’s fundamentally internal and supernatural, then we must be dependent upon the One who supernaturally works in us. That’s why in key texts in sanctification you hear the passive voice being used so often. Romans 12:2, we read it before. We’re commanded, not transform yourselves by the renewing of your minds, but, “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”
In our text, 2 Corinthians 3:18, it doesn’t say, “Beholding we transform ourselves,” but rather, “Beholding we are being transformed.” By whom are we being transformed? By the God who is at work within us. That’s why the author of Hebrews prays in Hebrews 13:20 and 21 that great benediction: “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ.” The God of peace has to work in His people what is pleasing in His sight, that they might perform them. We were created in advance to do good works that we should walk in them. These good works are prepared for us to walk in.
And so the theologian Louis Berkhof rightly concludes that sanctification therefore, quote, “consists fundamentally in a divine operation in the soul,” a divine operation in the soul. When you’re growing in holiness it’s because God Himself is working in your soul directly to make you more like His Son.
And the particular person of the Godhead whose work it is to perform this divine operation in the soul to conform us to the image of Christ is the Holy Spirit. Our text tells us that as well, the end of the verse. He says this whole process of transformation is just as from the Lord, the Spirit. “The Spirit” – Galatians 5 – “sets His desire against the flesh,” so that He produces in the believer’s life those virtues that compose a character of holiness and integrity that are called the fruit of the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit. He produces His fruit, we bear it. So we can make no mistake; the work of sanctification is God’s work.
So, so far, number one, sanctification is fundamentally internal and supernatural. Number two, sanctification is the sovereign work of the Spirit of God. But that brings us to the famous question: If the internal and supernatural work of sanctification is properly said to be the Spirit’s work, what does the believer do? If the Holy Spirit is the agent of this great work of effecting holiness in the Christian, do we just sit back and do nothing? Are we entirely passive, dependent on the sovereign whims of the Spirit to sanctify us as He pleases? Does it fall to us to just yield and relax and surrender and let go and let God? The answer to that question is absolutely not. It is precisely because of the sovereign work of the Spirit of God in us that we must pursue holiness by a diligent effort.
Philippians 2:12 and 13, Paul commands us, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for, because God’s not working at all on you, so you’ve got to work it out”? No. “Because it’s God who is at work within you both to will and work for His good pleasure.” God’s work is not an excuse for us not to work, it’s the very ground of our working. It’s because God works that we can work at all, and it’s because God works that we must work.
Peter says the same thing in 2 Peter 1. You might turn to 2 Peter chapter 1. We’ve read that verse already before in this sermon; Phil spoke about it last night. He tells us that God’s divine – verse 3 – “God’s divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness.” You have been given everything. “Because of Christ’s work, we have” – verse 4 – “escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” You have escaped the corruption; you sound pretty sanctified. And then verse 5, he says, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue.” You’ve got everything you need, you’ve escaped corruption; because of that, add to your faith virtue and kindness and love, not, “He does it, so I don’t have to do it,” not, “I’ve got to do it, so He must not be doing it,” but God works in, and we work out. His work is the ground of my working.
But what does that mean? I mean, is that just a contradiction, or we just throw up our hands in confusion and say, “Well, it’s in the text, so we just attribute this to divine mystery”? No, I don’t believe we can afford to do that, and I don’t believe that Scripture leaves us with no further light on the issue. See, while it’s unmistakable that the Spirit is the sovereign agent of sanctification, that fact in no way contradicts the reality that He effects this transformation through the use of means which the believer must appropriate.
And that the third key truth that we have to learn today. Number one, sanctification is fundamentally internal and supernatural. Because of that, number two, sanctification is a sovereign work of the Spirit of God. But, number three, the Holy Spirit employs means in sanctifying the believer. And so, so far from being passive in the matter, so far from merely yielding or surrendering and waiting for the magic zap, we are to make every effort, as Peter says, to avail ourselves of the means through which the Spirit does His work.
And I love the way the Scottish Puritan Henry Scougal illustrates this. He says this: “All the art and industry of man cannot form the smallest herb or make a stalk of corn to grow in the field. It is the energy of nature and the influences of heaven which produce this effect. It’s God who” – and then he quotes Psalm 104:14 – “it is God who causeth the grass to grow and the herb for the service of man. And yet” – Scougal says – “nobody will say that the labors of the farmer are useless and unnecessary.”
See, human beings can’t make grass grow. We can’t go outside, concentrate really hard, wave our hands and make the land sprout fruit and vegetables. That’s God’s work. And yet nobody would suggest that a responsible farmer should just simply sit back and wait for his land to magically sprout crops as a result of divine fiat. No. God has ordained to bring forth the produce of the earth, something only He can do. He’s ordained to do that by means of the farmers’ labors by the cultivation of the soil, by the sowing of the seed, by the watering of the plant.
In the same way, we can’t just try really hard, concentrate, wave our hands and change our own hearts to make ourselves more holy. Sanctification is a sovereign work of the Spirit of God; but God has ordained that the Spirit accomplish that glorious work through means. And so when Scripture commands us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, it’s commanding us to make diligent use of those means that the Spirit employs for affecting our holiness. When Scripture uses a passive imperative like “be transformed,” commanding us to have something done to us, it’s commanding us to put ourselves in the way of those channels of grace which the Spirit uses to conform us to the image of Christ.
So what are those means? How are we transformed? That brings us to our fourth key truth, namely, we are transformed by beholding glory. We are transformed by beholding glory.
Look again at our text, 2 Corinthians 3:18. Paul says, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” Now that’s a long sentence with a lot of commas. Here it is down to its bear bones: “But we all, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed. Beholding, we are being transformed.” It’s as believers behold the glory of Jesus with the eyes of our heart by faith that we are thereby progressively conformed into His image.
You say, “Does Scripture say that anywhere else?” Only everywhere. Hebrews 12:2, “We run the race of the Christian life by fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.” Like Moses in Hebrews 11:26 and 27, “Our faith is strengthened to endure all manner of temptation by looking to the reward,” – the text says – “and by seeing Him who is unseen.” That’s how Moses chose to endure ill-treatment with the people of God rather than to be known as the son of Pharaoh and endure the passing pleasures of this earth by looking to the reward and seeing Him who is unseen.
In 2 Corinthians 4:18, the end of the chapter after our text, Paul tells us that, “Momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” Oh wait, but the verse doesn’t end there. That’s a glorious text on suffering and how God is going to redeem our suffering, which was nuts, by the way. And I think it was somebody commented, quoted something from some teacher earlier in the week that said that the notion of redemptive suffering is unbiblical. Maybe it was at your guys’ talk, at Virgil and Darrell’s talk, that redemptive suffering is somehow evil. There’s your suffering redeeming something. Your suffering, your momentary light affliction is producing for you an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, but not without condition. Under what condition is that doing that? “While we look not to the things which are seen, but to the things which are not seen.”
And then in 1 John 3:2, we learn that even unto glorification, our degree of Christlikeness is directly proportional to our beholding His glory. John says in 1 John 3:2, “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him,” – we will be sanctified, we’ll be conformed into His image – “because we will see Him as He is.” Now we see by faith through a glass darkly, and we get conformed little bit by little bit to the image of Christ. When we see Him as He is, then we’ll be like Him completely, because our likeness to Christ is a function of our beholding of His glory.
And so, according to these texts and especially 2 Corinthians 3:18, we learn that the means by which we are transformed into the image of Christlikeness is beholding the glory of the Lord. I like the way that John Piper puts it. He says simply, “Beholding is becoming.” Beholding is becoming.
Now why is that so? How does the spiritual sight of Christ supernaturally cause us to increase in holiness? And this is key. It’s because the spiritual sight of Christ by virtue of the delightfulness and beauty of His glory causes us to admire Him in such a way that we are satisfied by Him, and that therefore we don’t go seeking satisfaction in lesser sinful pleasures.
Do you know why you sin? It’s not because you with you couldn’t and you just have to. Somebody was saying, “You know what; you’re really holy. I know you don’t want to sin, but you just got to do it, otherwise I’m going to shoot you and kill you.”
No, we all sin. No one sins out of duty; we all sin because we believe that sinning in the moment will bring us something satisfying, that it’ll be more satisfying on the path of disobedience than on the path of obedience to Christ. But if we behold the glory of Jesus as He is, His glory captures our affections and it causes us to love what He loves, and it causes us to hate what He hates.
You say, “I love that. I want more of that. Where can I get more of that?” Not on the path of disobedience. I can get more of Him on the path of obedience.
John 14, right? “If anyone loves Me he’ll keep My commandments. And the one who keeps My commandments, My Father will love him, and come and disclose; and I will disclose Myself to him.” Where do I get more disclosures of the sight of the glory of Christ in my heart? On the path of obedience to Him. And I see Him and I love what I see, and I start to love what’s going to get me more of Him. And so my affections and my loves and my desires are renewed; and then my desires, they inform my will.
In other words, what I want, what my will wants is what my heart loves; and what my will doesn’t want is what my heart hates. And then when our wills are thus properly informed by sanctified affections, we do what we want to do. We joyfully obey the commands of God, which 1 John 5:3 says are not burdensome. Why? Because they’ve been made not burdensome, because mind affections will actions because we’ve perceived the glory of Christ with our minds, we’ve treasured the glory of Christ in our hearts, we’ve wanted the glory of Christ with our wills, and we do with our actions what we want. Mind, affections, will, actions – all of them, and in that order.
So Charles Hodge puts it this way: “The Spirit we are taught especially opens the eyes to see the glory of Christ, to see that He is God manifest in the flesh, to discern not only His divine perfections, but His love to us, and His suitableness in all respects as our Savior.” Listen to what He says: “This apprehension of Christ is transforming. The soul is thereby changed into His image from glory to glory by the Spirit of our Lord. This apprehension of Christ is transforming.”
And Owen, John Owen, summarizes this teaching so beautifully in a book that you should all get: The Glory of Christ, by John Owen. It was the last work he wrote as he was getting ready to behold the glory of Christ face to face. And he writes this towards the end of that work: “Let us live in the constant contemplation of the glory of Christ, and virtue will proceed from Him to repair all our decays, to renew a right spirit within us, and to cause us to abound in all duties of obedience. It will fix the soul unto that object, which is suited to give it delight, complacency, and satisfaction.”
When the mind is filled with thoughts of Christ in His glory, when the soul thereon cleaves unto Him with intense affections, they will cast out or not give admittance unto those causes of spiritual weakness and in disposition, and nothing will so much excite and encourage our souls here unto as a constant view of Christ and His glory.
Beholding, we are transformed. Now the implications of that for the practical pursuit of Christlikeness are staggering. This teaches us that in all of our diligent efforts to appropriate the means of grace that the Spirit uses to accomplish His work of sanctification, the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ stands at the very center of them, giving life to all of them. In everything that we do to press further in sanctification – reading our Bibles every morning, praying to God, fellowshipping with other believers, attending to the ordinances of the church, regularly participating in the baptism and the communion of Christ’s saints, to striving, striving to keep God’s commandments – all of those means of grace, in all of them our fundamental number one goal is to saturate the eyes of our heart with the all-satisfying vision of the glory of God revealed in the face of Christ. In my Bible reading, in my prayer, in my fellowship with you, in my worship, in my seeing baptism and communion displaying the gospel for me in tangible modes, in my desires to obey, I’m after Jesus. I’m after seeing and enjoying more of Him, because beholding, I’m transformed.
Now here’s the key question: If the means by which the Spirit sanctifies the believer is the beholding of the glory of Jesus, then we have to ask, “Where is the glory of Jesus to be beheld? Where can I see Him? Where does the believer go to fix his eyes on Jesus?” Answer: We go to the place where Jesus has been preeminently and infallibly revealed. We go, friends, to the sufficient Scripture. That is our fifth key truth for this afternoon. Number Five: The glory of Christ is revealed in Scripture. The glory of Christ that transforms us and sanctifies us into His image is revealed in Scripture.
The Word of God reveals the glory of God. God has chosen to reveal Himself to us in His Word. And if we want to see the glory of Jesus put on display, we must go to the Scriptures. Undergirding and vivifying the sanctifying power of the written Word is the glory of the living Word. I’m going to say that again: Undergirding and vivifying, making alive the sanctifying power of the written Word is the sanctifying glory of the living Word.
Now how can I substantiate that claim from Scripture itself? I want you turn back with me to Exodus chapter 34. In Exodus 33, verse 18, Moses begs God, “I pray You, show me Your glory! Show me Your glory, I want to see You. If I’ve found favor in Your sight, let me see You.” And God answers this prayer in chapter 34, verses 5 to 7.
But the Lord doesn’t just show Moses something to be seen, He speaks to Moses concerning His character. Exodus 34:5, “Yahweh descended in the cloud and stood there with him.” Verse 6, “Then Yahweh passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘Yahweh, Yahweh God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”
Moses says, “So me Your glory!” and God says, “Okay, I will.” And then He passes by in a cloud of glory that you could see with your eyes; but He also proclaims the essence of His character. They go together. The glory of God is inextricably linked with the Word of God.
Turn to 1 Samuel chapter 3. In this chapter, the Lord calls Samuel into prophetic ministry, and commenting on this momentous event, the author writes in chapter 3, verse 21. The last verse of the chapter, it says, “And Yahweh appeared again at Shiloh, because Yahweh revealed Himself to Samuel at Shiloh” – how? – “by the word of Yahweh,” by the Word of Yahweh. Yahweh appeared because Yahweh revealed Himself by the Word of Yahweh. And again, this illustrates that intimate relationship between God’s glory and God’s Word. God’s Word is a vehicle for revealing His glory.
You know what you’re doing every day when you open your Bibles for devotional reading? You’re not checking off the box on the Bible reading plan merely. You’re not just familiarizing yourself with the content and outline of particular books of Scripture. You’re not amassing apologetic arguments so you can totally own the unbeliever out on the street with this super cool gotcha argument. You’re going to see Jesus. You’re saying, “Show me Your glory. O God, open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things, and not just wonderful things, but a wonderful Savior from Your word.”
The Word of God is the vehicle revealing His glory. And in 1 Samuel and in Exodus 34, that Word was spoken to Moses. It was spoken to Samuel. Where is that Word for us today? It is in the Scriptures and in the Scriptures alone.
And so the Scriptures then are the vehicle for our communion with the Father in the person of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Scripture sanctifies us, brothers and sisters, because Scripture reveals the glory of God in the face of Christ, which by beholding it, we are transformed from glory to glory. And that means that Scripture is sufficient for our sanctification. And the text of Scripture testifies to the truthfulness of that claim throughout its pages.
Let’s consider the ways that Scripture testifies to its own sufficiency for sanctification. I’m going to give you ten. I’m going to go quick. See if you can keep up. See if you can keep up in the Bible. Flip and do sword drills, right?
First, Scripture is sufficient to produce sanctifying growth in the people of God, growth. First Peter chapter 2,verses 1 to 3, Peter says, “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” It is by the pure milk of the Word of God that the people of God grow with respect to salvation, that we grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Word is the means by which we grow, because the Word is the means by which Christ is revealed.
In Psalm 1, we read of the man who has the blessing of God on Him. We read of the blessing upon the man whose delight is in the law of Yahweh; and in His law he meditates day and night. Such a one, the text says, will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; in whatever he does, he prospers. So the one who delights in and meditates on the Word of God is the one who’s unshakably rooted, one who brings forth the fruit of righteousness. So if we were to bring forth the fruit of holiness in our lives, we must sink our roots into the enriching streams of the waters of Scripture.
Second, Scripture is sufficient to sanctify us as we serve Christ in a hostile world. I want you to turn for sure to John chapter 17 here. John chapter 17, we have the High Priestly Prayer of the Lord Jesus on the eve of His crucifixion. He’s preparing, as has been said, He’s preparing the disciples to live life in this world without Him. And so He says to the Father in John 17:13, “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.” The Word of Jesus is sufficient to secure the fullness of our joy.
Verse 14, “I’ve given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” And so Jesus sends us into a world which is not our home into a world that must hate us insofar as we are being faithful. And as He sends us into that hostile world that hates us, he prays that we would sanctified in the midst of the world’s sinfulness, not that we would be sequestered from the world’s sinfulness, but that we would be sanctified in the midst of it so that we can call them out of it. And look at that by which we are sanctified in verse 17: “Sanctify them, Father, by the truth; Your word is truth.” It is the Word of God that is the truth by which we are sanctified and equipped to live as strangers and aliens in this world that hates us.
Third, the Scripture is sufficient for battling temptation. In Matthew 4 and Luke 4, we have the written records of our Lord’s temptation by Satan in the wildernesses of Judea. And Satan pulled no punches as he attacked Jesus in the wilderness. He took advantage of Jesus’ 40 days of fasting, and tempted Him to use His divine power to make bread for Himself to eat. He promised Jesus the crown without cross: “I’ll give You all these nations as Your inheritance,” just like the Father had promised Jesus in Psalm 2. But Satan was saying, “I’ll give it to You without the cross, without the wrath of substitutionary atonement.”
And Satan even twisted the Scripture and quoted Psalm 91 and dared Christ to prove that He was the Son of God by putting God to the test and jumping off the mountain and making the angels come and bear Him up. And in every instance in these narratives, both in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, Jesus battled against the temptation of Satan by turning to Scripture. It’s like a refrain in the text: “It is written. It is written. It is written.” Jesus battles Satan himself in the most intense temptation of His life up until that point by unsheathing the sword of the Spirit, that is the Word of God. And if Scripture was sufficient for Jesus to battle temptation, it is sufficient for us to battle temptation.
Temptation comes along and promises us satisfaction: “Hey, that’ll feel really good. You should sin right here.” And what do we do? We have to take the sword of the Spirit, “No; it is written that the pure in heart shall see God. No; it is written that we are to be anxious for nothing; but by prayer and supplication in everything, we trust ourselves to God and make our requests known to God, and trust that the sovereign God gives us peace which transcends all understanding.”
“I really think that guy said something wrong about me. Those people reacted about me in a really bad way.” No, love believes all things, and hopes all things, and endures all things.” We take the Scriptures and we plunge the dagger of Scripture into the heart of the dragons of temptation, just like our Lord did.
Number Four, related to that: Scripture is sufficient for fighting sin. Psalm 119:9, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” Psalm 119:11, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, so that I might not sin against You.” A heart that’s full of the truth won’t easily be enticed by error. The heart that’s full and satisfied by the glory of Christ won’t be easily lured by the luster of sin. The Word of God is sufficient for fighting sin, for battling temptation.
Fifth: Scripture is sufficient for the edification of the people of God. Acts chapter 20, Paul is giving his farewell address to the Ephesian elders at Miletus, and he knows that these are going to be the final words that he says to his friends, and he brings his remarks to a climax in verse 32 in Acts 20, verse 32, when he says, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
Paul knows, “I’m not going to be around anymore. I’m not going to be here to minister to you, my dear brothers.” And so he gives them up, he commends them to the word of God’s grace, because that word is able to build him up, that word is able to edify and strengthen them in Christlikeness, and it’s able, finally, to bring them to their inheritance of perfected sanctification in the presence of the triune God of heaven. Why would you go someplace else if this is able to build you up?
Sixth, a truth that is much maligned in our day: Scripture is sufficient to give us guidance and understanding as we navigate the uncertainties of life. So many denigrate the sufficiency of Scripture because they believe it doesn’t speak to the particulars of life. They say, “I need that extra word from God because I need to know who to marry, I need to know which school to go to.”
But Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” It guides. Your Word shows me the way I am to take, not by saying, “Go left,” not by saying, “Buy Colgate instead of Crest,” but by giving you principles – I’m getting ahead of myself. One other verse 119:130, “The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” “Lord, I lack understanding.” The Word gives light and understanding to the simple.
Psalm 119:99, “I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation.” Scripture might not tell you how to change the oil in your car, and it may not tell you which university to attend or which person to marry, but it enlightens the mind to understand divine truth. It trains the mind in divine wisdom. It gives us principles of holiness and wisdom, so that when we do have to make those decisions that are not explicitly spelled out in Scripture, we make them with understanding, we make them with prudence, we make them with insight, the text says.
Seventh: Scripture is sufficient to test and evaluate any teaching that makes claims of truth. Scripture is sufficient to test and evaluate any teaching that makes claims of truth. In Acts chapter 17, Paul came preaching the gospel to the Jews in Berea; and as far as this group of God-fearers was concerned, Paul was bringing a new teaching to them. He was declaring that the time of the old covenant had come to a close because the promises that were spoken in the old covenant had been fulfilled in the life and the death and the resurrection of this Jesus of Nazareth. And as the rest of the book of Acts and the rest of Christian history testifies, getting people to believe that, and especially getting our Jewish friends to believe that is no small feat.
But what does the Scripture say of these Bereans? Acts 17, verse 11: “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica,” – Why? What made them noble? – “for they receive the word with great eagerness,” – the word that Paul preached – “examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” The Scriptures were a sufficient evaluative rule for this new teaching that Paul was bringing. The Bereans didn’t need to go get the rabbis. The Bereans didn’t need to go to get the commentators. The Bereans didn’t need to get the oral traditions. The Bereans didn’t go to get the PhDs to have them render judgment on Paul’s teaching. The Holy Spirit calls them noble precisely for behaving consistently with the notion that Scripture was sufficient to evaluate all truth claims.
Now of course, that doesn’t mean that we can’t benefit from helps other than Scripture insofar as those helps press us further into Scripture. Those helps are not really in addition to, they are coming alongside and pressing us back in. But the infallible rule, the sole infallible rule for all matters of doctrine, all evaluations of any truth claim is the sufficient Scripture.
Eighth: Scripture is sufficient to sustain us through trials, to sustain us through trials. Psalm 119, verse 50 says, “This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your Word has revived me.” Later in verse 143, the psalmist says, “Trouble and anguish have come upon me, yet Your commandments are my delight.” Even when I’m facing trouble and anguish, the trouble and anguish that I’m promised to face as a stranger and alien in this sinful world that hates me, the Word of God sustains my heart. I take delight in Your Word even while I’m suffering.
The apostle Paul modeled this well. If you’re still close to 2 Corinthians 4, look at verse 13. During the writing of 2 Corinthians, he was facing great affliction, external persecution like being beaten and imprisoned, and internal pressures, he says, like the pressing concern for all the churches. He speaks in chapter 4, verses 8 and 9 of being afflicted, of being perplexed, of being persecuted, of being struck down. But his response, chapter 4, verse 13, is, “But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written,” and then he quotes Scripture, then he quotes Psalm 116, verse 10, where David speaks of the cords of death encompassing him and the terrors of Sheol coming upon him.
But he says, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” and Paul seizes upon that reality that the faithful saints who had gone before him had gone through the same kinds of trials that he was facing. “No temptation has overtaken you except which is common to man,” and he sees God’s deliverance in David’s life as it’s recorded in Scripture, and he takes comfort in the fact that he serves the same God that David did. And that God promises to be with him and to never forsake him, just as He was with and never forsook David. Scripture is sufficient to sustain the heart of the weary servant even in the midst of trials.
Ninth: Scripture is sufficient to equip us for every good work. The ground zero text on the sufficiency of Scripture is 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17, we read it before: “All Scripture is inspired by God” – breathed out by God – “and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Christian, do you need to be taught? But God gave us Scripture for teaching. Do you need to be reproved or corrected? God gave us Scripture for that. Do you need to be trained in righteousness and practical holiness? Scripture is profitable for that, too. Do you need to be made complete? That’s the very purpose, the very “so that” for which God has given us this inspired and profitable Scripture.
That term “complete” is the Greek term artios. Some translations have “adequate,” “perfect,” “complete.” It means to be capable. It means to be proficient. It means to be equipped to meet the demands placed on you, to be fully outfitted for the task, one commentator said.
And notice the end of the verse. For which good works is Scripture sufficient to equip you? Every good work. That means every aspect and every task of the Christian life that God has commanded of you, you are equipped to obey by Scripture. There is no hold to be found in that verse. There is no aspect of the Christian life which escapes the scope of Scripture’s sufficiency. You cannot say that the Scripture is useful to make the person of God complete and to equip them for every good work, and then say, “You know, but there’s still some things that we need to go beyond Scripture for. We still need extra biblical revelation for the really difficult, sticky issues.
Here’s an illustration. I can’t say to my wife, “You are sufficient for me in every aspect that a wife is sufficient for a husband. You’re my greatest companion. You’re the one whom I love to talk with at the end of every day. You’re the one that I love to laugh with and the joy; and you’re a wonderful mother and all these things, and you’re a great sister in the Lord that sharpens me. You’re sufficient for everything that a husband could want. Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow, I’m going on a date with my girlfriend.” Yeah. Oh, I know. Think about the severity of that, ladies. Men, if you heard that from your wife, “You’re sufficient, I love you. You’re so strong, you’re handsome. I’ll see you tomorrow, I’m going to dinner with my boyfriend.”
But Scripture is sufficient for every good work, it makes the man of God complete. Don’t you dare say, “Oh, I believe in the sufficiency of Scripture,” and then go date some other extrabiblical revelation. “O God, Your word is sufficient, but it’s dry and dusty in a dead letter. Can You speak to me?”
Think about the knife that pierced your heart when I said, “I’m going to dinner with my girlfriend.” You went, “Oh.” That, but times a thousand that better be your reaction when you think about going for revelation other than the place where God has said it’s sufficient to equip you for every good work.
Finally, Number Ten: Scripture is sufficient to satisfy the heart of the children of God. And here I just want to overwhelm you with the attitude of faithful saints toward the Bible. How do faithful followers of the triune God speak about Scripture? They speak about Scripture being their life. They speak about Scripture being their treasure. They speak about Scripture being their desire.
Start at the top. Just write these references down, but feel them. Feel them read. Jesus Himself quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 in His temptation in the wilderness: “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of Yahweh.” The Word of Yahweh is our life.
Moses says the same thing in Deuteronomy 32 as he speaks to the children of Israel. Deuteronomy 32:47, “Take to your heart all the words of this law; for it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life.” This Word isn’t some inconsequential thing, it’s your life.
Jeremiah 15:16, the prophet says to God, “Your words were found and I ate them, and Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart.” In Job 23:12, Job says, “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” “If I have to choose between eating for the day and meditating and ruminating and feasting upon the Word of God, it’s no contest; I choose Scripture.”
Psalm 119, verse 20: “My soul is crushed with longing after Your ordinances at all times.” And verse 131, “I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Your commandments.” Psalm 119, verse 97, “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.” Verse 72, “The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” Verse 103, “How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
Brothers and sisters, Scripture is sufficient. It is sufficient to save, it is sufficient to sanctify, and it is sufficient to satisfy. We need look nowhere else. The glory of God revealed in the face of Christ has now been traced upon the pages of Scripture. Scripture is precious because Christ is precious. And Scripture is where I go to see Him because it infallibly reveals the glory of Christ to us unlike any other thing.
Sure, God’s world is full of God’s glory; but the world is fallen, Scripture is not. Scripture is the sole, infallible display of the glory of Jesus. Through these magnificent and precious promises now recorded for us in Scripture, we have been given everything we need for life and godliness. Why, oh why would we go anywhere else? May our lives and our ministries reflect the knowledge of this truth. Let’s pray.
Father, give grace we pray to cement the truth of these words in the hearts of Your people. May we be satisfied with what You have said to us. What more can He say than to you He hath said? Lord, we confess that Your Word is glorious, that we’ve treasured it more than our necessary food, that we found Your words and we ate them and they became a delight to our heart. And we confess that where that has not been true, that we have sinned; and we ask for Your grace, for Your forgiveness for the sake of Christ, who is our great righteousness, who is the One who always treasured the Word as He ought, who is Himself the living Word. And we lean on His righteousness for our forgiveness, and we pray for grace to live consistently with the truth that we know. Sanctify Your people by the sufficient Scriptures. Get what You are worthy of in Your people, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.