Spiritual Formation: Sanctification as Deconstructionism

Becoming a Christian and growing as a Christian has absolutely nothing to do with picking yourself up by your own bootstraps, attempting self-reformation, trying harder, or seeking to turn over a new leaf. What it is really all about is the total deconstruction of the old, and the reconstruction of the new.

We have so watered down biblical truth that this may surprise many folks – even many Christians. But the New Testament is full of this sort of radical language. We must die in order that we might live. As Jesus put it in John 12:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Such radical measures are the only ones Scripture knows of. Everywhere we read about putting the old man to death, denying self, and giving up everything to follow Christ. There are so many more passages one can appeal to here. Let me just offer a few:

-Matthew 10:38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
-Romans 6:6-8 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him,
-Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
-Galatians 6:14 But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
-Philippians 3:8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,
-Colossians 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

There is nothing half-hearted about these passages. This is all or nothing stuff. The Christian life begins this way, and the Christian life continues this way. And all the great Christians have known these truths. Two quotes come to mind here.

In terms of coming to Christ, C. S. Lewis put it this way, “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.” And again, “Nothing that has not died will be resurrected.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed by the Nazis for taking his faith seriously, reminds us of the cruciform life that all believers are called to. As he wrote in The Cost of Discipleship:

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call.

All this can be put under the biblical rubric of holiness. The root of the term has to do with being set apart, to be separate. Here I want to share more thoughts on this from a volume I recently just acquired, but am finding quite useful. The book has actually been out for two decades now.

The author is Sinclair Ferguson, a seasoned pastor and theologian. I have a number of his books, many of which I only recently bought. The book in question is called A Heart for God (Banner of Truth, 1997, 2017). Although a brief book, it is a very important book, given its subject matter. It is about God, and the knowledge of God. He begins his slim volume with these words:

“What is the most important thing in the world to every Christian? It is to grow in the knowledge of God. The knowledge of God is the heart of salvation and of all true spiritual experience. Knowing Him is what we were created for. It will occupy us throughout all eternity. In Scripture, it is almost equivalent to salvation.”

Chapter 8 of his book deals with the vitally important issue, “The Holy One of Israel”. While the whole of Scripture deals with this, Ferguson reminds us of this: “Nowhere is the holiness of God more fully expounded than in the teaching and preaching of the prophet Isaiah. He knew the Lord as ‘The Holy One of Israel.’ On some thirty occasions Isaiah used that title for God.”

Ferguson offers us three things we can glean from Isaiah’s encounter with God, and what we should expect as well:

First, we will realise that the holiness of God is the total integrity of his being. To encounter him in his holiness is to be overwhelmed by God. Christians in this century have sometimes spoken of being ‘broken before God.’ That almost expresses what Scripture means, but not quite. For God does not ‘break’ his children (‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out’ was how Isaiah later described the Servant of the Lord – Is. 42:3). Rather, what we experience is more akin to being ‘dismantled.’…

What we come to realise in God’s holy presence is that we are what our spiritual forefathers called ‘totally depraved.’ We may not be ‘as bad as we might be.’ But the point is that no part of our lives is free from the pollution of sin. There is a spiritual down-drag everywhere. Our sinfulness sets up spiritual ‘G-forces,’ which influence every single action and motivation. In the presence of the Holy One of Israel, we can only say, as Paul discovered, ‘I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin . . . What a wretched man I am!’ (Rom. 7:14, 24)….

The immediate repercussion of this recognition of God’s holiness is that, second, all self-deception is challenged. We see how easily we have misread our true spiritual condition, how superficially we have thought about our relationship to God. We have rather casually compared ourselves with others, and received at least a passing grade in our own estimation. But now, before God, we are ‘undeceived.’ We discover, as did the young Scottish preacher of the nineteenth century, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, that in our hearts lie the seeds of every known sin. Only upbringing, environment, and the restraints of society prevent us from running headlong into sins of enormous proportions….

When the dawn of this day of God’s holiness breaks upon our spirits, we are delivered from all superficial and inadequate thoughts about our own sanctification. We are also preserved from any cheap teaching that encourages us to think that there are short cuts by which we may more easily obtain holiness. Holiness is not an experience; it is the re-integration of our character, the rebuilding of a ruin. It is skilled labour, a long-term project, demanding everything God has given us for life and godliness….

The holiness of God teaches us that there is only one way to deal with sin – radically, seriously, painfully, constantly. If you do not so live, you do not know the presence of the Holy One of Israel.

The discovery of God’s holiness has a third profound impact on our lives: We enter into a deeper awareness of the blessings of forgiveness. This was certainly true for Isaiah…. The effect of this encounter with the Holy One was that Isaiah was prepared for his ministry. He who has gazed at his own sinfulness will be able to persevere in the face of setbacks. He will not be surprised by the sins of those of whom he ministers; he will grieve over them….

What is more, he has a glorious view of God, and of his power to save and to keep. The man who has seen little of his own sin will be little acquainted with the wonders of grace…. What we know of God determines the ministry and service we render. Perhaps nowhere is this truth more critical than at this point: He who would know what fruitfulness is must know what God’s holiness is.

Amen and amen.

[1546 words]

6 Replies to “Spiritual Formation: Sanctification as Deconstructionism”

  1. Amen, amen. We do have a long way to go for true holiness. But scripture does tell us: be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is”.

  2. Once again, Bill, you seem to hit what I am thinking. How remarkable this is. I was thinking about Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship today, and cheap grace.

    And I like Ferguson’s description of depravity: “What we come to realise in God’s holy presence is that we are what our spiritual forefathers called ‘totally depraved.’ We may not be ‘as bad as we might be.’ But the point is that no part of our lives is free from the pollution of sin. There is a spiritual down-drag everywhere.”

    Once again you challenge us to search our souls before God.

  3. Yes and Yes!
    We have a bible school associated with our church and our pastor has been at pains to show that we are much more than not good enough or bad. He says that outside of Christ we are enemies, we are blind, indeed we are dead.

    Just began reading Luke again and meditating on Zechariah’s ministry at the golden altar of incense. Moses’ tabernacle in the wilderness made “after the pattern” is a great illustration of the deconstruction needed for holiness. The following is some of my journaling for Jan 2nd.

    “The grace message in these days has developed a serious flaw. The flaw reflects the attitude in the world, which is an attitude primarily of acceptance. But one of the keys to knowing grace is to know that we are not accepted, that we are not welcome, that we are not free, that we are not worthy. Instead we are excluded,barred, shut out. We are also ignorant, blind, and even dead, not capable of anything.

    From the tabernacle in the wilderness we can learn much. From the outside of the perimeter curtain we can see nothing; nothing that is, except exclusion and judgement. The curtain is fixed into the ground with brass. Brass is signifying judgement. From the front of the tent we can still see nothing, except that there is an opening curtain, fixed into the ground with silver. Silver being the beginning of the hope of redemption and the opening curtain the invitation to come and see.”

    Deconstruction No.1
    I understand that the opening curtain is low, so I must humble myself to enter. No pride.
    No.2 Then to proceed, I need to admit (confess) my sin.
    No 3. and accept the atoning sacrifice upon the brazen altar,
    No.4 and repent of my sin.
    No.5 put off my clothes, (my appearance)
    No.6 and be washed; (in the brazen laver).
    All of this is deconstructing my life that I had outside the perimeter curtain.

    No.7 Next I must have put on the robes of righteousness, the priestly garments, which are strange to me and scary for they signal something more is to come.

    I then go into the holy place which is dark and has a different atmosphere and a different sustenance from a different table.
    No.8 I leave behind the sunshine of my natural knowledge and begin to live by the light of the golden lampstand which signifies revelation from God.
    No.9 I also leave behind the natural air and learn to the breath in the air filled with incense, which is the prayers of the saints.
    No.10. I leave behind the sustenance of the world, and the dependence upon the fellowship of natural men and the acceptance of a natural family, and I begin to feed upon the bread of life, and fellowship at His table, with a new spiritual family which includes the church, the Christ and the Holy Spirit.
    Again, all of this is deconstruction.

    It is also construction; BUT, my part in it is very limited, it is only to believe, accept and to obey. There is NOTHING so far that I have done that has merit of any kind, neither is there anything that I have done that God accepts. So far all of the ministry is to me, and for me to receive.

    The next, is Zechariah’s (Lk 1.8ff) ministry that day.
    It is the ministry upon the golden altar of incense.
    It is the ministry of prayer and worship. It is important to note (in this context) that all of the other transformations need to be done before true prayer and worship can be done. I.e. before we can minister to God. (And yes, I know that God hears prayers and accepts worship from all with ‘pure heart’. But that is not what we are talking about here and now.)

    I am tempted to look closer at Heb 9.3-4, & 1 Kings 6.22-23, but sufficient to say is this; that the Golden Altar really belongs in the most holy place. That observation develops this theme further, especially in that even our worship in the spirit today, is still limited by the mortality of our bodies. Our flesh/time/space body needs to be deconstructed, and we need to have our ‘spiritual body’ to realize the fullness of sanctification.

  4. Aha – now there’s a fav topic, that we are totally pathetic. Funny how obvious this is once you get saved, but how elusive it is to everyone who isn’t. I remember when I got saved thinking back and realising how completely useless I was – fully lacking in anything I could offer to God. And THAT was the best thing about it – that God actually liked me and I even had His attention – while a sinner. How secure is that? Sure makes you want to see Jesus rewarded for spilling His blood.
    This is one way I like to put it;
    “For God, you’re best is not good enough”
    Of course, Isaiah puts it more bluntly – “You’re best is used tampons”. (Is 64:6)
    Sorry to be crude, but Isaiah doesn’t hold back.

  5. I don’t know about anyone else, but if I don’t fight against my sinful nature, for my sinful nature will side every time with Satan. So as for myself, I try to keep my thoughts surrendered to God. Some say, that I am hard, but if I become soft on my own sinful nature, I will have to repent. God doesn’t want us to continue in the sinful nature, he would rather we sin not. Those who sin, are slaves of sin. Surely we are to struggle against that which wants us back in bondage. Some use grace, or should I say, misuse grace, and use it as an excuse to not be confrontational with the sinful nature. Or could it be that some love sin more than they love God. Don’t get me wrong, I understand my own depravity, and I am assured that the Lord Jesus saved me from my sin. But, some just surrender to sin, rather than surrendering to God. I hate sin, it cost my Saviour his own blood. I am not a great scholar, but, how can we resist the devil, if we don’t submit to God. Are we not meant to line up with the Word of God? when one tries to line up the Word, to justify their conscience, they are just resisting God. The problem of justifying ones sin, through misuse of the Word, this dishonors God. John 3:16 is a scripture that people take out of its context. they stop at how God so loved the world that he gave his Son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. But, there is vs 17 18 19 20 21. I understand that without the Messiah, there is no change, because it was his sacrifice that has set the sinner free, but the freedom that we have, is not set free for the will of man, but for the will of God. I have many people tell me how, I am harsh, and I lack love. No, I just desire to be holy, live righteously, and godly in Christ. The devil has such a deeper grip on people than they think. May God fulfill all his purpose in your lives, as you live to fully please him in every aspect of your lives, kind love Ross Scrivener.

  6. Hi Bill
    I believe that we as Christians are to become Christlike;

    Eph 4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
    Eph 4:14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
    Eph 4:15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

    and to practice Godliness;

    1Ti 4:7 Rather train yourself for godliness;
    1Ti 4:8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
    1Ti 4:9 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.

    Blessings Greg

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