Sanctification - The Work of God in Men - Part 2
R. Grant, Stevenston
3. THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, 1. 22-25
The previous paper dealing with sanctification. was concerned with the bearing on Christian life of relationship with the Father, and of the redeeming work of the Son. Verses 22-25 now describe "The work of the Holy Spirit" in the sanctifica-tion of men. Although this paragraph mentions the Holy Spirit by name only as the One by whose power the Word of God is made effective in the life of the believer, the whole passage is occupied with His presence and activity. The idea of the Word of God as seed implies His blessed operation, and we need not hesitate to interpret the verses in this way. The Word is spoken of
In its Purity - it is called "the truth". By means of it, sanctification is effected -"seeing ye have purified your souls". Obedience to the truth through the Spirit produces this wonderful effect. Sanctification, as elsewhere in the New Testament, is here the work of God, not to be attained but to be expressed by the believer.
The means by which it takes place is "in obeying the truth through the Spirit". In the summary of the work of God in verse 2 of this chapter, the work of the Spirit is said to be "sanctification . . . unto obedience", and that sovereign activity leads on to cleansing, "sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ". Hence in the sense that the obedience of believers to the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit allows that blessed work to take place, so may it be truly said of them "ye have purified your souls".
The result of it is "unto unfeigned love of the brethren". The thought of "love of the brethren" is introduced unexpectedly into a passage that has so far been occupied with holiness. But the truth is that holiness and love cannot be separated, as twin elements of divine life. This truth is graphically illustrated in I Thessalonians 4. 1-12,, and the evidential value of Christian love to the possession of divine life is taught in 1 John 4. 7-8., "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love". Because this is a matter of purity in the affections, Peter speaks about purifying your "souls", the seat of the affections. The love of Christians should be as pure as divine love.
But the truth of sanctification is not only effected, it is expressed. The first is a matter of doctrine, the latter of practice. The Epistle speaks of sanctified behaviour in two spheres-"among the Gentiles" and "one toward another". It is upon the latter that stress is laid here. Love is said to be
Reciprocal - we are exhorted to "love one another". The circumstances of the first readers of the Epistle make this exhortation peculiarly apt. In a cold and generally antagonistic world, believers are always in need of warmth and fellowship. A marriage hymn uses an expression that ought to describe the feelings of all believers for each other; it is "love's response to love". Not the least of the holy sufferings of the Lord Jesus was the pain of unrequited love, and the reciprocation of love between fellow-believers is one of the greatest encouragements they have.
Real -it is "with a pure heart". How deeply we need this exhortation! What depths of duplicity and self-deceit exist in us and lead to impurity of motive and often of action in our relationships with each other. It was not to an evil man, but to the young man Timothy that Paul uttered the warning against impurity, 1 Tim. 5. 2, and it is certainly necessary for us in our day. In spiritual matters as in moral, we have to be on our guard against the mere appearance of affection in order to gain unworthy ends such as place and prominence among the people of God. Unreality will soon betray itself, while only that which is true is lasting.
Radiant-we have to love "fervently". There is room neither for formality nor for frigidity in relationships between believers. There is a rendering of Romans 12. 11 which runs, "not slothful about (the) business (of showing love), fervent in spirit, serving the opportunity". Of this verse, Godet writes, "In reading these words, we see the believer hastening, with his heart on fire, wherever there is any good to be done". Certainly laziness and coldness are great hindrances to the loving ministry of believer to believer, and we should apply the lesson in a practical way in our lives. Moreover, our reaction to these words should not be to think immediately of the failure of others. We must remember that love is reciprocal, and demands that our own hearts are right in this vital matter. The passage now considers the Word
In its Power and Permanence, vv. 23-253. Whereas verse 22 describes the fruit produced by the Word, verse 23 speaks about the Word in its living power as seed, and verse 25 describes the process of sowing. The general idea in these verses is that "like begets like", and the life that we possess is as the seed that produced it. The effect described in verse 22 is
A Consequence of New Birth -"being born again". The life of the believer is divine, possessing the two elements of divine life to which attention has already been drawn - holiness and love. It should be instinctive for a Christian to express them. In a passage already mentioned, Paul writes, "as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another", 1 Thess. 4. 9.
A Contrast with Nature's Best - it is "not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible". Corruptible seed is plainly a description of man by nature and two similes are used to describe the nature and effect of corruptibility. First, "All flesh is as grass . . . The grass withereth"- decay and death are inherent in humanity. Second, "the glory of man as the flower of grass . . . the flower thereof falleth away", degeneration and disappointment mark men at their best. These two statements need no proof or explanation; they are self-evident in our experience every day. "But", by contrast, "the word of the Lord endureth for ever" and so, by inference, does the life which it produces. The life of the believer, like the seed, is eternal and not subject to this law of change and decay which rules natural life.
Peter then draws attention to the Word
In its Proclamation, v. 25b. The intent of the statement, "And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you" is to stress once again the privilege and advantage of the hearers. Throughout, Peter has expressed the contrast between Christian and Jewish blessings - in the inheritance, 1. 4, in the promises, 1. 12, in relationship, 1.17, in redemption, 1.18. Now, having described the word in its living and eternal energy and purity, he reminds his hearers that this is the word that they were privileged to hear as good news, and were glad to accept with its blessings. But the word has not changed since they received it. It ought to be in expression what it is in essence. Our acceptance of, and obedience to it now as saints ought to be as full and as ready as it was when it came to us as sinners. Moreover, if it has the power to produce new birth, so surely has it the power to maintain and express that life in all its eternal vitality.
In conclusion, the actions of Isaac on his arrival at Beersheba, Gen. 26. 25, may illustrate what has been before us in these studies on the theme of the work of God in men.
1. He "builded an altar there, and called on the name of the Lord", thus acknowledging the call and claims of God. This act may be seen as a picture of the believer's recognition of all that his relationship with the Father involves.
2. He "pitched his tent", thus acknowledging his place as a sojourner in that scene. So is the believer exhorted, as redeemed by precious blood, to "pass the time of your sojourn ing here in fear".
3. He "digged a well", thus securing for himself the resources necessary to life, sustenance and refreshment. So does the believer find in the Word of God, through the Spirit of God, all that he needs for the maintenance and expression of divine life in "a dry and thirsty land".
Note also that the exhortation central to each paragraph bespeaks the wide-ranging effects of our relationship to divine Persons. Firstly, we have the effect upon ourselves -"be ye holy"; secondly concerning our place in the world -"pass the time of your sojourning here in fear", and thirdly, our attitude to each other -"sec that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently".