Dr. Eric Newton, Theology Professor at Bob Jones Seminary
A couple of summers ago I visited Salt Lake City for the first time and spent a Sunday afternoon at the Temple Square. I walked the premises alone, taking in a series of strong impressions. The buildings were massive. The messaging was polished. The people were pleasant. The families were happy and well-dressed. The religion gave every apparent indication of success.
It hit me in a profoundly sobering way. What sets apart truth and error, life and death, good and evil, is not fundamentally what’s on the outside. Salvation is in Jesus Christ alone, the incarnate Son of God revealed in the Bible. He is the way, the truth, and the life; no one can enter God’s presence except through Him (John 14:6). There’s nothing wrong with polish and smiles and sharp clothing . . . unless it’s a veneer that papers over false religion and eternal emptiness.
It has been noted that human beings are instinctively conscious of two realities: that we should live a certain way, and that we don’t live as we should. In response, people try all kinds of methods for improving themselves and becoming holy. Many attempt mystical meditation, emptying themselves of bad vibes. Others pour their efforts into acts of charity. Some follow elaborate rituals to secure a god’s favor. Even alleged Christian leaders publish advice for “becoming a better you.”
We rightly reject these self-reliant attempts to become holy. But do we believe and live in response to what Scripture teaches about sanctification? If organization and niceness and charity and religious observances and personal discipline are not what fundamentally set us apart, what does? Listen to Christ’s petition to His Father the night the Son was betrayed: “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Less than 24 hours after Christ prayed these words, He died in the place of sinners to make us a “[distinct] people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). His death sets apart all who believe to be holy. And the way we grow in the likeness of our holy God is through the truth of His Word.
Among the many implications of John 17:17 that could be considered, here are three. First, progressive sanctification is essential. Romans 8:28-29 teaches that our conformity to the image of God’s Son is the good for which God is orchestrating all things. Sanctification is not negotiable. It’s not an advanced level for those who are serious about Christianity. Since glorification is the destination toward which all believers are headed, sanctification is the necessary pathway. Hebrews exhorts us, “[Pursue] peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (12:14). If sanctification is essential, then God’s Word is supremely important.
Therefore, our sanctification requires the closest possible relationship with our Bible. We cannot become more like Jesus Christ without devoting ourselves to His words. As one author puts it, “We open the Bible not just because we are pursuing God but also because we believe an open Bible is the way God pursues us.” Scripture is unashamed and unwavering in focusing our attention on divine truth. Consider the answer to these questions. How can a person flourish and be blessed (Psalm 1:2)? What converts the soul and gives wisdom to the simple (Psalm 19:7)? What is more necessary than even daily bread (Matt. 4:4)? What makes us free (John 8:32)? How are we transformed (Rom. 12:2)? How are we changed from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18)? How are we instructed, rebuked, corrected, trained in righteousness, and equipped (2 Tim. 3:16-17)? Very simply, how do Christians grow (1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18)? The answer is always the same: biblical truth.
Finally, we should consider that Christ Himself has prayed for our sanctification by God’s truth. One of the many advantages we have in a Christian community like BJU is an awareness of each other’s needs. It is not unusual to have someone say, “I’ll pray for you.” It’s encouraging that someone would take even a little time to petition the Lord to work His good purposes in our lives. There’s nothing a person could do for us that could be more significant.
But it is even more encouraging, not to mention astounding, that Jesus Christ Himself is praying for us. That’s exactly what Hebrews 7:25 says: “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” Not only do we come to God through Christ on behalf of one another, Christ directly intercedes for us. In fact, the verse teaches that this intercessory prayer is one reason why He lives forever! The stated means by which God the Father will answer God the Son’s prayer for our sanctification is the transforming truth of the Bible.
Recently, I’ve been reading the autobiography of John G. Paton, the 19th-century pioneer missionary to the New Hebrides. He tells of an early convert on the island of Aniwa, a chief named Namakei. After this older man had confessed Christ, he looked at a Bible and begged Paton, “O Missi, dear Missi, show me how to make it speak!” As an old man, Namakei needed glasses. As an illiterate man, he needed to learn the alphabet. But he had something even more important, the conviction that God’s Word changes lives. You see, Namakei began memorizing and reciting Scripture to those around him, not by reading it but simply by hearing it read.
So, next time we are tempted to prioritize other things or give in to the ever-present need for a little more sleep or wonder whether reading the Bible does any good, let’s remember what Christ prayed: “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth.” And let’s pray for God’s Spirit to make the Bible speak to us with the power that makes us more like Jesus Christ.
 Jason Meyer, Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life (Crossway, 2018), 138.
 John G. Paton, John G. Paton: The Autobiography of the Pioneer Missionary to the New Hebrides (Banner of Truth, 2013), 361.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.