16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
– Hebrews 4:16 NKJV
In the last post we started to consider God’s gracious support of believers in their walk down the narrow road to eternal life. In that post we pointed out that justification is a continual gift to the humble believer. When we stumble into sin, God does not immediately cast us off, but accepts us through the sacrifice of His Son. Nevertheless, we are responsible to confess our sins before the throne of grace where His mercies are new every morning. At the throne of grace we are not only offered mercy for sin, but also empowering grace to overcome and live in victory over the sins that often beset us. We will turn now to consider this gracious support.
The Pruning Process
1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
– John 15:1-2 NKJV
Those that abide in Christ, those that trust, love and obey Him, will bear the fruit of holiness in their lives. Those who were once in Christ, but have walked away from Him back into a life of willful rebellion, will suffer eternal exile in hell. This is a frightening fact that should make us cling to Christ and thus bear godly fruit in our lives. This is our duty, we must abide in Christ. But God does not leave us to do this without His sanctifying grace.
Jesus promises that those who cling to Him will be “pruned” by the Father. When an orchardist prunes a fruiting tree or vine, he cuts away old branches that were not bearing much fruit, but soaking up the life-giving sap from the tree or vine. In this way he frees up more of the fruit-producing sap to enter the branches that are already fruitful. By using this metaphor Jesus is telling us that God will cause us to grow in holiness by cutting things out of our lives that lead to sin and worldliness. These might be unrighteous attitudes, unhealthy habits, ungodly relationships, unbiblical doctrines, or any number of other stumbling blocks that God deems unfruitful.
5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6 For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.” 7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
– Hebrews 12:5-11 NKJV
2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.
– James 1:2-3 NKJV
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding;
– Proverbs 3:5 NKJV
Pruning is not a comfortable process. And often we feel the process is unnecessary. Many of the things God determines to be hurtful in our lives seem harmless to us. This is why God has to help us. By ourselves, we are not wise enough to see that many of the things we have embraced are actually hindrances to a godly living. Some of these stumbling blocks actually look good and helpful to us, but God knows best.
Because we often trust in our own understanding instead of God’s grace and wisdom, we can sometimes imagine that the various means that God uses to wean us from unfruitful habits, relationships and mindsets are actually hurting us, instead of helping us grow in Christ. This is why God’s word encourages us to recognize what is actually happening in the various trials of life. Demonic forces will use God ordained trials and turn them into temptations by urging us to distrust God’s pruning process. But we must cling to Christ and trust our Father, knowing that God’s goal for His children is to enable us to share in His holiness.
Worked In, Worked Out
12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors–not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
– Romans 8:12-14 NKJV
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. 14 Do all things without complaining and disputing,
– Philippians 2:12-14 NKJV
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
– James 1:5 NKJV
God does not merely ask us to trust Him passively, but to cooperate with Him actively. Not grumbling and complaining about the various pruning trials in our lives is a good start in the sanctifying process, but it is not sufficient to bring about God’s holiness in our lives. God wants us to seek wisdom to understand what He is doing, why He is doing it and how we can work with Him in our spiritual transformation. We are not merely passive observers, but apprentices in the things of God. God is not only changing us, but also training us so that we can be His instruments of grace in the lives of others as well. He wants us to learn to discern good from evil as mature saints, so that we can teach others the ways of God. We are His children, not merely His projects.
18 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 by the Spirit of the Lord.
– 2 Corinthians 3:18 NKJV
2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
– Romans 12:2 NKJV
As we trust and obey His guidance in the sanctifying process, we are transformed from glory to glory. We were fruitful, and God makes us more fruitful. The one who uses what he is given, is given more. He causes obedience to lead to righteousness, and righteousness results in holiness (Romans 6:16 &19). This is the way of God.
We are not merely transformed on the outside. It is not merely our habits and actions that are changed, but our inward character. We begin to have different desires and mindsets, that in turn lead us closer to Christ and His likeness. It is a true transformation, not hypocrisy, the inside of the cup is made clean.
Incomplete & Dependent Transformation
13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. 16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.
– Philippians 3:13-16 NKJV
12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
– 1 Corinthians 10:12 NKJV
Though this transformation is real, we must never imagine that it is complete in this life. When we think we have arrived, we have only just begun. The true Christian is transformed day by day, and the people around him recognize this transformation. When Moses came down from the mountain after seeing God’s glory, his face was shining with glory. But He was unaware of the change. This is the same experience of every growing Christian. He does not imagine that he has arrived, because the true disciple only sees more and more of his inward corruption that must be conquered. An abiding Christian grows more and more holy, and part of this growth is growth in humility.
The transformation that the Christian experiences is not only incomplete in this life, but it is also not his own. There will come a Day when the waiting believer will be eternally transformed; at the resurrection of the dead the abiding Christian we be completely and eternally transformed into the likeness of his Master. Until then whatever is worked in him is the fruit of his relational connection with Jesus Christ. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and like all of creation it is upheld by God’s power moment by moment. Though this holiness is experienced in his soul, his soul is not the source of it. He is dependent on the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit. As one must cling to Christ to remain acceptable to God, so he must cling to Christ to remain holy.
Let me use this illustration. If you fill a pot with water, and leave it laying on the table, the water will conform to the temperature of the room. But when you put the pot on an open flame the water will be transformed. It will grow hotter and hotter until it reaches a boil. The water has been transformed, but that transformation is dependent on the flame. Take the pot away from the flame, return it to the table and the water will soon return to room temperature. In the same way, we are truly transformed by God’s sanctifying grace in our lives, but this transformation is always dependent on us being filled with the Spirit by abiding in Christ. To whatever degree we have been transformed, we must recognize that it will all be reversed if we separate ourselves from Christ, the True Vine.
God’s Zeal for Holiness
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.
– Hebrews 12:28-29 NKJV
9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.”
– Hebrews 1:9 NKJV
3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. 4 You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.
– Hebrews 12:3-4 NKJV
Pruning is really a radical cure if you think about it. Because of various diseases people have had to amputate limbs. But we can be sure they would not do this unless the disease put their lives in jeopardy. God feels the same way about sin and corruption. He is willing to cut off things in our lives, even when it causes us real pain. Why is this the case? We have noted before that sin, when full grown, brings forth death. So we can understand that God loves us enough to save us from sin’s corrupting power so that we can walk with Him for all eternity. But there is another reason God deals so drastically with sin. Simply put, He hates it!
We see God’s hatred for sin revealed throughout the entire Bible. Page after page we read of God’s divine judgments against rebels. And Christ teaches us that all the unredeemed of humanity will suffer exile from God forever in hell. This drastic punishment shows us just how much God abhors sin and rebellion against His good and gracious kingdom. But we must recognize that this hatred for sin does not end when someone turns to Christ and is accepted by God. God’s hatred for sin continues. God does not change.
We see the zeal God has against sin in His sanctifying work in the believer. He is never satisfied. His work never ends. His zeal is relentless. We must not imagine that after coming to Christ God has no strong feelings against our sinful tendencies. It is true that His anger is no longer against us, but His abhorrence of sin has by no means abated.
He does not just hate sin in the unsaved rebel. He hates it just as much when He finds it in His children. For this reason He will never be satisfied with compromise. We are tempted to slow down in our battle against sin, but God never will. And thank God for that, because sin, if left undealt with will lead to our condemnation. So God, in His love for us, and His hatred for sin, will never cease to convict, expose and cut out sin and stumbling blocks in our lives. God has a relentless zeal against sin in our lives, and we must learn from our Father and do the same.
After being reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ we are called to walk with Christ, abiding in Him through faith, love and obedience. This is the narrow road that leads to life. But God does not expect us to run the race marked out for us by ourselves. Instead He supports us by His mercy and grace.
When we stumble, He calls us to receive mercy and forgiveness through our ever-living Advocate Who presents His perfect sacrifice for sin before the Father. And as we abide in Christ, bearing fruit, God our Father, disciplines us so that we bear more fruit. God does not leave us to fight sin in the darkness of our own understanding. He is a Man of War and comes to fight for us, cutting out the things in our lives that tempt us to stumble and fall. He uses various difficulties and trials to work these things out of our lives. And though these things cause us pain, sometimes severely so, He will not compromise in His fight against sin. As Jesus said, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Revelation 3:19). Sin and corruption are no match for His zealous rage against sin, and His faithful love towards us.