Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Sanctified by the Spirit, with the Word of Truth, Through Faith
For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5NIV
Again this morning we consider Question 155 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “How is the word made effectual to salvation?” It gives the answer, “The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.” Last week we saw how God’s Word is a means of grace to poor sinners. Today we look at how God uses His Word to sanctify us.
Notice first, the assertion of the Catechism that the Spirit of God drives sinners out of themselves. As sinners we are totally infatuated with ourselves. We live for ourselves. We plan for ourselves. We think, speak, and act as seems best to ourselves. We were created to serve, glorify, and enjoy God as truly altruistic beings, but in The Fall our first father and mother acted against God to do what they wanted to do – for themselves – and we have been imitating them ever since. The 1995 Webster Collegiate Dictionary on my shelf has at least 539 different words beginning with the prefix and hyphen: “self-,” (I stopped counting at that point). Some of them are simply descriptive like “self-conscious,” or “self-aware,” but many bring out this fundamental aspect of our sinfulness, like “self-absorbed,” “self-applause,” “self-centered,” “self-regarding,” and “self- worship.”
Apart from the supernatural work of God’s Spirit in and through God’s Word, we would be hopelessly and irretrievably self-focused. But as the Scripture at the head of this article declares, God, as He pleases, causes His Word to go forth in power to His elect so that they are deeply convicted by it and receive it in sincere faith. The verse specifically ascribes this power to the Holy Spirit, who breaks the power of sin over us so that we are convicted of three all-encompassing truths at the same time:
Our own abject sinfulness
God’s perfect righteousness
Sure salvation in Jesus Christ
By faith in these three truths, which we learn from the Word of God, we are driven out of ourselves in fear and sorrow, and at the same time we are drawn to Christ in hope and joy. As the Catechism puts it, the Holy Spirit, through God’s Word is always “drawing” us to Jesus Christ. God leads us with “cords of kindness” and “bands of love,” (Hos. 11:4). He causes us to see the beauty of the holiness, righteousness, and goodness of God, which are so fully displayed in Jesus Christ, as declared in the gospel. Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me,” (John 12:32). And so it is. We are driven out of ourselves as we rightly judge ourselves according to the now acknowledged truth of our guilt and shame in breaking God’s law, hating Him, and loving sin. And, we are drawn to Jesus Christ as we behold, desire, and long for Him, for we see Him as He is in His righteousness, goodness, mercy, and love. We see that we can be forgiven and made right with God, and we believe and long for the fulfillment of His promise to conform us to the image of Christ in the only way that we can be like Him: in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (Eph. 4:24). For the Holy Spirit, in causing us to believe the truth about who we are and who God is, causes us also to rightly judge and appraise sin as it really is and righteousness as it really is. This is how God’s Spirit is always “subduing” His children to His will, not by negating our wills or forcing them, but by transforming them so that we willingly, lovingly, and longingly choose Him, come to Him, and desire to be like Him. This is how He has regenerated us and is sanctifying us: by His Spirit, with His Word, through our faith. Take some time today to praise God for His Spirit and His Word!