Last week in Chapter 12 and 13, we saw the compromise of the two and a half tribes who asked to stay on the east side of the Jordan. They chose not to enter into the land, and were willing to give up their portion of the Promised Land. They based their decision on their fleshly desires, not on the character of God – they looked around and saw that the land was good for livestock, and they trusted in their own eyes and insights rather than trusting in God.
So often, we make decisions the same way. We fail to trust in the promises God has for us. Like Eve, we believe the lie: “Did God really say…?” We doubt God’s character and rely on our temporal senses for direction. We fail to admit to ourselves that knowing what God has said and failing to act on it is sin – delayed obedience is disobedience! When we don’t obey God, we’re essentially saying that we don’t trust God.
The two and a half tribes were not pagans. They were part of God’s chosen people, and saw Him save and do many miraculous things. We also saw the failure of the remaining nine and a half tribes to fully drive out the inhabitants of Canaan as God commanded. They entered into the land that God had given them, but the work of removing all that would distract, deter, and divide them still needed to be done. It was a process of making the land holy or set apart. For the follower of Jesus today, this process is called sanctification.
When we come into relationship with Jesus, we are justified. Justified means that legally we have been made right with God. Our standing before Him is now justified – just as if I’d never sinned. God does that through the finished and complete work of Jesus on the cross. This is somewhat comparable to Israel entering the land: Israel entered, and God gave them rest. The land was theirs by the mighty hand of God, but there were still areas of resistance that needed to be removed. The land was set aside for Israel, sanctified or holy by God’s promise and declaration, but there was much work to be done to actualize this holiness. Let’s compare justified and sanctified:
Justification is like Israel entering into the land. Israel had the right to be there, God gave them the land, and God did all the work to make it happen. This is like the process of salvation for us – God invites us into relationship with Him, not based on our merit or anything we have done, but completely on His own character and what He has done. For Israel, sanctification was conquering the land and removing the enemies of God, those who refused to worship Him. For us, sanctification is very similar. We fight battles to remove things in our life that are contrary to God, things we worship instead of Him. Like God did with Israel, He gives us all that we need for life and godliness to have victory. Our battles are against our own flesh, the temptation of the world, and the enemy of our souls.
Now Joshua was old and advanced in years when the LORD said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and very much of the land remains to be possessed. “This is the land that remains: all the regions of the Philistines and all those of the Geshurites; Joshua 13:1-2
God reminded Joshua that there was still work to be done, and specific areas of the land to deal with. The next twelve verses describe the areas that remained for Israel to redeem. If left unattended, those pockets of resistance could become strongholds. The longer Israel allowed the Canaanites to remain in Israel’s land, the longer and harder it would be to remove them. The real danger of not removing the inhabitants from the land was the influence they would have on Israel. It would not take much to entice Israel toward their pagan gods, and Israel’s heart would wander from their God.
The land is a picture of our life in Christ: We enter into this land through Jesus, who fought the battles and conquered sin and death (for further reading, refer to Romans 5, 6, and 8). Christ has redeemed us out of darkness and bondage to sin into His land of light and life. We are now holy, sanctified, or set apart, and now it’s time for us to walk the path of sanctification.
1. Sanctification begins a regeneration – We become a new creation when we are saved. Paul described this when he wrote to Titus:
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, Titus 3:5
At the point of salvation, there’s an immediate washing of regeneration, a renewing by the Holy Spirit. That is God’s work of sanctification to break the bonds and power of sin in our lives. Before we know Christ, we are a slave to sin. Look at Paul’s words to the Corinthian church, which was struggling with all kinds of issues:
To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: 1 Corinthians 1:2
The Bible is clear that when we are saved, there is an immediate break in the power of sin over us. From the moment we come into relationship, the sanctification process begins as God breaks the power of sin.
the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 1 John 3:8-9
The key word here is practice, which carries the meaning to prolong or to tarry, to hang out with or carry. The follower of Jesus is immediately set apart and given the ability to walk away from sin. We see that same concept in Psalm 1:
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. Psalm 1:1-2
Those who are righteous in Christ do not walk with, stand in, or serve sin. We have been set apart, freed from the power of sin, and we do not dwell in sin. The Bible says that all believers are sanctified (1 Corinthians 6:11, Acts 20:32) and to consider ourselves dead to sin (Romans 6:11). The power of this truth is found in Romans:
Therefore sin shall have no power over you… Romans 6:14
To say, “I can’t help it, I will always have this problem” is to deny the truth of scripture. Scripture is the ultimate truth, and tells us we have the power to overcome sin.
2. We grow in sanctification – Although we are immediately set free from bondage and the power of sin, we also grow in the process of sanctification. Just as God spoke to Joshua and told him the areas that were still unconquered, so God will reveal to you through His word by the Holy Spirit the unsanctified areas of your life.
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. James 1:23-24
and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. Romans 6:13
Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? Romans 6:16
I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. Romans 6:19
We participate in the process through the battles we fight with the power of the Holy Spirit. We are to stop presenting our bodies to sin, and instead present them to God. Just like you once had a passion for and pursued sin, now put that same passion and zeal toward righteousness.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 1 Thessalonians 4:3
God’s will for our lives is our sanctification – His will is for us to obey His Word.
3. Sanctification is completed at death – We will be complete and perfect in every way in the presence of Jesus.
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. Philippians 3:20-21
Some of the Corinthians were doubting the resurrection, and so Paul wrote and described various types of bodies:
All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body….Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable….For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory…Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:39-44, 50, 53-54, 58
This life is a process and will have battles, but your toil is not in vain. One day, we will be in the presence of God, fully sanctified, and these momentary and light afflictions will quickly be forgotten. Until then, let’s cling to the promises of God. As we have read in Joshua, “Not one of the good promises which the LORD had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass” (Joshua 21:45). As you face difficulties, remind yourself of the character of God and trust in His Word and promises.