The Law of Growth and Sanctification
(This reading comprises two chapters of MacGuire's Life of Victory. It helpfully explains how Christian growth and sanctification are both instantaneous and gradual. Understanding this seeming instant/gradual contradiction is helpful in experiencing health spiritual growth).
It is a physical law recognized by everyone that growth is produced by partaking of food. It is also understood that there is good, wholesome, nutritious food that produces a healthy growth, and there is much so-called food that is unwholesome and even injurious. Most people can easily apply the theory of this to spiritual things. The chief difﬁculty is that so many have acquired perverted appetites, both physical and spiritual, by indulging in the injurious food. To restore the normal appetite and feed the spiritual life so as to produce vigorous growth, is one of the most vital problems of Christian experience.
The Saviour’s said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4.
Of course, man can live physically by bread or material food, but there is a higher life than the mere animal. There is a spiritual realm into which a man may enter and have fellowship and communion with God. With the spiritual faculties of the soul he may feel and hear and see God, and enjoy eternal life with Him day by day. This life cannot be sustained by bread alone. It must feed upon the word of God.
In order to appreciate this, it is necessary to understand the nature of that word. It is a living word.
God’s message is full of life and power, and is keener than the sharpest twoedged sword. It pierces even to the severance of soul from spirit and penetrates between the joints and the marrow, and it can discern the secret thoughts and purposes of the heart. And no created thing is able to escape its scrutiny.” Hebrews 4:12,13 (Weymouth).
The word is living in the sense that it never dies. The words we spoke yesterday are dead and forgotten today. Most of the words of the mightiest monarchs and philosophers, poets and sages, are forgotten or known by only a few. But God’s word never dies and is never forgotten. It is known and loved by more people and printed in more languages today than ever before, though its latest page was written two thousand years ago.
It is also living in the sense that life is inherent in it and is imparted by it. “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” John 6:63. “The life of God, which gives life to the world, is in His word.” - Gospel Workers, page 250.
Repeatedly in the Scriptures the word is likened to a seed. When one looks at a grain of wheat, he does not see any indication of life. But if the grain is planted in the ground, soon a green leaf is seen pushing up through the soil. It has sprung up out of the life in that tiny seed. The truth concerning Jesus Christ is the seed of everlasting life. When this seed is planted in the mind and heart, it springs up and produces a new life, and this life is, like the seed, divine.
The germination and growth of this divine seed are described in the Bible, and indicate the steps by which a sinner becomes a true child of God. The ﬁrst indication of the germination of the living word, we speak of as “CONVICTION.” Paul says the word of God is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12.
When Peter preached the word on the day of Pentecost, the people “were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Acts 2:37.
When the prophet Jonah preached the word of God to the great heathen city of Nineveh, with all its wealth and pride and sensual idolatry, it produced conviction of sin that resulted in one of the greatest miracles of all time. “Word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor ﬂock, taste anything: let them not feed, nor drink water: but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.” Jonah 3:6-8. Many times men are convicted by the word of God, but refuse to acknowledge their sins and accept repentance. But where they respond to conviction by genuine repentance and confession, the word produces in their hearts a LIVING FAITH in the One who can deliver the transgressor from the GUILT and POWER of sin.
“So then faith cometh by HEARING, and HEARING by the WORD of God.” Romans 10:17.
Many complain of a lack of faith, and resolve to remedy the defect by spending more time in devotion or in missionary work; but the real need is MORE FROM THE WORD OF GOD.
“Faith that enables us to receive God’s gifts is itself a gift, of which some measure is imparted to every human being. It grows as exercised in appropriating the word of God. In order to strengthen faith, we must often bring it in CONTACT with the word. - Education, pages 253 and 254. The next step in the miraculous working of the word is REGENERATION. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.” 1Peter 1:23. By the “simple act of believing God, a new life is begotten” in the heart. A story is told of an inﬁdel who decided to read the Bible through in order to be able to quote it more intelligently. One day he suddenly stopped reading and said, “Wife, if this book is right, we are wrong.” After reading on for some time, he stopped again, saying, “Wife, if this book is right, we are lost.” Still later he stopped and with deep emotion said, “Wife, if this book is right, we can be saved.”
Surely it is a wonderful word which, when applied to the vilest soul, produces CONVICTION, FAITH, and REGENERATION.
It is this word which cleanses the heart and keeps it pure in an atmosphere charged with every form of vice and evil. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy word.” Ps. 119:9. When this holy word is cherished in the heart, when it is the subject of conversation and meditation, it preoccupies the ground, and leaves no room for sin. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee.” Ps. 119:11.
The word is also indispensable to spiritual growth. As a parting word to his dear children in the faith at Ephesus, Paul said: “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up.” Acts 20:32. How many church members there are who never grow up, but remain babes or spiritual dwarfs, simply because they do not feed upon the living word. Evidently such were the believers at Corinth:
“I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” 1Cor. 3:1, 2. “Every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.” Hebrews 5:13.
It is not strange that so many professed Christians neglect the diligent study of the Bible, since it is the living medium through which every essential element of the Christian life is produced? Men traverse the world, and spend time and money and life seeking what is right at hand in the Scriptures. The prophet of old said: “They words were found, and I did eat them; and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.” Jer. 15:16.
The joy produced by the mighty transformations of character and the precious promises for the eternal future, are not like the ﬂeeting joys of this world. They are not affected by place or circumstances, nor by the passing of time. That joy may be found today as rich and full as by the prophet twenty-ﬁve centuries ago. A much longer chapter than this would be needed to tell of all the miracles wrought by this living and powerful word. At least one more must be presented in this discussion.
“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” Ps. 126:5, 6.
Many seem to suppose that the power to win souls is a mysterious gift imparted only to ministers or a favored few of the elect. But the real power to save men is in the word of God. The farmer sows the seed, but he cannot make it grow and produce a harvest. The life is in the seed. So it is with the seed of everlasting life. It contains the same divine power, whether sown by the gray-haired minister, or the little child; the cultured scholar, or the humble and unlearned believer. It is only required that the sower be conscious of the sacredness of his ministry; that he love the lost enough to weep over them; and that he show by his own life that this divine, incorruptible seed produces conviction, faith, regeneration, cleansing, growth and joy.
When a man receives Christ by faith, he is “as a child born unto the kingdom of God.” In the Scriptures he is spoken of as a “babe in Christ.” Means have been provided by which he is to grow up into the full stature of manhood in Christ. This does not mean that he is growing into holiness, but rather in holiness. “The believer does not get disentangled from the sin gradually. He breaks with it in Christ once for all; he is placed by a decisive act of the will in the sphere of perfect holiness; and it is within it that the gradual renewing of the personal life goes forward. This second gospel paradox, sanctiﬁcation by faith, rests on the ﬁrst, justiﬁcation by faith.” - The Way of Deliverance, page 10. As we seek to appropriate day by day the blessings that are in Christ for us, there is a constant growth and expansion of the spiritual powers. The capacity to see and feel and understand the things of God is constantly increased.
As in the natural realm the ﬁrst means of growth is food, so it is in the spiritual realm. “As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” 1Peter 2:2.
Some question how it can be possible for one to abide in Christ, permitting Christ to live in him and control all his words and actions, and yet make constant progress. That is easily explained. The new birth is likened to the germination of a seed that has been planted in the soil.
“The germination of the seed represents the beginning of spiritual life, and the development of the plant is a beautiful ﬁgure of Christian growth. As in nature, so is grace; there can be no life without growth. A plant must either grow or die. As its growth is silent and imperceptible, but continuous, so is the development of the Christian life. At every stage of development our life may be perfect; yet if God’s purpose for us is fulﬁlled, there will be continual advancement.
Sanctiﬁcation is the work of a lifetime.” - Christ’s Object Lessons, page 65. This does not mean that a certain number of years are required for sanctiﬁcation. It may be just as complete in a very short lifetime as in a very long lifetime. It simply means that there is to be no cessation of growth-no stagnation, but continuous life and vigor in the Christian experience. “Let a living faith run like threads of gold through the performance of even the smallest duties. Then all the daily work will promote Christian growth. There will be a continual looking unto Jesus. Love for Him will give vital force to everything that is undertaken. Thus through the right use of our talents, we may link ourselves by a golden chain to the higher world. This is true sanctiﬁcation; for sanctiﬁcation consists in the cheerful performance of daily duties in perfect obedience to the will of God.” Ibid., page 360. Some confusion may be avoided by noting the various aspects of sanctiﬁcation presented in the Scriptures.
“Such were some of you: that ye are washed, but ye are sanctiﬁed, but ye are justiﬁed in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” 1Cor. 6:11. Sanctiﬁcation is often spoken of as if it meant cleansing, but here the meaning is made very clear. Sanctiﬁcation as here used means set apart or dedicated unto God. Cleansing is separation FROM SIN, but sanctiﬁcation is separation UNTO GOD. It is in this sense that the Saviour used the word regarding Himself: “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctiﬁed through the truth.” John 17:19.
Here sanctiﬁcation is an ACT, but in other places in the Scriptures it is represented as a PROCESS.
“The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1Thess. 5:23.
“Sanctiﬁcation is the work, not of a day, or of a year, but of a lifetime. The struggle for conquest over self, for holiness and heaven, is a lifelong struggle. Without CONTINUAL EFFORT and CONSTANT ACTIVITY, there can be no advancement in the divine life, no attainment of the victor’s crown.” - Testimonies, Vol. 8, pages 312 and 313.
In these statements sanctiﬁcation is represented ﬁrst as an act and then as a process. But there is still another aspect of the subject which makes it complete by presenting sanctiﬁcation as a person. “Of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctiﬁcation, and redemption.” 1Cor. 1:30.
It is only as we view sanctiﬁcation under these three aspects that it becomes a harmonious whole. Having renounced all connection with sin and self, and yielded our lives in solemn dedication to be possessed by the Lord Jesus Christ, to be lived wholly unto God, we experience sanctiﬁcation as an ACT.
In continual turning of our back upon our own works and looking to the indwelling Christ to live His own life, both willing and doing His own pleasure in us, we experience the PROCESS of sanctiﬁcation. Recognizing that there is no good thing in ourselves, and so losing our lives and appropriating Christ that we can truly say with Paul, “It is no longer I that live, but Christ that liveth in me,” we have sanctiﬁcation as a PERSON.
When a little child fully surrenders to Jesus, it does not make the child appear like a mature man, but like a Christlike child. Later he may be a Christlike youth, and ﬁnally a Christlike man [woman]. So when one is born as a little child into the kingdom of God, there will be the revelation of Christ in childlike perfection, day by day growing and developing in all the Christian graces to full maturity in Christ.