Sanctification is absolutely Essential to True Evangelism by Martyn Lloyd Jones
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “The Assurance of our Salvation.” The sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from 1952 to 1953. It was originally published in four volumes: Seed in Eternity, Safe in the World, Sanctified through the Truth, and Growing in the Spirit. It was published in one volume in 2000
Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth(John 17: 17, 18, 19).
We come now to consider the second great reason which our Lord deduces for praying thus for the sanctification of his people. It is that our sanctification is absolutely essential to true evangelism. You notice how he puts it: `Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.’ Why? Well, `As thou hast sent me into the world even so have I sent them into the world’—and that is his second reason. Now we must remind ourselves that this question of evangelism is one that applies to us all. I would again point out that in verse 20 our Lord says, `Neither pray I for these alone’—lest we might think that he was only praying for the apostles—`but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.’ In other words, he includes all Christian people everywhere, always, and at all times and in all places.
It is, therefore, a fundamental teaching of the Scriptures that as Christians we are all saved, not only that we may be safe, but also in order that God may use us in the salvation of others. That is something which is very clear throughout Scripture; it is God’s way of evangelising, his way of saving men. He could have adopted other means, but this is the one that he has ordained and chosen, namely, that the work of salvation should be carried on through human instrumentality. This is something that applies to us all; it is not the prerogative or the special work only of those who are called upon to preach. No, it is the task of all the members of the Christian church.
Our Lord has already been saying that in different ways; he has been praying for his followers and has given this as one of his reasons for doing so. He says, `All mine are thine, and thine are mine, and I am glorified in them’ (v. 10). It is through Christian people that the Lord Jesus is glorified; that is why he is so concerned about these people. Let us remember that the world knows nothing about him apart from us; it gets to know him through us, and judges him by what it sees in us.Indeed, he puts it still more specifically by saying that even as God had sent him into the world to manifest the glory of God, now he sends his people into the world in exactly the same way, so that he may thus be magnified and glorified through them. So then we must recognise that the plain and clear teaching of Scripture is that every single Christian person is an evangelist.
I think that this is perhaps the thing of all things that needs to be emphasised at this present time. Christianity spread at the beginning, as we see in Acts and in early church history, mainly as the result of the influence of Christian individuals. Their method, above all, was that of cellular infiltration. The comparison is often made that Christianity spread at the beginning in exactly the same way as Communism is spreading in the modern world; not by holding great mass meetings, but by one person influencing the next person; two people working at a bench and one talking to the other almost unobserved. It is as quiet as the spread of leaven in flour; that is the kind of way it happens. It happened like that in the first century, and it has also happened like that in all periods of true revival and reawakening; the influence of one person upon another. And it seems to me that this is the only hope for the world at the present time, that we shall find again that the Christian message spreads through the influence, the speaking, and the activity of the individual Christian. Our Lord does not argue about this, he just states it: his teaching is that this question of our sanctification is absolutely essential in order that we may truly and properly do that work of evangelism.
We cannot but notice the striking and almost alarming contrast between our Lord’s ideas and the modern idea of how this work is to be done. In all the churches and denominations there is a great deal of talk about evangelism; we see it in the newspapers; it is spoken of everywhere. Here are we, facing this question of evangelism, and here is our Lord facing the identical question with regard to his followers: but notice the striking contrast in the approach. As we consider this problem of how the world is to be evangelised, we immediately think in terms of organisations and methods; that, we say, is what is needed. The problem is difficult, so we must now begin to sit down and plan, and set up a number of committees and organisations. Then we must consider how this message can be made attractive. The modern man always tends to think psychologically, so he has to be approached in a particular manner. We must study him, so perhaps it is a good thing to send ministers to work in factories in order that they may know the outlook of the people they intend to evangelise. It is a question of salesmanship and so we study our methods very carefully in order that we may become highly efficient and effective. We want to know what people like, especially the young people. Do they like a certain amount of entertainment? Then they must have it, if it is going to attract them. Then we must get into training, teaching members of the church how to evangelise, we must give them courses of instruction.
There is, therefore, tremendous activity in the Christian church at the present time over this question of evangelism. Our newspapers sometimes comment on it; our religious papers are full of it and all the interest is upon organisation. That, I think you will agree with me, is the attitude of the church today, speaking generally, to the problem of evangelism and evangelisation. But you notice our Lord’s method—what a striking contrast! There is the great world, here is a handful of Christian people. They are going to be sent to evangelise that world—how are they to do it? What is the first thing to consider? You notice what our Lord puts first: it is none of the things I have been mentioning. Rather, it is sanctification: sanctify them, for the work needs to be done in them before it can ever be done in the world. Our Lord starts with his own people, and the supreme thing in the matter of evangelism, according to him, is that his followers should be truly sanctified. I do not know what you feel, but there is nothing that appals me so much in the present situation, as the almost incredible way in which Christian people seem to ignore entirely the teaching of the Scriptures with regard to methods of evangelism: the Scriptures might very well never have been written. In the Scriptures, from beginning to end, the method is always the one that is emphasised here. The concentration of the Scripture is upon the messenger, not on his external methods, but on his character and his being, and on his relationship to God.
There are endless illustrations of this. I just select one or two at random. Take the case of Gideon. A mighty enemy army was facing the Children of Israel, and at first Gideon collected an army of 32,000 people. Then God began to reduce them until in the end there were only 300. God in effect said to Gideon, `I am not going to do this through that great army of 32,000, but in my way.’ So he just reduced the 32,000 to 300 and then he sent them out, not with great armaments, but with pitchers with lamps inside them, along with trumpets to blow; and with that ridiculous equipment they conquered the army of the enemy. That is God’s way. God has always done his greatest things through remnants. If there is one doctrine that runs through the Scriptures more prominently than any other it is the doctrine of ,the remnant’. How often God has done everything with just one man. You remember the story in 1 Samuel 14 of Jonathan and his armour bearer? They did not spend their time arguing about the condition of the enemy: one man, with his armour bearer, trusting in the living God, could conquer an entire army! It is the great message of Scripture. It is the thing you find constantly in the Prophets. Jeremiah had to stand practically alone in his age and generation. Amos had to do the same thing—that is God’s way.
And when you come to the New Testament, what do you find? You find one man, John the Baptist, living in the wilderness, an odd man, and it is through that man that God started this mighty work. Then you go on and read the account of the beginning of the Christian church as we find it in Acts. Judged by our modern ideas and modern methods the thing seems utterly ludicrous. Who were these first disciples, these apostles, these first preachers? Ignorant men, unlearned, untutored, untrained, yet the Lord called them and committed his message and work to such people. He sent them out into that ancient world, and out of this handful, in the hand of God, these mighty things were done. And why? Because they were sanctified, because they were filled with the Holy Spirit. That is what is emphasised here and everywhere; `not with wisdom of words,’ writes Paul to the Corinthians, not with human understanding, but’… in demonstration of the Spirit and of power’; that is the thing that works.
The apostle Paul says of himself—and he tells us that the Corinthians were also saying of him—that his presence was weak, that he had no personality at all, and that he was not a good speaker (1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 10:10). Yet it was through a man like that that the gospel first came to Europe and led to those mighty results. It was because the man was sanctified; he was filled with the Spirit of God and God could use him and bring the enemy strongholds crashing down to the ground. Sanctify them, says our Lord, as they face this task of evangelism.
I could very easily go on to illustrate the same thing in the long history of the Christian church. If you read the story of the church throughout the ages, you will find that it has always been like this. Do you realise that the Protestant Reformation came originally from one man, Martin Luther? One man in God’s hand can do everything. As an American put it in the last century, `One with God is a majority’; no matter how many are on the other side. You find that this is the teaching of the Scriptures and this is the teaching throughout the history of the world.
Take one of the most striking examples in modern history, the great evangelical awakening of 200 years ago. The moral condition of this country was as bad then as it is today. But what happened? What made the change? Well it began with just a handful of men who met together in Oxford to form what they called `The Holy Club’. These men did not meet together to plan and organise, but to get to know God, to become more holy. Their one desire was to know God better and to be more like him, to be sanctified. So they formed `The Holy Club’ and it was hurled at them as an epithet of abuse—‘Methodists’! But that is God’s way and it is the only way; it must be the way. God has always done his work like this by separating people, separating them unto himself. That is the meaning of sanctification, God dealing with them and so turning them into instruments that he can use to carry out his work.
This must of necessity be the only way, and here are some of the reasons for this. Our Lord says here that this is the only way of preserving any true unity in the church. The church is only really experiencing unity when she is truly spiritual; this unity is the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace, not a mechanical unity. The Bible is not interested in external unity. The essential unity that the Bible seeks is that of the Spirit. It is this pure relationship between the various parts of the body that really matters. So it is vital that we should be sanctified, in order that we should have true unity of spirit.
But there is another obvious reason why this is God’s way. Evangelism is done through the individual Christian because the man of the world observes the individual Christian. We live in an age when the world tells us-and we must accept its statement-that it is not interested in preaching. But there is one thing the world is always interested in, and that is life and living; and the world today is outside the church for this reason: `It is all very well for those men to preach, but what happens in practice?’ That is what the man of the world says and we must listen to him in this respect. He says, `I see no point in being a Christian. What have Christian people got that I have not got? Are they more moral? Are they kinder and more loving? Are they less spiteful? Are they less snobbish? What does Christianity do to people who claim to be Christian?’ And those are perfectly fair questions. Therefore, the first great step in evangelising is that we should start with ourselves and become sanctified.
Let us imagine that as the result of some great meetings we collect a crowd of people. What are they going to find when they come into the church? Are they going to find something that substantiates the message? If our lives contradict our message there is no point in our preaching or speaking. No, as Peter puts it, in 1 Peter 2:11-12, `Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul. Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.’ You know, he says, that these people are not Christians, and that they are saying all kinds of things against you. Now prove by your life and by your work that they are wrong, and attract them.
Again we know very well that this is something which is not only true in theory but also in practice. When the man of the world sees that you and I have got something that he obviously has not got, when he finds us calm and quiet when we are taken ill; when he finds we can smile in the face of death; when he finds about us a poise, a balance, an equanimity and a loving, gentle quality; when he finds we are immune to the `slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’, he will begin to take notice. He will say, `That man has got something,’ and he will begin to enquire as to what it is. And he will want it. For the modern man, though he may be putting up a bold front, is really unhappy within himself. He wants this `something’. He does not know what it is, but when he sees it, he is ready to listen. Mere talk, mere preaching alone, is not going to influence him; we must demonstrate these things in our daily life and living.
Let me illustrate this from one actual case. I remember once in a church which I knew very well, I was being entertained by a lady who seemed to be one of the leading lights in the church, and to my astonishment I found that her husband never went near the place at all. I subsequently discovered that the probable reason was that the lady, while very active and busy in church work, was failing lamentably in certain practical aspects—she did not always pay her grocer’s bill, for example. Yes, she was a great church worker but she was negligent in matters like that. Subsequently this lady, who had only been a nominal Christian, really became a true Christian. And what happened next? Only six weeks after his wife’s conversion, and without anyone asking or pleading with him, the husband began to attend that place of worship. He now came because he saw that something had happened to his wife. There was no need for anyone to say anything: he saw the genuine thing, he saw the change in her, and then he began to wonder what had happened and so he came to see for himself. That is sanctification. If Christians are to evangelise the world, they themselves must be right, there must be no contradiction between the message and the life. This is vital, and we know perfectly well that failure here is probably the major reason why so many people adopt a kind of cynicism about the Christian faith and message at the present time. All our elaborate efforts to get people to come to church are going to be useless if, when they come, they find the message contradicted within the church herself.
But, I suppose, the ultimate reason why our sanctification is vital for evangelism is that God can only use people who are sanctified: the vessel must be clean and it must be `fit and meet for the Master’s use’. Let us face the facts: there is nothing that is really going to touch the world as it is today except a mighty revival of the Spirit of God. You may think that I am being pessimistic, but I do not hesitate to prophesy that all efforts and all organisations, whether we invoke the aid of the press or not, will come to nothing. I have watched so many campaigns, and the situation of the church has gone steadily down in spite of them all, and that will continue. Nothing but the operation of the Spirit of God can possibly deal with the situation, nothing else at all; and the Spirit of God works through clean vessels and clean channels. He will not work in any other way. It is so plain and clear, and if only men and women would put all the energy that they are ready to put into organisations, into seeking God and living in his presence and becoming truly sanctified, then revival would come at once. But we are willing to do anything rather than this; the thing that God puts first is the thing we never mention—sanctification.
So I suggest that if we are concerned about the present state of affairs we must all ask ourselves this question: If my life is not influencing others and bringing them to Christ, why is it not? My friends, you do not need a course of instruction in how to evangelise people—such a thing, were it not tragic, would indeed be ludicrous! Do you think that that was done 200 years ago? Do you think the early Christians attended special coaching classes? Of course they did not! What happened was that they became true Christians and inevitably they were evangelists. When a man has the Holy Spirit within him he does not need instruction, he does it! It has always been like that and we are no different. We are not a special category of Christian. The Christian is the same in every age and generation and the world is always the same. No, we do not need to organise the thing; we need to start with ourselves and to be in such a relationship with God that he can use us. There should be a kind of radiance about us, and something emanating from us, which, when people meet us, makes them say, `What is it in this man or woman? What is this peculiar, strange thing?’ When people are sanctified, they will act as evangelists.
We have seen then that sanctification is necessary to keep us from the evil one, and that it is necessary for evangelism. Now let me say a word about the third great reason which our Lord gives for praying for the sanctification of his people. This is that our sanctification is God’s ultimate purpose for us: `For their sakes I sanctify myself, that [in order that] they also might be sanctified through the truth.’ This again is something you find running right through the Scriptures: `This is the will of God, even your sanctification’ (1 Thessalonians 4:3). You notice how explicitly our Lord puts it in his prayer. He says, I am going to the death of the cross, I am going to face that last agony in order that they may be sanctified in truth. `Who gave himself for us,’ says Paul to Titus, `that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works’ (Titus 2:14). That is why he died on the cross. As the hymn puts it, `He died that we might be forgiven.’ Yes, thank God. But it did not stop there. `He died to make us good.’ And that is what we tend to forget. This is the object of it all, the whole object of the entire work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He came into this world in order that we might be sanctified.
But we have certain dangers to face at this point. May I put it to you like this. The first danger I recognise is that of isolating doctrines, of separating them from one another in a false manner. You know what I mean. It is the danger of separating justification and sanctification in the wrong way. Of course we have to realize intellectually the difference between justification and sanctification, but we must never separate them in practice, and say that I have one without the other. That is absolutely false. According to the Scriptures a man cannot be justified without being sanctified at the same time. Paul puts it like this in Romans 8:30: `Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.’ He goes right to the end. Now the danger is that we tend to isolate these things from one another and we tend to say a man can come to Christ and receive his justification, but that he may not come to Christ and receive sanctification until a number of years later. That is utterly impossible, according to the Scriptures, because everything is a part of one plan, and when God starts this movement it goes on inevitably to the end. The moment a man is justified, the process of sanctification has already begun. It is all in Christ. He is `made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption’ (1 Corinthians 1:30). He is everything, and you cannot divide Christ. If you have Christ at all you have the whole Christ. But there is a tendency among us to divide these things in a false manner, and to fail to realise that our Lord died upon the cross not only that we might be forgiven, but that we might be made good.
I am talking about the danger of seeking the experience of forgiveness only, without realising that at the same time we should desire to be holy and to be sanctified. I think that this is very serious. There are so many today who seem to believe that a man can come to Christ for forgiveness, for happiness, for help, for encouragement, for guidance and for a thousand and one things, and yet the whole time they say that he may not receive the blessing of sanctification. That, they say, may come later and men are exhorted to come to Christ for one particular blessing, and sanctification is never mentioned at all. Now this, again, is entirely contrary to the teaching of Scripture. How a man can possibly come to Christ without being concerned about sanctification, I cannot understand. How you can read these descriptions of him in the Gospels, without seeing his holiness and what he had come to do, is indeed beyond my comprehension.
In other words, the real danger is that of a false evangelism that does not include in its preaching the message of sanctification. There is a type of evangelical person who divides these things up to this extent. They say, `Yes, Sunday mornings you edify the saints; Sunday evenings you give to evangelism with gospel preaching, and, of course,’ they say, `that service means nothing to the believer, it is for the unbeliever.’ But that is not true evangelism. That is not the evangelism which I find in the New Testament. It is a false evangelism, and it carries with it a false modern view of an evangelist as a man who is not much of a teacher; he may not know much, but he is good at attracting people. Is that the New Testament picture of an evangelist? Is that the picture of the evangelist in the church throughout the centuries? Is that your idea of men like George Whitefield or John Wesley? The whole thing becomes entirely ludicrous! It is there I think that we go wrong, right at the beginning. It is our whole idea of evangelism that is wrong. We seem to think that the one business of evangelism is to give man a sense of forgiveness and a sense of happiness and joy and peace. But here our Lord reminds us that there is only one ultimate object in evangelism and that is to reconcile men to God. It is the whole end of everything that the Lord Jesus Christ came to do. He came to reconcile men and women to God: not to give us particular advice about how to put ourselves in a right relationship to God. `God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself’ (2 Corinthians5:19), and therefore the message of evangelism must of necessity include the message of holiness.
So what is evangelism? I am not sure but that the first message of evangelism is that we must tell men about holiness. That is the truth which we must preach to men, the truth about this holy God before whom they will have to stand. The business of evangelism is to tell them that there is one way in which they can stand in the presence of God and that is by being made holy. It is not enough for them to have a sense of forgiveness; the question is, Are they fit to stand in the presence of God? Without holiness they cannot: `holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord’ (Hebrew 12:14). So an evangelism that does not include that as an integral part of its message is not biblical evangelism. The whole problem with us is that we have all become so subjective, so influenced by modern thought, that we always start with ourselves instead of starting with God. I am unhappy; I want happiness. I want this or that, so I will go to this or that religious meeting in order that I may have what I want; and I get it and stop at that. But, my dear friends, the place to start is right at the other end. It is with God. God is, and we are all in his hands and we all have to face him. The first question that we should put to every man is not, `How do you feel, are you happy or miserable?’ No, it is, `How are you going to stand in the presence of God?’ And if we start with that question, it is inevitable that this matter of sanctification is bound to come in. If I stand and face men and ask them how they are going to meet God, I cannot do it flippantly; I cannot do it lightly and glibly. There must be a holy seriousness about the matter. One is appalled when one thinks what is going to happen to the godless and the unbeliever. We must start with God, and if you and I claim to be Christians, the claim we are really making is that we are God’s people, his representatives, and that we are going to tell people about God and are going to bring people to him.
Surely it is clear that we can only do so as we ourselves are God-fearing, as we are godly, as we are like the Lord Jesus
Christ himself. He came to this world to be the `first born among many brethren’, and we are formed and fashioned after his image. A Christian, by definition, is one who is to be like Christ. Therefore our Lord prays, `Sanctify them,’ make them like me, so that you can use them to glorify yourself among men and women in the world. So the beginning of everything is a right concept of holiness, the holiness of God, for without that we shall avail nothing. (365-377)