I was born and raised a Nazarene.  I attended my first Nazarene church service when I was 6 days old, and I haven’t attended my last Nazarene church service.  But I’m not a Nazarene anymore.

The final straw came over a decade ago, when Bettie and I had moved to Cincinnati and were looking for a church.  A close Naz church had accepted us as visitors when a well-intentioned man told the minister that we had been great workers at our last church.  And we had – running sound every week, being Missionary Society president, being church treasurer, locking the church up every Sunday (we got that duty by default since we were the last ones to leave).  We weren’t looking to take on a load of new responsibilities – we wanted a time of rest.  So we took the responsible action and ran away from the denomination.

There are times when I miss part of it – the district camp, the local gatherings, the ability to obtain resources from a place outside of your own church.  But a bigger part of it is an ongoing search for the truth, in growing closer to God.  The Nazarenes are believers in two steps: first salvation and a later sanctification.  They talk (at least they used to) about Christian perfection.  The way I heard that phrase, I interpreted it as “perfection or you don’t make it to Heaven”, and perfection was pretty hard to attain.

This came up recently because of a book I read.  7 Biblical Truths You Won’t Hear in Church, by David A. Rich.  Good book.  Short, and I’m not totally in agreement with him on all points (still wondering about predestination), but overall he’s rock-solid.  In a chapter on Trying to live for Jesus will only frustrate you he included a passage from John Piper’s The Pleasures of God:

So often you find in many churches and ministries the cultivation of an implicit two-stage Christianity: a faith stage and then (maybe) an obedience stage.  But this is not the way the Bible pictures the life of faith.  The separation of faith and obedience, as though faith were necessary for salvation and obedience were optional, is a mistake owing to a misunderstanding of what faith really is.  True saving faith is not the kind of belief in the facts of the gospel that leaves the heart and life unchanged.  If it were, then God’s pleasure in obedience would indeed be bad news.  He would be saying that we are saved by faith, and then, to please Him with obedience, we must move beyond faith to something else in order to produce good behavior.  This is not good news.  The good news is that saving faith is by its nature a life-changing power.

So often you find in many churches and ministries the cultivation of an implicit two-stage Christianity: a faith stage and then (maybe) an obedience stage.  But this is not the way the Bible pictures the life of faith.  The separation of faith and obedience, as though faith were necessary for salvation and obedience were optional, is a mistake owing to a misunderstanding of what faith really is.  True saving faith is not the kind of belief in the facts of the gospel that leaves the heart and life unchanged.  If it were, then God’s pleasure in obedience would indeed be bad news.  He would be saying that we are saved by faith, and then, to please Him with obedience, we must move beyond faith to something else in order to produce good behavior.  This is not good news.  The good news is that saving faith is by its nature a life-changing power.

This does not speak directly to the Nazarene position of salvation and sanctification, but it does address the two-stage problem.  How can you become more saved?  How can there be a crisis for salvation, and another for sanctification, and then presume that there’s not another one for, oh, unification, or calcification, or indemnification, or . . .?

Sanctification does exist.  In John 17:17, Jesus says (in a prayer to God the father)

Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.

Later, Paul recalls Jesus’ words when Saul had his conversion on the road to Damascus.  Saul/Paul was told he was being sent to the Gentiles (Acts 26:18)

to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.

And in 1 Cor 6:9-11 Paul is chastising those church members in Corinth:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.  Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Three works of grace – washing, sanctifying, justifying?  No, just three aspects of one thing.  See Hebrews 10:10 and 10:14:

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

Hmmmmm.  Sanctification – perfection – accomplished in the past.  Not my effort at all.  David Rich’s 7 Truths book includes these comments on trying to live for Jesus:

Trying is a work of the flesh; trusting is a work of the Spirit

Taking it upon ourselves to work and live for Jesus is self-promoting and works-oriented.

Do I understand it all?  No.  Do I understand that I continually need to become more Christ-like?  Yes.  Am I doing that now more than I was in the past?  Yes.  Is it true that I must decrease, and Christ must increase?  Definitely.

And it’s not about being Nazarene or not being Nazarene.  I will see Nazarenes in Heaven, and there will be some people from my current non-denomination that won’t make it.  Because it’s not about what denomination I am or am not from, and it’s not about the church building I deposit myself in and serve in.  It’s not about my good works, or my charitable giving.

It’s about me actively getting out of the way and letting Christ shine through in every part of my life, and thoughts, and actions, and plans.  That is sanctification.

That is what this life is all about.

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