I — Scripture Basis: Nehemiah 13:1-31
II — Theme: The simple theme of this last chapter of Nehemiah is in keeping with our title today: The Restoration of holiness through the process of Sanctification. We’ll expand this theme slightly, into the three areas Nehemiah himself expands it (with a particular focus on the sanctification of the Temple), but more importantly, we’ll apply these things to our life in Christ:
1 — Restoring the Holiness of the Temple (vv. 4-14)
2 — Restoring the Holiness of the Sabbath (vv. 15-22)
3 — Restoring the Holiness of the People Who Belong to God (vv. 23-31)
III — Goal: We’ll undertake the task of showing that Nehemiah’s story is a pre-figure of Jesus Christ’s earthly story. That is, Nehemiah first established God’s earthly city according to God’s standards, found in God’s Word, and then gives stewardship of that to the people of God, in his stead.
He goes away for awhile, and returns to find that the spiritual laxity (i.e., the lack of stewardship) of God’s people has caused a serious defilement of both themselves, and the institutions God has given them by which to worship Him.
Upon his return, Nehemiah wastes no time in restoring what he had previously built; much of which is undertaken by extreme measures, yet nevertheless, from a jealous and passionate love for God and for His people.
We’re going to endeavor to show here, that Jesus Christ has done and will do precisely this same work in us, that we see being done in Nehemiah 13. This is the lifelong process known as Sanctification. Finally, I want to spend a better part of our time in this teaching on the subject of what it means to be “sanctified” once we’re established as believers, so that we ultimately see the Gospel, instead of Legalism. But first, a look at Nehemiah’s context….
IV — Comparing Nehemiah’s Context With the Christian Context:
A — For the sake of brevity, I believe if we can get a solid picture of what Nehemiah does in sanctifying the Temple (restoring its holiness), we’ll find we have a natural construct for how he sanctifies both the Sabbath and the people, individually. As well, this same principle will apply to what Jesus Christ does for us, today, in the same process of Sanctification (restoring and refreshing our holiness).
- So, in the narrative in Nehemiah, Eliashib the priest had been given responsibility for managing the storerooms of the Temple
- He allowed Tobiah—the arch nemesis of Nehemiah and the work of God in Jerusalem—to use a large storeroom of the Temple. We’re not exactly sure what Tobiah used the room for, but scholars who have studied the social climate of Jerusalem at the time say that we can presume that Eliashib and Tobiah were using the room to extend their business and political dealings in Jerusalem
- Mark Roberts says, “Two discouraging factors are revealed here:
(1) The empty storeroom indicates that the required offerings were not being given for the support of the Temple ministry, because there was nothing in it to give.
(2) Tobiah was an Ammonite (a gentile, 2:19), and gentiles were not allowed into the sacred areas of the Temple. His presence in the most important storeroom of the Temple caused the room to be desecrated.
Most troubling of all of this, is that this compromise of the Temple’s holiness and integrity didn’t appear to matter to Eliashib or his fellow priests.”
- It’s important to note, that Nehemiah was not present when all this was happening; but he came back to this awful discovery
- When Nehemiah left Jerusalem to return to Persia, he was the governor of Jerusalem; when he returned again, here in 13:6-7, he was undoubtedly still in a position of high authority, granted him by the king of Persia
- Verse 8 says he was “very displeased,” (“bitterly grieved”) when he saw what had become of his earlier restoration of God’s earthly kingdom
- Not only was he extremely emotionally moved to righteous anger, he acted decisively to fix the problem: For Nehemiah, it was on…time to undefile the defiled Temple!
- So he throws out all the defiling “stuff” of Tobiah’s from the Temple, and gives orders for the rest of the Temple to be cleansed as well; then he returns all the offerings that were supposed to be stored in that large storeroom!
- We’re showing Nehemiah to be a pre-figure of Jesus Christ here, so what does this remind us of, when he responds to this defilement with such passion?
- Nehemiah also finds that, because the Temple teachers and worship leaders haven’t been getting paid what’s due them, they have left their positions within the city, and returned to the countryside to try to earn a living. So he quickly reestablishes their pay after the large storeroom is filled back up with its rightful implements, and brings the Temple teachers and worship leaders back into the city, into the Temple where they belong
- Finally, when the people of Judah see that holiness and integrity have been restored to the Temple in Jerusalem, they begin to once again bring their tithes and offerings into the Temple storerooms
- Nehemiah then appoints men of integrity to govern the storerooms of the Temple, so that this defilement would not happen again, at least in his lifetime; and he asks God to honor his work in the Temple as a final prayer; a prayer he fully expects to be answered, because he knows that God always finishes a work that He begins!
- Now, we’re not going to go into a big work-up on how the Jews of Nehemiah’s day profaned the Sabbath Day, and how they also profaned themselves, except to say…they did!
- We can simply go back to what we said earlier, which is that, through the people’s “spiritual laxity” their holiness which had waxed so hotly in those first days and years when Nehemiah had established their new life; had almost completely waned by the time he returned to see whether they had grown in their faith in God. The lack of care for the Temple really tells the whole story about how they simply lost their way in the faith, and once that happened, it just radiated out, into all the other aspects of their lives.
**As we make our way now, to how this relates to our life in Christ today, we can be absolutely certain, that, if we neglect the care of the inner storerooms of the “temple,” the rest of our lives (our journey of faith) will suffer to the same degree.
B — By Definition, the Christian Journey is Sanctification (Being Restored to Holiness)
- So, we’ve made a lot of reference to the Temple in Jerusalem being pivotal in the overall life of the people of God…how is that important to us? Because of the new definition of “temple” God gives through, and as a result of the work of Jesus Christ. The Temple was a building in God’s OT economy; what is the “temple” in His current, NT economy? Us! (The body/soul)
- Now we should be able to start really making the connections between what Nehemiah did in the Temple building, and what Christ is doing now, for us in our bodies/souls. There’s a short Q & A on what you think these connections are, in a bit—so, be thinking as you listen
1 — Sanctification
- Definition: Sanctification is a progressive work of God, in which man participates, that makes us more free from sin, and more like Christ in our actual lives
- This particular definition of Sanctification is directly Paul’s teaching in Romans 8:29. That, is the whole reason God foreknows, predestines, calls and justifies us is so that we will “become conformed into the image of [Jesus Christ]”
A — There are three stages of Sanctification in our lives
1 — It begins when we become aware that we must be in Christ in order to be saved from God’s wrath (Regeneration of the Holy Spirit)
- Of course, once we become aware of this necessity, it’s just a matter of time until we actually choose Christ as Lord and Savior, and thus become—in real time—Christians
- It’s at this point, that we are acutely aware of the Sanctification process beginning in us, because we experience a definitive moral change
- There is a misery that accompanies our sinning—especially the habitual sins we find more difficult to overcome from the indwelling sin in us—because we now have the same resurrection power in us that brought Jesus out of the grave; that is, God’s Holy Spirit—and yet we don’t always choose to use it (Galatians 5:17; Romans 7:14-23)
- The Spirit convicts us of our sinfulness in such a way as to always point us back in the direction of Christ, and not our sin
- Being sanctified means that sin shall not have power over us, if we know and use that power within us! (cf. Romans 6:11-18)
- Wayne Grudem says this: “To be dead to the ruling power of sin means that we as Christians, by virtue of the power of the Holy Spirit and the resurrection life of Christ working within us, have power to overcome the temptations and enticements of sin. Sin will no longer be our master, as once it was before we became Christians.”
- It’s really important to note something at this point, regarding how Sanctification is spoken of in the NT:
- Paul speaks the most about it, and he uses the Greek expression, tois hegiamenois, which we translate as “sanctified,” or “being sanctified,” because it literally means, a completed past activity, as well as a simultaneously ongoing activity, for the rest of our lives, that will have a positive result (Here we have the common Christian principle known as “the already and the not yet”)
- So, we then affirm two things to be absolutely true:
1 — On one hand we can’t ever say that we are, in this life, completely free from sin. Aside from every NT author affirming that sin still exists in the life of every believer, we would just simply ask, on the basis of the Greek expression from Paul: Why would sanctification need to be an “ongoing activity” throughout our entire lives if, at some point, before we die we can be perfectly made into Christ’s image? Answer: We cannot.
2 — On the other hand, we also can’t say things like, I just have a bad temper, or a sex addiction, or a propensity to worry, or lie, or gossip—it’s just the way God made me, and there’s nothing I can do about it! This sin has obviously defeated me, and I can’t get it right, so this is just how it’s gonna be until I die, I guess.
Answer to this: Also, “Uh uh.” If we think this way, we are literally letting sin reign in our mortal bodies through consenting to defeat, when in fact, Scripture clearly teaches us that the beginning point of overcoming our sin is to first “consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 6:11) Also, we must remember that Scripture teaches that, in the end, we win over sin, because Christ says He has already overcome the world on our behalf!! That is how we do daily battle against our flesh and Satan.
Once we do this, overcoming the sin is exponentially easier and more effective; and we’ll discover that God’s Word is true in its promise to help us overcome what is literally defiling our temple.
2 — The second stage of Sanctification is that it increases throughout our lives
- Very simply put, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
- He likewise says in Philippians 3:13-14, “ I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
- (Grudem): “The context of Philippians 3, in which he says this, is that he is not already perfect, but he presses on to achieve all of the purposes for which Christ has saved him”
- In other words, Paul makes very clear that Sanctification is something that we can expect to increase throughout our lifetime
- An important note here, is that, whether in the Bible or in Christian history (which includes our lives, today), as Sanctification increases, it naturally becomes more difficult and painful for us. Here we do well to remember that Jesus Himself suffered more and more, as He grew older and came closer and closer to fully and outwardly bearing the image of a perfect God on earth…And we are called to “know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death..” (Philippians 3:10)
- That is, if Jesus suffered, we must also expect to suffer to varying degrees, while we are being made into His image
3 — Finally, the third stage of Sanctification is in stark contrast to what some believe within Christianity. Indeed, there are those who teach that we can be fully sanctified in this life, before we die.
However, to teach and believe such doctrine is to believe that God intends to make us perfectly holy in a still-fallen arena. If this were to be the case, then the logic flows that, no longer would God have to look to Jesus Christ for our righteousness, because He could then look to us, personally.
Nowhere is this concept even fathomed in the Bible, primarily because if it were true, then Jesus Christ’s sacrificial life and death were only partially necessary for our salvation; a “kickstart,” if you will, until we get good enough for God to then see us as perfectly righteous without the need any longer for Christ to make us so.
Instead, Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ is not only our full and necessary sufficiency in our eternal salvation; but He is the very reason why God has created all that He has created! In other words, Jesus Christ is the ultimate beneficiary of all that has been created—not us. Romans 11:36 says, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever.”
Therefore, the third stage of Sanctification is: Our “being conformed into the image of Christ” is only completed when we die (for our souls), and when Jesus returns in His Second Coming (for our bodies to then be glorified)
V — Questions to consider: What are some parallels between what we see Nehemiah doing when he returns to God’s people, and what we see Christ doing in the work of Sanctification?
VI — Removing the Legalistic: Living and Leading Strong Christian Lives Through Weakness
- Read Romans 7:14-8:1
- This is what actual sanctification—being restored to holiness—looks like for every single Christian who has ever been called by God
- Read 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
- God intends to make us utterly dependent upon Him for every breath, every second of our faith journey
- The 23rd Psalm: The Gospel
- His rod of correction and His Shepherding staff are our great hope; it means we are His sheep!