Sanctification and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (Advent 2)

There was a thief who accepted Jesus Christ, received baptism, and began his new life as a Christian. A couple of months later, he came to the pastor, asking, “Pastor, I stole again. You said a man in Christ is a new creation; the old is gone, and the new has begun. But why did I steal again? Am I not a new creation? What’s wrong with me?”

The pastor asked, “How did you feel when you stole in the past before you became a Christian?” The man said, “I felt great. It’s like an achievement. The more difficult the heist, the more excitement I got. The greater the value, the higher the thrill.”

The pastor asked, “How did you feel when you stole this time?” He said, “I felt terrible. I feel extremely guilty. That’s why I came to ask you for help.”

“Well, isn’t that the sign that you are a new creation? You used to be proud of stealing, but now you feel uncomfortable doing it. From now on, you just need to listen to that nudge to actualize your new life,” the pastor concluded.

This story may sound simplistic, but it’s a succinct allegory of sanctification. It can apply to many areas of life. Your old habits, whatever they may be, no longer fit your new life. His conscience is reborn and being refined. God is pruning him to become fruitful. The change may not be overnight, but it has surely begun.

There are three stages of salvation: Justification, sanctification, and Glorification. Justification is when you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and receive baptism as your public declaration of your repentance. Repentance (μετανοέω) in Greek means “changing of mind.”

Unfortunately, many Christians stop there. They had a change of mind (repentance) and received the baptism but didn’t progress to the next stage of sanctification. It’s like a baby that never matures after birth. It’s like a tree that never becomes fruitful. They stop at justification but miss sanctification. That’s why John the Baptist said,

“Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” (Mt 3:8).

Sanctification is the process of becoming fruitful. The word “sanctification” came from the Latin “sanctus,” meaning being set apart, becoming holy, or becoming a saint.

However, sanctification is not an attainment but a surrender. You don’t ascend to holiness but descend to holiness. You do not strive for sanctification but allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify you from the inside out. You just need to “let go and let God prune you to bear more fruit. That’s a profound process of baptism of the Holy Spirit.

There are two baptisms: by water and by the Holy Spirit. Maybe that’s why Jesus never baptized people with water because his specific job is to baptize people in the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist says,

“I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mk 1:8).

The baptism in the Holy Spirit is sanctification, making you become a saint.

The thief in the story is being sanctified. That’s why he begins to feel stealing disgusting. He no longer belongs to that old sinful behavior. That’s a sign of immersion in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is demanding holiness from him from the inside out.

The outcome is a fruitful life filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It’s a dream life we all long for from deep inside.

So, today, we will explore the baptism of the Holy Spirit based on this week’s scripture lesson. Let’s begin!

[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]

The Scripture lesson for today, the Second Sunday of Advent, is from the Gospel According to Mark 1:1-8. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’ ”

4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mk 1:1–8).

[Blessed are those who delight in God’s word. Thanks be to God!]

Mark begins his Gospel with a high note, indicating what he wrote is the good news. In a world bombarded with bad news, hearing good news is like a breath of fresh air. He says,

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mk 1:1).

Why is that good news? Jesus came in a time of chaos where everything was bad news. The government was a puppet of the Roman Empire, the religion was corrupt, and injustice was rampant. Despite all the chaos came the good news of Jesus Christ.

It’s no different from our time. If we watch the news, we see wars and rumors of wars. Civil wars, like that of Burma, are also happening without being in the news. We see injustice everywhere. We see the corruption of the government. Time seems dark!

For those who live in the Northern Hemisphere, this is the darkest time of the year, which somewhat depicts the state of our society. The good news of Jesus Christ shines through the darkness. So, Mark’s Gospel is as relevant to us as it was to his time.

Let’s pick a contemporary controversial issue to see how we can apply this “good news” for the solution. People asked me about where I stand on the territory dispute between Israel and Palestine. As we all have seen in the news, there are protests everywhere.

I don’t pretend to have a solution; I know many knowledgeable and capable leaders have worked on it for decades, if not centuries. But I can ask, “What would Jesus do (WWJD)?” Particularly for today’s scripture lesson, how is the baptism of the Holy Spirit relevant to the issue?

Let me begin with an allegory of Zhuangzi, my favorite Daoist philosopher:

The King of Wei made a treaty with the Marquis of Qi, which the latter violated. The king was enraged and intended to send a man to assassinate him.

When General Yan heard of it, he was ashamed and said,

“Your majesty, you are a noble ruler. Why should you use the barbaric way to avenge yourself on your enemy? Assassination is disgraceful. Let’s openly declare war on him. I beg you to give me the command of 200,000 soldiers to fight the battle for you. I will attack him with shock and awe, capture him as a prisoner, and bring him back to you.”

Jizi, a counselor of the king, heard of this advice and was ashamed of it, and said (to the king),

“Your majesty, don’t go to war. We have just finished building an eighty cubits high wall. It will be a shame if we get it thrown down because of the war. A war would bring disorder. Don’t listen to the general.”

Huazi, another counselor, heard of this advice and, greatly disapproving of it, said,

“Your Majesty, declaring war would produce disorder, and not declaring war would also produce disorder. And being hesitant would produce the same result.”

The king said, “You are right, but what am I to do then?” He replied, “You have to seek for the rule of the Dao,” meaning governing according to the will of heaven.

Huizi, the Prime Minister, having heard of this counsel, thought it was a good idea, so he introduced Dai Jin-ren, a sage, to the king, who said,

“Your Majesty, there is a snail. On the left horn of the snail, there is a kingdom called Provocation, and on the right horn, another called Stupidity. These two kingdoms are continually striving for their territories and fighting.

The corpses that lie on the ground amount to several myriads. Each time an army is defeated and runs away, in fifteen days, it returns.”

The king said, “Pooh! That is empty talk!” The sage rejoined, “I beg to show Your Majesty the significance of this story. When you think of space – east, west, north, and south, above and beneath – can you set any limit to it?”

“It is illimitable,” said the king, and his visitor went on, “When you let your mind travel through the illimitable universe, doesn’t each kingdom on earth seem insignificant?”

The king replies, “It does.” The sage then said, “Among a myriad of kingdoms, your kingdom is like a grain of sand. Can you distinguish between yourself and the king of that kingdom of Stupidity on one of the tentacles of the snail?

The king answered, “From that perspective, there is no distinction.” The visitor left while the king remained disconcerted and seemed to have lost himself. (End of the story.)

Zhuangzi told this story 2,400 years ago. It seems that our world hasn’t changed in these two thousand years. We still have these stupid wars around the world.

Let’s see how the good news of Jesus Christ reveals to us the core of the problem and the solution for it. Mark says,

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mk 1:4).

It reveals that the root problem is sin, and John urges people to repent. Again, repent means to change one’s mind. The Chinese word for repentance is “悔改,” a compound word composed of regret and change. If you regret but don’t change, it’s not repentance. Mark says,

And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mk 1:5).

You might ask, what does the sin of these common people have to do with foreign invasion, oppression, and injustice? My favorite answer is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s famous statement,

“One man who stopped lying could bring down a tyranny.” ~Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

We are trapped in tyranny when we participate in the deception—against ourselves and others. Dr. Norman Vincint Peale once said, “Our mission is not to change the government but to prepare people. If the people are ready, the government cannot stay the way it is.” That’s what Jesus came to do.

You must win the spiritual war inside before winning the physical war outside. The baptism of repentance is all you need for justification. Then you enter the process of sanctification, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, God loves you the way you are, but God loves you too much to leave you the way you are. John proclaimed,

“The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mk 1:7–8).

Mathew’s version says Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. That gives us a clue as to what the Holy Spirit does. It serves as a refining fire, purifying us from the impurity of our hearts.

How does Jesus do that? He did it on the cross. Anyone who is touched by God’s grace shown on the cross will experience sanctification. God wants us to change from the inside out. If we can change from outside in, Jesus doesn’t have to go to the cross.

God could order that change through his sovereign will. Jesus’ blood cleanses us to receive the Holy Spirit so God can dwell in us and purify us inside out.

It’s like the thief in the story was going through. A fire burned inside him, purging his old habits from him and convicting him of his misconduct. It’s also like pruning pain that makes us bear more fruit.

To participate in this sanctification through purging and pruning, we must let go and let God. But I have discovered that it’s not letting go once but repeatedly because pruning and refinement take time. So, it’s more like, “Let go and let God, let go and let God, let go and let God, let go and let God, let go and let God,” like the sound of a pruning shear.

Each cycle chips away our impurity and takes us closer to holiness. That’s why I said holiness is not an attainment but a surrender. Sanctification is not ascension but descension—returning to the purity of child-likeness. Jesus said,

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. (Jn 3:5–6).

Later, Jesus said that we have no control over the work of the Spirit. But we have control over whether to let go and let God.

Can sanctification happen apart from baptism? It does because God is in control, not us. In Acts 10, some Gentiles received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized, so Peter commanded them to be baptized immediately in the name of the Lord. So, sometimes, the baptism of the Holy Spirit could come before the baptism of water.

As we approach the end of the year, some might worry about what the New Year will bring. Will the wars could escalate? How will the election next year change the future of our nation?

One thing we can be certain of is that, through sanctification, nothing in heaven or on earth can enslave us. Instead, we will bear the fruit of the Spirit and take down tyranny. Let’s become holy as God is holy!

That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom, purpose, and happiness.


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