Sanctification means change. Revelation 2:15-17
Sanctification means change. That is what repentance means. It is critical in our spiritual advance for us to be involved in repentance. We will get into the details of that as we go along but we see it highlighted in this particular letter. So there is a call to correction, a command, a call listen to apply: "Let those who have ears, let them hear." It is an appeal to those who have positive volition. If we as believers are to take anything of these letters it will have to do with this call to correction at the end and the challenge and the promise to overcomers of what they are going to receive as special privileges and blessings in the Millennial kingdom and in heaven. What we will focus on now is this main idea of correction that we will run into when we get to verse 16: "Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth." It is that mandate to repent.
We have seen that at the very core of Balaam's plan was the promotion of sexual immorality as a means to destroy the spiritual vitality of the nation Israel. When we come to the modern situation in Revelation chapter two, what was going on was there were false teachers in the congregation at Pergamum who were following the same thing. What they were doing was compromising with the pressures from the world system, the idolatrous system around them and their culture, and were saying not to make a big issue out of some of these things that go on down at the temple: to just have a relaxed mental attitude, and if they were just grace oriented toward what goes on at this temple, get involved a little bit, go to the feasts, get involved with the temple prostitutes, it is going give more opportunities to witness to people; because then they would not come across as some mean, strict, hard individual that is not going to have any fun, not going to allow anybody to have any fun. So their attitude was just to relax a little bit, just loosen up a little bit; go along with what is happening in the culture and they would all get along and wouldn't have to go through this persecution. So they were promoting this involvement with idolatry.
John 17 records the Lord Jesus Christ's last extended and recorded prayer on earth before He went to the cross. In that prayer He makes a number of crucial points that help us to understand the dynamics of the spiritual life in the church age. In John 17:11 He says to the Father a recognition that we as believers are in the world. In John 17:13 as He is talking to the Father he recognizes that we are not of the world. These prepositions are very important. And this really represents a basic struggle for every Christian down through the ages in the Christian life. a) We are in the world; b) We are not of the world. There have been all manner of distortions based on these two principles down through the ages. There have been the ascetics back in the third and fourth centuries who tried to separate from the world. These were the ones who tried to promote monasticism. The were promoting asceticism, the idea that if we just separate out from the world then we will be able to advance spiritually and we will be better spiritually than anybody else. Then there are others who go to the other extreme, like the believers in Pergamum, who said to not make this separation from the world so obvious, so overt, and we can live and rub shoulders with everybody and basically have lives that aren't too different from everyone around us, and then Christianity will be much more acceptable to them. After all we don't want to be viewed as people that are strange, people that are somehow portrayed as separatist with outdated values and backward. These are all the things that the modern media uses to define Christianity and the things that we run into so often in the work place and on the university campus, that Christians are just backward, etc. So there is that pressure there to kind of assimilate, to hide in the midst of everybody else, because we don't want to be thought of as something strange or weird.
But the Bible says that we are not to be of the world. We are in the world. That means we operate among those who hold to a worldly view of life, and the Bible uses the word "cosmos" to refer to that, i.e. this system of thinking that dominates the culture around us. Every culture is different. If you are European you have different aspects to your worldliness. If you are Asian then there are other aspects to your worldliness, etc. Each culture has different aspects, different ways in which cosmic thinking is expressed. But wherever you are the principle of Romans 12:2 comes into play: "Do not be conformed to the thinking of this age." Here the word "age" is AION [a)iwn]. Most translations read: "Don't be conformed to the world," but is it a different word there, not KOSMOS [kosmoj] but AION. AION is used when it is talking about the dominant characteristics of an age as opposed to emphasizing the orderly nature of that which characterizes people living in the world. It is two different ways of looking at the same thing. So Paul says, Don't be conformed to the thinking of this age. In contrast we are to be "Transformed by the renovation of your thinking," the changing of your mind. The Greek word there is NOUS [nouj] which has to do with the intellectual dimension of your life. We are to be transformed by renewing what goes on in our head. What goes on in our head dictates what goes on in our life. If is not the other ways around; we don't learn new habit patterns and it then changes the way we think. We have to change the way we think before we change the way we live. Notice the dominant word being used: change.
When we begin to grow as a believer the Lord through the Holy Spirit and the Word of God is going to change our thinking. That is what Romans 12:2 is all about: transforming, METAMORPHOO [metamorfow], completely overhauling your thinking. How does that happen? First of all, you have to think about it. Right then you know that this is going to run counter to the whole trend of our age today because we live in an era when people really don't want to think—for any number of reasons, depending on their background. They want to emote, they want to feel good, they want to have psychological transformation, whatever that may be. If you look at certain books today that talk about spirituality, that is how they define it. They talk about psychological wellbeing, sense of stability, sense of happiness, getting rid of some negative emotions like anger and hatred, so you're just not so uptight, you just have to sort of relax as you go through life. And they define that as spirituality. But what the Bible says is that you have to change your thinking, so change is at the heart of spiritual growth. That means that we have certain thought patterns, that we have certain beliefs within that thought pattern, as unbelievers, that are very comfortable to us. We have certain beliefs, certain ideas that we picked up from parents, that we picked up from peers, from teachers along the way, and some of these things you have absorbed into your own personal worldview, your own personal philosophy of life, and you have operated on these things because they help you solve problems, face challenges in life, deal with certain relationships; and yet, they are products of cosmic thinking and human viewpoint, they are not products of the Word of God. The process of spiritual growth is the process of identifying these things in our souls and marking them for destruction and replacing them with principles from the Word of God. That is not an easy process, it takes the entirety of our life to go through that.
Sometimes we feel when we get within a couple of years of the time we die we look back and say: "Lord, I've been studying the Word, I have been applying doctrine for fifty years, and I am still struggling with this problem of patience. I'm still wrestling with this issue of sins of the tongue," or whatever our personal weakness may be. What happens is that as we grow we just become more and more aware of how profound this sin is in our life and how deep it is, so if we have a problem of applying impersonal love to people who have really mistreated us, guess what! It is not going to go away by the time you are seventy or eighty. We may improve a tremendous amount but that is the trend of your sin nature and it is not going to be completely removed because there is no such thing as perfection in this life. But what we have t5o recognize is we can't just sit back and say that is just my area of weakness, we are just going to have to go with the flow here because I can't change. Change is the whole issue here of spiritual growth, and the spiritual life isn't difficult, it is impossible. It can only be accomplished when you are walking by the Holy Spirit, because the spiritual life is a supernatural life that can only be accomplished through the power of God. We can't do it on our own. We can't grow up spiritually by just reaching down and pulling ourselves up by our moral bootstraps. And this is the way 99% of Christians and theologians approach the Christian life. They are trying to improve themselves using the same principles that everybody else is using.
What this letter to the congregation at Pergamum is saying is that we can't assimilate with the dominant teaching of paganism around us. Wherever you are you are, whatever century, whatever decade, whatever culture you are in, you are surrounded by various forms of human viewpoint thought—paganism/cosmic thinking—and have grown up with that. The process of sanctification is to be transformed by the overhaul or renovation of our thinking. In that process maturity takes place. And then our life demonstrates something, it becomes proof of something—DOKIMAZO [dokimazw] again, the same word that is used of the revealing of our divine good at the judgment seat of Christ. It is an evaluation term: "that we may evaluate and demonstrate the will of God, that it is good, acceptable and perfect." But the point being made from Romans 12:2 is that the core of spiritual advance is change; not change for change sake, not change where you are going it in the power of your own flesh and ability, but it is a change that is supernaturally empowered by God the Holy Spirit, and it is based on something that is even more profound: the Word of God. What is at the core of this is a change of thinking. That doesn't happen overnight. It is very difficult to change.
The key idea here is understanding worldliness. This is the problem in Pergamum and it is the problem for ever believer. That is that we live in the context of a world system that is pressuring us to think in ways that aren't biblical. If we understand that then we understand the whole concept underlying spiritual advance and sanctification.
a) Worldliness is a synonym for pagan though, human viewpoint, or the thinking of Satan. The strict dictionary definition of paganism is thinking that is not biblically based. It is not a pejorative term, not an insult, it is just saying it is not thinking in a biblical manner. That is true of every single unbeliever. The day before you were a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, when you didn't know anything about the Bible whatsoever, you were a rank pagan. The day after you were saved you were a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, adopted into the royal family of God, and you thought like a pagan—because you hadn't been taught any doctrine. Even if you understood establishment principles you understood them in the context of a pagan framework. You didn't have a biblical framework.
b) All worldliness is built on the foundation of Satan's thought and those two elements of arrogance and antagonism. It is arrogance which promotes self and it is antagonism which attacks God. Everything develops out of that, everything that we go through, every single one of these systems whether they are philosophical systems, religious systems, secular humanistic systems; every one of them is built on the importance of man as man apart from God and that we don't really have to do it God's way.
c) Worldliness, thus, is a way of thinking about various things versus ultimate reality. Every system has some view of ultimate reality. If we are talking about Darwinistic evolution, pure naturalistic evolution, ultimate reality is whatever there was before the big bang: some concentrated mass out there floating through space but there is no ultimate personality, it is just matter in some form. It is a way of thinking about ultimate reality. If you are a Buddhist you have another way of thinking about ultimate reality, or a Moslem you have a different way of thinking about ultimate reality. So worldliness is a way of thinking about reality, a way of thinking about life. What is life? Where did it come from? How do we make decisions about the ending of life or the taking of life? When does life begin? When does life end? This affects issues related to abortion, to medical ethics, to war; every worldly system deals with these things. Problems; personal problems; how do you handle problems in your life? What is the overall framework that you use for problem-solving? Worldliness can incorporate religions, it can incorporate philosophies; all of these relate to worldliness.
d) Worldliness today is characterized by either rationalism or empiricism, and that is what you get on the secular humanist side, the evolutionist, the so-called sceptics, scientists, people who say there is no God, I would believe in religion if I could see it, I could believe in the resurrection if I could touch it (the episode with Thomas in the Gospel of John). Or mysticism. Mysticism enters into the life of the church in many different ways. In fact, numerous Christian denominations today are buying into all kinds of different forms of mysticism. Also we have various systems of thought such as Darwinistic evolution, humanistic psychology, various forms of sociology are used for standards of behaviour, works, religions and moral relativism. We live in a culture today where moral relativism is so dominant that most of us are more impacted by moral relativism than we are willing to admit, because that is the culture we grew up breathing. That was the same situation with the people of Pergamum.
Revelation 2:14, "Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality." This ran completely contrary to what was taught at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15:20-29. The principle is that these were practices that were a part of the religious structure of the culture around them. So they were admonished to stay away from those things. This is different from the meat sacrificed to idols in Corinth. The Corinthian issue had to do with meat sacrificed to idols then was brought out into the meat market and sold. In Acts 15 and in Revelation 2 in Pergamum is that they were going and participating in the feasts that took place in the temple. And they were also participating in the ritual prostitution that characterized the various fertility religions that were dominant in Greece at that time. So they had adopted this antinomian attitude that is was okay, they could just relax and have this grace oriented attitude towards it. That is not grace orientation. God deals with us in grace because Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sin, but He doesn't wink at the sin in our life, there is such a thing as divine discipline for sin.
Revelation 2:16, "Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth." The word "therefore" is OUN [o)un] which draws a conclusion from previous statements: Therefore, because you have this attitude of acceptance and approval. It wasn't just the fact that they had folks in the congregation that did this. Every congregation has folks that are involved in sins. The Lord is going to deal with that, it is not the job for the rest of us to straighten everybody out. But when it reaches a point where you have a clique in the congregation that is saying, "Look we just go along to get along, there is nothing worng with this," and they are creating a culture of licentiousness and antinomianism in the congregation, then it is time to deal with it. So the Lord says it is time to repent. This is the Greek word METANOEO [metanoew], and it is an aorist active imperative. The aorist imperative means it is a priority: Do it now. It means to change your thinking; don't buy into the thought that says it is okay to just get involved with this and then you will confess your sins later and it will all be okay. There has to be a line drawn somewhere where you don't get involved in paganism. You can't think like a pagan as a Christian and go anywhere in your Christian life; there has to be a change. That is the focal point here, and it is the focal point of Romans 12:2.
a) This is a change from human viewpoint thinking or sinful thinking to divine viewpoint. As a believer, as you grow in the Word of God and the Holy Spirit fills up your soul with the Word you get divine viewpoint. When you are in fellowship the issue is whether you are going to follow the divine viewpoint or you are going to shift over and try to handle life's problems from human viewpoint. When you shift to human viewpoint that is always a shift to the control of the sin nature.
b) Repentance is not remorse or sorrow; it is not emotion. You may be emotional at times but it is not primarily emotion. You may be emotional that you have committed some sin; you may be emotional that you are going to go through divine discipline; you may be sorry that you got caught. But that is not confession, and that is not the key to confession. Confession is simply an admission of guilt. Repentance is a change of mind.
c) This change begins with confession. Repentance does not equal confession, but it starts with confession. Repentance means to change your thinking about something.
d) Repentance, though, is more than confession. It starts with confession but repentance is changing your thinking, and that takes time, it takes learning doctrine. It is the principle of abiding in Christ. See, the issue at confession isn't just getting back in fellowship, it is staying there. It is staying in fellowship that is where spiritual growth takes place.
e) Repentance involves that change of pagan, human viewpoint thinking in our souls with divine viewpoint and Bible doctrine. We are going to start interacting with the issues in life on the basis of Bible doctrine and what it says when we are in fellowship rather than the easy way which is following the trends of our sin nature.
f) Repentance of some thought forms can be a lifetime process, because some things are just deeply ingrained in us. The habit pattern which is part of our sin nature we are never going to get rid of. Some Christians get so upset because after 25 years they are still struggling with the same sin. Well, that's just reality. That is the great thing about grace: the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father understand that. The issue is forward momentum. We are never going to be perfect, so on the one hand you don't get all bent out of shape over the sin that easily besets us—Hebrews 12:2, but on the other hand, you don't just rationalize it, justify it, and say it is just too difficult and say you are going to follow that trend and confess it later. That becomes licentiousness. That was the problem in Pergamum. They just wanted to go along and instead of establishing a point of resistance and making it clear that they were going to think biblically, they had capitulated to licentiousness and antinomianism, and they were just going to go along to get along. But the command is to repent, to change their thinking or there will be consequences. The negative consequences are listed in verse 16.