Sanctification And Suffering
By Georgi Vins
A message delivered on Thursday, October 18, 1990, during the fifth International Baptist Conference held at Jarvis Street Baptist Church, Toronto, Canada.
It is a very special privilege for me to be here among you today. And it is a very special subject, and I am honored that I could speak about sanctification and suffering because the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ in His death on the cross of Calvary is the basis of our salvation. Only the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ could sanctify a person or could make a person pure and free from sin.
Today I assume that each one of you is a saved person, a child of God. But it is very important for us as believers to never forget what the Lord Jesus Christ had to suffer that we might become His redeemed people. Our happiness in the Lord is based on His suffering and on His blood.
As a result of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ we are redeemed people, saved people; but also, the whole issue of sanctification is very important in the life of believers. It was a part of God's eternal plan to make salvation and redemption possible for men. Without the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no salvation.
I would like to read several passages from Scripture. The first is from 1 Peter 2:19-23: "For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer from doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth."
Now we are reading from 1 Thessalonians 4:3: "For it is God's will that you should be sanctified." And from Ephesians 5:25-27: "Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless."
The Sufferings of Christ
We cannot separate the person of the Lord Jesus Christ from His suffering. When Jesus Christ came to this earth He came to become a man, to become like one of us. Jesus Christ, the eternal God, had to become a man, to live in the flesh. During His life Jesus Christ went through many difficult moments, many misunderstandings from people, and the end of it all was Calvary's cross and His suffering.
All that was done for the redemption of people and also for building up a church that will be pure and without blemish. As we read in Ephesians 5, "Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, to sanctify her, and to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish." As I mentioned already, all that was accomplished by Jesus Christ through suffering.
In 1 Peter 2:21 it said that Jesus Christ suffered for you, giving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. Our goal as Christians is to follow in Christ's footsteps. In His footsteps there are steps of suffering and difficulty. When every individual believer is following in His footsteps and the church is following after Jesus Christ, this church is a victorious church.
A very bright example for us is the first church during the time of the apostles. As we read the Scriptures we see that in every sermon they preached about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Also, the question of sanctification – of a holy life – was strongly emphasized during the first century. Believers in those days dedicated their lives to serve God. We see how wonderfully the Holy Spirit was working in the hearts of believers in those days.
We know what the church in the first century accomplished. During the lifetime of one generation they spread the news of the Gospel through the entire world of those days....
The Suffering of His Church
We know that almost all the apostles died as martyrs. Only John died a natural death. He was exiled to Patmos. But we see the power of the Gospel and the power of the first church in its willingness to suffer. The Roman Empire could not break them nor stop the spread of the Gospel. This is a great example for us. We who are living in the twentieth century look back to the first church and study how they followed the Lord.
It is good if you will take a stand for the Lord as they did. It is good for us to stand in the same purity as they did. Sanctification means not to allow sin in your personal life or in your church life. If a time of testing of our faith comes, we have to be willing to suffer for Christ or even to die for Christ. We have to keep our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ.
I want to read from the Book of Hebrews, chapter 12, the first four verses: "Therefore since we are surrounded with such a great crowd of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the author and the perfecter of our faith. Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him when you are in such a position from sinful men, that you will not grow weary and lose heart in your struggles against sin, for you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood."
We just read the words that the will of God is our sanctification. But as believers, if we would go through the process of sanctification, we must keep our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ, looking to Him as the Word of God teaches us to do – Jesus, who endured the cross. The purpose of keeping our eyes on Jesus is that we will not grow weary and lose heart. But if we turn our eyes from Jesus to something else that surrounds us, we will lose this strength. Then it is very easy to lose our purity. When people reject God they live in sin and they are very unfortunate.
The Catastrophe of Communism
You all know what is happening now in the Soviet Union. Looking back into the history of my country, it was an experiment of seventy years to build a country that rejects God and the Bible. The Soviet government declared war against God and the Bible. Church buildings were destroyed and thousands of ministers of the Gospel were arrested and put in prison. Many copies of the Bible and New Testaments were burned by government officials.
Communists tried to create a special morality – communist morality – which was denying and rejecting God. As a result the country came to catastrophe. A society was built with no moral principles, no spiritual values. So in every area of life there has been no blessing. They sow in tears and there are no results. Right now, people do not have enough food or enough clothing, and they are very backward in technology.
But the most difficult thing of all for people to handle is that they have been deprived of all spiritual values. Atheism takes away the Bible and belief in God but gives nothing valuable in exchange. Therefore the Russian people are a very unfortunate people. They have come to a dead end – they do not know where to turn or where to go. But as believers we know what will bring hope and meaning in life to our people. We must call them to Jesus Christ.
Christians all over the world have prayed that the Soviet Union would be open for the preaching of the Gospel. Today it is a reality. The country is quite open for the Bible and for the preaching of the Gospel. Today there is a great spiritual hunger in the Soviet Union. If you will stand on the street with copies of the New Testament in your hand, people will ask you for this book, and the government officials are not interfering.
Today many people in the Soviet Union are turning to the Lord Jesus Christ. So this much, then, about an atheistic society that was not able to create a morality or any happy conditions without God.
Tempted to Compromise
Now I want to talk about the persecuted church in an atheistic society, the church which tried to adjust to this atheistic society by compromise. I want to go back in history to the 1960's when the situation in the churches in the Soviet Union was very sad. The churches were dying churches because the government officials registered all the churches all over the Soviet Union and the atheists started to control the churches. It is very sad to admit that the Baptist leaders in the 1960's decided (in order to avoid suffering) to listen to atheists and to become pliable in their hands.
One of the demands of government officials in those days was that you cannot do any evangelism, any witnessing to unbelievers. And the Baptist leaders said, "Yes, we will listen to you. We will not evangelize." And they began to teach the church to comply. Another demand of the officials was that the children were not allowed at the worship service under the age of eighteen. The church leaders complied with this too. Also, the government officials ordered that baptisms be limited to persons thirty years of age and up. The church leaders agreed to this also.
In those days I spoke personally to one of the government officials and was told that the younger generations must not be a part of the church. The government would still tolerate thirty-year-old believers in God (like myself), but younger people would have to look for other ways; they would have to go into the world.
When I was a young man I wanted to study in university. One of the leaders of the "official" Baptist church suggested that I should become a member of the communist atheistic organization for young people. I said to him, "But I am a believer. How could I join such an organization?" He said, "You just become a member officially, but in your heart you still believe in God."
I explained to him that Jesus Christ does not allow such a double life in which I would say one thing with my mouth and another thing with my heart. So as you see, in those times thirty years ago our evangelical Baptist churches were in a terrible spiritual condition. No one cared for us, and our leaders were pushing us in the wrong direction. But God started to work.
Repentance and Revival
In most of the churches which were compromising there were people who were really uncomfortable with this compromise, and they were seeking God and praying for deliverance. They felt that it was wrong not to evangelize, not to tell people about God. The Lord found some faithful men, some of our leaders, who decided to take a stand for Jesus Christ. It became a call for revival all over the country. The first call was to go back to the truth of the Gospel and to choose the way of sanctification. They said to all of us, "Let us not criticize someone else in the church. Let each one of us check our own heart, how we live before God."
I was a man in my thirties then, and I started to check my heart and I saw that I was also not living according to the Word of God. We were checking before God on the basis of His Word, our personal life, our family life, our life at work – all areas of our life. We realized how far we had departed from the standards of the Word and from the ideals the Lord wants to see in us.
We started to repent before God and to change, and He forgave us. After we repented before God He gave us strength to take a stand for Him and to endure persecution. The government officials were very upset because of the beginning of a spiritual awakening and together with the leaders of the official church, they started to persecute us. The leaders of the official churches asked us to leave their congregations.
In those days I lived in the city of Kiev and I was a member of a registered Baptist church, and approximately 100 of us were asked to leave the church because we were raising our voices for revival. We started to gather for worship in the forest, or in someone's apartment, or in a private home. The government officials began to intercept our services right away; they began to arrest our preachers. In our small group most of the people were younger people and we had very few older ministers.
In those days I was ordained as a minister and as a result I was dismissed from my work as an electrical engineer. The government officials persecuted not just me, but many believers in those new churches. But it was impossible for them to stop the revival – it was spreading all over the country. New churches were organized in every city and town. And the foundational stone of revival was the sanctification of our personal life and spreading the Gospel.
All the young people who were saved and wanted to be baptized (but could not be baptized in their church) came to us and were baptized. Three years after the revival started I was arrested. In those days our church grew from 100 members to 400. This is what happened in our country thirty years ago.
Today there are hundreds of churches that take a very firm stand on the foundation of the Bible. In the past thirty years those churches went through many persecutions from the authorities. The pastors and leaders in those churches went to prison several times, some of them for ten and more years.
Churches were going through suffering but also the Lord was sending many spiritual blessings. Our churches were blessed by God because they strove for purity – they wanted to be faithful to the Lord even in the face of persecution. Today in our churches we have a new generation of ministers who grew up under persecution. They are children of the fathers who went through imprisonment and many sufferings.
I could not be calm and not cry…because this is what Russian Ukrainian and other believers went through in the first thirty years. This is what you read of in the Book of Acts, about martyrs, about people who were faithful. The main desire was to live a pure life before God. Their goal was to tell non-believers about God. And they firmly believed that our God is the Almighty God.
When the revival started many leaders who were compromising with the government were telling us, "You are foolish people. There will never be freedom to preach the Gospel in this country. The government is crushing you because you are taking a stand for the Lord." In those days people who tried to confuse us used to say to us that we have to quit.
But our answer was that when you look around us we do not have even one percent out of hundred for success, but we look upward to Jesus Christ and all the angels, and we know He is all for us and with us, and we will just go ahead. But today we see in the Soviet Union how mighty and powerful our God is and how He is answering prayers. This is happening because believers were praying and because God can do all things.
A Personal Word
Before I finish I would like to tell briefly my personal testimony and something from my own imprisonment. I spent eight years in Soviet prisons and camps because I was a preacher of the Gospel. And I want to tell you that those years were the best years of my spiritual life. I was taken to a prison camp in the northern part of Siberia.
When I was brought to a Soviet prison camp I had a Bible in my possession. The official of the prison camp took it away immediately. He said to me that there is no room for a Bible in a Soviet prison camp and that I would never see this Bible again. He took the Bible from me and locked it in his safe.
Just recently I got letters from believers who live in that part of Siberia where my prison camp was located. They were able to go there and were allowed to preach the Gospel to the prisoners and give them copies of the Gospels openly. Besides copies of the Gospels, they presented a Bible to the prison library and it was accepted.
The place where I was in prison camp had a very severe climate and in winter the temperature would drop to minus 60 degrees. We had to work outside – we were cutting trees in the forest. Our work day was up to ten hours. It was extremely cold and our hands and faces were always frozen. And just to persecute us more, to increase our suffering, the officials of the camp would not allow us to have a warm sweater or other warm clothing.
After the day of work we were returned to our barracks, but in most cases they were unheated, so in order to get warm and be able to sleep at night, we kept all our clothes on and we tried to cover our heads with blankets or whatever we could find. But it was very hard to fall asleep because it was too cold.
Sometimes at night we were awakened by something very unpleasant. Big rats would crawl in bed with us and try to get warm from us. This would happen every night for several weeks, but then when the temperature would drop they would just disappear from the barracks.
In those days the director of the prison camp used to call me into his office. He would ask me, "Why do you have to be here? You are not really a criminal. You did not kill anyone and you did not steal anything. You are here in the prison camp because you were preaching about Jesus Christ. But where is the power of your God? Why is He not coming to rescue you, to deliver you?"
And then he would suggest to me, "Deny God and you will be released today and you will go back to your family."
But could a believer deny the Lord Jesus Christ if you believe in Him, if you love Him? And I always answered to this director of the prison that I will never deny Jesus Christ.
Something which really encouraged me was letters from my children. Some of them were teenagers, some of them were smaller, but they used to write to me, "Father, remain faithful to God." In my prison camp every letter that came to a prisoner was checked by the director of the prison camp. He used to keep the letters from my children, then summon me to his office and yell at me and ask, "Why are your children such fanatics? Do they want their father to die in prison camp?" But I explained to him that my children were believers and they loved Jesus Christ more than anything else.
When I was a prisoner it was very hard for me, but I had a great purpose for being there because there were hundreds of people who had never heard about Jesus Christ. Getting to know those people and telling them about the love of Jesus Christ gave me strength and purpose for living there.
What I learned living in Russia is that through suffering comes purification for the church and its individual members. Yes, my eight years of imprisonment were the best years of my spiritual life, because in those days when my life was in danger every day I was very close to the Lord and I felt His closeness to me, and His help. Every moment I counted as the last moment of my life.
Also, it taught me to really redeem my time, to value my time, because in prison camp I used every moment I could to tell the prisoners about Christ. This is my own testimony but thousands of believers went through the same experience and this is their testimony as well. The church of Jesus Christ should not be afraid of persecution because the persecution will bring purification. Also, suffering gives more zeal to believers to witness about Jesus Christ.
But how about people who live in the free world? How could they relate to this subject – sanctification and suffering? I believe that everyone – it does not matter which country you live in – if you learn to live godly in Christ Jesus, you will suffer persecution. I say that because I think sanctification has two parts in it. First, it is separating yourself from everything unclean and ungodly; and the second part is a complete dedication to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has to be first in our lives. And everything in our lives has to be subject to Him.
When I came here to the West I heard preachers say that in the Christian life, especially in a minister's life, the first is God, the second is family and third is ministry. But when I lived in the Soviet Union we treated it differently. First was God and ministry, because you cannot separate one from the other. In the second place would be all your personal desires, your comforts, freedom in life and your family. During the years of suffering lots of pressure from the world, we were praying for this time of freedom and we asked the Lord to give us freedom to preach the Gospel. The Lord answered those prayers….
Christians of the twentieth century need to be serious about sanctification and about revival. The Lord Jesus Christ will be willing to do it in our lives and in our church life if we will dedicate our lives to His service. But sanctification always starts with yourself. Then the Lord will give power for His ministry. May the name of the Lord Jesus Christ be glorified in our lives. Amen.
– From The Gospel Witness (Toronto)