Luke 24:32 | Sanctification, the Word of God, and the Burning Heart

Sanctification, the Word of God, and the Burning Heart 

Ian Turner, 4/24/2011 


Luke 24:32: 

They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” (NASB) 

 We’ve been looking at Luke 24:13-35. I have a few (closing) remarks of application on verse 32. Let’s read it together. “They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us (a) while he talked with us on the road (b) and opened the Scriptures to us(c)? (NIV)” This verse serves as an outline for the message. First, I’ll discuss God’s work of sanctification in our lives (as believers); then, I’ll focus on the Holy Spirit’s use of the Word of God in sanctification; finally, I’ll talk about one of the effects of the Word of God in our lives (as believers): the burning heart. 

I. Sanctification: the ongoing ministry of “salvation” within us believers 

Verse 32b reads, He was speaking to us on the road.” “He was speaking to us,” they said, “on the road.” Let’s start by seeing our Christian lives as a road, a way of progression. The road of our Christian lives is a narrow path, full of difficulty and trouble: for one, you have to deal with your own “sinful desires [fleshly lusts],” Peter says, which war against your soul (1 Pet. 2:11); plus, we live in a fallen world under Satan’s control where, as Peter says, people “are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you [heap abuse on you] (1 Pet. 4:4); furthermore, you have a powerful enemy, the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). That’s the “road” we believers travel on. But Christ is with us on the road. Again, 32b reads, “He was speaking to us on the road.” I want to draw your attention to the fact that the risen Jesus walks with the disciples on the road and speaks to them on the same road. 

We often say, “If only Jesus were here, walking with us in bodily form” or, “if only He were here, now” you may think, then I could bear this difficult road of my heart’s rebellion, the world’s temptation’s, and the devil’s attacks.” These statements show a misunderstanding of what the Bible teaches. Jesus is with us believers. In fact, He is with us in a more intimate way than He was with the two disciples on the Emmaus road. Remember, in the upper room discourse, before his crucifixion, Jesus had promised to send the Holy Spirit, saying “when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you [in] all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify me […] (John 16:13-14).” And in another place, Jesus says the Holy Spirit “will be in you” (John 14:17). Now, the time of the Emmaus road passage was before Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all believers. The two disciples, along with the others, didn’t have the Holy Spirit yet. It wasn’t until later, on the day of Pentecost, that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit which we read about in Acts 2. 

 Yet, even this picture of Jesus walking with and talking to the two disciples on the road, is a good illustration of what it’s like for the Holy Spirit to live in us. If you’re a believer, meaning—by the grace of God— you have trusted in the saving work of Jesus through faith, then the Holy Spirit lives in you. So, we don’t believe that Jesus is merely with us “on the road. We believe that “Christ lives in meas Paul says (Gal. 2:20). God, the Holy Spirit, is now permanently living within us believers, and continually working out a ministry of sanctification[1]

Sanctification is the ongoing, day to day salvation work the Holy Spirit does in our lives, saving us from the power of our sin. Sanctification is what enables us to grow in our Christian experience.[2] It is “a work of God’s free grace[3]” not a work of man. God’s work of sanctification in our lives is a work based on the merits and virtues of Christ’s death and resurrection. Louis Berkhoff says sanctification is “that gracious and continuous operation of the Holy Spirit, by which He delivers the justified sinner from the pollution of sin, renews his whole nature in the image of God, and enables him to perform good works.[4]” It is a continual, lifelong, personal work, administered by the indwelling Spirit of God to bring growth in holiness, growth in love for God, enabling us to repent of sins, to die to sin and live in newness of life, giving us understanding of the Scriptures through illumination, and most of all, exalting and pointing us back to Christ; remember, Jesus said that He, the Holy Spirit, will glorify me. 

We need sanctification because without being continually delivered from the power of sin within, we couldn’t last on the road; we wouldn’t be able to persevere in this world with our own sin warring against us and the devil leading us astray. And as believers, our minds, hearts, and lives, still contain remnants of corruption. So, the Holy Spirit continually needs to apply the death and resurrection of Christ to keep us remaining in Christ. Most importantly, sanctification is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, meaning that it happens at His own pace and through His own method, way. And His primary method of sanctifying believers is the preaching, teaching, and study of the Word of God. 

II. The Word of God: the primary means, or instrumentality, the Holy Spirit uses in sanctification 

Verse 32c reads, “He was explaining the Scriptures to us.” “Explaining the Scriptures,” they said. While Jesus walked with the two disciples on the road, he was explaining the scriptures to them. But why not just unveil their eyes, give them a peep at him, and be done with it? That’s not how God works. We see Jesus uses His word as the sufficient means of dealing with His disciples. On the road, Jesus used His word to deal with their complex mix of sadness, disappointment, unbelief and fear. God always works primarily through His word. Even creation came into existence through His word. 

This shows us that the Holy Spirit uses the scriptures as the primary means of grace to sanctify us believers. There are other means of grace He uses: prayer, communion, the meeting of the body of believers. But primarily, the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God, the scriptures to sanctify us. Now, in light of how we just defined sanctification, if the Spirit works with God’s word to make us grow, it becomes clear that without the Word of God, there can be no growth in the Christian experience. Not “little growth;” but “no growth.” Take the word of God out of a believer’s life, and the believer stagnates because you’re cutting yourself off from the main thing the Holy Spirit uses to sanctify you. 

Moreover, our salvation began, continues, and will be preserved through the Holy Spirit’s use of the Word of God. It was through the preaching of the gospel that God first brought to us faith in Jesus, and God is continuing and perfecting this work of grace by the hearing and reading of the same Word, by meditation on it, and by the exhortations, rebukes, and promises His Word contains[5]. Neglecting the Word of God means neglecting the main thing the Holy Spirit uses to sanctify you. 

Furthermore, the only real teacher of God’s word is the Holy Spirit. Only He can shed illumination on the spiritual truths of the Bible when we sit down to hear or read it. Now, Paul says, “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, He does not belong to Him” (Rom. 8:9). So, the unbeliever who does not have the Spirit may be able to understand the words and grammar contained on the pages of the Bible, and might even know more about the historical and cultural context of the Bible than others; but if he does not have the Spirit, he cannot really understand the meaning of the scriptures. Because just like we can’t hear the radio waves that are currently fluctuating in this room and need a device to transmit the sound, so also the Word of God is on higher frequency that only the Holy Spirit can hear; and, as Jesus says “whatever He [the Spirit] hears, he will speak” (John 16:13). And He will speak to those whom He indwells. That’s why at a Bible conference one man can be bored, not getting what the point of the teaching is, and another edified, strengthened changed.   

P.T. Forsyth said “The truth we see depends upon the men we are.[6]” So as we’ve said, unbelievers cannot see anything in the Word of God because they do not have the Spirit and do not belong to Christ. But more so, the statement, “the truth we see depends upon the men we are” applies to us believers. What we can see in the Bible really depends on what we are, by God’s gracious work in our lives. If you lack a serious, personal, and continual study of the Word of God in your life—if that’s who you are—then when it’s time for all-together Bible study or the Sunday sermon, you’ll be bored, unable to understand, not “getting it.” But, if by God’s grace, you’ve developed a continual, personal habit of fervently reading the scriptures, out of a longing to know and love Christ more—if that’s who you are—then, when it’s time for Bible Study you will always see new, refreshing things in the Word of God. Therefore who we are, by God’s grace, really determines how much we can even learn from Bible study. 

Therefore, it is urgent for us believers to revive a serious study of the scriptures in our lives; and if you already have that longing, to strive after it more and more (asking God in prayer); which is a longing implanted by God. I said that sanctification is a work of God and not a work of the believer, which is true; but, the believer still cooperates by using the Word: studying it and attempting to walk in obedience to it. But even your effort and cooperation to obey the Word is something that only God enables you to do; so, we ask this of Him. 

III. The burning heart: the effects of the sanctifying power of the Word of God  

Verse (32a) reads “Were not our hearts burning within us.” “Our hearts were burning within us,” they said. This is the best way they could describe what they had felt earlier, when the risen Jesus was giving them the greatest sermon ever preached. Their hearts still glowed with the embers of that burning. This experience should be familiar to all of us believers. The word of the risen Christ burns within us when we see Him in His word; when we know that He just spoke to us (a second ago) through a passage of scripture; when we feel, on an unexplainable level, that Christ is beside us when reading the scriptures; the burning heart awakens us, burning away the dross and chaff of worldly lusts and affections; it sparks a new longing, vision, and passion to make Christ known to others. It consumes. It just consumes the worries and anxieties—which become shadows—in the light of His love, His Holiness, His presence with us; the burning heart, it makes us say, “how dull I was to have heard this passage so many times before and have been so unmoved, dry, hardened, and cold!” “But now,” the burning heart says, “now my heart burns with new life, a sign that God in His grace is moving and working anew in my life!” The burning heart awakens new senses to the fragrance of Christ; we see Him now, clearly, more than ever; we burn with a new appreciation and understanding of the necessity of His death and resurrection; a realization of the utter helplessness and depravity we ourselves were in as unbelievers, dead, unable to move an inch toward God; yet, He came to us and drew us near through the blood of His cross. Our hearts begin to burn with a love based on The Love God had for His elect before the foundation of the world, an eternal love, when He wrote their names in the Book of Life and sent His Son as a fruit of that love, to justify, sanctify, and glorify his believers. Oh believer, saturate yourself with the Word of God now, so that later, when the Spirit is ready, he’ll use the Word that’s in you, for your sanctification! 

            May God implant within us a new longing for the experience of the burning heart through a renewed study of the Word of God so that our attention, affections, and life purpose might be drawn to the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us. May God deliver us from all the difficulties, within and without, that we face on the road of our Christian lives, through the sanctifying power of the Word of God; and if any of us here are not believers, you cannot share in any of the things that I discussed today. What you need is to trust in the saving work of Jesus and receive the free gift of eternal life. May God give you neither rest nor peace until you rest in Jesus, who shed His blood for the sins of His own people. 

[1] 1 Cor. 6:11; Acts 20:32; Phil. 3:10; Rom. 6:5-6; 

[2] S. Lewis Johnson “The Teaching Ministry of the Holy Spirit.” (2008: 3). 

[3] Westminster Larger Catechism (1648: Q 75). 

[4]  Berkhoff, 1932: 532 

[5] Canons of Dort, Head V. Article 14. 

[6] S. Lewis Johnson “The Teaching Ministry of the Holy Spirit.” (2008: 19).

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