Sanctification, What is It?

For Steve, since you asked.. 🙂

1. TERMS: Let’s start by recognizing that in some contexts, it is synonymous with salvation. But that’s not the norm. In most contexts, the idea of sanctification occupies the time/space between your salvation and your death. The words in both Greek and Hebrew mean “to make holy.”

What is it, and how does it happen?

2. DEFINITION: Sanctification is the work of God in conforming a child of God to the image of Jesus. It is the process by which God makes the WWJD lifestyle happen through you. The standard created by Christ’s life is absurdly out of reach for us as Christians. No one can walk in his steps, unless He gives us divine power.

I believe that one of the main problems in Christianity today is that pastors aren’t teaching this. So many teach and act as if following Jesus is a matter of imitation or sheer will power or dedication or commitment or sincerity. Scripture teaches otherwise; it is not the consequence of our ability to follow Jesus, but of his ability to reproduce his marvelous life in and through us.

3. SCRIPTURES: Here are some key passages

““I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Ga 2:20.

““I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” Joh 15:5.

“To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Col 1:27.

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1Th 5:23.

“‘And you shall keep My statutes, and perform them: I am the LORD who sanctifies you.” Le 20:8. (and yet how many of us believe we must sanctify ourselves by our own effort?)

4. METHOD: God sanctifies the believer, but the believer in Jesus must cooperate with that process or remain a spiritual weenie forever.

  • First, at salvation, the believer in Jesus is placed into permanent union with Christ. At that moment, the Holy Spirit and Christ himself, take up permanent residence within the Christian. We have the permanent indwelling of Christ and his Spirit. We have a new identity and a new power we never had before.
  • Our indwelling Savior, through the Spirit, exerts is power 24/7, nonstop. We will either fight him or join him. If we fight him, we crack and experience his discipline. We join him by making choices in accordance with his will as revealed in Scripture, and as applied moment by moment through the Spirit.
  • The power of Christ and the Spirit is released by faith (Gal 2:20: I live by faith in the Son of God…). Faith means believing that what God says is true enough to act like it. Faith is the struggle, not holiness, not subduing the flesh. Faith obligates God’s grace to be active. Faith is the victory, over all or doubts about God’s power. When we operate in faith, he operates in power, no matter HOW WE FEEL. Moment by moment, crisis by crisis, need by need, temptation by temptation faith is the key to sanctification. Faith that casts the burdens on the Lord, and trusts God to work, to energize, to guide. Faith that rests upon Christ in you, doesn’t stress out, and trusts Jesus. Risky, muscular faith. So what is the key to faith?

  • Spiritual maturity is the key to ongoing faith. We must grow deep in the Lord. So Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by means of the truth, Your Word is truth” (Jn 17:17). And Paul affirmed, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2Ti 3:16,17. Scripture first, equipping for good works last in that sequence. The odds that in any temptation or crisis you will exercise the faith that releases Christ’s power to make you holy–those odds depend on your level of spiritual maturity. John refers to children, young adults, and mature adults in the faith. Hebrews says that we must press on toward the high ground of maturity, and that many, by now out to be teachers, but have need for the ABC’s again. My last sermon was on this topic.
    • Spiritual growth is the process by which God builds into your soul the same structures of thinking, believing, instinct, and values that were in Christ’s soul on earth. You can’t be like him on the outside unless you’re like him on the inside.
    • Without this grace-oriented sanctification, Christianity is just another chore. It is a duty, not a delight. A set of chains, not freedom. But once you get this, you are free. Faith is your problem; sanctification is God’s problem. The burdens of your life rest on him, his strength.
    • AB Simpson taught that holiness is not an attainment but an obtainment. It is not imitation but habitation.
    • Follow the chain: Sanctification depends on Christ in you. Christ’s power in you depends on faith. Faith depends on Spiritual Maturity. And one more:
  • Spiritual maturity depends on the old standbys: Scripture, prayer, community, service. Of which, service is last on purpose (conceptually, in actually life, they’re jumbled). Paul, when he was saved, spent 3 years without serving God–he learned and grew deep in the faith. So Paul writes, “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith [faith objective=doctrine], as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.” Col 2:6,7. Scripture is paramount, because it guides the rest. Prayer is second because it bonds our hearts to God. Community is third because it puts feet to our prayers, and because Scripture prioritizes it over service: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Ga 6:10. The cumulative effect of these four means of growth is a church that is powerful for evangelism and service in the world.
    • I prefer the term “Means of Growth” to the term “Means of Grace” because in Scripture, FAITH is the means of grace and GROWTH is the means of faith.

Sanctification rests on the power of God in the soul of a Christian. Unleashing that power is our job. Sanctifying us is his job.

Oswald Chambers said: “Beware of placing Our Lord as a Teacher first. If Jesus Christ is a Teacher only, then all He can do is to tantalize me by erecting a standard I cannot attain. What is the use of presenting me with an ideal I cannot possibly come near? I am happier without knowing it…. I must know Jesus Christ as Saviour before His teaching has any meaning for me other than that of an ideal which leads to despair. But when I am born again of the Spirit of God, I know that Jesus Christ did not come to teach only: He came to make me what He teaches I should be. The Redemption means that Jesus Christ can put into any man the disposition that ruled His own life, and all the standards God gives are based on that disposition.”

Major Ian Thomas wrote:

Godliness is a mystery! Fail to grasp this fact and you will never understand the nature of godliness.

“God did not create you to have just an ape-like capacity to imitate God. There would be no mystery in that, nor would this lift you morally much above the status of a monkey or a parrot! The capacity to imitate is vested in the one who imitates, and does not derive from, nor necessarily share the motives of the person being imitated, who remains passive and impersonal to the act of imitation.

“In direct contrast to this, godliness ­ or Godlikeness ­ is the direct and exclusive consequence of God’s activity in man. Not the consequence of your capacity to imitate God, but the consequence of God’s capacity to reproduce Himself in you! This is the nature of the mystery!”

Any simple questions or sanctified comments?

By the way, sanctification is the topic of my book! HOW TO KEEP YOUR INNER MESS FROM TRASHING YOUR OUTER WORLD. So be sure to check it out, and plan on buying a case of books (I’ll get you a discount) to give to all your friends for Christmas and birthdays. (Won’t be released till March 2009). Sign up for the newsletter and I’ll notify you–click the mobster on the top right of this page).


7 thoughts on “Sanctification, What is It?

  1. THANK YOU again for making this so clear and practical to us macadamia-brained creatures! Maybe in maturing, our brains just might grow, too, to something bigger than a nut!

    I can’t help but wonder just how one can “accept” all these principles without a deep, trusting faith in the infalibility of our Bibles?? As the first in your list of “standbys,” without this conviction of the Bible’s reliability and Truth, it seems to me the foundation would be a huge bit shakey! There are a bunch of things dependent upon our faith, aren’t there? Not only for our salvation, through faith in Jesus Christ’s redemption, but our faith in the Word He has given us to live by, and our faith (through words in the Bible) that our heavenly home awaits us, and on and on…

    My prayer is that the Body would stop being droolers and forge on to soldiers, starting with me!

  2. My favorite philosopher guy, Bernard Lonergan, addresses a very specific corner of this process, Sanctification. He says that faith (which he defines as the encounter with acceptance of the love of God) transforms the structures of our consciousness, such that we become a different kind of self!.

    More specifically, he says that God first transforms what we value as good (or, in more colloquial language, our “heart”), so that we pursue new loves. Primarily, Him. That transforms what we can affirm as real and true, such that the world we live in is new to us. That in turn transforms what we can affirm as intelligent and so shapes the sort of intellectual patterns or “Insights” we can have. It changes the way we put the data of sense together. We can thus have creative responses to the world like “turning the other cheek” that might not have occurred to us before. That then changes what sorts of data of sense we pay attention to. We literally experience our world differently on the most basic, animal level.

    In other words, God brings us to maturity, in the way you’re talking about. He fulfills the trajectory of our consciousness. What I find so exciting about Lonergan is that he recognizes how this happens concretely. Yes, why this happens or how its is “caused” are both mysteries. But the effects are concrete, real and can be recognized. That is to say, our minds bear the fruit of our relationship to God.

    Granted, this isn’t the be-all and end-all of Sanctification. In fact, it probably only scratches the surface. Still, that someone went to the work to pay attention to and describe the way Grace changes our very consciousness! Goes to show that God isn’t just interested in our behavior but our whole being.

  3. I read your words, Jonathan, and think “psycho babble” because it’s so difficult to understand just what is being said – trying to explain the “mysteries” of God. I admit to being very simple minded, but I truly don’t have a difficult time understanding what the Bible says about these mysteries; and I do appreciate Bernard Lonergan attempting to try. However, when it comes to relating to my children the process of sanctification, I prefer to use Dr. G’s and Bible’s words to Mr. Lonergan’s. Please, please, PLEASE don’t take offense at what I’ve just said. I read every word you have written on this blog. I’m just saying I understand sanctification explained by Dr. G much better than what you wrote.

    That’s my two cents…..

  4. Jean, that’s completely ok with me.

    That’s what’s so exciting about this stuff. That there are all these layers to dig into and corners to explore. Different people find access to the ideas from different places. It’s what I like about Christian Theology/Philosophy. That something is a mystery in Christianity doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense. It means there is so much meaning, so much…fullness that our minds can’t wrap around it. In philosophy talk, its not irrational but SUPERrational. It’s something we can dig into and come up w/ hands full of richness every time.

    While I don’t think it’s “psycho babble,” what Lonergan was doing is very specialized. All I was trying to do is give an example of how immense and all-encompassing the work of God’s sanctification is in our lives, even into our very selves. That God doesn’t just change what I do, but who I am. Lonergan, in a very academic and specialized way, has payed attention to and described how that “looks.”

    I have faith enough that what paul says (“should the foot say, ‘because I am not the hand, I am not a part of the body, is it therefore not a part of the body?”) applies to things like this, so I’m willing to do my part in the broader Christian life through academic study, just like Dr. G does his part in pastoring, just like you do your part in parenting.

    I share my part here because I’m passionate about it and I know some folks here enjoy it too. God bless you for reading my ramblings on here and hopefully some of the stuff I put out there can be useful.

  5. Thanks so much, Jonathan, for your gracious reply and understanding of me! I do think it’s quite impossible to truly understand God because we are mere mortals incapable of it, outside of what He has already given us with Jesus, the Word, and His Spirit to teach us – but, that is quite a bit, don’t you think? I always think of the ant trying to comprehend us, in a comparison I can understand. (Of course, WE didn’t create the ant either.) HE IS GOD (with or without my total understanding) and my Father God too. It’s just that fact of His immenseness to make His love for us so humbling to me.

    Dr. G has said we have ALL the resources Jesus had on earth to mature us to sanctification and that’s A LOT too. I’m humbled but terribly thankful!

  6. Team…

    You know from the Word of God that…

    Moses failed in his walk with God, and never entered the Promised Land. His outrage at the rock (lack of patience & respect) was the interference of the Inner Mess.

    His sister Miriam was struck with leprosy, because Mirian (in her heart and in her gossip) despised the wife of Moses who happened to be Ethiopian-African.

    The mighty man Samson — described din the Book of Hebrews as a “great man of faith” — had an addiction to (what we would call today as) porn.

    After he killed Goliath (through the Power of God), David committed adultery had to kill Uriah the Hittite in order to perpetuate the sin (again, we see the power of the Inner Mess).

    Even Paul and Barnabas lashed out at each other; so much so, they broke their ministry and parted ways (Acts 15:39).

    What can we say…?

    Are we better than THEY…? No, we are not better than the “pillars of faith” of the Bible. At least I hope I am speaking for all of us.

    There are two passages in the New Testament that speak to our recourse to God as we find ourselves “lost” in the Inner Mess…

    James 4:7-10 (with particular emphasis on verse 9):
    “Be miserable and mourn and weep… Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord…”

    Revelation 3:18:
    “You are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked… buy from me [Jesus] … some eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.”

    BOTTOM LINE: Experiential sanctification is the result of the direct grace of God. ASK GOD FOR CONTINUED GRACE THROUGH HUMBLING YOURSELF. IN THIS CONTEXT, THE CONFESSION OF YOUR SINS OCCURS TOWARD GOD. Don’t lose sight of that!

    It’s the condition of your heart toward God–reach out to him in your misery!

    Finally, the last two verses of the Book of Jude are very relevant to this blog entry… These verses are very encouraging…

    24 Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,
    25 To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.


  7. Jean, Jonathan and Joe (JJJ) 🙂

    thanks, all your comments are helpful.

    oh yes, and thanks to Bill, too 🙂

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