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.
““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.
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).