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Holiness – our sanctification is the will of God

December 2, 2011 Leave a comment

In our series on holiness it is important to define the key doctrine of sanctification and to understand exactly what this term means and how it relates to our pursuit of holiness. Sanctification is another area the Bible speaks substantially about (over 1000 times in various forms) yet there seems to be limited attention paid to it in our churches. Sanctification’s importance can be seen when comparing it to regeneration; where regeneration for the Christian is birth; sanctification is all about spiritual growth. I will not effort to exhaust this study, but to provide an overview to help us understand the importance and nature of growing in holiness – our sanctification.

1 Thessalonians 4:3
3For this is the will of God, your sanctification:

In the ordinary acceptance of these words, they simply mean that among many other things that God has willed, sanctification is one; it is something in accordance with His will. This thought contains teaching of great value. God very distinctly and definitely has willed your sanctification: your sanctification has its source and certainty in its being God’s will. We are ‘elect in sanctification of the Spirit,’ ‘chosen to be holy;’ the purpose of Gods will from eternity, and His will now, is our sanctification.

Ephesians 1:4
4just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,

“To be one with God’s will is to be holy. Everything in a life of holiness depends upon our being in the right relationship to the will of God.” (A. Murray)

The design of the Gospel is to teach men not only what they should believe, but also how they should live. It is God’s will that all His should be holy. The Lord calls none into his family to live unholy lives, but that they may be taught and enabled to walk before him in holiness. Some make light of the precepts of holiness, because they hear them from men; but they are God’s commands, and to break them is to despise God.

Let us look at some basic dictionary definitions for context.

“SANCTIFICATION: The act of making holy; the state of being sanctified or made holy. Theologically—The act of God’s grace by which the affections of men are purified or alienated from sin and the world, and exalted to a supreme love of God.” Webster’s Dictionary

SANCTIFY: To make holy or sacred; to consecrate or set apart; … to purify from sin,… SANCTIFICATION: Technically, an operation of the Spirit of God (Rom. 15:16; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2) on those who are already in Jesus, i.e., are united to Him by faith (1 Cor. 1:2), by which they are rendered increasingly holy, dying to sin and living to God, to righteousness, and to holiness (Rom. 6:6, 11, 13, 19; 1 Thess. 5:23; 1 Pet. 2:24). American Dictionary

HOLINESS: “1. Perfect moral integrity or purity; freedom from sin; sanctity, innocence. 2. State of being hallowed or consecrated to God, or His worship. Webster’s Dictionary

The Bible has much to say about this key doctrine. Sanctification occurs in various forms some 300 times in the New Testament and 760 times in the Old Testament for a total of 1060 in the Bible. The basic meaning in all these instances is “to set apart.” It is a lifelong process of growing in grace and spiritual maturity.

If regeneration has to do with our nature, justification with our standing, and adoption with our position, then sanctification has to do with our character and conduct. In justification we are declared righteous in order that, in sanctification, we may become righteous. Justification is what God does for us, while sanctification is what God does in us. Justification puts us into a right relationship with God, while sanctification exhibits the fruit of that relationship—a life separated from a sinful world and dedicated unto God.

The characteristic life pursuit in which the Christian is to live is that of sanctification, separated unto holiness. We cannot forget that the new man has a renewed will. This new will delights in the will of God because it is born of it.

There are three key aspects of sanctification taught in the Bible. The following is a brief review.

1. Instantaneous Sanctification

1 Corinthians 6:11
11And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

Hebrews 10:10
10By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:14
14For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

By the death of Jesus Christ the sanctification of the believer takes place at once. The very moment a man believes in Christ he is sanctified, that is, in this first sense: he is separated from sin and separated unto God. For this reason all through the New Testament believers are called saints (1 Cor. 1:2, Rom. 1:7). If a man is not a saint he is not a Christian; if he is a Christian he is a saint. We can see that in 1 Cor. 6:11 “sanctified” is put before “justified.” The believer grows in sanctification rather than into sanctification out of something else. By a simple act of faith in Christ the believer is at once put into a state of sanctification. Every Christian is a sanctified man. The same act that ushers him into the state of justification admits him at once into the state of sanctification, in which he is to grow until he reaches the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ.

2. Progressive Sanctification

Justification differs from sanctification: the former is an instantaneous act with no progression; while the latter is a crisis with a view to a process—an act, which is instantaneous and which at the same time carries with it the idea of growth unto completion.

2 Peter 3:18
18but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.

2 Corinthians 3:18
18But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

The tense is interesting here: We are being transformed from one degree of character, or glory, to another. It is because sanctification is progressive, a growth, that we are exhorted to “increase and abound” (1 Thess. 3:12), and to “abound more and more” (4:1, 10) in the graces of the Christian life. The fact that there is always danger of being defiled by contact with a sinful world, and that there is, in the life of the true Christian, an ever increasing sense of duty and an ever-deepening consciousness of sin, necessitates a continual growth and development in the graces and virtues of the believer’s life. There is such a thing as “perfecting holiness” (2 Cor. 7:1). God’s gift to the church of pastors and teachers is for the purpose of the perfecting of the saints in the likeness of Christ until, at last, they attain unto the fulness of the divine standard, even Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:11-15). Holiness is not an overnight growth; it is not the thing of an hour here and there; it grows as the coral reef grows: little by little, degree by degree. See also Phil. 3:10-15.

3. Complete and Final Sanctification

1 Thessalonians 5:23
23Now 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.

“Completely” means, perfect in every respect, whether it refers to the Church as a whole, or to the individual believer. Some day the believer is to be complete in all departments of Christian character—no Christian grace will be missing. Complete in the “spirit” which links him with heaven; in the “body” which links him with earth; in the “soul” as being that on which heaven and earth intersect. Maturity in each separate element of Christian character: body, soul, and spirit. This blessing of entire and complete sanctification is to take place when Christ comes:

1 Thessalonians 3:13
13so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.
1 John 3:2
2Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

Philippians 3:12-14
12Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
13Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
14I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

From the Divine Side: It Is the Work of the Triune God.
a) God the Father

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
23Now 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.
24He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.

God’s work is here contrasted with human efforts to achieve the preceding injunctions. Just as in Hebrews 12:2, and Philippians 1:6, the Beginner of faith is also the Finisher; so is it here; consequently the end and aim of every exhortation is but to strengthen faith in God who is able to accomplish these things for us. Of course there is a sense in which the believer is responsible for his progress in the Christian life (Phil. 3:12, 13), yet it is nevertheless true that, after all, it is the divine grace which works all in him (Phil. 2:12, 13). We cannot purify ourselves, but we can yield to God and then the purity will come. The “God of peace,” He who reconciles us—is the One who sanctifies us. It is as if the apostle said: “God, by His mighty power will do for you what I, by my admonitions, and you by your own efforts, cannot do.” See also John 17:17—“Sanctify them through thy truth.” Christ addresses God as the One who is to sanctify the disciples.

b) Jesus Christ the Son

Hebrews 10:10
10By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

The death of Jesus Christ separates the believer from sin and the world, and sets him apart as redeemed and dedicated to the service of God. This same truth, namely, the sanctification of the Church as based on the sacrificial death of Christ, is set forth in Eph. 5:25, 27—“Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for it; that he might sanctify it.” Christ is “made unto us… sanctification” (1 Cor. 1:30). See also Heb. 13:12

c) The Holy Spirit Sanctifies

1 Peter 1:2
2elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.

2 Thessalonians 2:13
13But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth,

The Holy Spirit seals, attests, and confirms the work of grace in the soul by producing the fruits of righteousness. It is the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus who gives us freedom from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2). He is called the Holy Spirit, not only because He is absolutely holy Himself, but also because He produces that quality of character in the believer. The Spirit is the executive of the Godhead for this very purpose. It is the Spirit’s work to war against the lusts of the flesh and enable us to bring forth fruit unto holiness (Gal. 5:17-22). How wonderfully this truth is set forth in the contrast between the seventh and eighth chapters of Romans. Note the unsuccessful struggle of the former, and the victory of the latter. Interestingly there is no mention of the Holy Spirit in the seventh chapter of Romans, while He is mentioned about sixteen times in the eighth chapter. Herein lies the secret of failure and victory, sin and holiness.

From the Human Side

a) Faith in the Redemptive Work of Jesus Christ

1 Corinthians 1:30
30But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—

Christ is indeed all these things to us, but, in reality, He becomes such only as we appropriate Him for ourselves. Only as the believer, daily, even moment by moment, takes by faith the holiness of Jesus, His faith, His patience, His love, His grace, to be his own for the need of that very moment, can Christ, who by His death was made unto him sanctification in the instantaneous sense, become unto him sanctification in the progressive sense—producing in the believer His own life moment by moment. Herein lies the secret of a holy life—the momentary appropriation of Jesus Christ in all the riches of His grace for every need as it arises. The degree of our sanctification is the proportion of our appropriation of Christ. See also Acts 26:18.

b) The Study of the Scriptures and Obedience

John 17:17
17Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.

Ephesians 5:26
26that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,

John 15:3
3You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.

Our sanctification is limited by our limitation in the knowledge of and our lack of obedience to the Word of God. How does the Word of God sanctify? By revealing sin; by awakening conscience; by revealing the character of Christ; by showing the example of Christ; by offering the influences and powers of the Holy Spirit, and by setting forth spiritual motives and ideals. There is no power like that of the Word of God for detaching a man from the world, the flesh and the devil.

c) The Pursuit of Holiness

Hebrews 12:14
14Pursue … holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:

To pursue means to seek out, as Saul of Tarsus pursued and followed the early Christians. One cannot become a saint in his sleep. Holiness must be the object of his pursuit. The lazy man will not be the holy man. Heb. 12:10, 11: God chastens us “for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” Chastisement often is intended to “produce the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” Rom. 6:19-22; 2 Cor. 6:17; 7:1. Sanctification is brought about in the life of the believer by his separating himself deliberately from all that is unclean and unholy, and by presenting, continually and constantly, the members of his body as holy instruments unto God for the accomplishment of His holy purposes. Thus by these single acts of surrender unto holiness, sanctification soon becomes the habit of the life.

Summary

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says sanctification is “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.” The concept is not of sin being totally eradicated or merely counteracted, but of a Holy Spirit orchestrated character change freeing us from sinful habits and forming in us Christlike behavior, attitudes, and virtues.

As stated in the introduction regeneration is birth; sanctification is growth. In regeneration, God implants desires that were not there before:

  • desire for God, for holiness, and for the hallowing and glorifying of God’s name in this world;
  • desire to pray, worship, love, serve, honor, and please God;
  • desire to show love and bring benefit to others.

In sanctification, the Holy Spirit “works in you to will and to act” according to God’s purpose; what he does is prompt you to “work out your salvation” (i.e., express it in action) by fulfilling these new desires (Phil. 2:12-13). Christians become increasingly Christlike as the moral profile of Jesus (the “fruit of the Spirit”) is progressively formed in them (2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 4:19; 5:22-25). As we progress in Christlikeness we are growing in holiness, for He is holy.

A.W. Pink wrote these words as a warning to Christians regarding personal holiness in the early 1900’s which still applies to our current day.

“How many there are today who suppose that if they have trusted in Christ, all is sure to be well with them at the last even though they are not personally holy. Under the pretense of honoring faith, Satan as an angel of light, has deceived and is now deceiving multitudes of souls. When their “faith” is examined and tested, what is it worth? Nothing at all so far as insuring an entrance into heaven is concerned: it is a powerless, lifeless, fruitless thing. The faith of God’s elect is unto “the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness” (Titus 1:1). It is a faith which purifieth the heart (Acts 15:9), and it grieves over all impurity. It is a faith which produces an unquestioning obedience (Heb. 11:8). They therefore do but delude themselves who suppose they are daily drawing nearer to heaven while they are following those courses which lead only to hell. He who thinks to come to the enjoyment of God without being personally holy, makes Him out to be an unholy God, and puts the highest indignity upon Him. The genuineness of saving faith is only proved as it bears the blossoms of experimental godliness and the fruits of true piety”

Scripture is clear we are to Pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” Heb 12:14 and the decision to purse holiness is our choice for we are to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” Phil 2:12, and gratefully with thanksgiving we are empowered by the power of the Holy Spirit Phil 2:13 in this pursuit. The doctrine of sanctification  has serious and eternal implications for the believer. Given the price Christ paid for our salvation and having separated us out to holiness to become conformed to His image, should not our reasonable pursuit be a life of obedience toward sanctification for it is the “will of God” 1 Thess 4:3?

Romans 8:29
29For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

May the Spirit of God draw us humbly toward holiness, moment by moment, breath by breath, that Christ might be fully expressed in and through us for the glory of the Father. Amen.