(See Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 13)
When you think about it, Sanctification is one of those uniquely ecclesiastical words. Where else but in church circles would you meet with such a word? And what does sanctification mean anyway? Is it just one of those words you hear folk use at a Bible study, or a prayer meeting? Is it one of those words that Christians use when they want to sound pious? Like: “Justification, Sanctification, Glorification.”
What can we say about sanctification? Well, Paul the Apostle uses the word. Therefore sanctification can’t be a bad word. For example the Apostle says in 2 Thessalonians 2:13&14, “But 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, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So we see then from this passage: 1. That sanctification is a Biblical word. 2. That sanctification is a word that expresses what God does to those He has chosen for salvation. 3. That God sanctifies those who have been called by the Gospel. 4. That sanctification is also to do with obtaining the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, i.e., Glorification. And 5. That the believer is sanctified by the Spirit working with or through the person’s belief in the truth, i.e., the Gospel.
If we add it all together we might say that God sanctifies those He effectually calls and regenerates. Or you could say for every true Christian it’s: Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification. These three are intimately connected. Simply put, Justification means you in Christ. Sanctification means Christ in you. And Glorification means you and Christ in Glory, i.e., Heaven.
In the following we’re looking specifically at Sanctification. Therefore we are looking at what Christ does in you.
As you know, Justification is impersonal or passive. Justification is a legal transaction whereby God the Supreme Judge declares you righteous on account of the perfect life and atoning death of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ. But Sanctification, like Adoption, is personal. It is active.
Adoption is God adopting you and bringing you, His adopted child, into His home, so to speak. And when you’re in His home you begin to look around at everything in wide-eyed awe and wonder. Well, Sanctification is the Spirit of God, i.e., the Spirit of Christ, setting up home in you.
The Spirit has regenerated you (the Christian). He has effectively called you by His Word. He has enabled you to find that call irresistible. And you have come to Jesus with open arms. Well all of this is because Jesus Christ has come to you by His Spirit and His Word. And as His Word has lodged in your heart, so has His Spirit with His Word. Sanctification, then, is the Spirit working with the Word in the heart of the believer.
And the thing is, because the Spirit is testifying with your spirit that you are a child of God, you now have a personal and intimate love for God and His Word. For you have been given a new heart and new spirit, just as the Lord promised through Ezekiel: “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” Ezekiel 36:25-27.
Could there be anything more personal than having God come to live and work within you? Well, didn’t Jesus say, “Lo, I am with you always”? So, Jesus kept the promise He made before He ascended to Glory. He didn’t leave us as orphans. He sent another Comforter, or Helper, or Sanctifier. Therefore He as it were sprinkled us with clean water and His shed blood by pouring out His Spirit upon us.
The Spirit gets really personal with us. He starts His work of cleansing in the inside and works His way out. Therefore Sanctification is a spiritual work. It is an inner work of cleansing. And we have the promise that, “…He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” Philippians 1:6b. So, this means that we are sanctified the moment we are given a new heart and a new spirit. Therefore the thief on the cross was sanctified from the moment He believed in Jesus.
But, Sanctification is also a progressive work that the Holy Spirit does within us. But you should know that the moment God by His grace gives you and new heart and a new spirit, the control that sin had over you is immediately broken. It means that you are no longer sitting on “death row” handcuffed to Satan. It means that the Devil is no longer your father. It means that sin’s spell has been broken for you. It means that sin and death no longer reign over you. It means that you no longer live in darkness.
It means that you no longer live in the company of those angels who left their proper domain, who “…are reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day” Jude 6. It means that the old you, the “old man” has been crucified with Christ. It means that your old body of sin has been done away with. It means that you are no longer a slave to sin. It means that you are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Sanctification means all these things and more – as if that weren’t enough! But Sanctification is something that takes place in every nook and cranny of your being. If you’ve heard of “Total Depravity”, i.e., the “T” in T.U.L.I.P., the Five Points of Calvinism, or the Canons of Dordt, then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. The Doctrine of Total Depravity doesn’t teach that any person is as totally depraved as they can be. No, Total Depravity means that every aspect of fallen man’s being is touched by and therefore is tainted by and therefore is corrupted by sin and the effects of sin. As the sea fills every crack and crevice on the ocean floor, so sin has seeped into every recess of man, body and soul. It’s the task of God the Holy Spirit to flush out all the residue of sin from us.
Now, speaking spiritually, He uses the blood of Christ to cleanse us of all our iniquities. If you will, Christ is the good leaven that leavens the whole batch. Although Jesus isn’t speaking directly about personal sanctification, He is speaking about cosmic sanctification where he says, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened” Luke 13:20&21. Are we not praying for the destruction of Satan’s kingdom and the spread of Christ’s kingdom when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven”? Matthew 6:10.
As by the power of the Holy Spirit the kingdom of Christ continues to spread throughout all the world, so the Holy Spirit works Christ into every nook and cranny of who you are. He continues till grace has permeated your whole being – we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. But you can surely see that Sanctification is personal. It is something going on in you that you are aware of. You never felt a thing when you were Justified by God. But you notice the work that the Spirit of Christ is doing in you, don’t you? If Justification is impersonal, then Sanctification is personal.
Sanctification is a “Legal Beagle” of sorts sniffing out sin wherever it might be found in you. Sanctification is you having your own internal “Private Detective” follow your every movement every moment. It’s as the Psalmist says, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” Psalm 139:7.
What’s Sanctification like? “It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the LORD commanded the blessing – life forevermore” Psalm 133:2&3.
The Holy Spirit is the good oil Christ baptises us with. He is the good oil poured upon us from on high. He is the good oil that that clears away the rust and grime of sin without and within us. He is our personal Sanctifier who sanctifies us personally.
Our personal sanctification is a progressive sanctification. For the Holy Spirit doesn’t stop when He gives us a new heart and a new spirit. No, He gives us a workout and a work-in!
Mind you, the needle seems to have stuck on the Doctrine of Justification in many churches. For many churches it’s all about “evangelism” and nothing about How should we then live? But I put it to you that “getting saved” includes Sanctification. For Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification are not the names of three men in a lifeboat trying to pluck drowning men out of the wild ocean. For the world is not sinking into the great abyss! The world is not going to Hell in a hand-basket and therefore needs to be rescued by you and me. How do we know? “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” John 3:17. Your personal Sanctification is testimony to this truth.
Now that Christ has saved the world in principle, the Father and the Son have sent the Holy Spirit into the world to put Christ’s salvation into practice. You and I have been saved – Justification. We are being saved – Sanctification. We will be saved – Glorification. But as you cannot separate the three Persons in the Trinity, neither can you have any one aspect of this trinity without the other two.
The Triune God is the eternal One. In relation to time, the past, the present, and the future are always the present with Him. Therefore the Holy Spirit has presently brought you Justification, Sanctification and Glorification. Yes, you’ll have to wait till you’re dead before you are fully glorified, but just as Christ’s resurrection was the beginning of His glorification, so is your spiritual regeneration the beginning of your glorification. For you no longer are living in darkness. You have been translated out of the kingdom of darkness into Christ’s kingdom of light. And the longer you live in that light the more you glow.
Glowing is Glorification. Glorification is intimately related to Sanctification. Therefore, just as you manifest that you have been Justified by your good works done in the Spirit, so you manifest that you are being Sanctified by the same good works done in the Spirit. But either way, your good works done in the Spirit glorify God. And your glorifying of God is an aspect of your own personal Glorification, because your good works done in the Spirit are the shining forth of the glory of the glorified Jesus Christ. He is the One who has saved you, is saving you, and will save you.
For Sanctification is also about obtaining the glory or sharing in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, (2 Thessalonians 2:14). And obtaining or sharing that glory is what Glorification is. For it is the Spirit of the glorified Christ in you who is enabling you to do your sanctified good works. Therefore, Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification is a threefold cord that is not quickly broken (Eccl. 4:12).
Yes, we must distinguish Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification, lest we end up tied up again with the cords of bondage, like Rome with its confusing Justification with Sanctification. But we must also be careful not to separate the cords, as has been done by modern evangelicalism with its antinomianism. Sanctification progresses from Justification unto Glorification. Therefore Sanctification is related to good works, i.e., works that glorify (or works of Glory).
We are to do all things to the glory of God, 1 Cor. 10:31. As Paul says to the Ephesians, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” Ephesians 2:10. The Psalmist in Psalm 1 likens the person being sanctified to a tree. “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf shall not wither, and whatever he does he will prosper” Psalm 1:3. Yes, of course this Psalm is speaking about Jesus Christ – that’s the point! He is the One working the sanctification process in you by His Spirit. He is the One producing plentiful fruit in the Christian of which good works are included. He is the leaven leavening the whole batch. His leaves are for the healing of the nations, (Revelation 22:2).
Again, Jesus gives us another picture of progressive sanctification by giving us another picture of the kingdom of heaven spreading and growing: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches” Matthew 13:31&32. Sanctification has everything to do with the growth of a Christian. The Spirit of Christ working in the world is the macrocosm. The Spirit of Christ working in the Christian is the microcosm.
Yes, there appears to be a bit of ebbing and flowing of the kingdom of heaven in the world, just as we seem to see the Christian sometimes grow but sometimes remain dormant and perhaps even backslide. But what Christian is there who does not believe that he will become more and more sanctified by the Holy Spirit helping him more and more to subdue the sinful cravings that remain in him?
The Christian’s bondage to sin is broken, remember? Hell’s cords are severed. Therefore, because this is true, the Christian’s sinful lusts are more and more weakened and put to death. The picture is that Christ has tied up the strongman (i.e., the Devil), and is now plundering the strongman’s house. You once were a child of the Devil, and the whole world was once under the power of Satan. But Christ has crushed the Serpent’s head by His cross. And He has brought you out of Satan’s strength-sapping leech-filled swamp. And He has placed you in His royal palace.
“The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell within” Psalm 24:1. Everything Satan has he has stolen from God. But Satan no longer rules over you, just as he no longer rules over the world. For Jesus says, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” Matthew 28:18.
The “Great Commission” sounds a lot more like Good News to all nations when viewed in light of the Doctrine of Sanctification, don’t you think? Therefore the “Great Commission” is not about rescuing people from a perishing world. It’s about the spreading of the kingdom of Heaven throughout the earth. Therefore it’s about stamping out sin in a world already saved! It’s about sanctifying the world to the glory of God! And the place you personally begin that process of world sanctification is with you yourself!
Now, you should note the battle that each Christian faces. First there is the battle within, and secondly there is the battle without. The battle within is caused by the residue of sin within lusting against the Spirit within. The Spirit lusts against the flesh and the flesh against the Spirit. The inner war is continual and irreconcilable until we die. However, this is not to say that the Christian will never grow in grace. For, as the mustard seed, so the Christian grows with the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit – like a tree planted by waters. The Spirit is the “Holy” Spirit. Therefore the Christian grows in holiness, without which no man shall see God.
So, the picture then is this: God has saved and separated the Christian from the world of sin. The Christian is in the world but not of the (sinful) world. He is of Heaven. The Spirit of the glorified Christ works in the heart of the Christian removing the residue of sin. Though He works toward that completion, it will only fully be completed when the Christian dies, or when Christ returns. Meanwhile the Christian will continue to encounter sin in his own heart, and sin in the world.
Jesus said to His Disciples: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” John 18:33. Remember those words of Jesus when you become frustrated with the residue of sin in yourself, or the residue of sin in the world. Remember that Jesus has overcome the world. Therefore He has also overcome the sin that remains in you. So be patient, Christ is victorious!
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit…” Ephesians 6:10-18a.
And just so that you don’t miss the fact that you are on the winning side, the Apostle John says, “…He who is in you is greater that he who is in the world” 1 John 4:4b. The Apostle Paul echoes this where he says, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” Romans 8:37. So be encouraged! Be of good cheer! Be as those who have heard the Good News!