Sanctification: Our Holiness Guaranteed
Last week we examined how God freely justifies those who believe. In that sense, God shows His amazing love by "saving" believers from the eternal consequences of sin. But God's gift of salvation does not end with justification. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul reminds the believers there that they were saved for a purpose:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Notice the past tense use of the word "saved" here. The "good works" that Paul refers to here clearly have nothing to do with the act of justification (cf. Titus 3:4-7), but rather, occur after a person is "saved" from the eternal penalty of sin.
It's been said that Christians don't do good works in order to get to heaven, but rather because they know they are going to heaven. While this may be true from an individual standpoint, it only tells part of the story. What is not expressed by this axiom is the fact that God is continuing to work in the lives of believers who have already been justified. This work of God is what we call sanctification.
The word sanctification means "to make holy" or "to set apart." In the Bible, the word translated "sanctify" is used in various contexts to mean different things. Here we are focusing on the biblical concept of sanctification, which we define as God's work in "making holy" those He has justified.
By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10, NKJV)
For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14, NKJV)
Here we have two verses, both referring to sanctification, but each in a different tense. Taking a closer look, two primary aspects of sanctification emerge. In verse 10, we see that believers are "set apart" for God through Christ's "once for all" sacrifice. The is commonly known as positional sanctification. Paul wrote about this same kind of sanctification in his letter to the church at Corinth:
. . . But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11)
Positional sanctification provides believers with the assurance that they have been separated from sin and "set apart" for God. It occurs once, at the time of justification. In verse 14, however, we see that these same people who have been sanctified (positionally) are now "being sanctified." Clearly there is an aspect of sanctification that takes place after justification and continues on throughout the life of the believer. This aspect of sanctification is known as progressive sanctification. It refers to the continuing work of God in the lives of believers to mold them into His likeness.
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)
So we see that God sanctifies all believers, setting them apart at the time of justification and then gradually bringing them to perfection throughout their lives on this earth. Through progressive sanctification, God works in the lives of believers to free them from the power of sin in their lives on this earth. At this point, it would be logical to ask what role, if any, we have in progressive sanctification. Given the assurance of sanctification, does this mean we simply sit back and let God do all the work? Peter addressed this issue in his epistles.
As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." (1 Peter 1:14-16)
. . . make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8)
Paul wrote similar words in his letters to the churches at Rome, Corinth, and Galatia (Romans 6:11-19, 2 Corinthians 7:1, Galatians 5:16-26). These passages, among others, seem to indicate that we do have an impact on the process of sanctification in our lives. Now obviously this process is not identical for all believers--some, such as the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43), may have little time for progressive sanctification. But to the extent that we are given time, however, it would seem that we as believers can and do affect the extent to which we are "saved" from sin in our lives on earth. Our thoughts and actions on a daily basis may well serve to either help or hinder the process of sanctification. Next week we will examine glorification, which looks ahead to the final and ultimate act of God's salvation. Through glorification, God completes the work of salvation by "saving" believers from the very presence of sin.
Until then, we can be assured that God is faithful and will conform us unto His likeness. How encouraging to think that God has not merely left us alone to deal with sin on this earth. Not only has he "saved" us from the eternal consequences of sin, He continues to work in our lives so that we should "no longer be slaves" to it while on this earth.
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin--because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:6-11)
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
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Copyright © 1998 Tim A. Krell. All rights reserved. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version (NIV), Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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