During the posts concerning justification, the subject of works came up frequently. As I discussed, works are not something that ever brings about our justification before God (at least not our works – we are justified by the works of Christ, which we receive by grace through faith) but good works, spiritual fruit, good deeds and obedience are the natural product of a life that is in Christ – it is the natural outflow of a heart that is now indwelt by the Spirit. We would be speaking now about sanctification.
When we speak of our being “saved” we typically think of a past act (I was saved), a current state of being saved (I am being saved) and our future salvation (I will be saved). We can compare these past, present progressive and future states of our salvation with our justification (past), our sanctification (present progressive) and glorification (future). I was justified when I placed my faith in Christ and repented of my sins. I am now in process of being conformed to the image of Christ – I am being sanctified. One day, I will be saved and that will happen when I am glorified – when I take off this mortality and put on immortality and will truly be like Christ.
Without overly complicating sanctification, it typically refers simply to our progressive growth in righteousness in Christ. This flows out of our justification. The believer is in Christ and is progressively being conformed to the image of Christ. The heart, mind and will of the believer are being transformed by the Spirit to conform to the will of God. It is the process of our Christian growth. Justification is thought of as being a one-time definitive act on the part of God directed towards a believer. There is an aspect of sanctification that may be viewed as a one-time act as well as that relates to our position in God. Sanctification fundamentally means to be set apart, to be made holy. When we are justified we are also set apart to God. In this respect we have been sanctified from a positional/definitive perspective.
In a number of passages, Paul discusses sanctification from the perspective of a past occurrence that parallels the notion of justification and our regeneration. When we are justified there is a break that occurs between the old man and the new man. This is a result of the believer’s sanctification – he has been set apart. There has been a legal declaration of our righteousness before God and we are, therefore, set apart. In this respect we have been sanctified and we are undergoing the process of sanctification as well.
In Romans 6, Paul has much to say on this subject. He has spent considerable time building the case of man’s need in his sinful state and the fact that man can find himself at peace with God by grace through faith in justification. Our justification is that legal declaration of righteousness – the judgment due us for our sins has been handled through the cross and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us. So this may naturally lead one to question, should we continue in sin? If grace abounds where sin abounds, why not continue in sin?
Paul answers that question with a question: How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:2). Paul makes it clear that living in the realm of sin means being a slave to sin. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34). John wrote, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.” (I John 3:9).
To live in the realm of sin is to continue in the practice of sinning. This is not to say that all that have been placed in Christ will no longer commit a single act of sin for we are not yet perfected and remain trapped in our fallen bodies. As Paul states, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). His point is that there is a war at work in him between his inner man and the sinful law that seeks to rule in his body. Nevertheless, when we are sanctified and set apart in Christ there is a break that occurs – we are not freed from our fallen bodies and the temptations that come against us but we are no longer slaves such that we have no choice but to follow those temptations. We no longer should continue in making it a practice to sin. This begins with our changed state – as some might call our definitive sanctification.
A death to sin means that our old self has been crucified with Christ that we would no longer be slaves to sin but we are instead freed from sin and sin should no longer reign in our mortal bodies. (Romans 6:6, 7, 12). Sin is no longer our master that we must obey. (Romans 6:14). Instead, we are to present ourselves as instruments of righteousness and seek to be slaves to righteousness. We are to be obedient from the heart to the gospel and all Christian teaching. We are no longer to be slaves to sin but enslaved to God. (Romans 6:13-14, 17, 19, 22). Thus, this definitive sanctification does not mean that we are in fact sinless but that there has been a break with the power and dominion of sin over us because of our union with Christ. John makes clear that if we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves. (I John 1:8). But Paul makes clear that sin should have no dominion or control over us. (Romans 6:14). Therefore, every believer should take seriously the change that has been wrought in his life and should stop sinning and instead render their bodies as instruments of righteousness.
The basis of our justification is the imputation of the obedience of Christ to us. Likewise, the basis of one’s definitive sanctification is one’s spiritual union with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection.
With this radical change having been rendered in us as believers, the work of being conformed into the image of the Son of God can really begin. While we have spoken of the definitive sanctification that took place when we repented and turned to God in faith, the process of sanctification (or progressive sanctification) can begin.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13).
Paul wrote these words while exhorting the Philippians to live a holy, godly lifestyle following the example of Christ in humility and seeking to serve others first. His speaking of our working out our salvation is in reference to the ongoing process of our being saved – our progressive sanctification. It is simply our seeking to follow in the example that Christ left for us. Paul continues that we should not be found grumbling or arguing but found to be blameless and innocent, children of God who are without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation. In this dark time, we should be lights holding fast to God’s word.
Our progressive sanctification involves “God who works in” us and our yielding to his working in us in putting off the characteristics of our old nature and putting on the characteristics of the new man after Christ. (Colossians 3:8-10). It is God working in us but it is not without our cooperation. We are to undertake to put off the old ways and put on the new ways as a result of what God has done for us and in us. We need to put to death the sins just as we have died to sin. (Romans 6:6-7, Ephesians 4:27-5:33, Galatians 5:16-26, I Peter 2:1-2, Romans 12:1-2). This is something that is always spoken of as being progressive – not something that happens like justification, where we are declared to be something. This is spoken of as a process – we are in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, we are being shaped and molded so that we will follow the will of God.
How are we in this process or by what means are we being shaped? First, Peter quoted the admonition found in Leviticus that we should be holy for the Lord is holy. (I Peter 1:15-16, Leviticus 11:44-45, 19:2). Because we have been recreated by the grace of God to God’s image in righteousness and holiness, we should pursue putting on the new man in God’s likeness.
Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:22-24 that you are “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Similarly in Colossians he wrote, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self, with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (3:9-10).
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2).
There is an aspect of this conforming of us as believers that involves our assuming the ethical nature of God. How we treat one another is a manifestation of our view of and obedience towards God. These admonitions are always accompanied by exhortations around our treatment of one another. The second of all commandments is that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves or as we would like to be loved. This is born out of a transformation or renewal of our minds, our thinking, from a knowledge that we acquire of God through his word and in relationship with his Spirit living within our hearts.
While ethics is often focused on our relationships with one another, the moral law of God provides us with a greater understanding of God’s character and holiness, including his ethical demands. The law of God provides us with an understanding of the moral will of God. While the ceremonial laws were all fulfilled by Christ and we are not called to fulfill ceremonial laws under the Mosaic Law, we (as all men) are called to live according to the moral and ethical laws of God. Our ability to live according to the moral and ethical laws of God is not possible when we follow after the old man and his desires but we are able to do so as we are empowered by the Spirit in us. Christ came to condemn sin in the flesh “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4-5).
There are various ways in which the law was intended to be used by God and two of those ways involved the law showing us our sin and our need and, thus, causing us to turn to Christ (Romans 3:20 – through the law comes the knowledge of sin; Galatians 3:24 – the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ) and to provide us with a pattern that we ought to follow with respect to our sanctification.
When speaking of the law of God, we are speaking primarily of the Ten Commandments. Nowhere in the New Testament are the commandments abrogated as a basis for Christian ethics. To the contrary, Paul calls the law holy, just, spiritual and good. (Romans 7:12,14, 16). Paul views the commandments as the revealed ethic of God and that the law is fulfilled when we love: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10).
Jesus himself noted the greatest of all commandments was that we love God with all our hearts, soul and mind that the second being that we love our neighbors as ourselves – and that upon these two commandments hang all the law and prophets. Each of the Ten Commandments appears to be referred to and invoked in some manner throughout the New Testament.
In the next post we will look at how it is that we are sanctified…what are the means of grace utilized to bring about our sanctification.