In the previous post we discussed the concept of sanctification and what that means in very general terms. We discussed our definitive or positional sanctification that comes through our being placed in Christ. We also looked at the concept of progressive sanctification – our growing in Christ, our being conformed to the image of Christ.
In this post, I wanted to look at how we are sanctified and briefly at what sanctification does not entail.
How are we Sanctified?
We must appreciate that just as no Christian is able to justify himself, no believer is able to sanctify himself either. The New Testament makes clear that that it is the work of the Spirit in our lives that brings about growth, change and sanctification. According to the II Corinthians 3:8, it is by the Spirit of the Lord that we “are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” The scripture speaks of our being sanctified by God in the truth and by his peace. (John 17:17, I Thessalonians 5:23).
Nevertheless, the scripture is clear from Philippians 2:12-13 that we, as believers are not passive in the process of our sanctification. It is God that is doing the work within us but we have the ability, by the same Spirit, to yield ourselves to him in obedience to his working within us. It is “by the Spirit” that we “put to death the deeds of the body….” (Romans 8:13).
What are the instruments utilized to bring about our sanctification? These instrumentalities are often referred to us the means of grace. These means of grace are the scripture, prayer, worship, fellowship with believers, service, ordinances and the providences of God which work together for the good in our lives. Through these various instrumentalities, God is working to change us and grow us in our Christian lives and bring us into the likeness of his Son.
We are repeatedly admonished to be in the scriptures, in prayer, in fellowship with other believers and to take part in the Lord’s Supper and baptism as well as understand that God is working through all things to the good for those who are called to be conformed to the image of his Christ.
How are we Not Sanctified?
Just as our justification is derived from God, our sanctification is derived from him as well. The believer cannot bring anything to the equation to add to his sanctification when the source of his sanctification is the Holy Spirit working within him. Any holiness that might be ascribed to me is because God has placed me within Christ – God has separated me and God is continuing to work within me. I have been sanctified, separated or made holy when God justified me and I continue to be made holy through the Spirit of Christ continuing to work within me.
Our involvement, as previously discussed, in sanctification is not merely a passive one but one in which we yield ourselves to the agent of change in our lives, the Holy Spirit working within us to bring us into conformity with the Son of God. Christ is the image that we should seek to reflect and the pattern of life lived by Christ is the pattern we should seek to follow. It should go without saying but we will repeat here that the law of God that we should seek to fulfill is love. God is eminently concerned with the state of our hearts. Jesus was not so concerned with external religious practices, such as failing to wash before eating, for these wouldn’t defile a man. Jesus said that it was “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (Matthew 15:18-20).
John Piper once provided a definition for sanctification as “progressively becoming like Jesus.” There is only one way in which we can gradually become more and more like Christ and that is by allowing the Spirit of Christ to work on us, by allowing the word of God cleanse and shape us, by fellowshipping with other Christ-like believers, and by finding Christ in the middle of our everyday situations.
We are not sanctified by following a set of guidelines or rules that man creates defining what you must do (or what you must refrain from) in order to be holy as God is holy. Again this is another subject to lengthy to be covered here; nevertheless, we should touch on the fact that there are churches, such as the UPCI, that focus on what they call holiness standards or just “standards.” The UPCI will teach that these standards are merely practical applications of biblical standards of holiness, modesty and separation from the world. The UPCI Articles of Faith contains a number of position papers and the second longest paper among these articles is the article on the subject of Holiness.
Holiness is an imperative for without holiness no man shall see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14). Yet when we begin to define holiness in terms of standards to be kept by the Christian man and woman we by necessity are focusing on the external. We are focusing on actions rather than thoughts and intentions. We are looking at external procedures rather than the heart. It is common then for the UPCI member to begin thinking in terms of their “holiness” as being defined by how they look, their dress, their appearance. This is certainly an area of dispute within the UPCI church more broadly with some within the organization being more liberal on this issue while others hold to the view that the UPCI as an organization should be more firmly dedicated to and defined by their holiness roots in terms of practical/external applications.
Holiness standards, in organizations like the UPCI, tend to focus on women not wearing make-up or jewelry of any kind, women not wearing pants, women having uncut hair, men keeping short hair and remaining clean shaven. Modesty in dress is enforced through men and women wearing pants and skirts/dresses, respectively, of a proper modest length and not wearing short sleeves. In many churches, prohibiting any form of “worldly” entertainment is enforced through the prohibiting of members having television sets, attending movies or other forms of entertainment. Amusement parks and dancing, even at weddings, is frowned upon. Prohibitions on alcohol are enforced as well. The local church itself has some leeway in establishing its own standards that it wishes to enforce as rules. It may enforce these rules by allowing or prohibiting involvement in church activities or ministries up to and including temporary/permanent excommunication from the church body for failure to abide by the standards set down by the leadership of the local church.
Holiness, from a Biblical perspective, means to be consecrated, purified, and sanctified. To be in a state of holiness involves our being consecrated to God, purified by God and growing in the grace of God as a result of our placing our faith in Christ. We have been justified (declared just through the imputation of the righteousness of Christ received by grace through faith) and we have been sanctified or consecrated (at the time of our justification in being set apart by God and declared holy), and we are in the process of being purified (through progressive sanctification or our growing into the likeness of Christ through the means of grace). We are being conformed to the image of Christ by allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us killing the sin that is at work in our hearts and bearing spiritual fruit, such as love, in our lives. This is the wonderful picture of holiness.
When the UPCI begins to define holiness in terms of external dress codes, make-up, jewelry, the owning of a television set, and hair length it has moved into the realm of legalism and degraded the beautiful concept of the holiness of God into a set of man-made commandments. There is no difference between the legalism of the UPCI and the legalism of the Pharisees in the days of Jesus. Both rely on the God’s word but add to the scriptural concepts and definitions external activities and mandates that are to be kept in order to keep one within the grace of God – after all, without holiness (defined by the UPCI as both inward and external rule keeping), you will not see the Lord. The criticism of the Pharisees was that they actually undid the scriptures and violated the law through their traditions. Unfortunately, the UPCI may itself be undoing the grace of God by inserting and raising their traditions to level of inspired scripture.
Suffice it to say, for today, that our sanctification is through the Spirit of God working in us and through the means of grace in our lives. Sanctification is not achieved through external rule keeping or dress codes. To argue that the holiness you or I need is achieved or maintained through rule keeping is to cheapen and degrade the holiness of God to something like that of an idol. If there is any aspect of holiness in us, it is attributable to the Spirit of Holiness that we have received by the grace of God.