Sanctification – Part 2

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.

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Sanctification – Part 1

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.

Positional/Definitive Sanctification

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.

Progressive Sanctification

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.