Sanctification: A new life-styleIntroduction
Because we are members of the Kingdom of God, Jesus works in our lives in a very special way. He works to make us like him - to change us into his image. The Bible calls this process sanctification. Sanctification is a state of holiness, which, through the renewing power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, we seek to realize day by day, albeit always imperfectly. It entails the progressive realization of what we are already in Christ.
A Bible overview
i] A work of God's grace, 1Thess.5:2
ii] The sacrificial work of Christ, Heb.13:12.
iii] A progressive work of renewal through the indwelling Spirit of Christ, 2Thes.2:13, 1Pet.1:2. Theologians call this the "impartation" of Christ's righteousness.
iv] An attention to Biblical truth through which the Spirit will work, John 17:17.
v] Faith in Christ for renewal, Acts.26:18, Col,1:21-23.
vi] A willingness to walk toward the perfection we have in Christ, Rom.6:19, 2Cor.6:17, 7:1.
Sanctification involves being conformed to the likeness of God's Son, of being glorified, Rom.8:29-30. It is a learning to express the holiness which we already possess in Christ; to be transformed into the likeness of Christ, 2Cor.3:18; to "attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ", Eph.4:13; to "put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator", Col.3:10.
We must understand sanctification in the same terms as the Biblical doctrine of justification, in that holiness is a gift of grace appropriated through faith. We are righteous in the sight of God and that righteousness is being shaped in our life day by day, not by an effort of our will to keep the law, but by trusting Christ to change us into his image - into the likeness we already possess in him.
In simple terms, the Shorter Catechism defines sanctification as "the work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole image of God and are enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness", Eph.5:8.
Living in the Kingdom
God's primary activity in the world today is seen in the setting up of his Kingdom, ie., his gathering to himself of a people to be blessed with his friendship and to be directed through his word.
Yet, we face a great difficulty. We find ourselves in the Kingdom of God, but also in the world. Why doesn't God just zap us off into his presence right now? Why does He leave us here on this earth when everything he has done for us in Jesus is so that we might be with him for eternity? Why stay here when we can be there with him?
Very simply, the Lord leaves us in the world so that through the rough and tumble of life we might learn to be the person we are in Christ, i.e., so that we might be purified by life's experience.
Life then for us is to be our school of holiness. As we live life under the direction of Jesus, we are slowly moulded into his image, we become a holy people, a pure and set-apart people, a people like Jesus. We begin to be the people we are in Christ. We learn to be his holy people.
This process of becoming a holy person is called sanctification. It simply means, becoming a person like Jesus. The word holy means sanctified, set apart, pure or God-like.
We have seen in our studies so far that through Jesus' death on our behalf we are justified in God's sight, i.e., when God looks at us it's just-if-I'd never sinned. We are pure in His sight. The reason for this is:
i] The punishment due our sins has been taken by Jesus on the cross - he died for us.
ii] The reward due Jesus' perfection and obedience has been transferred to us - we live in him.
So, when God looks at us he doesn't see the way we are, rather he sees the way Jesus is.
Now in truth, we all know that we are flawed - we are sinners. So God sets about to mould us into the image of his Son, to shape us into the person we are in Christ - to sanctify us. When we put our faith in Christ we become God's holy people. As we live for Christ we learn to be that holy people.
The means of sanctification
Sanctification progresses in the life of a believer through the following:
The correct Bible word for rebirth is "regeneration". In our study on regeneration we learnt that at the moment we give our lives to Jesus, God works a wonderful miracle in us. Our old selfish self dies and a new resurrection life takes hold. That is, we die with Christ and rise with Christ. So, in a real sense we are a new person, a reborn being.
The result of this miracle in our lives is that we are no longer under what the Bible calls "the power of sin", i.e., we are no longer driven by the law to disobey God. Free from the law's demands, it is now possible to begin to live for God and so start to become like Jesus, to become holy. The Bible describes this state as walking by the Spirit. It does not mean we are now free from sin, that we somehow become sinless - there is no such thing as a sinless Christian. All our thoughts and actions will always be compromised.
Sounds like a battery recharge doesn't it? Again we saw in our study on regeneration, that as children of God we now live in the power of Jesus' resurrection. Because he lives we live also. This simply means that God doesn't leave us alone in the world, but is intimately involved in our lives and sees to it that we are able to live for him. He gives us the power to shape holiness in our lives.
Jesus has warned us that in the world we will have to face a fair bit of pressure:
i] Temptation to turn aside from the Lord,
ii] Trouble - at times we will be very aware that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood but spiritual powers in heavenly places."
These pressures will help to strengthen and refine us. It is part of the process of sanctification. We have nothing to fear, for our King is with us and he says, "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
The Lord has very carefully outlined a pattern of behavior which, when followed, will help to mould us into his likeness. Our sanctification progresses daily as we seek to live out the Lord's program for our lives. In the study on "Discipleship" we look at putting this program into practice, but for the moment we can summarize the program as: accepting the responsibilities of membership in God's Kingdom by realizing the Kingdom of God (the rule of God) in our personal lives, in the Christian fellowship and in the world.
i] Our personal walk with Christ. Developing a right relationship with God the Father through the Spirit.
ii] Upbuilding our Christian community. Encouraging and equipping our brothers and sisters in Christ.
iii] Reaching out to the lost. Powerfully presenting the claims of Jesus by word and action.
Sanctification and law-keeping
In popular thinking it is commonly believed that Biblical law serves to restrain evil and thus progress righteousness - progress sanctification. It is assumed that Biblical law moves actual righteousness (the way we are now) toward the righteousness we possess in the sight of God. It is often believed that law defines the life of a righteous person and therefore, when placed over a believer, serves to suppress sinfulness and help shape the believer into the image of Christ. Therefore many Christians tend to believe that it is in the struggle to keep Biblical law that they are changed into the image of Christ - that they are sanctified.
This assumption is not a new one. The apostle Paul himself had to address this issue in the church in Galatia. The legalists in the church thought that their Christian lives were progressed by being "extremely zealous for the traditions" of Judaism. They believed that "observing special days and months and seasons and years", practicing "circumcision", striving to keep the whole law, was the means for a believer to grow in Christ-likeness. As far as Paul was concerned, for a believer to return to "law-doing" to control sin in their lives and so advance their righteousness (their sanctification) was to "rebuild" what was "destroyed". In the end, it but proves that "I am a lawbreaker" and therefore under the condemnation of God.
This doesn't mean that the Biblical laws are of no value and should be ignored. God's moral law serves to guide the life of a Christian; it is a light guiding us through the darkness - a manual for life.
The sanctifying work of the Spirit
Paul the apostle said "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me", Gal.2:20. The child of God has received the indwelling blessing of the Spirit of Christ, Gal.3:14, and it is because "God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts", that we "live by the Spirit", and therefore do not "gratify the desires of the sinful nature", Gal.5:16.
By trusting the indwelling Christ for his strengthening in service, we will find we are able to live a faithful life for Him, for "he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us", Rom.8:4. Sanctification progresses in our lives, by grace through faith. Trusting in the wonder-working renewal of the indwelling Spirit, is the way we progress that renewal; it is the way sanctification proceeds.
During this week ask Jesus to make an impact on some indwelling sin, some recurrent sin, which is constantly eating at you. Don't try to overcome it yourself, you have most likely tried that and failed; just hand it over to Jesus. Trust Jesus to wrestle with the sin for you; trust him to give you the victory. You may fail, fail many times, but you will win in the end.