“For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1Th 4:3a NKJV)
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1Th 5:23 NKJV)
Having been born–again and placed in the family of God as a son, the process of regeneration continues unto perfection. This process, whereby the believer is now set apart for God’s purposes and becomes progressively more holy through fellowship with Him, is called sanctification.
Sanctification includes the ideas of:
Separation from all that defiles or prevents the believer from whole-hearted devotion to the Person and purposes of God;
Dedication to God and to living a life of purity before Him in thought, word and deed;
Consecration unto service for the Lord.
The means of accomplishing this work in the believer comprise:
- The Blood of Jesus
“Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. (Heb 13:12 NKJV)
This is absolute, positional and eternal
- The Word of God
“Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17 NKJV)
This is practical obedience, a progressive conforming of the will to the will of God.
- The Holy Spirit – The Spirit of Holiness (Rom 1:4)
“But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth,” (2Th 2:13 NKJV)
“that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:16 NKJV)
The Holy Spirit is with us and in us to apply the sanctifying power of the blood of Jesus, as we walk in obedience to the Word of God.
Again, it is important to stress that the process of sanctification is not some legalistic conformity to a set of rules, the “do’s” and “do nots” so loved by religion. It is born, as is the entire Christian life, out of our dynamic vital relationship with Christ by the Spirit.
The International Bible Encyclopaedia stresses this point very eloquently:
“It is his (Paul’s) constant and compelling moral appeal: You belong to Christ; live with Him, live unto Him (Col 3:1-4; 1 Thess 5:10). It is no formal belonging, no external surrender. It is the yielding of the life in its passions and purposes, in its deepest affections and highest powers, to be ruled by a new spirit (Eph 4:13,10,23,24,32; compare Rom 12:1).
But we do not get the full meaning of this thought of sanctification as consecration, or belonging, until we grasp the NT thought of our relation to God as personal. The danger has always been that this consecration should be thought of in a negative or passive way. Now the Christian’s surrender is not to an outer authority but to an inner, living fellowship. The sanctified life is thus a life of personal fellowship lived out with the Father in the spirit of Christ in loving trust and obedient service. This positive and vital meaning of sanctification dominates Paul’s thought.”
The law alone was powerless to promote holiness in God’s people, it takes relationship with God through the Spirit to experience the real meaning of holiness in our lives.
God’s purpose in Christ, in justification and sanctification, is not just to affect our divorce from the law, or our deliverance from slavery to sin, but to marry us to another, and ensure that we are bound to a new Master.
“Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.” (Romans 7:4 KJV)
“But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” (Romans 6:17–19 NASB)
Willmington, in his Guide to the Bible, compares justification and sanctification:
- Justification deals with our standing, while sanctification deals with our state.
- Justification is that which God does for us, while sanctification is that which God does in us.
- Justification is an act, while sanctification is a work.
- Justification is the means, while sanctification is the end.
- Justification makes us safe, while sanctification makes us sound.
- Justification declares us good, while sanctification makes us good.
- Justification removes the guilt and penalty of sin, while sanctification checks the growth and power of sin.
The progress of sanctification
Scripture teaches that sanctification is both instantaneous and progressive.
Sanctification is Positional or Judicial – Freed from the PENALTY of sin
The moment a person is born again they are sanctified in the sense of being separated from sin to the Lord. God counts Christ’s holiness to the believer, and the believer is set apart for the holy purpose of God:
“To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:” (1Cor 1:2)
“By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb 10:10 NKJV)
“just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,” (Eph 1:4)
Sanctification is Practical and Experiential – Freed from the POWER of sin
It is evident from the scriptures and believer’s experience that, although sanctified (set apart) at the moment of regeneration, there is still an ongoing and progressive work developing holiness in the believer’s life. The New Testament epistles are full of exhortations to live the holy and separated life we have been set apart for and called to;
“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:” (Heb 12:14 NKJV)
“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2Cor 7:1 NKJV)
The Corinthian church is a perfect example. They are referred to as “saints” (sanctified ones), yet clearly were in a process of sanctification!
“To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1Cor 1:2; 5:1-8 NKJV)
When we are regenerated we receive a new nature. We become one spirit with Christ, and the Spirit of holiness Himself comes to live in us:
“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.”But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1Cor 6:15-20)
In our flesh however there is still another nature at work, the sin nature, and the full redemption of our body will not take place until we are perfected and glorified. We have a responsibility to avail ourselves of the means of sanctification, the blood and the Word, and walk in the Spirit, mortifying and depriving of power the impulses of the flesh, and allowing the divine nature to rule:
“and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:24 NKJV)
“For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom 8:13)
“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” (Gal 5:16 NKJV)
Not until the final return of Christ will this process cease. In this life we can never be sinless, however we should, through the ongoing work of sanctification, sin less.
Some, including most notably John Wesley, spoke of a ‘second blessing’. This was thought to be a crisis experience in the life of the believer whereby they received immediately complete sanctification. This idea however is not supported by Scripture, although certainly encounters with God’s presence play a key part in the ongoing process of sanctification and we should not demean the significance and power of encounters with God that speed this process and deeply impact the spirit. Revival throughout the ages has proven the active power of God’s presence to promote holiness and convict of sin.
Complete and final – Freed from the PRESENCE of sin
Ultimately the believer will be brought by the power of the Lord into a state of sinless perfection. At the time of Christ’s coming the believer will know full and complete sanctification. This is the promise and benefit of perfection:
“so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.” (1Th 3:13 NKJV)
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” (1Th 5:23-24 NKJV)The perfection of the saints is the prerequisite for the final benefit of Christ’s atoning work: Glorification.
The word “perfect” means “finished, whole, perfect, plain, just, without fault or defect.” It speaks of a quality or state of being perfect and complete, so that nothing requisite is wanting; entire development; the highest attainable state or degree of excellence and maturity.
Scripture speaks of three kinds of perfection:
- The underived and absolute perfection of God
All of God’s ways are perfect, just and holy. He is perfect in and of Himself and it is impossible for Him to sin.
“He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice,
A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.”
(Deut 32:4 NKJV)
- The derived perfection of created beings
The perfection of created beings, whether angels or men, is a nature derived from the perfection of God himself. Scripture declares that even satan, in his original created form as Lucifer, was perfect in all his ways (Ezek 28:12-18). This however was not a sinless perfection like God, but an untested and untried perfection, which, as we know, failed when satan became proud of his own perfect beauty and wisdom.
God also counts as perfect before Him one whose heart is completely devoted to Him, even though they still have faults. Examples include Noah (Gen 6:9) and Job (Job 1:1-8; 2:3). This is the ‘perfection’ we are called to walk in as believers.
The believer is exhorted to press on to perfection and to maintain a perfect heart until, by the redeeming power of God, we are brought into a state of sinless perfection from which it will be impossible to fall.
“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2Cor 7:1 NKJV)
“Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,” (Heb 6:1 NKJV)
- Future Perfection
“The LORD will perfect that which concerns me…” (Psalm 138:8)
The saints will ultimately be brought to a place of absolute perfection in Christ. This is a derived perfection, nevertheless it will be one from which it is impossible to fall. The entire person, spirit, soul and body will be perfected and stand sinless before a holy God for all eternity. This is the completion of sanctification, and the prerequisite for glorification.
“Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Heb 13:20-21)
The means that God uses in the progress toward perfection include:
- The Word of God (Heb 11:3; 2 Tim 3:16-17; Eph 5:23-32);
- Faith and obedience (1 John 4:17-18; James 2:21;
- Ministries in the body of Christ (Eph 4:11-12; Col 1:26-28)
- The Body and Blood of Jesus (Hebrews 13:20-21; 7:11)
- The Lord Jesus Himself is the Author and Perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:2; 10:14)
“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (Rom 8:29-30)
Glorification is the final work of redemption. What Adam lost in the garden when he sinned (“fell short of the glory”) is restored in Christ. The work of redemption will bring the believer up to the perfection of Jesus Christ, and with that perfection will come glorification. We will shine as the sun and stars of heaven, displaying the revealed glory of our perfect God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
To glorify means to render glorious, to esteem, honour or magnify. The glory speaks of the outshining, majesty, beauty, light and honour of God.
“He is the sole expression of the glory of God [the Light-being, the out-raying or radiance of the divine], and He is the perfect imprint and very image of [God’s] nature, upholding and maintaining and guiding and propelling the universe by His mighty word of power. When He had by offering Himself accomplished our cleansing of sins and riddance of guilt, He sat down at the right hand of the divine Majesty on high,” (Heb 1:3 AMP)
Jesus, the outshining of the Father’s love, character and perfections, is the pattern for the saints. The glory of God displayed in Him will be given to the faithful in the Kingdom of their father:
“Then will the righteous (those who are upright and in right standing with God) shine forth like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let him who has ears [to hear] be listening, and let him consider and perceive and understand by hearing.” (Matt 13:43 AMP)
“And the teachers and those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness (to uprightness and right standing with God) [shall give forth light] like the stars forever and ever.” (Dan 12:3 AMP)
What an awesome hope we share:
“through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Rom 5:2 NKJV)
“To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27 NKJV)
Also involved in our glorification is the granting of a resurrection body to the faithful believer at the coming of Christ. This will be a body like unto Christ’s, never again subject to sickness, disease, affliction or even the physical laws which presently govern our universe. It is a ‘spiritual body’, designed perfectly to house a perfected and glorified spirit.
“according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death…who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” (Phil 1:20; 3:21 NKJV)
We are presently being changed from glory to glory by the working of the Spirit in our lives, until the full and final glorious consummation at the coming of Christ in all his glory with the angels. In that day we will see Him as He really is and be changed in an instant to be like unto the Saviour we have lovingly followed in this life:
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2Cor 3:18 NKJV)
“Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.” (1John 4:17 NKJV)
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?
The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1Cor 15:50-58 NKJV)