Sanctification

Christians are called to be saints, to be holy, but what does that mean? These terms conjure images of a “holier than thou” or elitist attitude, or perhaps an ongoing efforts to prove one’s “worthiness” by certain acts and appearances. Not so! Sanctification is a work of God’s Spirit in us and is a humbling and comforting assurance of our salvation.

God is holy, and he requires us to be holy. The words for holy, holiness, sanctify and saint all come from the same roots, the Hebrew qadesh and the Greek hagios word groups. These words carry the meanings of setting apart or separation. The New Testament term “saint,” hagios, means simply one who is set apart. It does not imply a distinctive title, such as “Saint Peter,” or an innate goodness or worthiness (“she’s an absolute saint!”) even though this is what people generally assume. To be sanctified, or to be a saint, or to be holy simply means someone is set apart to be or to do something particular. Paul addressed his letter “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints,” (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:2).

Sanctification stems from God’s own holiness. “You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy,” (Lev 11:45; Isa 6:3; 57:15; Eph 1:4; 1 Pet 1:15–16). God displayed his holiness before Israel in his awesome presence and in the physical separation he required (Ex 19:10–24; 40:9–13). The rituals of worship under the Law reinforced the separation of God from his people. The Lord “dwelt” between the cherubim, in the midst of Israel, but only the High Priest could approach once a year, with the blood of atonement. The ark could not be touched. No one could look directly at God and live. The Most Holy Place was separated from the Holy Place, which only the priests could enter, with concentric spheres of separation moving outward through the courtyard of the tabernacle, the encampment of the Levites, of the people and finally in the Temple era, the court of the Gentiles. The Israelites were to be demonstrably separate from the pagans around them by their appearance and conduct, symbolically reinforced by commandments not to mix different seeds, different fabrics, different animals and to avoid ritual uncleanness prescribed in detail. God is holy; he alone is Creator, he is utterly different and separate from his creation. Father, Son and Spirit are intrinsically holy (John 17:11; 6:69; Acts 13:33; Rom 15:16) and united as God they are altogether “other” than created things.

The first essential point to understand is that sanctification/sainthood/holiness are not things that we can do ourselves. Sanctification is an act of God, through the ways and means provided and prescribed by him. In order to approach God under the law, the sin which separates people from God had to be removed. The rituals of the Law provided for cleansing and sanctification by the shedding of blood. But only the perfect sacrifice of the Son of God could permanently tear away the veil of separation and allow intimate access to God as our Father (Matt 27:51; Heb 10:19–20).

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God… Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom 5:1–2, 9–11).

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:14–18).

This is why the Scripture speaks of our “calling” as saints; God calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light (1 Pet 2:9); he separates us to himself; “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,” (2Ti 1:9). It is God who calls us, redeems us, washes us clean from sin, separates us to himself, adopts us as his children and seals us with his promise of salvation. Salvation is wholly and completely a work of God in which Father, Son and Spirit participate. Holiness is not something we can achieve by our own efforts or to our own credit.

The second thing to understand is that the effectiveness of Jesus’ atoning work on the cross is not dependent on our ability to achieve holiness in this life, contra to a works-based view of salvation. The work of God in the sacrifice of Christ occurred on the cross in one complete and final act; “It is finished!” (John 19:30). There is nothing that needs to be added to it to make it effective; to suggest otherwise is to downgrade the work of God, to suggest it was lacking in effectiveness. In application to the individual sinner, however, this work can be said to be ongoing and this application commences at the beginning of the individual Christian life; God calls us, regenerates, justifies and adopts us. The sinner believes and repents, trusting in Christ. Repentance is essential, and to suggest that the substitutionary atonement circumvents the need for conviction and repentance on the part of the one accepting Christ is a gross misrepresentation (Matt 4:17, Luke 5:32, Acts 2:38, 17:30, 20:21; Rom 2:4; 2 Cor 7:10; Heb 6:1; 2 Pet 3:9; Rev 2:5).

This, of course, is only the beginning of the Christian life or “walk,” and it is by no means the end of God’s work in us. Progressively God works in us in the process called sanctification, the process of becoming holy. Sanctification is a cooperative effort between the Sanctifier and the sanctified, enabled by God’s Spirit, a development that continues until death and is incomplete in this life. It is the course of growth in holiness and involves ongoing repentance. Sanctification begins with regeneration, when we are made clean and new creatures in God’s sight. It marks a separation from the old life under sin’s dominion (Rom 6:11, 14, 18). “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11). As part of our calling to be separate (sanctified, holy), we are obligated to respond to Christ’s sanctifying work in us by living lives of holiness and endeavoring to grow spiritually (2 Cor 7:1; Eph 4:24; Phil 1:9–11; Col 3:10; Heb 12:14).

For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification . . . But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Rom 6:19, 22).

This growth in holiness is described as becoming more like Christ (2 Cor 3:18; Gal 4:19; Eph 2:10; 4:13; Col 1:27–28). As with all the other aspects of salvation; justification, redemption, propitiation, reconciliation; sanctification is not something we can achieve by ourselves, in our own strength. It requires the enabling of the Holy Spirit, now, working in our lives today. This is a problem for the traditional and continuing “official” Christadelphian position, which recognises the only ongoing work of the Spirit to be the influence of God’s word on the believer’s mind.

There is no manifestation of the Spirit in these days… The result of an intelligent apprehension of what the word of God teaches and requires… has its seat in the judgement, and lays hold of the entire mental man, creating new ideas and new affections, and, in general, evolving a “new man.” In this work, the Spirit has no participation, except in the shape of the written word… The present days are barren days, as regards the Spirit’s direct operations.” [1]

“The spiritual quality of the mind of God and of Christ must be reflected in the faithful. There is no externally injected Spirit, but the response of the believers to the revelation of the quality of the Spirit of God. So Christ dwells in them if his words abide in them, if they keep his commandments and abide in his love (John 15:7, 10). In this way Christ is formed in them; and the life of Jesus is manifested in their mortal flesh (Gal 4:119; 2 Cor 4;11). This is the Spirit of Christ which the faithful must manifest, if they are to be truly of his people.”[2]

The same writer interprets Romans 8:13’s appeal to “through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body” as the believer by his “spiritual understanding” being able to recognise the works of the flesh and seek to avoid them. This places the emphasis on human effort, in discerning and applying the truth of the Scriptures through their effect on the mind. The Christian life becomes a striving to be found worthy through works. Robert Roberts states that “He only is righteous who doeth righteousness . . . we have to ‘work out our salvation’ by a ‘patient continuance in well-doing.’ and that he only that endureth to the end shall be saved.” [3]

But this is not scriptural teaching. The Bible presents salvation in all its complex facets and nuances (and yet ultimate simplicity) as wholly a work of God. We contribute nothing. Faith is an acknowledgement of our utter emptiness and incapacity and our need for God’s work in us (Rom 3:23–28; Gal 3:8–26; Eph 2:1–9). Sanctification is a work of God, by his Spirit.

  • “Are you so foolish? After begun the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3)
    “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).
    “And because of him (God) you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30).
    “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 5:23).
    “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thess 2:13).
    “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16–25).
    “(Elect) according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you” (1 Pet 1:2).
    “Whoever keeps his commands abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” (1 John 3:24).

The Spirit is not an impersonal force, but he is our Counsellor/Helper, who sanctifies, strengthens and empowers us to grow in godliness and Christ-likeness. This is not merely an effect of words on our minds, but a quickening, a life-giving and personal influence in our lives. The official Christadelphian response is that the sanctifying work of God’s Spirit in our lives is solely through appreciation of the written word which the Spirit caused to be written and that no additional aid other than our objective reason is required to apprehend this. This will be addressed in the subsequent blog. Christadelphians also deny the personality and divinity of the Spirit, which reinforces the idea of an objective influence rather than a personal interaction. They are also motivated by a commitment to a cessationist view of Spirit gifts, but make little distinction between the “miraculous” gifts and any other work and fruit of the Spirit active in our lives today. I say “official” view because not all contemporary Christadelphians are happy to deny any working of the Spirit in their lives and many, despite the Statement of Faith of the fellowship to which they belong, heartily acknowledge the influence of the Spirit in their hearts and lives.

Sanctification is a process, a growth in holiness in response to the calling, justification and reconciliation effected by Christ. But it is not a solo effort whereby we are left a set of instructions and told to work it all out by ourselves and meet certain standards of “holiness” by our own efforts, or face judgement. The Spirit helps us and intercedes in personal involvement as we pray (Rom 8:26); he sanctifies (Rom 15:16) and has fellowship with us (2 Cor 13:14) relating us to both the Father and the Son (Rom 8:15; 1 Cor 12:3) and provides the comfort of God (2 Cor 1:3–6). He is the means by which God’s love is poured into our hearts and God indwells us (Rom 5:5; 8:9, 11) bearing witness that we are God’s children (Rom 8:14–16). He is the means of our hope (Rom 15:13) and our guarantee of salvation (2 Cor 1:21–22; 2 Thess 2:13) . Salvation is all of God, initiated by the Father, effected by the Son and brought to completion by the Holy Spirit, who will not forsake us but bring to completion the work he has done in us (Phil 1:6).

“He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5)

 

References

  1. Robert Roberts, Christendom Astray (repr. West Beach S.A: Logos, 1984), 148-150.
  2. Fred Pearce, God’s Spirit in Work and Word (Birmingham: The Christadelphian, 1989), 55–56.
  3. Robert Roberts, The Blood of Christ, 1895 (Repr. Birmingham: The Christadelphian, 2006), 23.
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