(Unless noted otherwise, all scripture references are from the English Standard Version, Crossway, 2001)
Moving through our theme of union with Christ, and all of the benefits of salvation, we have zeroed in on the understanding that you dont get salvation in “steps.” We get the very mystical and spiritual union with the Lord of Glory Himself, through the Holy Spirit, in one “package” of salvation. This gives us all of the “spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Him,” as Ephesians 1:3 puts in.
Justification, as we have said previously, is that one time event after we have been regenerated and given a new heart, (Ezekiel 36:26) where God makes us pure and right in the sight of the Father. Free of any guilt or condemnation (Romans 8:1,2). This is a benefit of salvation that is a ONE TIME OCCURENCE, and places us in clean and right union with Christ positionally. It has a more judicial and a legal implication. This was accomplished , in our stead, by Christ Himself.
Now, we shift on to what some call PRACTICAL righteousness, or our sanctification. Unlike justification, sanctification is a benifit of salvation granted at new birth, but it has a more practical and progressive benefit and working. Regeneration is as a birth. Sanctification is likened to growth. According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 35, sanctification is:
The work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.
The basic meaning of the word “sanctify” is to “make holy, or “to set apart to God, for His use. Romans 8:29 declares:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
God calls His people to live in holiness, and gives what He commands.
that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor. (1 Thessalonians 4:4)
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 Thessalonians 5:23)
That last passage is critical. As Chad Van Dixhoorn notes in his beneficial work, Confessing the Faith,
This sanctifying work is preemintly the work of the Spirit of the resurected Christ. Paul told the Thessalonians, ‘God chose you as the first fruits to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. (2 Thess. 2:13) He said this because it is the Spirit of God who unites us to Christ and because the Spirit is our teacher. We learn in his school, and his assigned textbook is the Word of God…It is the Spirit of God, the Father, and God the Son who sanctifies us, and the principle means he uses for our growth in grace is Scripture. (p. 178)
Sanctification is dependant on God’s continuing action in the believer, and it consists of the believer’s struggle with sin. The Spirit helps us to “put to death our faults and sins. This is the battle over the flesh Paul describes in Romans 7:
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:15-25)
Paul is clearly in a struggle with the unrenewed man. He is wrestling with a fight to keep God’s moral law in his flesh, his fallen mind and emotional faculties, and his renewed man, in union with Christ. The battle between good and evil is ever vexing Paul’s life. We are not so different from Paul here…
The war between sin, Satan, and death ever rages in the lives of believers. We are commanded to “put of the old man, and put on the new man” (Colossians 3:10, Ephesians 4:24). This is the fight Paul speaks of. We are justified and pure in God’s sight, but we wrestle with passions and desires in our mind and old nature. Satan, ever attempts to try and decieve us, but we fight from the arena of victory, and we have the tools in our new nature to combat the old man (Ephesians 6:10-17, Hebrews 2:14). This is a proceess that all Christians task at different levels and are at different point in life. Paul, in Romans 12:1,2, calls this “the renewing of the mind.”
We are all justified in Christ as believers at the same level, but our sanctification is at different places and walks of life. This blessing, is found ONLY in the perfect work of Christ. He gives us the ability to wage war against the flesh, and produces the fruit of righteousness in our hearts (Philippians 1:11) Our burden and our struggles to put sin under in this life is not a tasking that will last for eternity however. Our struggles to “be killing sin, or it will be killing us”, as John Owen puts it so clearly, will be consumated in our FINAL stage of salvation, glorification. When we see Christ for who He really is and lay off this mortal coil once and for all.
Perhaps one of the most powerful summaries of a sanctified life is the one the Lord has reserved for us in Ephesians 3. there, we overhear another apostolic prayer, which bears careful consideration:
‘that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.’ (Ephesians 3:16-19)
These prayers exemplify what sanctification truly is. It is about the practice of true holiness and it is about seeing Jesus.
-Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith
Get Confessing the Faith, by Chad Van Dixhoorn HERE:
The Mortification of Sin by John Owen
Union with Christ by Robert Letham
Desiring God by John Piper
Pleasing God by R. C. Sproul
Holiness by J.C. Ryle
The Doctrine of Repentance by Thomas Watson
Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks