"And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Thessalonians 5:23
"Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:" - Hebrews 12:14
This matter of sanctification is one of the most debated and controversial subjects among Christians today. There is one group that believes they are totally sanctified when they get saved, and they have little interest in pursuing a life of holiness. They have Jesus in their heart, and they believe they are going to heaven when they die. So they have no motive to even consider their need for holy living. They are quite satisfied with their spiritual life just as it is and have no desire to go any deeper or higher.
There is another group that just can’t quite believe that God does all of the sanctifying work for them. So they go on a quest to live as holy as possible, using all of their human efforts and abilities. It is irrelevant whether we call it moralism, good works, or just man trying to perfect himself. But what is relevant is that no matter how hard man tries on his own, apart from God, to make himself holy, he will fail and come up short of true holiness every time by using self-effort.
The first group emphasizes the doctrine of Grace while the second group emphasizes the doctrine of works. Of course Christianity is so divided that there are hundreds of different groups within these two schools of thought, but many in the first group will call the second group legalist and under the law, while many in the second group say that the first group is not even saved, or their using the Grace of God to give them a license to sin.
This subject becomes even more complex when you read what Paul wrote in the book of Philippians.
"Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." - Philippians 2:12-13
These seem to be two paradoxical statements at first glance, but when put into the proper context we see that Paul was saying: "Now that I am not with you in person, you need to work out your own salvation." He had been with them teaching and instructing them, but now that he was gone from Philippi, they needed to work it out without Paul being there to help them. He was not saying that your salvation, justification, or sanctification was and will be a result of your hard work, but quite the opposite, as he stated in the next verse: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
Wow! Not only is our sanctification going to come through God, but even the will or the desire to be like Jesus, or to be sanctified, will have to come from God Himself.
The real gem of truth here is that sanctification is both instantaneous and progressive. Yes, when someone gets saved, the Holy Word of God and the Holy Spirit of God come to live in their hearts. And God living in us is completely holy and righteous. But man still has a body of sin and death that is very unholy, and in order for the seed of God’s Word to grow in the heart of man, man must vacate the self life, in order for God to occupy. Man must decrease in order for God to increase. Actually, we must die to self, in order for Jesus Christ and His Holiness to grow in our hearts.
This is the battle line drawn in the sand between many Christian groups. It is sad but true that many Christians today will get fighting mad when challenged to put off the old man, or to separate from the world, the flesh, and the devil. Most Christians do not want to have to deal with their flesh.
It is also sad but true that the other extreme side of this argument thinks that the need to be holy is so great, that they cannot possible wait upon God, or trust in God to make them holy. So they take the matter into their own hands and do everything possible to make themselves holy.
The Bible is the only instruction book that we need. But this second group of people will even look outside of the Bible to find instructions on how to eat, how to dress, how to interact with the world, or how to stay separate from the world. They think that the Bible doesn’t cover each subject well enough, so they get man to create certain standards or rules that seem like holy things to do or not to do. And they adhere to them because they fear that if they are not holy, that as the Scripture says, they will not see God.
From my perspective the second group is more admirable than the first, because at least they see in the Scriptures that they need to be holy and are trying to obey the Word of God. But the reality is that they may be just as far from holiness as the first group, because we have no righteousness of our own, and we can never be holy on our own, or by our human effort. After we have done everything that we can possibly think of to make ourselves holy, we still come up way short. The nature of mankind is the exact opposite of the Holy nature of God. As the prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 64: 6: “But we all are as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” In fact, man can do everything that seems right to him in order to make himself holy, but actually miss the mark by a long shot.
"There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." - Proverbs 14:12
But don’t despair. The Word of God is clear on this subject. Yes, we are to be holy. Yes, we are to live a sanctified life. Yes, we are to conform into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. But the good news of the Gospel is that we don’t have to do it ourselves, but rather this will be the work of God in our lives.
Sanctification is a process, in fact it is a lifelong process, or a spiritual journey from darkness to light. It begins with a seed and will grow into a tree of life, bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit, love, joy and peace. It begins by God giving us the desire or the will to be holy, and then it continues as God puts the “do” or the obedience in our hearts.
We are sanctified by the Holy Spirit and by putting our faith in the truth, the person of Jesus Christ.
"But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:" - II Thessalonians 2:13
"Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied." - I Peter 1:2
This is hard for people to understand. But the Word of God teaches that we are sanctified by trusting in what Jesus did on the cross 2,000 years ago, and not by what we can do today through human effort.
"By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." - Hebrews 10:10
"For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified." - Hebrews 10:14
We are sanctified by Faith in Jesus Christ.
"To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me." - Acts 26:18
We are sanctified through the truth, who is a person named Jesus.
"And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth." - John 17:19
We are sanctified not by what we do or don’t do. Instead, we are sanctified by Jesus Christ and through the power of His Word and His Spirit.
"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." - I Corinthians 6:9-11
It is as simple as the lesson we think we all know, about putting off the old man and putting on the new man, except we must learn that we do not have the power to do this by our own effort, but this is the Grace of God in action as God renews us day by day.
"For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day." - I Corinthians 4:16
"But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." - Ephesians 4:20-24
Over the past few months, I can honestly say that my relationship with Jesus has never been better, since my honeymoon period with Him right after I was Born Again. I am walking closer to Him than ever; therefore, I can actually see His sanctifying process working in my life. To God be all the glory! He is separating me from the world in a new way and I am walking with more victory than ever before. But there is a difference in what is happening in my life now compared to before, for I am no longer doing everything that I know to do, giving it my best shot, gutting it out, and gritting my teeth in order to be holy. No, instead, I am relying on Jesus and His Word and His Spirit to make me holy. After 27 years of being a Christian, I finally get it; I finally understand that I cannot do one thing to add to the holiness that God has put in my life. This is a work of God, and to God be all the Glory.
"That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." - I Corinthians 1:29-31
Any good work that happens in my life, is the work of God; it is not a result of my hard work or best efforts. Even if I have made good choices, I cannot even take credit for my choices because it was God that gave me the desire to make the good choice, and it was God that worked the obedience in my heart and gave me the faith and strength to make the good choice. The good works in my life are the works of God and not me.
"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." - Ephesians 2:10
The purpose of everything we go through as Christians is to help conform us into the image of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. All pain, all pleasure, all sorrow, all suffering, all things are God working in our lives. The process of sanctification is a lifelong process, and God loves us too much to leave us the way we are. And if we are called according to His purpose, then God will do whatever it takes in our lives to perfect us, to change us, to make us like Jesus, so that we can actually become His Bride.
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." - Romans 8:28-30
The conclusion of this matter of sanctification is this: Yes, God is Holy, and His Bride will be holy. But there is not a snowballs' chance in a South Mississippi July day that we as mortal man can make ourselves holy apart from God. Instead, the process of sanctification is a work of God in our lives. The best we can do is simply cooperate with God as He does His sanctifying work in our lives. I encourage you to begin to cry out to Jesus and ask Him to make you holy; ask Him to sanctify you. And then put your trust in Him as His sanctifying process begins in your life.
Remember that the purpose of our life is to give God the glory, honor and obedience that Jesus deserves. We will never be able to do this with a dirty, sinful, selfish heart. If you really want to fulfill your purpose and reach your destiny and do what God has created, planned and purposed for you to do with and in your lifetime, then please allow the LORD to sanctify your spirit, soul and body so that you can give Him the glory, honor, praise and obedience that He deserves.