Biblical Principles for Christian Maturity

John H. Stoll, Th.M., Ph.D

Copyright 1996, John H. Stoll

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Chapter 20 - The Threefold Elements of Sanctification

There are two words in the Bible, Sanctify and Holy, that refer to the same definition. These two words basically may be defined as being set apart from sin, and set apart unto God. The fundamental idea is separation, and has to do with separation from sin. Sanctification or Holiness of life has a threefold aspect: 1) Positional, which is past, through the work of Christ in our redemption, and confers upon the Christian a perfect position, as a child of God (Heb.10:10); 2) Progressive, which is the present work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, bringing one's character development into conformity with his position in Christ, and this is experiential throughout one's lifetime (II Tim.3:16,17; Col. 1:28; II Peter 3:18); 3) Perfection, which is future and will be completed when the Christian arrives in heaven, and then his character behaviors will be as perfect as his position is in Christ (I Thess.3:12,13; Phil.1:6; I John 3:2,3).

I. Positional Sanctification: When Christ provided Salvation/Redemption for us through His work on the cross it set every believer apart unto God as His own possession (Heb.13:12). This was accomplished in the past, and confers upon every believer a positional standing before God as a child of His. Christ's work propitiated (i.e. actually cared for sins - Rom.3:25; I John 2:2) for the sins of every believer.

The nature of this work is that it was a finished work of Christ, and was completed when He died on the cross. Hebrews10:10 states, "By the will of God we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all". In Hebrews 10:11,12 it notes that under the old covenant the priests stood daily offering repeated sacrifices which could never take away sins. But, Christ made "one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God", thereby signifying His completed work of our Redemption. His sacrifice needs never to be repeated, because it took care of the sin problem, once for all.

This Sanctification is not dependent on any perfection of our own character or conduct. It is positional, and as such sets the believer apart from a sinful world, in that one moves out of Satan's family into God's family. It sets one apart forever unto God as His own possession (I Peter 2:9), and confers on us a perfect positional holiness. Every Christian is considered as perfect in the sight of God, through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:14).

This sanctification gives defiled (through sin) saints an entrance into the very presence of God (John 9:31; Heb.4:14-16). Furthermore, it is the present possession of all believers (Acts 26:18). What should Christians response be to this? Simply believe. The work that Christ did for the believer is appropriated to us when we accept Him (John 6:27- 29). It is a finished work, we need only to accept it.

II. Progressive Sanctification: The nature of progressive sanctification is the present work of the Holy Spirit, whereby the believer is progressively being set apart from sin, and brought toward personal perfection. In contrast to Positional Sanctification which is a once for all setting apart as a child of God, Progressive Sanctification is an experiential progress whereby one is being set apart from sinful ways, and re-characterized by the Holy Spirit through the Word, to make the child "fit" to be God's own possession.

The method by which this is accomplished is through the instrumentality of the Word of God (John 17:17; Phil. 2:12,13). The Bible serves as an instrument of Sanctification in three ways: 1) The Holy Spirit uses the Word to reveal our sinful condition (James 1:23-25); 2) The Holy Spirit uses the Word to cleanse us from our sinful habits and practices of sin(Eph.5:26).It is the Word that washes away our daily defilement.

Some question the need for this daily defilement, because doesn't the blood of Christ cleanse us from all sin? Yes (I John 1:7), but day by day we sin, and we need to confess those sins, and the Word shows us of this need (I John 1:9). Also, all sin has two aspects; 1) Guilt and 2) Habit. The blood of Christ cleanses us from the guilt of sin, and the Bible cleanses us from the habit of sin. The blood deals with guilt, the Bible with our daily pollution.

An excellent illustration of this is seen in the feet washing of John 13. According to the custom of the day, when the Disciples came into the upper room at the Passover, they had washed their feet prior to eating the meal. During the meal, Jesus began to wash the Disciples feet. Peter remonstrated with Him as to why He was doing it, since they all had their feet washed. Christ's action had a higher spiritual significance than just the physical act, for when Peter questioned his actions, Jesus told Peter that if he would not allow the Lord to wash his feet, that he would have no part with the Lord. Peter replied that if that be the case he wanted the Lord to give him a whole bath. To this the Lord replied, "He that is bathed (i.e. a bath) needs not a whole bath, except his feet". What Christ was telling Peter by this illustration was that Salvation cleanses one wholly, but that because of the daily defilement through sin we need the cleansing power of the Word to overcome those sins.

I fondly remember a railroad worker who was a member of my father's church, testifying in prayer meeting. He told the people that when he came home at night from working in the dirty railroad yards, that before he took a bath he sat down and read a chapter in the Bible. The dirty language of the day had polluted his mind, and it was more important to cleanse his mind from the daily defilement of the world, than it was to cleanse his body.

Our Salvation in Christ, through His blood, has cared for our reconciliation with God, and now we are His child. But, as we travel through life we acquire the dirt of the world, for which we constantly need the cleansing of our minds by the Word of God through the Holy Spirit. This results in a progressive transformation into the likeness of Christ, by transforming our character.

The third way by which the Bible serves as an instrument of our progressive sanctification is the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to transform us into the "Image" of Christ. The image of Christ is not a physical likeness, but a transformation into the moral qualities or attributes of God Himself. This is the re-characterization of the Holy Spirit, which is progressively making us fit for Heaven.

In II Corinthians 3:18 it says, "But we all, with unveiled face beholding in a mirror the moral qualities of God, are transformed into those same qualities - as from the Holy Spirit of God". In other words, the Holy Spirit not only shows us our sinful condition, as a child of God, but He uses the Word to cleanse us from our daily sinful ways, and re-characterizes us into the moral likeness of God Himself. The result is that because of this character transformation, the Christian lives out in daily life, what the Apostle Paul called, "The fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22-24). This is progressive Sanctification, which is a life long work; a willingness on our part, and the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit to accomplish it. This is why the Apostle Paul stated in Philippians 1:6, "I am confident of this very thing; that the Holy Spirit who has begun a good work in you, will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ".

This Sanctifying work of the Word implies three things:

1) That we will read and heed the Word of God; 2) That we will submit our lives to its cleansing power, and 3) That we will see Christ in the Word.

Sanctification by the Word is based on Sanctification by the blood of Christ, and is inseparable from it. One has no sanctification by the Word without Sanctification by the blood (John 17:9). Christ set Himself apart to die for us, that we through Him might be sanctified through His Word (John 17:17).

The Bible gives us motives for our progress in Sanctification, since it requires an active response on our part. God presents these motives to lead us in the way of holiness. They are: 1) God's own Holy nature - what God is - I Peter 1:15,16; Phil. 2:12,13; 2) God's grace to us - what He has done for us - Rom. 12:1; II Cor. 8:12; and 3) God's promises to us - what He will do for us - II Cor. 6:17,18, 7:1.

Then there are three results that accrue to the child of God as we submit our lives to His cleansing and transforming power: 1) It will help us to control our fleshly lusts and appetites -I Thess. 4:2-7; 2) It will fit us for God's service - II Tim. 2:21; 3:16,17; and 3) It provides us fellowship with Christ -John 15:3,4. Our attitude toward all that He has done, is doing, and will yet do for us, His children is to OBEY.

III. Perfect Sanctification: This setting apart of the Christian is a work of completion, wherein God will wholly finish the process of our progressive sanctification. See: I Thess. 3:12,13; and I Thess. 5:23,24.

As to time, it will be accomplished at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ for His children. At that time He will completely finish the work of regeneration and character transformation that is currently going on in our lives through the Holy Spirit (Phil. 1:6). Note: Heb. 12:22,23 - All God's children are "righteous people" now, and someday we will be "made perfect".

The results are wonderful: We shall be made like the Lord Jesus Christ, in all His moral attributes, spiritually, morally, and physically perfect. And, we will have an unhindered vision of Christ Himself (I John 3:2). Today, we behold Him through the "mirror" of the Bible (II Cor. 3:18), but our "vision" is often blurred by our own sin. Then we shall see Him, "face to face". There is no chance that it might not be done, for it is pledged by the very faithfulness of God Himself (I Thess.5:24; Rom.4:25; John 14:19; I Cor. 15:12-20).

The present effect of our future sanctification should compel us to be better Christians here and now (I John 3:3). No one can be ready for Christ's coming, unless we are looking for His return (II Peter 3:10- 14). Our personal responsibility is outlined for us in II Corinthians 6:14 - 7:1. Justification (i.e. our declared righteousness from God) cares for our right standing before God, as His child; Sanctification cares for our holy living. In II Corinthians 7:1 it says we are to, "Purify ourselves from everything that contaminates the body and spirit, maturing holiness out of reverence for God". This does not mean we can do it ourselves, through our own strength, but as we submit ourselves to His cleansing power. Note: I John 2:15-17.

Four final admonitions on Sanctification:

1. Read the Word of God
2. Obey it
3. See Christ in the Word
4. Look for His coming again

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt;
Yonder on Calvary's mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.

Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,
Threaten the soul with infinite loss;
Grace that is greater, yes grace untold,
Points to the refuge, the mighty Cross.

Grace, grace, God's grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God's grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

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