What we studied in Lesson 11 about sanctification is not the usual understanding of sanctification that comes to our mind. In this lesson we will examine the second aspect of sanctification which is much more familiar to us. Most often we think of sanctification as the growing process in which we walk with Christ on a daily basis after we have been converted. We will study this more familiar aspect in this lesson.
Paul was deeply concerned that the members of the churches he had established would not remain at their beginning stage of Christianity, but would grow and develop strong Christian characters. This is the daily walk aspect of sanctification. Sanctification is a growing experience, in which we understand more and more of God's will, and our character grows correspondingly.
As we spend time with God, we see more and more of His glory, and we become more and more like Him in character. Our lives reflect more of His holiness as we spend more time in His presence. Sanctification is not trying harder and harder to be righteous. It is spending quality time with Jesus through Bible study, prayer, and thoughtful meditation so that we allow Jesus to change us into His likeness. Sanctification is allowing the Holy Spirit to take total control of our lives and choices, so that He can perform the miracle of holy living in us. Where previously our self-centered wills made selfish, sinful choices, now our Spirit-centered wills make unselfish, obedient choices.
"At every stage of development our life may be perfect; yet if God's purpose for us is fulfilled, there will be a continual advancement." (Christ's Object Lessons, p. 65) "Sanctification is a state of holiness, without and within, being holy and without reserve the Lord's, not in form, but in truth." (Our High Calling, p. 214) It is important to note that we do not grow into sanctification, we grow in sanctification. From the sanctified state in which God places us at conversion, we advance continually in maturity. As long as we do not allow sin to separate us from God, we continue to grow in holiness.
What was Paul's daily experience?
"I die daily." 1 Corinthians 15:31
"Paul's sanctification was a constant conflict with self. Said he: 'I die daily.' His will and his desires every day conflicted with duty and the will of God. Instead of following inclination, he did the will of God, however unpleasant and crucifying to his nature." (Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 299) The fallen nature does not disappear at conversion, and the sanctification experience is putting that nature, with its selfish desires and inclinations, to death every day. Perhaps it is important to remember that natural desires and inclinations are temptations, not sins, even though they remain with us from birth to death. There is a simple bottom line to being saved--we must die daily to our natural desires and inclinations. Then we will have the assurance of salvation, even if the theology of it all may not be fully understood. Every day our selfish nature must be crucified in a new commitment with the Lord. Disobedience and selfish acts are never a part of sanctification, and they must be rejected daily in order to maintain a sanctified experience.
It is absolutely critical to understand that sanctification is not our good works or partly our works combined with God's grace. Sanctification is God's work from beginning to end. It is His grace, His power, His righteousness, all imparted to the willing disciple. Our part is to place our will on God's side and to do the things which allow His grace to continue to flow through us.
The only way we can experience true sanctification is by asking Christ to live within us through the Holy Spirit every day of our lives. It is called a mystery because so few people in the world, even among Christians, experience this on a daily basis. We cannot explain how this works, but we can experience it, and it will make all the difference between victory and defeat in our lives.
Conclusion: Just as there are two parts to justification--being declared forgiven and being transformed--there are two parts to sanctification--being declared holy and growing in holiness. The first part is declaration; the second part is experience. It is incorrect to say that justification is the all-important part of salvation because that is when God declares me to be righteous, while sanctification is secondary because that is my work.
In justification, our part is to believe God, to choose to serve Him, to surrender everything to His control, and to confess our sins. It is God's part to forgive us, to count us righteous, to cleanse us from the filthy garments which we have accumulated over the years, and to create a new person with completely different values and desires than the "old man."
In sanctification, our part is to choose to obey God's commands, to surrender our weak fallen natures to Him daily, and to carry out whatever God makes possible in our lives. It is God's part to count us holy, to dwell within us constantly, to empower our wills to carry out what we have chosen, and to give us the ability and strength to obey Him in all of the areas in which He requires obedience. What God commands, He always enables. The bottom line is: Sanctification is by faith alone, just as justification is, not by faith plus works.
It has become quite popular to say that sanctification is a fruit of the gospel. In other words, we have been saved by justification alone, and sanctification is the fruit or result of our being saved. Once our salvation has been accomplished "up front," then the process of sanctification continues for the rest of our lives. This belief does not agree with 2 Thessalonians 2:13: "God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." Here nothing is even mentioned about being saved by justification. Sanctification and belief are the two prerequisites to salvation. We are saved through sanctification. How tragic it is that Christ's atoning death and the Holy Spirit's work have been divided, so that (as some claim) we are justified by Christ's work and sanctified by the Holy Spirit's work. Justification is not somehow more essential than sanctification.
Sanctification is a vital part of the saving process. It is a causative factor in salvation, not just a result of salvation. If (as some claim) sanctification is only a fruit of the gospel, then it is not essential to salvation. It is nice to have, and it will come eventually, but it is not necessary to be saved. Very simply, some believe that justification saves, but sanctification does not save. But if sanctification is a part of the saving process rather than a fruit of the saving process, then holiness is essential to salvation and to a saving relationship with God. Dying daily to self is not a hoped-for fruit of salvation; it is a necessary part of salvation. It doesn't just come along at a later time.
Without holiness we will not see God. Sanctification is holiness declared and holiness experienced. If we are not living a sanctified life, we are not saved. To think of sanctification as only a fruit of salvation means that it is an accessory to salvation. We can be saved without fully experiencing sanctification. But God's Word tells us that sanctification is a necessary part of the saving process. Justification and sanctification are united in the saving process. To separate them and to make one part more important to salvation is to do violence to the gospel of Christ.
The false gospel that sanctification is secondary to justification leads to the conclusion that some sin is allowable in the saved experience. But the Bible teaches that sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2). When sin is cherished, Satan takes control of the heart, and the Spirit of God is driven out. How could we possibly think that we are in a saved condition while sinning? Self-delusion and rationalization are major components of Satan's attempts to deceive us into a false sense of security. Only when our sins are confessed can we be accepted by God. Some feel that this is a very discouraging understanding of the gospel, since we find ourselves in sin so often. We will study this in more detail in the final lessons of this course.
I would recommend the following practical suggestion about our personal involvement in the justification-sanctification process. "It is for you to yield up your will to the will of Christ; and as you do this, God will immediately take possession, and work in you to will and to do of His good pleasure. Your whole nature will then be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ; and even your thoughts will be subject to Him. You cannot control your impulses, your emotions, as you may desire, but you can control the will, and you can make an entire change in your life. By yielding up your will to Christ, your life will be hid with Christ in God, and allied to the power which is above all principalities and powers." (Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 514) Even if theological distinctions might be difficult to understand, we can do this. We can yield the will to Jesus. We can allow Him to take full possession of our lives. We can allow Him to do His good work in us. Only in this way will we have any power over our fallen natures and Satan. If we will only yield up the will daily to Jesus, we will have power beyond our ability to explain, and we will not have to rely on a false gospel to give us false assurance of salvation. God's way is always better than human devising. May the gospel of Abraham and Jesus and Paul be our gospel today.