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The Doctrine of Sanctification

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The Doctrine of Sanctification
but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”” ()
The Christian life begins with the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit acting upon a cold, dead heart of stone (Ezekiel) to produce a heart of faith and obedience to God’s will. No change could be more momentous—we are “born again” (), we are “made alive” (), we are transferred from the “domain of darkness” into the “kingdom of God’s son” (), we are forgiven our sins (), we are delivered from wrath (), we are reconciled to God (). As Jesus put it, we pass “from death into life” ().
As dramatic as this change is, it is only the beginning. God’s purposes for us do not end when we become Christians. Rather, conversion sets us on a glorious path in which God will continue to work out His gracious purposes in our lives. What are those purposes?
How are they worked out? In this lesson, we will examine the sanctifying work of the Spirit in the life of the believer.
The Goal of Our Redemption: Holiness
Salvation is much more than simply deliverance from the penalty of sin. When God saves us, He makes us His own and begins a renovation program: the process of making us more and more like our Lord Jesus—the process of making us holy.
“In reality, holiness is the goal of our redemption. As Christ died in order that we may be justified, so we are justified in order that we may be sanctified and made holy.”
– J. I. Packer, Rediscovering Holiness
The Barrier to Holiness: Sin
To be holy means to be set apart unto God. This includes being set apart from all that is sinful and opposed to God. Holiness is God’s goal for His people, and the Christian life involves the process of reaching this goal. The New Testament is full of words that describe this process: transforming, renewing, conforming, maturing, and growing. Although we will never reach perfection in this life, we are called to make every effort to live a holy life for the glory of God.
but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”” ()
Sin not only deserves God’s punishment, it also mars God’s good creation and obscures the display of His glory. He therefore desires to eradicate sin and its corrupting effects from His creation. For the believer, salvation is the beginning of the process of removing sin and its effects from our lives.
& At regeneration, the power of sin is broken, and we are made alive in Christ.
& In justification, the penalty of sin is removed, and we are declared righteous in Christ.
& In sanctification, the pollution of sin is progressively removed as we are made holy in
In our day many alternatives to sin as the primary barrier to holiness have become popular: the therapeutic movement viewed the core problem of man as a need for greater self-esteem and personal improvement. The chemical solution for sin still popular today. Many think that our problems result from chemical imbalances and correcting these levels would result in right life.
While some medicines can be helpful in some situations, no drug can alleviate the real problem of sin. In some religious circles character and personality problems are thought to be the result of demonic influence, and their corresponding solution is to cast out the demon.
The Model for Holiness: Jesus Christ
Jesus is our Lord, Savior, and example. We are to follow Him in attitude and action. Paul called this being “imitators of God” (). John called it walking as Jesus walked (). Jesus said simply, “Follow me.” More remarkably, God Himself has committed to making us like Jesus. The ultimate goal in sanctification is conformity to the image of Christ.
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” ()
The Motive for Holiness: Love for God
As we grow to know His love and appreciate what He has done for us, we will also grow in our desire to live a life that is pleasing to Him.
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,” ()
For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” ()
The Battle for Holiness
While holiness is God’s will for us, this does not mean that the process of sanctification is easy.
Given our own sinfulness and the sinful world in which we live, this process involves a battle— one that will require our energies for the rest of our lives.
The Power of Sin is Broken
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” ()
knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” (6:6)
Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (6:11)
“He breaks the power of canceled sin He sets the prisoner free His blood has made the foulest clean His blood avails for me.” - Charles Wesley
The “Double Cure”:
The penalty for sins is paid. The power of sin is broken.
The Presence of Sin Remains
Although sin has been deposed as the ruler of our lives, it has not been removed as a factor in our lives. We are free from its dominion, but not its presence and influence—our quest for holiness is not unopposed. The remaining influence of sin is usually summed up in two words: “the flesh.”
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” ()
The Heart is the Battlefield
“Regeneration makes man’s heart a battlefield where ‘the flesh’ (the old man) tirelessly disputes the supremacy of ‘the Spirit’ (the new man).” – John Owen
Growth in holiness always comes through the pathway of the heart. The Holy Spirit does not just change us outwardly by “dressing us up” with new behaviors; He transforms us from within.
The lust of the flesh and the corruption of our hearts are deceptive, wicked, and in active rebellion against God.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” ()
The Bible teaches that our sinful behavior is not caused by other people or our circumstances, but by our own desires, cravings, longings, and lusts. Whatever rules our hearts determines what we do and say in response to people and situations. Nobody makes you sin.
But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” ()
Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” ()
We do not sin because our hearts are empty, wounded, broken, or in need of love, self-esteem, or significance. We sin because of sinful desires that have not been recognized and put to death.
We are still tempted to idolatry, to the substitution of someone or something as our “savior” or “god.”
“Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and put before them that which causes them to stumble into iniquity. Should I let Myself be inquired of at all by them?” ()
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” ()
The “flesh” tempts our hearts to forget the gospel and to seek happiness, joy, peace, rest, security, and satisfaction outside of Christ. The heart’s idolatrous pursuit of “life” outside of Christ leads to sinful behavior. The sin is always in the heart first.
The Process of Holiness: Sanctification
Sanctification Defined
Sanctification is the continuing work of God in the life of a believer. It is a progressive work in which we become more and more free from sin and more and more like Christ.
In short, our actual lives become increasingly conformed to our legal status before God.
It is a process
We do not become instantly perfect. Rather, we become progressively more holy as we cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Not Christian Perfectionism or Entire Sanctification
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” ()
There is discernible progress
We become more and more holy, overcoming various manifestations of sin (lying, pride, selfishness, etc.) and becoming more like Jesus in our attitudes and actions.
It is a work of grace
Many make the mistake of thinking that we are saved by grace but that we then become holy by our own efforts. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are justified by grace, and we are sanctified by grace as well. Grace is necessary in both cases, and it is unmerited in both cases. The key difference is that in justification we are passive, but in sanctification we actively cooperate with the Holy Spirit in receiving and responding to God’s grace.
Therefore, my beloved, as you 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 who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” ()
The Holy Spirit Works
The activity of the Holy Spirit precedes any action toward holiness on our part and makes our actions possible. Although we are not always aware of His activity, if we are becoming more holy, it is because He is at work.
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” ()
“The only good we do is what He does in us; it is not that we do nothing ourselves, but that we act only when we have been acted upon, in other words under the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit.” – John Calvin, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries
We Work
Because the Holy Spirit is at work in us, we can, therefore, work. He makes it possible for us to live holy lives. However, we must never be passive in this process. We are responsible before God to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” ().
To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.” ()
“Sanctification…is a thing for which every believer is responsible…. Whose fault is it if they are not holy, but their own? On whom can they throw the blame if they are not sanctified, but themselves? God, who has given them grace and a new heart, and a new nature, has deprived them of all excuse if they do not live for His praise.” – J. C. Ryle, Holiness
The Practice of Sanctification
Any battle needs a strategy. Practically, our battle against sin involves fighting on two fronts: putting sin to death and cultivating righteousness.
that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” ()
Putting Sin to Death (Mortification)
Mortification is a Biblical term. It is the progressive killing of sin as it manifests itself in each rebellious and self-indulgent habit.
“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” – John Owen, Sanctification
“[Mortification is] the deliberate rejection of any sinful thought, suggestion, aspiration, deed, circumstance or provocation at the moment we become conscious of its existence. It is the consistent endeavor to do all in our powers to weaken the grip which sin in general, and its manifestations in our lives in particular, has.”
– Sinclair Ferguson, The Christian Life
For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” ()
“For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” KJV
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” ()
Mortification requires us to:
Be aware of sin in all of its manifestations, workings, and schemes.
This is especially important since sin, by its very nature, is deceitful, causing believers to underestimate its extent and seriousness in their own lives.
Deal with temptation.
Temptation comes to all of us, but giving in to any single temptation is never inevitable. We must deal with temptation first by avoiding it, second by fleeing from it when possible, and third by resisting it when flight is impossible.
Do not enter the path of the wicked, And do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; Turn away from it and pass on.” ()
Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” ()
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” ()
Repent when we have fallen.
When we do sin, we must immediately ask God for forgiveness and purpose to mortify that particular sin in the future. Failure to faithfully deal with sin will make mortification all the more difficult in the future.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” ()
Cultivating Righteousness
God has equipped us with numerous aids for our battle with sin, and at FBCR we seek to equip every member to maximize the use and effectiveness of these aids.
The Bible exposes and judges the motives, intents, and desires of the heart. It provides
ruth—God’s perspective on reality.
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” ()
Prayer deepens our fellowship with God and, therefore, brings a greater sensitivity to and conviction of sin. In prayer we can confess our sins, cultivate a hatred for sin and a love for godliness, and receive strength for our battle with sin.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” ()
The Holy Spirit dwells in us so that we can say “no” to the passions and desires of our flesh. God has made us new creatures in Christ, and He is actively at work to transform our hearts.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” ()
Other Christians are a crucial part of this battle. We all battle sin and suffer from some degree of spiritual blindness due to the deceptive nature of sin. Therefore, each Christian should be committed to receiving help from others in this battle. This includes confessing our sin to each other and receiving observations from each other.
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,” ()
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” ()
At FBCR, the practice of sanctification is woven throughout all the facets of our church life. Each member is encouraged to practice the spiritual disciplines—especially Bible reading and prayer—and through them to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” ().
An essential part of our Home Groups is the specific and personal application of God’s Word to our lives. Our emphases on relationships provide countless contexts in which we join arms and help each other grow in godliness. Likewise, the weekly preaching of God’s word is a key means to our growth in godliness as a body. Through these avenues and more, we desire to live lives that increasingly reflect God’s character to a lost world.
The Heart of Sanctification
The intentional pursuit of godliness is a priority at FBCR because the Scriptures command it. In taking sanctification seriously, we are taking God’s holiness seriously and the reality of our own sin seriously. It is not uncommon to find some Christians who downplay the role of sin in their lives—they believe such talk is negative or counter-productive.
However, few endeavors could be more exciting than the glorious pursuit of becoming more like Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Far from making us self-centered or morbidly introspective, our pursuit of holiness intensifies our joy as we become more amazed at God’s forgiveness, more free from the sin in our lives, and more intimately acquainted with our God.
Ultimately, our holiness brings God glory as His character is increasingly displayed in our lives. Such mercy and grace provides powerful motivation to cooperate with God’s sanctifying work in our lives and so to live the Christian life in the context of the local church.
Key Concepts and Terms from this Session:
The “Double Cure”:
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