Notes of a lecture given in October 2001
In the New Testament there is a group of words like holy, saint, and sanctification which are all derived from the same Greek word, HAGIASMOS, which has the basic meaning of being separated to and for God and hence the condition of life which is the result of this relationship with God. To be sanctified is to be pure, holy, and godly.
The primary use of the word is to describe the character of God Himself. Jesus prayed to His Father as the `Holy Father,’ John 17.11. Jesus is described as the High Priest who is, `holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners and made higher than the heaven,’ in Hebrews 7.26. The third Person of the Trinity is most often named the `Holy Ghost’ or `Holy Spirit’. The word is used to indicate God’s uniqueness, He is separate from all He has made as the Creator and He is separate from all that is sinful. He is the pure, holy, righteous, and glorious God. `Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?’ Exodus 15.11.
The secondary use of this group of words is to describe the Christian believer. This secondary use falls into two distinct parts.
1. Christians are described as already being holy. They are often called ,saints’ and are referred to as `holy brethren’. The late Professor John Murray called this `Definitive Sanctification’. This is the believer’s status or standing in God’s sight. They are `in Christ’ and so are viewed as holy as He is holy.
2. Christians are spoken of as undergoing an experience of sanctification and this has been called `Progressive Sanctification’. Jesus prayed for His people in John 17.17, `Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.’ It was clearly a deep concern of our Lord as He came towards the Cross that those for whom He died would be sanctified, note vv.17 and 19. This is the believer’s condition or experience as distinct from his status or standing.
Definitive Sanctification Turn to 1 Cor. 1.30.
`But of’ him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:’ these words are addressed to believers at Corinth who had already been described as, `the church, of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, (the words `to be’ are not
in the Greek) with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.’ 1 Cor. 1.2.
Christ is the believer’s `Wisdom’. He is the source of all wisdom as the `Word’ who is God.
`In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,’ John
1.1. All that we know of God and truth is mediated to us by the One who is the `Word made flesh,’ John 1.14.
Christ is the believer’s righteousness. This is the great truth of `justification’. The believer is righteous in God’s sight, as righteous as Christ is. This is imputed righteousness.
`Because the sinless Saviour died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him, and pardon me.
Behold Him there! The risen Lamb!
My perfect, spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace!’
Christian Hymns 258
But then Christ is said to be the believer’s `sanctification’. I believe this refers not to any process but rather to the believer’s status in Christ the Holy One. Christ is our perfect holiness. The holiness of His life of separation from the world in its sin, and the purity of His human nature is counted ours. Some may argue that this is the same as
`justification’ and is what is meant by `imputed righteousness’. But it may be that ,righteousness’ emphasises Christ’s actions and `sanctification’ (in this context) His nature. Both are needed for our salvation. God demands both righteousness and holiness and, as we have neither, both must be imputed to us.
Christ is then our `redemption’. He has paid the price for our deliverance. And He ensures our final deliverance from all evil at the end of the world’s history.
`And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh,’ Luke 21.25-28.
This aspect of the believer’s state as already perfectly holy and sanctified is underlined by Paul in Romans 6. We are dead to sin, v2. We died with Christ, v8. We were buried with Him, v4. The `old manis crucified, v6. We are freed from sin, v7. We are alive unto God, v 11. 1 Cor. 6.9-11 is another striking declaration of the believer’s present and perfect sanctification, `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 need to be careful about the use of the word `progressive’ and say that I do not mean that a believer experiences, `a continued general improvement as shall make him at any time less dependent upon the communications of the Spirit and grace of Christ for all goodness.’
What do I mean by progressive sanctification’? Let me begin by asking a series of questions. Don’t you find it to be a very evident fact that some Christians are more godly, more Christ-like, more spirituallyminded, and less worldly than others? Do you believe that there should be spiritual growth in the spiritual life just as there is natural growth in a healthy natural life? Don’t you think that some older Christians have learnt a great deal through long spiritual experience of the battles and trials of life?
I am sure you do not find it difficult to answer these questions, though I expect most of us find the answers very humbling.
As I try to speak of Progressive Sanctification I am now speaking of the believer’s spiritual state and condition, not of his status or standing, even though the two are inseparable. In speaking of `Justification’ and `Sanctification’ (that is the progressive aspect of Sanctification), it has wisely been said that we must not confuse the two but neither must we ever separate the two. We are not justified by what is done `in us’ by the Holy Spirit in the way of sanctification; but by what has been done `for us’ by Jesus Christ who is our righteousness.
Consider now a few verses which speak of growth and progress in the Christian life.
`But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.’ 2 Peter 3.18. This tells us there is growth in the healthy Christian life.
`But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:’ Ephes. 4.15.
`Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting (to bring through to the end) holiness in the fear of God.’ 2 Cor. 7.1.
Consider also those many exhortations to a holy life. Go back to Romans 6 where we noticed earlier the strong emphasis on the perfect
nature of the Definitive Sanctification of the believer. Paul goes on from a declaration of the believer’s state to urge spiritual activity in Progressive Sanctification.
`Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof,’ Romans 6.12.
`Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God,’ Romans 6.13.
`But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life,’ Romans 6.22.
Then moving on to,
`Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. 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,’ Romans 8.12-13.
`Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection; evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:’ Col. 3.5.
Then there is the whole concept of the spiritual warfare in Galatians 5.16-18. `This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.’
And in 1 Tim. 6.12, `Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.’ Together with the detailed instructions about the need and use of the spiritual armour in Ephesians 6.
Another important aspect of sanctification is the believer’s attitude to the world. As our Lord prayed; `I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world,’ John 17.15-16.
And how well John had taken this lesson to heart as he speaks to his beloved spiritual family, `Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever,’ 1 John 2.15-17.
To the Holy Spirit must go all the praise for the continuing work of sanctification in our lives. He abides with the believer and is `in’ the believer, as Jesus says in John 14.17.
Notice also Galatians 5.22-25.
`But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering,
gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.’ Clearly all these fruits of the Spirit are the evidences of sanctification in the Christian’s life.
What is progressive sanctification leading to? Heaven, of course. Heaven is not only a prepared place for a prepared people but a holy place for a holy people. As John tells us,
`Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure,’ John 3.1.