Sanctification, Part 3: Victorious Christian Living
Copyright © 1995, P. G. Mathew
Today we want to discuss another aspect of victorious Christian living, also known as sanctification. Holy living or sanctification, is moral renovation, a transformation and conformation to the standard of God, an achieving of Godlikeness and Christlikeness. It is not an instantaneous thing, but it is progressive, gradual and continuous. It is an ongoing process. In other words, there is growth - a greater and greater degree of conforming to the standard. This is very, very important in our understanding of this aspect of Christian truth. Sanctification is not instantaneous, but it is progressively achieved.
Let’s look at a couple of scriptures that make this plain. There are many but we don’t have time to look at all of them. In Ephesians 4, beginning with verse 14, St. Paul says: "Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things” - what? "grow up into him who is the head.” There you have the verb "grow up,” which reveals to us that this sanctification is not instantly achieved. It is growth. We will grow into him, "that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
Sanctification is growth in God on a daily basis. As we pray daily, as we study the word of God daily, as we serve daily, as we fellowship with the people of God daily, we are growing. It is like a child who is born. As the child receives food and care, he is growing and growing. You can see it happening, and finally the child is twenty years of age. The other day we had someone leading the song service. I said I was there when she was born, and now she is grown up. So sanctification is growth.
Not only do we see this in St. Paul’s writings, but St. Peter speaks the same truth. Turn to 2 Peter 1:5 and following, where you see this idea of growth: "For this very reason make every effort to add to your faith goodness…” Do you see that? That’s growth - "and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” Here, then, we see the idea of adding, which is the idea of growing in character and moral conformity to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
One more scripture where we see this idea is 2 Corinthians 3, verse 18: "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect” - or behold - "the Lord’s glory, are being transformed …” You see? That is continuous. As we continually behold or reflect God’s glory, we are continually being what? Transformed. We are being transformed "into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
So don’t be discouraged because you are not instantly transformed into a saint. This is a teaching that gives you certain comfort. Don’t panic because you are not a saint instantly. Sanctification is growth. Continue using the means of grace, which we will discuss later on. If you are born of God, growth is assured and you will grow, from one degree of knowledge to another degree of knowledge; from one degree of love to another degree of love; from one degree of glory to another degree of glory. It is an ongoing transformation until one day we will be like God himself, like Jesus Christ himself. That doesn’t mean we will become gods, but we will be like him.
Now we need to ask: Is sanctification necessary? Can we ever dispense with this idea of sanctification? First let us talk about justification, which occurs when we are born again. Justification means that Jesus Christ has taken all our sin and in its place we are given his irreproachable, perfect righteousness. Justification is God’s action - instantaneous, forensic and declaratory. Once justified, always justified. And if that is true, we need to ask why is sanctification necessary? Why can’t we just live by virtue of the imputed perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ into our account? In other words, why do we have to have practical, experimental righteousness as well?
Well, Scripture says sanctification is necessary. Scripture teaches that if a person has been justified by God, God also sanctifies that person. You can never separate justification and sanctification. Where there is justification, there is sanctification. Where there is the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, there is practical righteousness in the life of the individual.
Look at James 2, beginning with verse 14. Here James is dealing with people who pretended that they were justified, even though they had no corresponding good works. You see, this idea that Jesus is Savior and not Lord is nothing new. James had to deal with it also. He said, "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?” You read this also in 1 John. John also uses this word "claim.” He saw a lot of people who claimed a lot of things, and John also noticed that these people lacked sanctification, practical righteousness.
So in the book of James, chapter 2, James says: "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well-fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” In other words, this man has no sanctification. "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
You see, a claim of justification without sanctification is false faith. "But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds; I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe there is one God? Good! Even the demons believe that and shudder.” Now this is an interesting point. Note this one thing about demons, that they are orthodox. They believe in the right doctrines. But what is it demons lack? Demons lack sanctification. Demons don’t love God. Demons don’t obey God. What demons lack is obedience to God. If somebody claims that he is a Christian but lives like a devil, then we could say that he qualifies to be a demon. That’s all there is to it.
You see? Scripture will not approve when a person makes the claim: I am justified, but I don’t have to be sanctified. In the Reformation tradition, there is a saying: "Faith that justifies is not alone.” Where there is justification, there has to be holy living.
Let’s look at Hebrews 12:14. This is a verse that a lot of people don’t like. It says this: "Make every effort to live in peace with all men” - that’s sanctification, isn’t it? "and to be holy.” Then there is a very strong, universally-negative statement: "Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Without holiness no one will see the Lord. There is no divine program in which you can be justified, but you don’t have to be sanctified. That is a human distortion of God’s truth. Here we are told in irrefutable language that without holiness no one is able to see the Lord.
So we need to ask: Can I receive Jesus as my Savior but not as Lord - not as the one who tells me how to live and who exercises rulership on my life? Well, to do that is antinomianism. It is nonsense. But this idea is promoted by a lot of people, and it is the most popular teaching today in the so-called Christian church. All over it is taught that we can divide Jesus Christ into Savior and Lord, and say, "I want to receive this Jesus who is Savior, but I don’t want to receive Jesus as Lord.”
Well, you cannot be saved unless you confess what with your mouth? Jesus is Savior? No. Romans 10:9 says, "If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart - that is, with your whole being, "that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” In other words, if you do not confess that way, you will not be saved. I think it is a demonic teaching to say that you can receive him as Savior but not as Lord; or that you can receive him as Savior, and then maybe one day you may want to receive him as Lord also, and maybe one day you will want to obey God and love God and keep his holy commandments. That’s nonsense! It’s saying that God’s moral law has lost its validity. We as Christians must live a holy life by conforming ourselves to God’s moral law. That is what it means to receive Jesus Christ as Lord. What is sin? Sin is disobedience to God. And salvation cannot be the same as disobedience to God. Salvation has to be the opposite of sin. Salvation, if it means anything, means this: that God, by his own grace, causes us to love and obey him. And so we have to say that the Scripture in its entirety, in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, teaches us that sanctification is necessary, and that without holiness no one will see the Lord.
Now let us consider the method of sanctification. The method is one of cooperation. You see, in justification God alone justifies you. In regeneration God alone regenerates you. You do nothing for your own regeneration. So we say that regeneration is monergistic, that is, that only one person does the work. And that one is not you, but God himself. But sanctification is a cooperative venture. God works in us to will and to do his good pleasure, and we, by his strength and power, work out what he worked in internally.
That is the most difficult issue, isn’t that true? You know, suppose you want your child to love God and study hard and everything else, but suppose your child doesn’t want any of those things. You work hard saying, "You know, son, you have to do this. You have to get up in the morning, son. You have to study. You have to do the assignments.” But the child doesn’t want to do anything. The mother wants it, the father wants it, and everybody else wants it. But the kid doesn’t have any internal desire. That is a big problem.
In a Christian that problem is solved. God generates within us a desire to love God, to obey God, and God also gives us the power to love and obey him. So God, on the one hand, works within us the desire to will and to do the will of God, and by his strength we, as children of God, want to do it. In fact, it becomes our delight, not a pain in the neck. It is the delight of a truly born-again Christian to obey God, because the joy of living is the joy of obedience to God.
So sanctification is a cooperative venture. It is not, as someone said, simply activism. Activism means what? That I am going to do these things in my own strength. That is one hundred percent "I.” "I” am very active. No, that is not true of sanctification. And it is not, on the other hand, passivism, that I don’t do anything. I can’t say, "Let God do it. I’ll just sit around. In fact, I’ll do everything against doing it. And if God really exists, and if God really is interested in my sanctification, let God himself do it.” That’s pure nonsense. So sanctification is not activism. It is not passivism. As someone defined it, it is God-dependent effort.
In Romans 8:13 it says, "For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die.” Now that simply describes an unbeliever, and it is presented here as a warning. Don’t be under the illusion that you are a Christian when you are continually sinning. Oh, no. "But if by the Spirit,” which means what? The Holy Spirit, whom God has given to every Christian. If you don’t have the Holy Spirit, the Bible says you are not a Christian. You do not belong to Jesus Christ. "But if by the Spirit you put to death” - that means activity on our part, depending upon the guidance and the power of the Spirit of God - "if you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” And that is real living. That is joyful living. That is victorious Christian living.
Let me tell you, Satan says that if you sin, you will have fun and you will then really live. But here it says that if you do that you will die. God tells you that sin is not living. God says if you are born of God, then, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit of God who is in you, whose interest it is to sanctify you and guide you in the way of sanctification, "if you by the Spirit put to death the misdeeds of the body” - that means activity on the part of a believer, on the part of one who is born of God - "you will live.” And that activity is an ongoing, regular, progressive activity until the day you die.
So here it is, then: Sanctification is a God-dependent daily effort. Every day we have to do this. If we are Christians, we will feel two mutually-exclusive promptings in our being. One prompting says what? Sin. For instance, it may say, "Don’t get up. Sleep. Sleep is the way to go. You know, you really need sleep, don’t you? You really need sleep. You’ve been working very hard. Just sleep.” But then there is the prompting of the Holy Spirit that registers in your consciousness: "Rise up and read the word of God and pray.” Now, you get these two promptings only if you are a Christian. So what do you do if you are a Christian interested in sanctification? You say "No!” to the prompting that says, "Sleep on,” and you say, "Yes” to the Holy Spirit, and you rise and you pray and you read the word of God. We need to be active, as the Spirit of God causes us to will and to do his good pleasure.
So sanctification is not just activity, and it is not just passivity. It is God-dependent effort, working out that which God has worked inside us. That is exciting! That is real living. That is real celebration. May God help us to engage seriously in this God-dependent effort of victorious Christian living. Amen.
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Copyright © 1995, P. G. Mathew
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