Understanding Sanctification (Sanctification Series #2)

Sanctification or Sanctification

In one sense justification is sanctification. When Christ pardons our sins we are set apart for him. As it says in Hebrews 10:10, “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all.” In justification we are positionally sanctified; that is, we are set apart for God. But there is another sense in which sanctification is used in the New Testament. In other passages we note that sanctification is a process of change that is experienced in the life of the believer. We see this experiential sanctification in passages like Romans 6:22, “But now, since you have been liberated from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification — and the end is eternal life!”

While we were enemies of God we had no power to overcome sin. We were slaves to sin. But after we were reconciled to God we have access to His empowering grace which both reveals sin and overcomes its power. Through the blood of Christ we regained the favor of God, and with this favor comes His active assistance against our enemy, namely sin. By God’s unmerited favor we were adopted as God’s children, and as God’s beloved children we are given His empowering presence. Apart from God we could do nothing, but now that we abide in Him, we can defeat sin’s hold on our lives.

So we see that positional sanctification (i.e. justification) is the foundation and condition for our experiential sanctification (i.e. transformation). As the Apostle writes in Romans 5:1-2, “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Through justification we have access to God’s liberating grace.

The relationship between justification and sanctification can be illustrated by the Parable of the Prodigal Son. While the son was living in rebellion and alienation from the father he had no access to the abundant riches of the father. He was dying of starvation feeding pigs. But when he came to his senses and returned to the father he was welcomed with open arms. The father put a ring on his finger and a new robe to symbolize that he was fully welcomed back as his son. And with this restored favor came all the resources of the father’s house. In the same way, when we are restored to right-relationship with our Father in heaven He freely gives us everything we need for “life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). As the Apostle asks in Romans 8:32, “He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything?”

Hard Hearts

Romans 8:6-8

For the mind- set of the flesh is death, but the mind- set of the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind- set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Men are born in sin and grow skilled in rebellion as they grow older. The Bible teaches that because of the sin of Adam all people were born relationally separated from God. Instead of seeking God, people chose to welcome a life away from God. They chose sin, and for this reason God hardened their heart to be further enslaved to sin. They were born in darkness and they embraced the darkness, so God delivered them up to even more darkness. In this sinful condition people cannot find God because they do not want God.

Consider the case of an army general who rebels against his rightful king and starts his own little government in one part of the kingdom. This general is a rebel. He has committed treason and is worthy of death. He might be a loving father, he might be very generous to the poor and he might always speak the truth as he sees it; nevertheless, he is still in total rebellion. Nothing “good” he does can make up for the fact that he has betrayed his master and exalted himself to the place of king over his own little kingdom.

This is the condition of people apart from God’s saving grace. They have made themselves the kings of their own little kingdoms in God’s universe. They might do some good things, but everything they do is done while living in utter pride and rebellion. They are totally corrupt, and they can only be cleared of guilt by turning back to their Master. But this is the one thing they will never do on their own because in the hardness of their own hearts they are convinced they are not rebels. And what makes turning back to God even more impossible is that submitting to God as their sovereign King would mean giving up their own little kingdoms. So they live and die in rebellion, unless God intervenes and opens their eyes to see their guilt and the danger of their situation.

This was the condition of mankind when God sent His Son to die for them and call them to repentance. This was the condition of mankind when God called His Chruch to “command all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). This was the condition of mankind when God sent His Spirit from heaven to “convict the world about sin, righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). And this is the condition of every person today who has not yet repented of their sins, trusted in Christ and been born again.

Those who are unrepentant can be compared to hard and useless clay. A potter needs soft, moist clay in order to form it on his potter’s wheel. Hard, dry clay is cannot be transformed into anything useful and is therefore thrown out as trash. Hard, rebellious hearts are only fit for the wrath of God.

Saved from Rebellion

Ezekiel 36:25-27

I will also sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place My Spirit within you and cause you to follow My statutes and carefully observe My ordinances.

God comes to hard rebellious sinners with His convicting grace. He humbles them by revealing to them the true state of their hearts and the wrath that they will soon experience if they don’t repent. If someone humbly calls on Him for salvation and righteousness, God will graciously save and restore them. But without God first humbling them, they would never cry out for His salvation. But thank God Jesus has come not to condemn the world but to seek and save the lost, calling the unrighteous to repentance through his Spirit and his Church.

If someone responds to this convicting grace by repenting of their sins and placing their trust in Christ, God will cause them to be spiritually reborn. God has promised the repentant that He will remove their heart of stone and replace it with a soft heart. He will put His Spirit within them that will no longer seek sin but will pursue obedience to God’s law. When one is born again God removes the rebellion out of their heart so they will no longer live in transgression. At the moment of salvation people are saved from sin; that is, they are no longer in bondage to disobedience but can “go and sin no more” (John 8:11).

God saves us from a life of continual transgression by saving us from a rebellious heart. At the new birth the rebellious heart is made submissive. The hard heart is as useless to God as the hard clay is to the potter. Though the potter is helpless to change hard clay into soft clay, God is able to change hard hearts into soft hearts. The potter has no choice but to throw out the useless clay, but God is able to redeem the sinful soul.

The reborn children of God are comparable to hard clay being miraculously changed into soft clay. The mind set on the flesh cannot obey God, so God causes the new heart to be set on the Spirit. This is the work of regeneration. It is more than a change in position. New life, the Spirit of God, is breathed into the human heart. The heart is now ready to be shaped and molded by God. The born again soul is ready to be led by God’s Holy Spirit into Christlikeness.

Saved from Corruption

2 Corinthians 3:18

We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.

In Jeremiah 31 God promises to make a new covenant with His people. In this new covenant He will not write His law on stone, but He says, “I will put My teaching within them and write it on their hearts” (Jer. 31:33). At regeneration our hearts are made into soft, moldable clay. But through the continual work of the Holy Spirit within us during the process of sanctification God writes His will onto our souls.

Just because clay is soft, doesn’t mean it is a work of art. It just means it is ready to be transformed into a work of art. And just because a regenerate heart is no longer rebellious, that doesn’t mean it looks anything like the image of Christ. The soft clay must be placed on the potter’s wheel and shaped into a useful work of art. And the newly reborn soul must be continually consecrated to the leading of the Holy Spirit in order to be conformed to the image of God’s beloved Son.

Through regeneration people are empowered to turn from sin and submit to God. But this mere change of direction is not satisfying to a true child of God. Though he obeys his Lord he still feels the pull within him towards those things that led to his Savior’s death. His now submissive heart cannot endure having anything inside of him that desires to lead him away from his King. So he hungers and thirsts for a pure heart and true righteousness in the hope of being filled. He is not satisfied with merely being softened by God’s grace, he longs to be completely transformed from the inside out.

As the believer submits to the work of the Holy Spirit inside of him that empowers him to do the will of God, God’s law is written on his heart. As he obeys God’s sanctifying Spirit he is changed on the inside. The character of Christ is stamped on his heart. He not only acts better, but his very desires begin to be transformed. He not only obeys God, but he step by step becomes more like God in true righteousness and holiness. Believers are saved from inbred sin by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit that writes God’s law on our hearts.

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