Friday, July 21, 2006

Sanctification - A Lost Art?

The heart of sanctification is a daily, if not hourly, spirit of repentance. Sorrowing over sins, confession and acknowledgment before God in prayer are matched with a sincere determination to live an increasingly righteous life. Sanctification, however, is all too often the poor forgotten cousin of justification. We all exult in the good news that Jesus Christ lived a perfect life as a representative of humanity, and then endured the punishment for the sin of the world, a punishment we should have received. When we accept Christ's righteousness by faith, we are considered justified in God's eyes. Christ's perfection is imputed (i.e., credited, transferred) to us. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Many believers, however, seem content with merely their justification, and forget Scripture's persistent injunction to "Walk in the Spirit" (Galatians 5:16, 25), or live as Christ lived (1 John 2:6), or Jesus' words, "Unless your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will in no way enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20). There are even Christians who assert that you can have Christ as your Savior, but not necessarily as your Lord. This denigration of sanctification is, of course, utterly unbiblical, spiritually dangerous, and in most cases indicative of a false assurance that justification has actually occurred. For if we have been supernaturally born again to a new life in communion with Christ, then nothing will be more important to us than to live a life pleasing to God, holy and obedient to his Word.

To sanctify something means to set it apart and dedicate it unto God. We are, with the assistance and grace of the Holy Spirit, to sanctify ourselves unto the Lord. The great biblical definition of this is found in Leviticus 20:26, "And you shall be holy unto Me: for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people, that you should be mine." The root of the word "holy" is to "cut" - which separates or severs a thing. God creates the church by choosing (Greek: ekklesia) out of the world a body of believers who glorify His name through faith and godliness. In the words of A. W. Pink, "The heart must be changed so as to be brought into conformity with God's nature and will: its motives, desires, thoughts and actions require to be purified" (Sanctification, p.25, italics are Pink's). He continues, "Evangelical sanctification is that holiness of heart which causes us to love God supremely, so as to yield ourselves wholly up to His constant service in all things, and to His disposal of us as our absolute Lord, whether it be for prosperity or adversity, for life or death; and to love our neighbors as ourselves."

Sanctification arises and is empowered by our union with Christ, and is the physical and spiritual expression of that bond of love between the justified soul and its Savior. Because the old Adam, the man of sin, still wars within us, our sanctification will not be complete until it is transformed into our glorification in heaven. Nonetheless, we are to strive toward absolute holiness, and the two chief means of holy living are repentance and separation. Repentance has no value if we intend to sin again, or take no measures to separate ourselves from sinful behavior, sinful lifestyles, thoughts, or sinful people. If godliness holds no attraction for us, we are not truly saved, nor are we living the life of Christ (Gal 2:20). Sanctification is the working out of our salvation, and is done with eagerness and joy.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).