God’s will for our lives: Sanctification


Scripture Readings:

  • Leviticus 18:24-19:4
  • Ephesians 1:3-14


A man is charged of crime – let’s say he committed murder.  All evidence points in his direction, even his defence lawyer cannot come up with anything better than to plead for a lesser penalty.  The judge listens to the charges laid; he weighs up the evidence and faces the reality of condemning the charged murderer with the death penalty.  He looks at the accused and begins to love him, and in his own heart there is big sorrow that this young man appearing in court might never see his wife or children again.  But as judge he must be impartial:  the law demands that a murderer be charged – even with capital punishment.

The judge now does the unthinkable: He does not have the crime of murder go unpunished – the law demands punishment, but he commands someone completely innocent to stand in the place of the accused, and charge the innocent with murder to provide ground for the murderer to go free.

It would be unthinkable to contemplate the innocent to take the charge of the accused on him, but he did.  Because this innocent person completely pays the penalty, the law is satisfied and the murderer may go free after the judge declared him to not guilty.

The judge now does something even more unfathomable: he takes the murderer as his own child and promises to be his father, to care for him, to give him shelter, and to give him a daily guard to protect him as a child of the new household.

Sanctification rooted in justification

God has us as the accused.  We fall short of his glory because we are sinners.  The reward for sin is death. Now, the humanly impossible: He commands his Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place.  Christ do so willingly, because He is the only one without sin, and yet He took on the nature of us human beings, and He died on the cross as God’s curse upon sin.  His righteousness by faith is now reckoned as our righteousness because God declares us not guilty – this is justification by grace alone: He does so because He imputes Christ’s righteousness to us.  God now freely, without our influence, adopts us as sons into his household, and gives us his Holy Spirit to teach us, guide us and protect us. The charge against us is wiped out, and the guilt of sin is removed.

Justification should never be confused or even fused with sanctification.  Once justified in Christ, the sinner does not become more acceptable to the Father unto salvation becasue of his sanctification.  We are saved by grace not by good deeds.  Sanctification is not a series of good deeds which completes justification.  Sanctification is more the growing up through Godly discipline worked out by the Holy Spirit to produce the good works ordained by God:

 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8–10, ESV)

Adoption as sons flows from justification

God does these things by and through his Holy Spirit.  If we now turn the pages of the Scriptures to Galatians 4:4-7 we read:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4–7, ESV)

By the Spirit we receive what John is referring to – the right to be children of God, “not by a man or through the will of a husbands, but born of God” – the adoption of sons.

The Spirit takes what Jesus Christ has done, and applies it to us so we can understand who Christ is, what He has done, and how God saved us from sin.  In other words, the Spirit applies the righteousness of Christ to our lives.  It is not the other way around: the Spirit does not awaken us to do good works in order to get a righteousness and be accepted by God.

Ephesians 1:4-5 is clear:

even as He [God] chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him [God]. In love He [God] predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will … (Ephesians 1:4–5, ESV)

No more fear

Fear is now driven out, and it replaced with accepting love.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15, ESV)

This speaks of a very intimate relationship with the Father whose Name is glorified when his children come to Him in the Name of his Son, Jesus Christ.  His Spirit testifies with our spirits:  “You are children of God.”
Although we should actually live in fear of God because of our sins and sinfulness, God accepts us through the work of the Holy Spirit based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

No slaves to sin anymore

We are no longer treated as slaves, but as sons, and therefore heirs.  I think this expression has two meanings.  In the first instance, it speaks of the tyranny of sin that has been broken and replaced with a new master.  Paul, in Romans 8:12-14, writes:

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 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 all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:12–14, ESV)

The righteousness of Christ dealt with sin – completely.  The price and the penalty on sin is paid.  Christ has become our propitiation (the One who takes the wrath of God aimed at sinners upon Him as He became sin for sinners – on Him the wrath of God rested because of our trespasses. He crushed the head of the serpent).  Hebrews 2:14-16:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. (Hebrews 2:14–16, ESV)

Paul declares:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13–15, ESV)

No status of a slave

But we are not slaves anymore in another sense.  The basic principles of this world, the sacrificial system with all its trappings are fulfilled in Christ.  If Christ did not come, we would have been treated as slaves, Paul says:

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. (Galatians 4:1–3, ESV)

Heirs with Christ

By being adopted as sons, we became heirs of the kingdom of God.  Paul writes:

and if [because] children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:17, ESV)

So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:7, ESV)

Unshakable future

We look forward to a future that cannot be shaken.

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:22–25, ESV)

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:11, ESV)

In the household of God – what does it mean?

We now live in God’s household.  In his house there are rules for good order.  We cannot now carry on living as we lived before we were declared righteous in Christ; it is not fitting, it does not become Christians to live like unbelievers.  We are called to sanctification.  This is not something we do so that we are not thrown out; we are not afraid of being put out on the streets because we cannot behave ourselves.  We live to serve the one who had pity on us when we were on our way of eternal condemnation.

Sanctification – what is it?

God himself had chosen his people Israel and separated it, made it a holy people. This separation did not, in any sense, rest on Israel’s moral strength or piety, but had its foundation solely in divine election. Nor is this sanctification only of temporary significance; on the contrary, when God commands his people to be holy, that is, to keep his commandments, he introduces an appeal to them to become and to remain conscious of the sanctity with which he has sanctified them, and to walk and live accordingly.

God disciplines his children (in both in negative and positive sense), because He owns them.  Over and over again we read, “I am the Lord.”  He called them out of slavery, saved them by grace, and now wants them to live to his glory.  Because they belong to Him, they are different, they are separate from the rest of the nations.  They are to be holy, because God is holy.  They are not called to act like God, but God-like.  Sanctification, some say, is God’s appeal to our hearts not to live Christ’s life, but to live a Christ-like life.  Holiness does not mean perfect sinlessness.  Jesus taught us to pray “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12, ESV)

Holiness means to act with the mind of Christ.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2, ESV)

First the mercies of God as described in all the chapters of Romans up to this point, then the call to a life displaying something of a sacrifice which is holy and acceptable to God.

Sanctification is not a sort of second blessing which don’t experience before we completely surrender to the Lord and then receive the Spirit in His fulness—as though a person might be converted without fully surrendering to Christ, or become a child of God without the Holy Spirit indwelling him.

Sanctification is not a lengthy process by which the Christian is made fit for Heaven. The same work of Divine grace which delivers a soul from the wrath to come, makes him acceptable for the enjoyment of eternal glory. Arthur Pink asks: “At what point was the penitent prodigal unsuited to the Father’s house?

However, process and progress is not the same.  A process means something one has to go through to obtain something, while progress indicates that one has something, but he grows in it. Being declared righteous in Christ (justification) eliminates the necessity for a process (it is done in Christ – by faith we accept it);  being received into the household of God as his child, I now need to grow up, this is a process of becoming mature in Christ ((Ephesians 4:15) . Paul writes:

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1, ESV)

Peter writes:

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18, ESV)

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. (2 Thessalonians 1:3, ESV)

Sanctification is not a cooperative relation between divine grace and human action.

It is impossible to confess that one is a Christian, claiming the righteousness of Christ, without displaying it in words and deeds. It would be like a child who never enters the house of his parents, and has no desire to see and be with his parents. John the Baptist preached:

Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. (Matthew 3:8, ESV)

Our Lord declared:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21–23, ESV)

Paul exhorts:

How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:2, ESV)

Sanctification: A Definition

Definitive sanctification (God’s work as Father, son and Holy Spirit) is “a once-for-all event, simultaneous with effectual calling and regeneration, that transfers us from the sphere of sin to the sphere of God’s holiness, from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God.” This act of God is based on the righteousness of Christ – justification).  Sanctification as an act of God’s mercy marks us out (or separates us) as God’s chosen people – His treasured and covenantal possession (Acts 20:32; Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11). So too, definitive sanctification unite us to Christ, particularly in His death, resurrection and ascension. Sanctification, in this sense, refers to a decisive and radical break with the power and pleasures of sin.

Sanctification is that work of Divine grace in the believer which brings him back into allegiance to God based on the righteousness of Christ.  The Holy Spirit regulates his affections and actions in harmony with God’s will, writing His law on the heart (Heb. 10:16), moving him to make God’s glory his chief aim and end. That Divine work is commenced at regeneration, and completed only at glorification.

Difference between justification and sanctification

  • Justification is based entirely upon the work Christ wrought for us, sanctification is principally a work God does in us.
  • Justification is by a righteousness without us, sanctification is by a holiness wrought in us.
  • Justification is by Christ as Priest, and has regard to the penalty of sin; sanctification is by Christ as King, and has regard to the dominion of sin: the former cancels its condemning power, the latter delivers from its reigning power
  • justification is a judicial act, by which the sinner as pronounced righteous; sanctification is a moral work, by which the sinner is made holy:
  • Justification has to do solely with our standing before God; sanctification chiefly concerns our state.
  • Justification is based on the merits of Christ’s satisfaction; sanctification proceeds from the intended result of Christ’s satisfaction.
  • Justification bestowing a title to everlasting glory, satisfaction is the way which conducts us there.

Work of Triune God

And because of him [God the Father] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, (1 Corinthians 1:30, ESV)

Now may the God (the Father) of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23, ESV)

Christ prays:

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:17–19, ESV)

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13, ESV)

Sanctification is primarily the work of the Triune God, Father, son and Holy Spirit.  His grace calls us to greater obedience everyday as we live in his household to his glory.

 For He [the Father] chose us in Him [Christ Jesus] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless [sanctification – both as gift and command] in his sight. In love He [the Father] predestined us for adoption to sonship [adoption] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which He [the Father] has freely given us in the One [Christ Jesus] He [the Father] loves. In Him [Christ Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s [the Father’s] grace (Ephesians 1:4–7, NIV)

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit [He applies the righteousness of Chris to us and leads us in sanctification], who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance [we are heirs] until the redemption of those who are God’s possession [our unshakable future]—to the praise of his glory [the reason why we are saved]. (Ephesians 1:13–14, NIV)


Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 3 February 2012

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