The good news of the Christian faith is that not only we are justified by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, but also we are adopted as sons and daughters of the Most High. God declares us ‘Just’ and ‘Righteous’ by virtue of the imputation of Christ righteousness in to our account. We don’t have to wait to be fully sanctified, before God will accept us in to the fellowship with Him and in to His family.
Even though we are not fully sanctified people in this life, God is working in us making us completely holy. Our status before God is based on Christ righteousness and not our own, however the real and true change is enacted upon us by the Holy Spirit. This process of sanctification by which we are made holy and brought into conformity with Christ begins immediately when Spirit units us with Christ through the appropriation of the gift of faith given to us by God the Father. It is not the profession of faith that justifies a person, but the possession of faith. There are always people who make false profession of faith and do not show any fruits of evidence. The fruit of sanctification is not only a necessary consequence of justification but also an inevitable consequence. It is impossible for a truly converted person to remain unchanged. The sanctification of the believer is the sure indication of the new life and the very presence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The progress of sanctification does not always happen at a steady pace. There will be many ups and downs, seasons of growth and seasons of stagnation in the life of a believer. When a believer is becoming more mature in the faith these peaks and valleys in his Christian growth tend to smoothed out. The point is that in a true believers life there has to be a growth in sanctification and that sanctification is partial in this life. There are no easy steps for sanctification; it is a lifelong process that involves enormous amount of effort. Paul says in Philippians 2:12, to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. It is our duty to actively pursue after sanctification. How actively? With fear and trembling! These terms indicate believer’s attitude towards sanctification. It’s not a some kind of relaxed or cavalier attitude, but it indicates an attitude of real concern and real diligence. A Christian should take this as a serious business. While Christians are actively engaged in their own sanctification, ultimately it rests on God Himself. God is the one who gives the believer the will and the ability to do so for His pleasure. (Phil 2:13). God chose, God justified, God sanctified and God glorified His people.
God’s calling for our lives
Throughout the scripture, God calls us to be Holy. It is the Holiness of God that demands the holiness of His people. Long time ago God said through the prophet Moses (in Lev 11:44), “Be Holy, for I AM Holy” and V45 “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” So, it is incumbent upon every true believer to be pursuing holiness and those who are not pursuing holiness are not true believers in the Lord. They may have a profession of Faith but they do not have the possession of Faith. Holiness is the mark of a true believer. God commands the believers to be holy. This is not reserved only in Old Testament. Peter writing to the believers in his 1st epistle says, “He who called you is holy, you also be holy” (1 Peter 1:15). So, the personal holiness is the one overriding desire of God for His people.
One of the greatest tragedies for children in our age is the attitude that there is no such thing as truth, or that it doesn’t matter, then one of the greatest blessings we can give to children is the passionate conviction that there is such a thing as truth and that it matters at every point in life and eternally. – John Piper
What is the truth?
The answer comes from the pen of Psalmist, “The sum of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Psalm 119:160). Regarding the believer’s sanctification, one profound prayer we find is in John Ch.17, where Jesus is pouring out His heart desires to His Father. It was the night of our Lord’s arrest. The next day He will hang upon a Roman Cross condemned as a common criminal. The Lord prays for the personal sanctification of all those who are true believers. He looks to the heaven and makes this High Priestly prayer, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
There are number of things that we can learn from this one verse relating to our personal sanctification.
(1) The Prayer
Jesus said ‘Sanctify’ them. We need to find what this word ‘Sanctify’ means. It is a Greek word ‘Hagiason’ from which the Holy, holiness, sanctification, saints – all those words comes from the same root word. And, that root word in the ancient language is to ‘cut in order to be a separation’. It means to set apart. Separate from profane things. Here, Jesus prays to the Father. Now remember, Jesus’ prayers are always answered. How do we know that? He said in John 11:42, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me.” Jesus never offered a prayer that was not answered by Father. Here Jesus pray for the sanctification of His people, holiness of His people. This is a prayer that God answers by the ministry of the Holy Spirit who is working in the life of the believer.
There are three distinct aspects of the sanctification.
- Positional sanctification.
This happened in the past, the moment when you were regenerated by the Spirit of God. It is never repeated. It is one time act of God to sanctify you, set you apart out of this evil world system and set you in to the kingdom of God.
- 1 Cor 1:30 – “by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.” The very moment you are declared righteous, the very moment of your justification, you are sanctified immediately.
- 1 Cor 6:11 – “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified (past tense), but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
- Hebrew 10:10 – “By this (Christ Sacrifice) will we have been sanctified (happened in the past) through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
- Progressive Sanctification.
This is in the present. This is our life long pursuit of holiness, by which we are becoming increasingly holier. 1 Thess 4:3 makes it clear, “This is the will of God, your sanctification”. So, there must be an on-going growth in personal holiness. Everyone who is positionally sanctified at the Justification will be progressively pursuing holiness. There are no exceptions to this. There is no one who is positionally sanctified who will not be progressively being sanctified by the Spirit of God.
- Perfected Sanctification.
That is future. And, that is our final glorification. One day we will be blameless before the Lord. 1 Thes 3:13 – “He (Jesus) may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father”. 1 Thes 5:23 – “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” So, ultimately all believers in Christ will be sanctified perfectly when we are presented before the Holy God.
So, when Jesus prays ‘sanctify them’, He is not referring to positional sanctification. That is already occurred in their lives; they have been taken out of the world system and placed in to the kingdom of Christ. And, He is not referring to the perfected sanctification either. He is referring to the progressive sanctification. This is what Christ is praying for our lives. This is one reason why a true believer will never become an unbeliever. God assured the progressive sanctification of the true believer through the working of the Holy Spirit.
The personal holiness is a serious matter in our relation with God. In 2 Tim 1:9, Paul says, “God saved us and called us with a holy calling”. The effectual sovereign call of God is a call to a holy walk. God saved me for this very purpose, ‘to be holy in our walk’. And, the writer of the Hebrew says, in Ch. 12 v12 -“Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” We are not just chosen for heaven, we are chosen for holiness. This is necessary in the life of everyone who is heaven-bound. There are no un-sanctified believers. God is more concerned about who we are than what we do, God is more concerned about our holiness than our ministry work in the church.
(2) The People
Who is them? For whom is Jesus praying this prayer? If you look at context, in v9 Jesus said I am not praying for the world. Jesus is not interceding for the unbelievers, He is not praying for non-elect. This is a family prayer. This is a prayer that Jesus making on behalf of those whom the Father has given to Him. The text is clear who this ‘them’ is.
- V2, V6 and V9 – It is those who are given by the Father to the Son in sovereign election.
- V2 and V3 – Those who are given the eternal life.
- V6 and V9 – Those who belong to the Father.
- V6 – Those who keep God’s Word. Obedience to the Word is a mark of a true believer.
- V8 – Those who received the Word of Christ with understanding. Only a Spirit-born person understands the things of God.
- V10 – Those who glorify the Son.
- V11, V12 and V15 – Those who are kept and preserve in grace by the Father and by the Son.
- V14 – Those who are hated by the world.
- V16 – Those who are not of the world.
(3) The Parameters
The Sanctification -the progressive holiness, has negative and positive components. First, there is negative separation from the evil world system; there is a separation from the participation in the lust of the flesh. We are not talking about the perfection of life but the direction of life. We are being set apart from the defilement and the pollution -it’s a lifelong process. That includes our affection, our will and our mind -the whole person. At the same time, there is a positive side to the sanctification. I am being set apart unto the things of God. I am growing deeper in Christ. I am more involved in the things that have eternal value. If you all have is just the separation from the negative, then you are a legalist. Your Christian life is defined by what you don’t do. The true sanctification necessitates negative denial and positive assertion. Eph 4: 22-24 – “in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” So, the Christian life is an on-going exercise of putting off and putting on. (E.g. Ephesians 4:17-32; Ephesians 5:1-21; Colossians 3:1-17; Gal 5:19-23; Psalm 1:1-3; 1 Peter 1:13-14; 1 Peter 2:1-3; 2 Peter 1:1-9; 1 Corinthians 6:18-20).
(4) The Primary Instrument
How do I realize this holiness in my life? The primary instrument of sanctification used in the hand of God is the word of truth. God determines and defines all truth. When God speaks, that is truth. God’s word is the ultimate truth because God is the ultimate reality. The summation of the truth is the Bible and it is the faithful representation of the reality. The Bible is the infallible Word of God, inspired by God, and without error in the original manuscripts. It is the supreme and final authority in testing all claims about what is true and what is right. In matters not addressed by the Bible, what is true and right is assessed by criteria consistent with the teachings of Scripture.
- Jesus endorses the Old and New Testaments as the divine truth and the authority of the Church (Matt. 5:17–18, Ephesians 2:20)
- Unless one is born again he cannot understand the truth of God, it all sounds foolish to them (1 Corinthians 2:14)
- God grants Spiritual sight through Gospel light to those who believe (2 Corinthians 4:3–6)
- Scripture demands that we take a stand for the truth (Isaiah 58:1; Ezekiel 2:1; Ephesians 6:13; James 4:17; 2 Timothy 3:1; Galatians 5:1)
The Twin Heresies
Finally, it is important to make a note of two doctrinal errors into which professing Christians may fall. Those two errors are legalism and antinomianism. There are very few churches that haven’t been severely afflicted by these distortions. Legalism is, by definition, adding anything to the finished work of Christ. Legalists see the law as so important to the sanctification and they add rules and regulations above and beyond what God has prescribed in His Word. I.e. Christians cannot go to movies, Christians cannot go to parties, Christians cannot drink wine, Christians cannot dance, etc. They add man-made rules to put Christians in chains in the areas where God has left men free.
Antinomianism is the tendency to under-emphasize the place of precepts, commandments, and ordinances in one’s Christian journey of faith. It views, as a Christian the law of God has no bearing on the believer’s life; He is free from the law altogether because he is under the grace now. Antinomianism fails to understand and appreciate the place of the law of God in the Christian life.
The true Christian, though he understands that he is no longer under the bondage of the law, and he is not under the penalty of the law, he still loves the law of God and meditates day and night, because in the law of God he discovers what is pleasing to God. So, rather than fleeing from the law the true believer becomes a serious student of the law in the diligent pursuit of his sanctification.
In the death of Christ, the power of sin was broken so that we would no longer seek to establish our own righteousness or continue to live in lawlessness. The more we become aware of the Word of truth, the more we grow in our love of the Gospel and the One who died to deliver us from those errors. We will pursue sanctification out of faith and love for Christ.
Dr. R.C. Sproul, Dr. Steven J. Lawson, Dr. John Piper