Saturday, November 26, 2005

Christ our Sanctifier

He tried and he tried hard, but despite his determination and effort, despite his good intentions, he just could not do it. He was not trying to break a world record, nor demonstrate some marvelous feat of ingenuity or intelligence. He was just trying to be, well, morally perfect. Benjamin Franklin, the great American inventor, philosopher and statesman had been reading from a sundry of works that directed his thinking concerning virtue. Franklin collected from these works a list of virtues that, he felt, could help him become morally perfect, provided he mastered them: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquillity, chastity and humility. His plan involved a 24-hour, 7 day system with his “intentions being to acquire the habitude [sic] of all these virtues”.

There are many presuppositions concerning the meaning of a Christian life and the presuppositions reflect this same kind of attitude. Some feel that being Christian depends on following the 10 Commandments and imitating Christ. Franklin submitted that he must emulate Jesus and Socrates. With this attitude, the Christian life becomes whatever follows by association, as “we will all go to heaven anyway”. Others have a more “deistic” approach: God is close enough to change the sinner into a new creation upon repentance, but the Christian life is up to the individual to live as if God is suddenly inaccessible—again, ”we will all go to heaven anyway”.

Misunderstandings as these reduce the Christian life to mean the acquisition of moral perfection. The scientific mind of Franklin conditioned him to leave a record of his efforts. In his essay on “Moral Perfection”, he follows the scientific method: he proposed what he wanted to accomplish, created a plan, experimented, then evaluated the outcome. He wrote:

“I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I know, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined. . . . on the whole, tho’ [sic] I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.”

What is one to do when Jesus says, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48) and, “You shall be Holy, for I am Holy” (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pe. 1:16)? What kind of plan should be implemented by the Christian when he is told to “walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16)?

To see the words and affirm their truth is one thing, but how is this made practical? Benjamin Franklin was right in wanting to be different, to separate himself from the world and be a better person; however, he was wrong in that he wanted to deal with his personal imperfections by submitting to . . . himself.

First, one must be clear about what God desires of the Christian: be sanctified, which is much more than ”be morally perfect”. Second, one must be comforted to know that he is not going to find sanctification alone. Consider Paul’s words, “But by His doing [emphasis mine] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

The distinguishing mark of the deeper Christian life is sanctification by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. To best understand what all this means, one must first examine what the Bible teaches about sanctification, then establish the best definition. Second, one must carefully consider what Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension mean in regards to the Christian as well as the ministry of the Holy Spirit in relation to sanctification. Following this, the crises and progression of sanctification will be defined then I will conclude with my personal experience with Christ as my Sanctifier.

Sanctification is not so mundane that it is the “common business” of the religious. In the 1600’s Brother Lawrence wrote how “it was lamentable to see how many people mistook the means for the end, addicting themselves to certain works, which they performed very imperfectly, by reason of their human or selfish regards."

Thomas A'Kempis puts man in his place reflecting a similar thought saying (as if Jesus were speaking), "You have need of Me. I do not need you. You do not come to sanctify Me but I come to sanctify you and make you better. You come to be sanctified and united with Me, to receive new grace and to be aroused anew to amend. Do not neglect this grace, but prepare your heart with all care, and bring into it your Beloved."

The term “sanctify” originates in the Hebrew word kedesh, meaning “separation, apartness, sacredness”. This is the same root from which we derive the word “holy” and is used of God’s majesty (Exodus 15:11); His name (Leviticus 20:3); even His Spirit (Isaiah 63:10). It is also used in reference to places, such as His habitation (Psalm 68:5); earth (Exodus 3:5); the tabernacle and its courts (Exodus 40:9); the temple and grounds (2 Chronicles 29:7). The Greek root word, agios (agios), includes in its range of meaning: “dedicated to God”, “holy”, “sacred”; “perfect”; “of pure substance.”

The New Testament includes references to things dedicated to God, such as Jerusalem (Matthew 4:5), conduct (2 Peter 3:5); things used as a pure substance (Matthew 7:6). The word is also used to refer to God (1 John 2:20), Christ (Revelation 3:7) and “holy ones”, specifically angels (1 Thessalonians 3:13) and people consecrated to God, the “saints” (Acts 9:13).
With this basic understanding of how the concept is used in scripture, one definition of sanctification may be offered as, “the act of God setting apart someone or something to holy use. It may be positional, referring to the Christian’s position in Christ; experiential, resulting from the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian; or ultimate, speaking of the complete perfection of the believer in heaven.”

Henry Theissen defines sanctification as “a separation to God, an imputation of Christ as our holiness, purification from moral evil, and conformation to the image of Christ.” Dr. Donald Williams, in his book The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, provides a consensus of definitions by explaining how: “Most people think of sanctification as moral purity or victory over sin and the flesh. Such definitions are really the connotation of the word, but they are legitimately derived from its denotation which is simply “separation.” To be “separate” from the world in this sense is not simply to be aloof from it, must [sic] less isolated from it: it rather involves being set apart from the world unto God for His service in the world . . . a moving away from all that is evil and out of harmony with the character and will of God who has redeemed us.”

E.Y. Mullins teaches that Christ “gradually produces in us the moral traits of God” but also emphasizes that “sanctification is the gradual unfolding of the life imparted in regeneration into its own inherent possibilities of moral and spiritual beauty.” That is to say that sanctification does not follow regeneration, but is synonymous with regeneration. A.B. Simpson disagrees with the Baptist Mullins at the beginning of his teaching on “Christ our Sanctifier”:

“Sanctification is not regeneration. It is not conversion . . . . To be saved eternally is cause for eternal joy; but the soul must also enter into sanctification. They are not the same. Regeneration is the beginning. It is the germ of the seed, but it is not the summer fullness of the plant. The heart has not yet gained entire victory over the old elements of sin. It is sometimes overcome by them. Regeneration is like building a house and having the work done well. Sanctification is having the owner come and dwell in the house and fill it with gladness and life and beauty. Many Christians are converted and stop there. They do not go on to the fullness of their life in Christ, and so are in danger of losing what they already possess.”

This is simply stated by a preacher who was heard to say, “It is easy to start the Christian life. The hardest part is ending well.” Simpson would also disagree with Mullins as he indicates that sanctification is not morality or self-perfection (hence our point made above). In a summary of the points, Simpson teaches that sanctification is “separation from sin,” “dedication to God,” “conformity to the likeness of God,” “conformity to the will . . . of God,” and “supreme love to God and all mankind.”

The best and most concise understanding of sanctification is that it “is not merely a doctrine, philosophy or life-style. It is the manifestation of the righteousness of God as found in the spotless, sinless life of Jesus Christ . . . sanctification means to be set apart from sin and set apart to God.” This is the very heart of sanctification, what it is, what it means, how and what it is to accomplish. Sanctification is more than being set apart to serving God alone as one cannot determine exactly what the creator needs from His creation in terms of service. Sanctification is being set apart from sin to God that the life of Jesus is lived through those sanctified. It is the will of God that the experience of sanctification be an essential part of the Christian life (1 Thess. 5:23). This is so that God’s predestined purpose be fulfilled in our lives, namely, that we become conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

Limiting the present discussion to the book of Romans, the discussion concerning identification of the believer with the death of Christ may be started. First, we learn that it was because of sin Christ died and man could do nothing about his condition (3:25; 4:25; 5:8). Second, His death accomplished reconciliation with God as the believer is united with Christ in His death ( 5:10; 6:3,5). This done, slavery to to sin is obliterated and we are set free having died to sin as we believed (6:6-10). Finally, the believer must now live in a tension of the “already/not yet” as he must consider himself dead to sin though alive and must not allow sin to reign (6:11-14; 7:4). The resurrection of Christ brings justification to the believer (4:25) who was saved by His life (5:10) and is now able to walk in newness of life being united with Him in resurrection (6:4,5). Because of the resurrection of Christ we are “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:9-11). We are joined “to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God” (7:4) living under the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (8:2). The work of Christ in the life of the believer does not end with His death or resurrection. His work continues due to His ascension and consummates what His death and resurrection have accomplished.

This is understood from other passages in the New Testament: Jesus is revealed to be the Lord of Glory to which every knee shall bow (Phil. 2:10-11); He is the head of the church, His body, the fullness of Him (Eph. 1:22-23). Jesus Himself taught that He must go that the Holy Spirit may come (John 14).

The ministry of the Holy Spirit in sanctification is modeled for us in the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Luke shows us that Jesus, as a man, was fully dependent on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. He is our perfect example of a life submitted to the Holy Spirit. The Christian’s walk with God is not a way of life in and of itself and the sanctified life is another. They are closely intertwined, the one leading to the other. Jesus shows us this as He was fully dependent on the Holy Spirit, walking with God and submitting His words and works to the will of God through the Holy Spirit.

A distinct contrast is made here in that if one is determined to emulate Christ, one should do so through submission to the Holy Spirit, not the words, attitudes, ideals or works of Jesus alone. Jesus made it clear that greater works will be done, but the Spirit of God is the source of the effective life and ministry. To reiterate, one must understand that to imitate Jesus and be sanctified by Him is not for the purpose of power, status or recognition, but is to be done out of obedience to God.

It is evident that Jesus Christ is our Sanctifier (1 Cor. 1:30). His work is accomplished through the finished work of the cross in His death, through His resurrection and by His ascension. The holiness God asks us to attain (1 Pe. 1:16) is not of our own origin nor is our growth (Heb. 6:1). These things are the result of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, who is to be under the complete control of the Holy Spirit. We are not obliged to live in the sinful nature from which we have been delivered (Ro. 8:12), as those who live in life, not in death (Ro. 6:13).

The crises aspect of sanctification resides in the fact that we are saved from sin and death and are made new creations in Christ; however, we yet continue to live in this flesh, in this world. The Christian who submits to the Holy Spirit lives in tension, between flesh and the Spirit. Since it is the Spirit’s task to convict of sin, the Christian is reminded that the life he now lives in Christ is not complete and is to be made sanctified. One is set apart to God at salvation, but must continue to be sanctified through the course of his life. The struggle is explained by Paul, where he describes the persistent problem of inability to do what is right before God (Ro. 7:14-21). The sin nature cannot be defeated be personal effort, resolution or determination. When the Christian consciously decided to allow the Spirit to fill and control his life, then the Spirit takes over. As the Spirit bears fruit, it becomes evident that His work is being accomplished.

The progression of sanctification depends on the daily submission of the believer. One is not completely delivered from the influences of the sinful nature until he has died or is face to face with Christ at His coming. Submission to the Holy Spirit is constant throughout the course of life. Paul teaches that we should “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Eph, 5:18); that is, keep on constantly being filled with the Spirit of God. With the continuing presence of the Spirit, His Holy nature always exposes sin that remains and the steps necessary to deal with it. While we are encouraged to become like Christ, we become godly, not god-like or a god. This is not spiritual evolution where the Christian becomes equal to God our Father. We are His children and are to grow as children (1 Pe. 2:2). Spiritual growth is evident by the manifestation of spiritual fruit, which is in distinct contrast to the fruit of the flesh. Growth can be measured on a spiritual growth chart, as given in 2 Peter 1:5-8. As we become more like Him, we glorify Him in our lives, allowing Him to live in us and through us, fulfilling His will. He is glorified in His work by death, resurrection and ascension and His abiding presence.

(Copyright James K. Wilson, Jr. March, 2000. Footnotes have been removed to protect copyright.)

I am weakness, full of weakness
At Thy sacred feet I bow:
Blest, divine, eternal Spirit,
Fill with power, and fill me now!

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