As a Christian, there is a desire within us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We want to grow in holiness. We desire to become more like Christ. We desire to be more and more separated from sin.There is no shortcut to growing in holiness. None of us is going to be the finished article on this earth.
We’d love to see the fruit of the Spirit evident in our lives—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. My hope is in our time together today to direct us towards a biblical view of the way God works, and we work in our sanctification.
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When Grace Comes Home: How the Doctrines of Grace Change Your Life by Terry L. Johnson
How Does Sanctification Work? by David Powlison
The Christian faith is one of community, so we don’t just desire to learn about sanctification in regards to our own lives, be we desire to see each other grow in the Lord because of our genuine love for one another. God designed us to be in community with other believers, and they are a huge part of our sanctification.
David Powlison states from his book, How Does Sanctification Work?:
“Scripture portrays the transformation in our lives in a range of colors and shades. There are reds, yellows, and blues—with 16.8 million shades in between. So any monochromatic view of sanctification is like saying, “You are changed by the color red.”
There isn’t a single key to unlock sanctification. We need first to be regenerated. We need God’s Word, we need other people, and we need to see truth being worked out in our lives through all kinds of various life experiences. Progressive sanctification very much involves our activity. But it is an activity that must be carried out in dependence on the Holy Spirit. It is not a partnership with the Spirit in the sense that we each – the believer and the Holy Spirit – do our respective tasks. Rather, we work as He enables us to work. His work lies behind all our work and makes our work possible… He is not dependent on us to do His work. But we are dependent on Him to do our work; we cannot do anything apart from Him.
~ Jerry Bridges
To fully understand sanctification, we need to have an essential understanding of justification. Ephesians 2:1 tells us we were dead in our sins and trespasses. At the moment of salvation, God brought us from death to life; we were granted the gift of faith and stand justified before Him.
The Westminster Catechism defines Justification:
Q. 70. What is Justification?
A. Justification is the act of God’s free grace to sinners,1 by which he pardons all their sins and accepts and looks on them as if they were righteous,2 not because of anything worked in them or done by them3 but because God imputes to them the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ4 that can only be appropriated by faith.5
1. Rom 3.22, 24-25, 4.5.
2. 2 Cor 5.19,21, Rom 3.22, 24-25,27-28.
3. Ti 3.5,7, Eph 1.6-7, Rom 3.28.
4. Rom 5.17-19, 4.6-8, 3.24-25.
5. Acts 10.43, Gal 2.16, Phil 3.9, Rom 3.25-26, 5.1.
One helpful illustration is a court of law. We deserve to die for our sins (Romans 6:23), but Jesus has taken that penalty in our place. God, the divine judge, now looks at us and declares us not guilty, but he doesn’t stop there. He goes beyond what a secular judge would or could ever do—He declares us righteous because of Christ.
We have a new legal standing. We are righteous in Christ. Because of Christ’s work on our behalf, our sins will never condemn us. We are adopted into God’s family at the moment of salvation. We become His children (John 1:12).
“Justification is a matter of being declared righteous, as in a law court. Sanctification is a matter of experiencing righteousness in one’s character and conduct, of actually becoming righteous. Daily and progressively, we die to sin and become more righteous.
~ Terry L. Johnson, When Grace Comes Home
When God saved us, He justified us, but He wasn’t finished with us yet. God is going to grow us in holiness, and this is where the doctrine of sanctification comes in.
Difference Between Justification and Sanctification:
Justification is described as an act of God’s free grace, and sanctification is a work of God’s grace. God does not continually justify us. An act—is one-time divine intervention. On the other hand, a work—is an ongoing activity of God, and He is continually at work within us to sanctify us.
There is a sense in which God did sanctify us the moment we became a Christian, and this theological term is referred to as definitive sanctification (1 Corinthians 6:11). God no longer sees our imperfections. He sees the righteousness of His own Son instead (Ephesians 2:13; Hebrews 8:12). Because we are in Christ, God sees Christ’s righteousness covering us.
The reality is we still sin. We will continue to put off our old sinful habits and patterns and embrace new ones. We will not be free from sin until our death (1 John 1:8-10; Matthew 6:12). We will never be completely sanctified in this life, but it shouldn’t make us complacent about our sin.
Q. 75. What is Sanctification?
A. Sanctification is a work of God’s grace for those whom God has chosen to be holy before the beginning of the world and to whom in time the powerful operation of the Spirit1 applies the death and resurrection of Christ.2 They are thus renewed in their whole persons after the image of God,3 have the seeds of repentance unto life and all the other saving graces put into their hearts,4 and these graces are so aroused, increased, and strengthened5 that they more and more die to sin and rise into newness of life.6
1. Eph 1.4, 1 Cor 6.11, 2 Thes 2.13.
2. Rom 6.4-6.
3. Eph 4.23-24.
4. Acts 11.18, 1 Jn 3.9, Rom 6.4-6, Eph 4.23-24, Phil 3.10.
5. Jude 20, Heb 6.11-12, Eph 3.16-19, Col 1.10-11.
6. Rom 6.4,6,14, Gal 5.24.
Sanctification began the moment the Lord regenerated us. It is God working in us, and He calls us in Philippians 2:12-13 to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. The apostle Paul in the letter to the Philippians is telling them to continue to obey, and he is calling all believers to obey. Obedience is an essential part of our lives as Christians.
The gospel is good news, and we love all it has to offer, but we need to remember that being in Christ, God now calls us to live in a particular way (2 Corinthians 10:5, Luke 13:24, 2 Peter 1:10, 1 Peter 1:16).
How does God sanctify us? As it states in Phl 2:12-13 and Hebrews 13:21, God causes us to want His will, and He equips us and gives us the power to do it. Jesus earned our sanctification, and he serves as our example, but it is the Holy Spirit at work in us that changes and sanctifies us and grows us in holiness.
What is Our Role in Sanctification?
We do have a passive role, and it is to trust and, as it says in Romans 12:1 to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.
We do have an active role in our sanctification. Just as Romans 8:13 tells us we are dependent on the Spirit, it also tells us we are able by the Spirit at work in us to put to death the deeds of the body.
There is no shortcut to growing in holiness. None of us is going to be the finished article on this earth. If we’re in Christ, we are all being renovated towards Christlikeness, but we are all in different stages and seasons in our walk with the Lord.
We can desire to change others into our likeness, but our life isn’t the standard—God is the standard.We can desire to change others into our likeness, but our life isn't the standard—God is the standard.
Change comes about as God works in our lives. He is the sovereign ignitor of our sanctification.
The Bible is sufficient for our sanctification. We need to read it, study it, pray it, hear it preached and apply it (John 17:17).
Friends and companions in our walk with the Lord spur us on to love and good deeds. They bring us back when we stray from the path, encourage us, reveal sinful tendencies in our hearts, and show us love and mercy. God uses interaction with other sinful people like us in sanctifying us.
Our suffering and trials change us. Difficulties in life make us call out to the Lord and depend on Him. Martin Luther said, affliction, trial, difficulty, struggle—the touchstone of Christian experience. He said these hardships were his greatest teacher because they made scripture and prayer come alive.
We must choose to change. God is sovereign, and man is responsible. God is 100 percent responsible, and we are 100 percent responsible. In the end, all glory goes to God for His work.
“Whenever a person makes a turn for the better, sanctification is happening.”
We are always going to be dissatisfied with some part of our sanctification. This is why we need to be brought back to the gospel. We need to get good at preaching the gospel to ourselves. Remember truths that you are righteous in Him. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
Remember how we’ve heard that justification can at times be referred to as “just as if I’d never sinned” well a better way of saying that is “just as if I’d always obeyed.
As we grow more into the likeness of Christ and as we walk in trust and obedience to God’s ways, the more we will begin to grasp the goal of sanctification. It’s not just to better our lives or be happier people. It’s to bring glory and honor to God in all things.
My prayer for us all is we become more and more like Jesus.