Today’s devotional reading tells of three errors concerning the doctrine of sanctification. Boring? Not at all when I explored the meaning of this term and studied the biblical definition.
One of my dictionaries says that sanctification means “the state of proper functioning” or to set a person or thing apart for the use intended by its designer. If I made a pen, I’ve set it apart to write. In the theological sense, God designed me for His purposes, and He set me apart to live accordingly.
Another dictionary links sanctification to active trust and obedience, citing 2 Corinthians 7:1 which tells me to perfect holiness out of reverence for God, and be diligent to be what He has called me to be. (See 2 Peter 1:10)
However, neither the devotional or the dictionaries bring out an even more amazing truth. While no one can set themselves apart for God and no one can keep themselves in that place apart from the presence and work of Jesus Christ, yet because Christ lives in me, I am already sanctified . . .
“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1 Corinthians 1:28–31, italics mine)
God has already set me apart, declared me holy. The issue is learning how to act like it, to behave according to what I already am! This is something like enlisting in the armed forces. When a person ‘signs up’ they become a soldier, but it takes months of training before they act like it. In the case of Christians, we are set apart by God right from the start, then spend the rest of our lives learning how to behave as a sanctified person.
This is God’s grace, yet is often a struggle. Paul describes the struggle and the grace . . .
“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:14–25)
Those three errors in the devotional include mixing works and grace in a human effort to become sanctified, becoming sinless by a ‘second work of grace’ which is totally contrary to Scripture (see 1 John 1:8), and trying to separate oneself from sin using rules. All three errors happen to those who do not realize or accept that in Christ Jesus, Christians are already sanctified. Again, we just need to learn how to act like what we already are.
Perhaps this doctrine is too outrageous. Perhaps it is dismissed because we tend to evaluate ourselves by our performance rather than by what God says. Perhaps we humans want to contribute to our holiness so add works and rules to what is needed for spiritual growth. Whatever the reasons, none of those errors bring us closer to what God intends. He wants me to trust and obey Him — and He supplies everything I need to do that. A walk of faith with obedience does not make me more ‘set apart’ for God; it simply declares that I already am!
Jesus, just as Your kingdom is already here but not yet, so also is my sanctification. You are it! You live in me and You are my perfect holiness right now. In You, I am all that the Father intended. The process of shedding the stuff that is not like You is a challenge, often painful, and yet You are the One who bursts forth in my life. I can no more make it happen than a caterpillar can will itself into a butterfly. All I can do is trust and obey, and You do the wonderful work. What a glory. What a future hope! Thank You!