|By: Nancy Missler; ©2000|
|What is sanctification, and how does God work in us to achieve it? How is Peter a good example of the process of sanctification?|
God’s Will in the Life of a Believer: Sanctification
(Purification of the body, soul and spirit)
God’s sovereign will is the redemption of all things; His revealed will is His Word; His will for mankind is salvation and union with God; and finally, His will for the believer is sanctification—the purification of our body, soul and spirit—so that Christ can be formed in us and we can experience His fulness. This fourth aspect of God’s will is the one Christians understand the least.
- “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
The purpose of salvation is so that we might be reconciled to God and be delivered from sin. God wants us freed from sin so that we might fellowship and commune with Him. Incredible as it may seem, God seeks our fellowship and our communion. He wants to dwell among us.  We were created for that purpose. “Thou art worthy, 0 Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Revelation 4:11 emphasis added) Thus, God’s whole purpose in creating mankind was for loving fellowship.
“Therefore, leaving the [elementary] principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection [completion]; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God…” (Hebrews 6:1)
Sanctification is the process by which God brings this “perfection” and this “completion” about. Scripture tells us that when we first believe in Christ, we are sanctified “positionally.” In other words, it’s a fact that we are set apart and holy unto God. However, in order to “experience” this sanctification and all the benefits that go with it, we must allow God to conform us into His image, so that we can enjoy an intimate, love relationship.
The purpose of sanctification is twofold: outwardly to reflect Christ in all that we do (abundant Life), and inwardly to experience His presence (and His fulness). I mention “abundant Life” and “the fulness of Christ” often, so let me define what I mean. Abundant Life is simply experiencing God’s Life (His Love, Wisdom and Power) in and through us, in place of our own. Fulness of God is being totally filled up with Him (inside and out). As Colossians 3:11 expresses it, “Christ [has become) all and in all.”
Why the Sanctification Process?
God desires a love-relationship with us. He yearns for the kind of intimacy and experiential union we might enjoy with our spouse. He not only wants us to experience His Love, Wisdom and Power flowing through us (abundant Life), He also wants us to experience the joy of His continual presence, the beauty of His holiness and the security of His Love (the fulness of Christ).
The Lord desires to dwell among us and to personally communicate with us—Spirit to spirit. He desires to lead, guide and direct our footsteps. The whole purpose of the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament was so that He could dwell among His people. Matthew 12:6, however, tells us that “one greater than the temple” is now here, and He wants to
fellowship with us continually in the Holy Place of our hearts—through our spirit.
- “Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory…” (John 17:24)
God wants us to be able to “see” Him and “experience” Him, as Job did. However, in order for this to occur, purity and holiness must be the requirement. As Hebrews 12:14 says, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”
Our greatest failing is not realizing who God is and what His character is like. God is not human. He is God, and as such there is an infinite gap between the highest in us and the lowest in God. The gap between us is unbridgeable from our side. If the gap is to be bridged at all, it must be from God’s side—for He is holy. To be holy means to be set apart. God is set apart from the power, the practice and the presence of sin, and is set apart to absolute righteousness and goodness. There is no sin in God and He can have nothing to do with sin (other than to judge it).
Therefore, if we are ever to approach God, we must do it on His terms. Somehow, we must be sanctified and made holy—just as He is holy. Any holiness that falls short of God’s holiness will not be able to stand in the presence of God.
The Process of Becoming Holy
Sanctification is the procedure by which we become holy. It’s the means by which we are set apart, separated and consecrated from anything that is unholy. Sanctification is the process God has designed to conform us into Christ’s image, so that we can reflect Him in all that we do. In other words, in order to be conformed into Christ’s image, we must first be made clean, purified (or holy) body, soul and spirit.
Oswald Chambers once said, “Sanctification is the very holiness of Christ.”
Since God is the One who made us, He alone holds the key to our true happiness. And, although this may come as a shock to many twentieth-century Christians, the Scriptural essence of sanctification is to surrender all that we are to God and allow Him to reproduce Himself in us.
Our fulfillment, our meaning, our worth and our significance all rest on this transformation. Someone once said, “we have not only been chosen to prostrate ourselves and reverence God; we have been chosen to reflect Him in everything we do.” God wants us to live every moment of every day like an ambassador declaring His will.
Unfortunately, sanctification does not happen automatically. It all depends upon our own moment-by-moment choices. “Having, therefore, these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1 emphasis added) Faith choices—non-feeling choices where we say, “not my will, but Thine”—are the only choices that allow God’s will (the sanctification process) to be accomplished through us. (Matthew 26:39)
A Scriptural Example: Peter
The life of Peter is a perfect example of the process of sanctification. When Peter first encounters Jesus, he is a strong and fiery man given to passionate outbursts. Even though this fisherman starts off as little more than an arrogant blunderer, the Lord gradually transforms him into a hero of faith. Who but God could take Peter’s foot out of his mouth and fill him with an inspired message of salvation? (Acts 2) Who but God could take this fearful man and transform him into a disciple of undaunted courage? (Acts 2-3)
Peter could have run away in defiance every time he was rebuked by Jesus, but he chose to humble himself and remain a disciple. He could have isolated himself in fear and shame after his betrayal of Jesus, yet he chose to realign himself with the risen Lord. When persecution ignited in Jerusalem, Peter could have once more denied his faith, yet he chose to stand for Christ. After Paul publicly rebuked him for being a hypocrite in Galatians 2:11-14, Peter could have turned away in bitterness, but instead he chose to repent.
Over and over again, we see Peter cooperating with God’s process of sanctification by choosing to make “faith” choices or non-feeling choices to follow God’s will. We, too, if our life truly belongs to God, must be willing to choose to lay everything (the good, the bad, and the ugly) at His feet and abandon ourselves to His will being accomplished in our lives.
John 12:25 tells us that whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose (surrender) his life shall preserve it.
Once we recognize that “faith choices” are imperative and the only way we can remain open and pliable to God’s will in our lives, then the sanctification process can proceed. If, however, we make “emotional choices” (sight and feeling choices) to follow our own will and desires (and not God’s), then we not only shut God out of our lives, but we also thwart the sanctification process.
Because this process involves a complete surrender, moment by moment, of our wills and our lives, many Christians choose to disregard this aspect of God’s will. They think because they are “saved” that’s all that’s needed and, thus, they go about living their lives according to their “own” will. Other Christians verbally promise God to “forsake all else and follow Him,” but when He begins to take measures to implement their promise, they scream and yell and immediately retract it.
- “And they come unto Thee as the People cometh, and they sit before Thee as My people, and they hear My words, but they will not do them; for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.” (Ezekiel 33:31 emphasis added)
Our failure to respond to God’s call of sanctification, however, does not stop his loving ways of accomplishing His will in our lives. The Lord is relentless in His purpose of transformation, because He knows it’s the only way we will ever be fulfilled in this lifetime.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:7; 1 Timothy 2:15; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:2.
- Delivered from the “power of sin.” (Romans 6:1-2,11; 7:14,17-18)
- (Zechariah 2:10; Exodus 25:8; Isaiah 57:15; Joshua 3:10) This is why God went to all the trouble to build the temple in the Old Testament—so that He might “dwell among us.” (Exodus 25:22)
- John 10:10
- Ephesians 5:15-18; 6:6; Colossians 1:19; 2:9; 3:11,19
- Natural life is our own human emotions, human thoughts and human ability.
- Matthew 5:8
- 2 Chronicles 23:19
- 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 4:3, 7; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 7:1
- Abandoned to God, Oswald Chambers, page 75.
- Galatians 4:19
- Matthew 12:25
- Luke 14:33
- Colossians 2:6