by Frank Luke
FCF: Because we have a sin nature, only God can make us holy.
God commands, “Be Holy for I am Holy” in both the Old (Leviticus 11:44, 45) and New Testaments (1 Peter 1:13-16). He repeats it several times in Leviticus. If God says something once, we know to listen. If he repeats it, we know it is important. The question then becomes, what is holiness and how do we attain it?
Our first parents had one rule, and they broke it. “Don’t eat from this specific tree.” But it wasn’t just them. Every person after that has managed to break God’s laws. These sins separate us from God and require Him to restore the relationship. But sin has damaged us at that point. We’re even born with a sin nature because of their actions. Even beyond the original sin passed down from parent to child, we make choices to break God’s laws.
Coming back to God is a choice we make. God calls, we respond. God knows who will respond.
Some branches of Christians will say this, “I am saved, and I am being saved.” They are using the second saved in what we term sanctification, the process performed by God to cleanse us of all unrighteousness. It is how God makes us holy. We proved long ago that we can’t do it.
Sanctification is an act of separation from that which is evil, and of dedication unto God (Rom 12:1-2; 1 Thess 5:23; Heb 13:12). Scripture teaches of a life of “holiness, without which no one can see God” (Heb 12:14). By the power of the Holy Ghost, we are able to obey the command, “be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet 1:15-16).
Sanctification is realized in the believer by recognizing his identification with Christ in His death and resurrection, and by faith reckoning daily upon the fact of that union, and by offering every faculty continually to the dominion of the Holy Spirit (Rom 6:1-11,13; 8:1-2,13; Gal 2:20; Phil 2:12-13; 1 Pet 1:5).
Sanctification comes in three stages. When saved, God declares us righteous in His sight. This is sometimes called “legal sanctification.” After conversion, as we seek God and His will for us, we continually grow in grace, and God takes our bad habits. The final stage comes in Heaven. At that time, we are finally cleansed and purged of our sins.
In 1 Peter 1:13-16, we read, “Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled, set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
God does not save us to allow us to continue in sin! In fact, we are told that we cannot habitually sin and be saved. That is not to say we will never sin as I have heard some teach. We still sin. The difference is that now the conviction comes and we don’t want to make it a habit.
1) Initial Sanctification
Sanctification first comes to us when we are saved. At that moment in time, God declares us righteous. This begins our journey to true holiness. You might say that God has given us the property labeled holiness. It is now our job to go to that property.
Because of Christ’s work on the cross, God now sees us wrapped in our sins but instead He sees God’s Christ’s righteousness upon us. This is a great reversal. Christ, who knew no sin, took upon himself our sins so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor 5:21).
It is because of this change at conversion that the Holy Spirit, through Paul, can call the Galatians “holy ones” even though some of them were in very bad shape. Upon conversion, we are set free from the chains of sin to do God’s will. We are now headed in the right direction but not nearly at our destination.
2) Progressive Sanctification
What is declared and legal is not the same thing as what is actual. This part is a process. We move through the Spirit into greater and greater holiness. Having seen the cost of our sin upon Jesus, we want this to happen. Now God is good. As Jesus said, “Which of you, being evil, when his son asks for bread will give him a stone? How much more so will your Father in Heaven, who is good, give you good things when you ask for them?” When we ask God for cleansing, of course He will give it!
The old is taken from us and purged as we live. For us, it will take a lifetime until that true holiness is achieved. The Apostles did not consider themselves to have arrived even after walking with Jesus for years and learning to minister from Him. We certainly will not.
The question is not have you arrived at sinless perfection; the question is are you trying to become better? Paul says that he had an intense longing to be more pleasing to God every day (Phil 3:13-14). He knew he had not laid ahold of perfection.
Like babes, we start with milk and move onto the solid food of God’s Word. We grow through becoming more and more conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 12:1-2). By reading the Word and by daily prayer we grow nearer to Jesus.
During this growth, the Holy Spirit ministers to us. At this time, we are of a divided mind. Before conversion, we didn’t have a sin problem. If we wanted to sin, it was no problem. However, now we are in God and if we want to sin, it is a problem. At this point, we are of a divided mind. We know to do good but still want to do evil because in our own strength we cannot.
We can only overcome this by the Holy Spirit, “putting to death the misdeeds of the body (Rom 8:13).” By Him who loves us “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Galatians 5 reminds us that if we “live by the Spirit” we won’t “gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.”
We tend to think of this as a fight between our higher nature and our lower nature. That’s not the case, we are the battleground between our sinful nature and indwelling Spirit of God.
Some teach that in this life, the sin nature is completely cut out, root and branch. I wish this were so! But we root it out only as much as we follow the Spirit of God. Only by an act of faith can we continue to find victory over sin (1 Cor 10:13).
Colossians 3:7-14 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him– 11 a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. 12 ¶ So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
We do not come to a place in this life where it becomes impossible to sin. Mores the pity. It is only in the Lord that we gain victory. We have to give the Holy Spirit room to work.
We fail. We stumble. We sin. But the Holy Spirit does not cast us out. Jesus promised to send us an Advocate, and when we stumble, our Advocate defends our case. “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, he have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7). We have to confess our sins. Then we are cleansed.
A final warning here is that if we continue in sin we can leave aside our salvation. How can we, who have tasted the joy of salvation want to return to the mire of sin.
3) Final Sanctification
At conversion, we are declared sanctified in Christ. Throughout our lives, we grow in Christ and by the Spirit become more holy. When will this end? When will we find that holiness we long for?
When we die, those who have kept a relationship with Christ will be in a state where failure cannot happen. CS Lewis puts it this way, “You cannot want anything wrong anymore.” We will be holy!
“We will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Cor 15:51-52). To get to that glory, the present sufferings we go through are as nothing.
Where are you in your sanctification? You aren’t dead, so you aren’t fully sanctified yet. If you’re saved, you’ve started the journey. Now let’s take more steps together. You don’t want to stop at just being declared sanctified. You want to keep going. How many of you want just the down payment when you sell a car to your neighbor? Why do you think God wants just the down payment from you?
This is God’s work in you. You have to want it, but it won’t happen without God’s work first. The fact that you want it is God already working in you. That tug at the heart every time you start to sin. That’s the Spirit working to make you better.
Grow in holiness by daily prayer and Bible reading. A relationship cannot happen without the two people spending time together.
Please visit Frank Luke’s blog where this article is also posted.
Featured Image: Baptism of the Lord Jesus by Gloria Ssali