Why do I continue to do what I know I shouldn’t? Why don’t I do what I know I should? Does there ever come a point when what I do or haven’t done undoes my salvation?
A better question would be, “Is there a point when what I’ve done or left undone undo what Christ has done?”
The doctrine of sanctification is not only a statement that God expects us to live holy lives, but it also confirms that as of today, you are not glorified. If you are alive, if you are on the grassy side of the grave, the work God began in you is yet unfinished. That both gives us hope and explains why we still fall short.
Sanctification is the life-long process of becoming worthy of your calling. You are not as Christ-like today as you will be at the end of your life, or even tomorrow.
Of sanctification, the Confession begins, “They who are united to Christ, effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, are also farther sanctified, really and personally, through the same virtue, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts of it are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of all true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”
We must affirm that regeneration precedes sanctification. If you are being sanctified, if you are hating your sin and loving the Lord more over time, then your being sanctified is evidence of your regeneration, or your second birth, your being “united to Christ”. We do not only sanctify ourselves, but it is the Word and Spirit in us.
In Acts 20, Paul is saying his tearful goodbyes to the elders/pastors in the church at Ephesus. As he’s leaving, he tells them, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (v.32). Christ saved us, full stop; the mechanism God used to save us was by us hearing and believing the word. From that moment on, the word is God’s mechanism of sanctification. We must stay in the word with regularity if we are to be sanctified. In his high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
That means we are in the word in different ways. We hear the word preached and expounded during Lord’s Day worship. That’s when the church is gathered to see how a particular passage or topic points the sinner to Christ. We also gather for group Bible study, to be lectured by a teacher and participate in discussion. We mediate on a Psalm or a Proverb or any part of Scripture to do the hard work of thinking and applying it. There’s also something to be said about the daily reading of the word, even if on a particular Tuesday morning we didn’t feel like our lives changed because of it. We are still coming in contact with the revealed word of God. It’s like a rain gauge; it may not seem like it holds much, but it only gets filled with regular rain.
Through regular contact and interaction with Scripture, sin loses its power. Sometimes, God does the miraculous and simply destroys a temptation, and you never face it again. Personally, I don’t know a single person to whom that has happened. Why else would the only prayer that Jesus told us to pray verbatim and regularly (or what’s the point of praying for “daily” bread?) teach us to pray to be delivered from evil? Take heart. Most of the time, killing sin is like weight loss. You only notice a difference after a long fight. The fight is good; it means you have recognized the enemy.
And since it is God’s word that does the work, we can say that it is God who sanctifies us. We must avoid evil, but we must also seek the holiness that God provides. Paul says, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-34). Paul does not expect the Thessalonian Christians to do the hard work themselves. They couldn’t save themselves; how can they be expected to become perfect themselves?
But this passage also confirms the purpose of sanctification. Without perfect holiness, we will not see the Lord. That’s why we need Christ’s perfect holiness. At his return, we will be found blameless. “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
So does this mean that we will be perfect before we die? Check back next week to see what the Confession has to say about that.