An Introduction to Sanctification Edit

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and all that exists in them. Although he created hundreds of thousands of different plants, animals, fish and other creatures, it is only humans that God created “in his own image.” The Gospel of John bears witness to the fact that the Word, the Christ (before he became human) was present with God in the beginning, and that all that God had created was created through him. After the work of creating all that exists, God then created a place for the humans to live, a garden with food aplenty to provide for all of the needs of the crown of his creation. There they lived in conformity with God’s will and according to his law until the fall, where the man and woman ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Through the subsequent fall of humanity into sin, humanity’s image of God was corrupted to the point that only God could restore it, with the result that not just Adam and Eve were corrupted, but all who descended from them were fatally corrupted as well. The result of this trajectory is clear as one follows the history of the world from creation through the history of Israel. It is clear that though God desires to be in relationship with his people and that they again live according to his will and purpose, no amount of forgiveness of sins or punishment for wrongdoing will bring about the change that is required, the change that only God himself could bring about.

God did not desire to merely redeem the souls or spirits of those who are tarnished by the original sin of our forefathers, but to redeem the whole of his creation. Thus to redeem the entirety of his creation, including the physical, God needed to provide a physical solution to the problem of sin and death. God did this by providing His Son, the Word of God who was present from the beginning of time, but became human so that through him humanity could again be restored to God. As the “firstborn of creation,” the Christ existed not only before the beginning of time, but when He became incarnate, that is, human, but He also is the first to have passed from death to life at his resurrection. Through his sinless suffering, death, and resurrection, he redeemed the whole of humankind, and by faith in God’s ability to justify by grace, the image of God is restored in us.

What We Can Say Edit

Jesus’ suffering and death certainly brought about our justification, however the redemptive act went further than that: He redeemed not only our ability to stand before God, but also our very nature. This act of renewing our nature, sanctification, can be seen in the Gospels after Jesus’ resurrection when he appeared to the disciples and their fear was changed to joy. Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus is another example of this change of heart—Saul, the zealous persecutor of Christians became Paul, who was arguably the greatest evangelist the world has ever known. In both instances, the individuals were not simply made blameless in God’s sight (justification), but also a change of heart and change in actions is apparent (sanctification). As Jesus notes in Matthew 7, a tree bears fruit according to its kind: apples from apple trees, oranges from orange trees, good fruit from good trees, and bad fruit from bad trees. Sanctification is the work of the Gospel in the heart of the believer, the renewal of our old, sinful nature by the Holy Spirit, or more specifically, renewal of the mind and the will. Such a renewal is the logical result of our justification before God.

Thus, it is proper to say that sanctification always accompanies justification, and that “good works” are necessary. Just as good works flow from faith, so also the renewal of the heart and mind flow from our justified state before God. These good works do not avail before God for our salvation, but rather it is how one naturally lives the justified life of faith. Additionally, while sanctification always is present where there is justification, it is not possible to simply observe outward appearances of good works and use this as a determining factor of whether faith exists in the heart: while the sanctified life naturally bears fruit in the form of good works, we remain unable to determine whether faith exists in the heart. This being said, good works are a natural part of a living, active faith, one where God’s power changes the impulses of the heart. Properly speaking, sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, however we are not without responsibility in the process: just as we can resist the faith that God brings about in our lives, so also we can resist the work of the Holy Spirit in our sanctification. Just like justification, sanctification is God’s gift to us and his work in us. Though we are just as powerless to bring about sanctification as we are to bring about justification, by resisting it we resist God’s work in us and for us.

Though our place before God is secured by our justification by grace through faith, it is not simply enough for us to be “right” with God—He desires our complete renewal, and begins this work in our lives now. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, God brings about a process of change of mind and change of heart, where our impulses are bent into alignment with God’s will. Certainly, much evidence exists in the lives of each Christian that this process is incomplete in this lifetime, however this hardly is a reason to deny that sanctification has value in this lifetime. It is God’s will that we are redeemed and renewed not only before him but also before our fellow human neighbors. Although good works hold no value for our salvation, God nonetheless desires that we do them for the benefit of our neighbor. Thus we divide the “passive” righteousness that we have before God, which we have no ability to bring about, and the “active” righteousness that we have in this world. Good works affect our “active” righteousness, never our “passive” righteousness.

Good works are those that flow from faith—they are not simply external obedience to commands. Just as the Pharisees in the Gospel accounts performed all of the right actions and by all accounts were incredibly holy, nonetheless Jesus decried their behavior, rather than commending it. Good works also are those that are aligned with the will of God. Though our “good works” in this lifetime can never be perfectly good because of our sinful nature, nonetheless God makes them truly good—just as God brings about our actual righteousness without needing our “assistance,” so also God makes our “good works” to be truly good, even though we are incapable of perfect works in this lifetime. Because good works to flow from faith and to are made perfectly good by God, it is proper to say that only Christians are capable of the good works that flow from sanctification—good trees produce good fruits. Humans are not capable of bringing about these works of their own will or volition; it is only through the power of the Spirit that we are able to do good works. On the contrary, even the best, most giving and self-sacrificing non-Christian’s works are not truly good by the definition of “good works” that we use in regards to sanctification.

These good works matter because we should and must do them: it is God’s will that we have a living faith, and thus do good works. It is not the coercion of the law that brings about these good works, however, but rather the Gospel’s effect on the Christian. Just as the law can only condemn before conversion, so also it is incapable of bringing about the change of heart that is sanctification. Thus, the distinction of the Christian living both “in the law” and “under the law” is important for understanding the incomplete dynamic of sanctification in this life. Insofar as a Christian is a redeemed, renewed child of God, there is no need for the coercion or guidance of the law to bring about obedience to God’s will. When we are living “in the law,” we spontaneously do God’s will without prompting, and good works flow freely and naturally, because we live in continuity with God’s will. Since we are not completely sanctified in this life, we still need the law to compel and restrain our old nature that remains until our death. In this way, we still are “under the law,” and insofar as our old nature retains control of our will, we need the law to force obedience and restrain our old nature so that the new, renewed nature may maintain control of our actions. God’s will and His work is to bring about our regeneration, and by sanctifying us, He restores His image in us: partially in this life, completely in the next.

Further Reading Edit

Saint and Sinner Paradox


Good Works

Two Kinds of Righteousness

User-Submitted Questions Edit

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