LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–I am sure that many of us have played word-association games. A person throws out a word to you, and you respond by stating the first word that pops into your head. The purpose of such a game is not only to generate a lot of laughter but also to tell us something about the person who responds. Without giving that person much time for reflection, one’s quick response may divulge a considerable amount of information about that person as to who they truly are.
If we were to play such a game with Christians and the word “sanctification” was the word thrown out for our immediate response, I wonder what our reply would be? In fact, I have done this on a number of occasions in various church settings and, sadly, some of the responses that I have received were often very negative in outlook.
For some, “sanctification” was associated with abstaining from certain kinds of behavior or practices. For others, especially young people, it was associated with a lack of enjoyment or fun. But this is certainly a misguided and distorted notion of sanctification.
Biblically speaking, sanctification is hardly a negative thing. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Sanctification, at its heart, not only means that we are “set apart” from sin and the disastrous results that it brings, but sanctification also entails that we are “set apart” and “consecrated” unto the Lord — a very positive action indeed!
It is hard to conceive of a greater privilege we enjoy as Christians than the reality of being united to our Lord Jesus Christ by faith, and as justified believers, being renewed and conformed to the likeness and image of our glorious Redeemer (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:9-10).
In fact, the wonder of salvation and, in particular, sanctification must be viewed from the whole story line of Scripture. We, who were made in God’s image to glorify and enjoy him forever, defaced that image in the Fall.
But Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory and the last Adam, rescued us from our helpless estate by his own representative and substitutionary work for us. And as a result, we are no longer under the headship of Adam and the power of sin and death; but instead, by grace we have been transferred into the kingdom of God’s own dear Son, set apart as holy unto the Lord (Rom 5:12-6:23; Col 1:13-14; 1 Peter 1:15-16). What an incredible privilege indeed!
When does sanctification begin? When does it end? The Baptist Faith and Message correctly notes that it begins in regeneration. In regeneration, God brings about new life in us.
We who were dead in our sins, Scripture states, were made alive, in Christ, by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in us (Ephesians 2:1-10). And as a result of this new life in Christ, we begin actively, empowered by the Spirit of God, to live a new life unto God “toward moral and spiritual maturity” such that, as the BF&M reminds us, “growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person’s life.”
This is not to say that this side of glory sin and its effects on us will be totally eradicated. As certain as our break with sin and death has been in Christ, we still bring with us many of the impulses, habits and tendencies of the old life.
Ultimately it is not until glory that the sanctification process finally comes to an end. For it is only then that we will be severed completely from all contact with the Adamic dominion.
But until then, we continue to press on with an active dependence upon the Lord (Philippians 2:12-13). We continue to grow in grace, being ever conformed to the image of our Redeemer and looking with eager anticipation for that blessed appearing of our Lord when “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
In this sense, then, sanctification, if rightly understood, has a threefold meaning to it: a present possession by virtue of our union with our Lord Jesus Christ, a progressive life-long process of God-dependent effort on our part and a future anticipated completion which will result in our glorification.
How, then, do we view sanctification? In scriptural terms, sanctification is a glorious and necessary part of God’s great work of salvation for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. May we not think lightly of it, but instead, in active dependence upon the Lord, pursue holiness and godliness, ever being transformed into the likeness of our great Lord and Savior. What a privilege! What a calling!
Wellum is assistant professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
Visit The Baptist Faith and Message website.
Full text of Article 4: Salvation
Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.
A. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.
Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour.
B. Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God.
C. Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God’s purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person’s life.
D. Glorification is the culmination of salvation and is the final blessed and abiding state of the redeemed.
Genesis 3:15; Exodus 3:14-17; 6:2-8; Matthew 1:21; 4:17; 16:21-26; 27:22-28:6; Luke 1:68-69; 2:28-32; John 1:11-14,29; 3:3-21,36; 5:24; 10:9,28-29; 15:1-16; 17:17; Acts 2:21; 4:12; 15:11; 16:30-31; 17:30-31; 20:32; Romans 1:16-18; 2:4; 3:23-25; 4:3ff.; 5:8-10; 6:1-23; 8:1-18,29-39; 10:9-10,13; 13:11-14; 1 Corinthians 1:18,30; 6:19-20; 15:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20; Galatians 2:20; 3:13; 5:22-25; 6:15; Ephesians 1:7; 2:8-22; 4:11-16; Philippians 2:12-13; Colossians 1:9-22; 3:1ff.; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; 2 Timothy 1:12; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 2:1-3; 5:8-9; 9:24-28; 11:1-12:8,14; James 2:14-26; 1 Peter 1:2-23; 1 John 1:6-2:11; Revelation 3:20; 21:1-22:5.
Order a pocket-sized tract of The Baptist Faith and Message at LifeWaystores.com.