After discussing justification, we must turn our attention to
yet another aspect of salvation: sanctification (or holiness). The Lord Jesus
saves in every respect. He does not only liberate us from guilt and the
punishment of sin. Marvellous as that is, his purpose is also to set us free
from the dominion and pollution of sin. ‘Christ also loved the church and gave
Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of
water by the word’ (Eph 5:25, 26).
Scripture calls all believers ‘saints’ or ‘holy ones’ (see
Rom 1:7; 8:27; 15:25, 26, 31; 16:2, 15, etc.). The term ‘holy’ means separated,
set apart, consecrated. Christians are ‘saints’ because we are cleansed by the
blood of Christ and consecrated to God by the Holy Spirit. All members of the
church, whoever we may be, are saints. We are saints now, today, during our
lifetime on earth. All of us who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ are ‘sanctified
by faith’ in him (Acts 26:18).
Now since we are saints, we have a special vocation to
walk in holiness and righteousness. We do not attempt to be godly in order to
become saints, but because we are saints already. Thus the Bible
commands us, ‘Fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even
be named among you, as is fitting for saints’ (Eph 5:3). It is
appropriate for saints to live saintly, or holy, lives, since we were set apart
from the world and consecrated to God.
As Christians we have a sacred duty to seek an
ever-increasing measure of holiness. This appears from various scriptures:
‘Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all
filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God’ (2
Cor 7:1). ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should
abstain from sexual immorality’ (1 Thess 4:3). ‘Pursue peace with all people,
and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord’ (Heb 12:14). ‘As He who
called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written,
Be holy, for I am holy’ (1 Pet 1:15, 16).
Sometimes Evangelical Christians say, ‘We are sinners just
like the others.’ That is false humility; it is but a lame excuse for a mediocre
lifestyle. It is much better to acknowledge the reality of God’s transforming
grace in our hearts and lives. Scripture never places Christians in the same
category as lost people. We are not sinners just like the others. On the
contrary, as we have seen, the regular descriptive term used for Christians is
‘saints’. We are in urgent need of changing our mentality. We ought to strive to
live as saints, to the glory and praise of God who called us out of darkness
into his marvellous light.
Sanctification is God’s work in us (2 Thess 5:23), through
the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:11; 15:16; 1 Pet 1:2). However this does not imply that
we remain passive and inactive. God renews our will and gives us the strength do
what is right.
God’s work in us becomes evident in our new desires, choices
and actions – we get baptised, pray, praise and thank God, fast, hear and
meditate on the Word, participate in the Lord’s Supper, work with our hands,
flee temptation, confess our sins, repent, meet together to encourage and edify
one another, forgive, seek and accept good counsel, learn patience, kindness and
self-control. By God’s empowering, Christians are very active!
The basic means of our sanctification, which God has provided
us with, is his holy Word. ‘Sanctify them by Your truth,’ Jesus prayed for us,
and continued by saying, ‘Your word is truth’ (John 17:17). God’s Word
progressively changes the way we think, which in turn changes our values,
choices, mentality and character.
There are degrees or different levels of holiness: there is
always the possibility to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and
Saviour Jesus Christ. I cannot be more justified today than I was on the day I
first believed, but more holy, I certainly can be. The apostle Paul expresses a
realistic attitude: ‘Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but
one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to
those things which are ahead’ (Phil 3:13).
No Christian reaches a state of absolute moral perfection in
this life. ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth
is not in us’ (1 John 1:8). As long as he lived in the flesh, the apostle John
could not say, ‘I have no sin’, -- and neither can we. The Bible is intensely
realistic, warning us that ‘the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit
against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another’ (Gal 5:17). The battle
rages on for a lifetime. The Christian fights, struggles and overcomes evil;
when he falls, he repents and confesses his sin to the Lord. Daily he asks God
for bread as well as for his fatherly forgiveness. The Christian anticipates the
glorious day when he will be freed from all conflict; yet he also knows that as
long as he is in the body, he must engage in spiritual warfare up to the very
Good works are an essential part of the Christian experience.
Speaking by the mouth of Zachariah, the Holy Spirit announced the purpose of
God’s redemption before the birth of the Saviour. God delivers his people that
we ‘might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all
the days of our life’ (Luke 1:75). Believers are saved to serve God.
The apostle Paul says, ‘For the grace of God that brings
salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and
worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present
age’ (Titus 2:11-14). Those who are saved by grace are also taught to say ‘No’
to ungodliness and ‘Yes’ to righteousness. Why? Because Christ died for that
very reason: He ‘gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless
deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.’
But someone might object, ‘Does not Paul say in Ephesians
2:8, 9 that we are saved by grace through faith and not of works?’ Yes indeed he
does exclude personal works as the meritorious cause of our salvation, but in
the very next verse, Paul presents works as the goal of our salvation. The
saved are ‘created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand
that we should walk in them.’ They who are not saved ‘by works’ are saved ‘for
good works’. God has eternally determined that his children will do good works.
Justification and Holiness
Justification and sanctification are two inseparable but
distinct aspects of salvation -- two sides of the same coin. It would be a
serious error if they were mixed together as if they are one and the same thing.
In justification, God declares believers righteous for Christ sake; in
sanctification, God makes believers righteous by the Holy Spirit. Justification
is a once-for-all judicial act of God about the believer; sanctification is the
continual work of God’s Spirit in the believer. Justification gives a perfect
legal standing forever; sanctification is a progressive work in the moral and
spiritual life of the believer. A sinner is justified by faith alone apart from
any merits of his works; the believer is sanctified by his faith working through
We are joined to Christ by faith. In this way we are forgiven
and justified. But since we are united to our Saviour, this relationship must
inevitably produce good fruit. ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. He who
abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and
they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned’ (John 15:5,
6). A barren ‘faith’ is dead. It resembles the faith of demons: they too believe
in one God, and yet they are damned. Saving faith, on the contrary, works by
love and is rich in good works. In other words, where holiness is lacking there
is no spiritual life, no true faith and no justification.