by Jeremiah Hill

We believe that Sanctification is the process by which, according to the will of God, we are made partakers of his holiness; that it is a progressive work; that it is begun in regeneration; and that it is carried on in the hearts of believers by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the Sealer and Comforter, in the continual use of the appointed means, – especially, the word of God, self-examination, self-denial, watchfulness and prayer.

The Sanctified One

When saying any one thing in theology, you are saying something about everything, however significant. However unrelated, it is telling that many high-church environments also hold to infant (paedo) baptism and covenant theology as opposed to dispensational theology and holding believer’s (credo) baptism (there are exceptions). For now, what we have already said about justification and its communication to us will help us think about what sanctification is and how we grow in it. First, however, to a definition – while justification deals with our legal reprehensibility before God, sanctification deals with the continual reshaping of our polluted minds and desires to conform them to the mind and desires of Jesus Christ. It is more simply, our being made into the “image of his Son” as Paul says in Romans 8. It is helpful to note here that Paul is intent on telling us the point for which we were saved, not that we might be expiated of our sin and cleared of our guilt and then live on to the same destructive and chaotic end, but that we may live a new life, in his new life. In sanctification, we are being decontaminated from our old life.

As previously discussed, justification is received insofar as we partake of Jesus Christ, not from afar, but in our very oneness with him. Calvin will help here:

“Christ was given to us by God’s generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ’s spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life” (Institutes 3.11.1)

Not only do we receive the legal pardon, but we also receive from Christ his life of holiness. This is of little consequence if we believe that sanctification is mainly about becoming a good, moral citizen, but this is not the case! Following the definition we set out with, this fact has grand implications. If sanctification is akin to ‘Christ-ification’, or conformity to the whole character of Jesus Christ, how else are we to grow in holiness than to partake of him? We often take the Holy Spirit as a surrogate for the absent Christ, but this is a strange conclusion to come to from John 14:15-20. Rather it seems that Christ is present precisely through the third person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings the life of Jesus Christ to bear upon us such that we die with him (Rom. 6), rise with him (Col. 3), and live in him (Gal. 2:20).

Sanctified Schizophrenia

Paul writes, “Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death” (Rom. 7:24)? The apostle is no stranger to the true pain and toil we undertake when we grow in holiness. Growing involves growing pains. As with a surgeon who must further splice apart an already mutilated body in order to find the lead bullet inside, Christ must peal apart the layers of our idolatry and self-indulgence to remove our vicious desires. No Christian should think that a constant upward path is the norm of the Christian life. Many believers embarking on the journey of sanctification (all of life post-justification) slip. They take one step forwards and three back… four forward and two back. There is no formula for the sanctification of believers, except that for the perceptive Christian, the path is a warzone. And though this is the case, we are able to look back through our history as one of God’s children and see the struggles that, with Christ, have been conquered. In this way, sanctification is the instrumental means by which we can obtain assurance that we are indeed held captive by God. I conclude with Calvin:

“Therefore the godly heart feels in itself a division because it is partly imbued with sweetness from its recognition of the divine goodness, partly grieves in bitterness from an awareness of its calamity; partly rests upon the promise of the gospel, partly trembles at the evidence of its own iniquity; partly rejoices at the expectation of life, partly shudders at death. This variation arises from imperfection of faith, since in the course of the present life it never goes so well with us that we are wholly cured of the disease of unbelief and entirely filled and possessed by faith… the end of the conflict is always this: that faith ultimately triumphs over those difficulties which besiege and seem to imperil it.” Calvin – Institutes 3.2.18

Select Bibliography

The Cross and Salvation – Demarest

Calvin – Institutes 3

Theology for the Church – Akin