“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” – 2 Cor. iii. 18.
“Both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one.” – Heb. ii. 11.
“For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” – Heb. x. 14.
“You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy.” – Lev. xi. 44.
“Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” – 2 Cor. vii. 1.
“Yield yourselves unto God.” – Rom. vi. 13. (KJV)
“Present your bodies a living sacrifice.” – Rom. xii. 1.
“Who became for us sanctification.” – 1 Cor. i. 30.
“For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.” – John xvii. 19.
IN ORDER to avoid the confusion that often exists, even in the minds of intelligent believers, on this important subject, it is necessary that we should distinguish between the different senses in which sanctification is contemplated in the Scriptures. One reason of the perplexity, we venture to think, is found in the fact that different aspects of the same truth are often confused. We should clearly recognize the distinction, for instance between three things: sanctification as a process, as an act or attitude of consecration, and as a gift. We would consider that first which is the best understood, and not because it is the first in the order of time.
I. Sanctification may be considered as a PROCESS; that is, as a work wrought in the soul of the believer by the Holy Spirit, subsequently to regeneration. Of both regeneration and renewal the Holy Spirit is the Author; but the two things are not the same. Regeneration is an instantaneous communication of Divine life to the soul. It is not capable of degrees; no one is more, or less regenerate than another. “But this work of sanctification is progressive, and admits of degrees. One may be more sanctified and more holy than another, who is yet truly sanctified and truly holy. It is begun at once, and carried on gradually” (Owen on the Work of the Holy Spirit).
We do not however inquire how the Holy Spirit carries on His work, our present purpose being to ascertain from Scripture what are the chief features of that work.
We learn, for instance, that it is gradual and progressive, from such passages as 2 Corinthians iii. 18. Our spiritual transformation is there described as still going on. “We are changed (or being changed) into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” The change here described is that gradual assimilation to Christ which takes place during this present life. This is something more than a mere reformation of character, and is brought about by something higher than mere moral culture or discipline; it is transfiguration. The word occurs altogether in four places (Matt. xvii. 2; Mark ix. 2; Rom. xii. 2; 2 Cor. iii. 18). The nature of the change is exemplified in what took place at our Lord’s transfiguration. “It would appear that the light shone, not upon Him from without, but out of Him from within.” He was all irradiated with celestial glory. So the change that takes place in the gradual sanctification of the believer is by virtue of a Divine power that works from within. “Instead of the mind of a man being developed by the form and fashion of his age, he receives within himself the source of a new life…. From within and not from without, from the mind and not from the world, by the birth of what is new and not by the growth of what is old, the whole aspect of human nature is transformed” (Wace) – just as the bud is transformed into the flower, the blossom into the fruit, the acorn into the oak, by a vital power that works from within. This power is not in man by nature; it is not a force that has been pent up, and needing only to be liberated in order to produce the transformation: it is God the Holy Spirit who is the Author of the change; it is the Divine indwelling Spirit alone who restores fallen man to the image of God.
Sanctification considered from this point of view is thus seen to be a process. Such also is the nature of all spiritual progress and growth – a progressive and gradual development of the new creation within the believer.
Now it is evident that in that sense our sanctification can never in this life reach a point beyond which there is to be no further progress; it can never therefore be said to be complete. So long as there is room for a fuller manifestation of the Divine image the work cannot be said to be completed.
II. But sanctification may be looked at from another point of view – as an ATTITUDE. It may be regarded in relation to our own individual condition and conduct-as personal separation from all known sin on the one hand, and dedication to God on the other. The root-thought of sanctity is separateness. A man sanctifies himself when he separates himself from that which is evil and impure. “For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy” (Lev. xi. 44). So again in the New Testament we have the exhortation addressed to those who were already set apart unto God: “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. vii. 1).
In this aspect sanctification may be regarded as a personal and definite act of consecration to God. Following the initial act, the habit or attitude of surrender is formed; and as progress is made, so the thoroughness of dedication to God deepens and increases.
We may take that word “yield” as expressive of the main idea involved in such a personal consecration; it puts before us what we may call the human side of the doctrine of holiness.
In the twelfth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans the Apostle beseeches those who were already Christians “to present their bodies a living sacrifice.” What did the Apostle mean? To “present” is to “yield.” The same word occurs in chapter vi. 13, 16, 19. Now what is it to yield? It is to cease to resist. That there may be a resistance, even in those who have been quickened by the Spirit, to the will of God, no believer who knows anything of his own heart can deny. This resistance is one of the main hindrances to the exercise of faith. It was so with Jacob at Peniel. “And there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.” Who was this that confronted Jacob, and whom Jacob resisted? It was none other than the Angel of the Covenant; it was the Lord Himself that laid His hand on Jacob.
Though God had not forsaken Jacob, Jacob had been following in the main his own will during his sojourn in Padan-aram. Twenty years before he had been favoured with a wonderful vision, in which God had revealed to him the way of access in prayer, and the way of blessing from God to man; he had seen God in covenant with His people. If Jacob apprehended there at Bethel no more, he beheld at least God as his Protector and Provider and Guide. And this vision drew from him a vow: “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then shall the Lord be my God” (Gen. xxviii. 20, 21). But how had it been with him during those twenty years? He had sojourned with Laban, and there he had pursued the same course that he had previously followed with his brother and his father – a course of meanness and deception. God had sent him trials, and had during those years been contending with him, bringing back to his memory and his conscience the evil of his own ways; but Jacob was still the same Jacob – the supplanter – not humbled, not broken, full of carnal policy and self-seeking.
But now comes the crisis. Jacob’s will must be broken. In this conflict, Jacob’s wrestling must not be confused with Jacob’s clinging. So long as he wrestled – that is, resisted – the conflict lasted. But at last the resistance ceased.
“Now when He (the Lord ) saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him” (Gen. xxxii. 25). All power to resist was now at an end.
This passage in Jacob’s history has a parallel in the life of many a child of God. How many can trace a similar crisis in God’s dealing with them!
The power of resistance – which is self-will – being broken, the strength to cling – which is faith – is now brought into exercise. So we see Jacob, the moment his thigh was out of joint, no longer wrestling, but clinging – no longer as an antagonist resisting an enemy, but as a suppliant in an attitude of earnest entreaty: “I will not let You go unless You bless me.”
This was the power by which Jacob prevailed; and it is to this act of clinging, as the symbol of faith, that the prophet Hosea refers: “in his strength he struggled with God. Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed; He wept, and sought favor from Him” (Hos. xii. 3, 4).
Thus we learn that if we would cling with a victorious faith we must first yield in a spirit of entire submission. You cannot cling until you have ceased to resist.
But yielding means also ceasing to withhold. “My son, give Me your heart.” In other words, let God have full possession, not only of the spirit and the soul, but of all your physical powers. Yield every member up to Him. If we regard “the essential condition of man as subsisting in three concentric circles, the innermost being his spirit, the inner his soul, and the external his body” (Delitzsch), we can see how the progress in his practical consecration to God takes place. To yield is to withhold nothing. The spirit being quickened presents the body as well as the soul to the Lord. “I beseech you, brethren, . . . present your bodies.” Every power of mind or body is dedicated to His service and committed into His keeping.
“This verse (Rom. xii. 1) looks upon the man within as the priest who lays upon the altar, not the body of a dead sheep, but his own living body. . . . Our body has now the sacredness associated in the mind of a Jew with the animals laid on the brazen altar; . . . and presentation to God makes our body holy, as it did the sacrificial animals (Exod. xxix. 37). Henceforth they exist only to work out God’s purposes” (Beet).
And again, yielding also means ceasing to struggle. No longer trying to keep oneself up – putting forth vigorous efforts to keep oneself from sinking, but, casting all upon Him who is able to keep us from falling.
But this yielding, it may be objected, is not an act done once for all? However definite and real that act may have been, surely it needs continually to be repeated? We would say in answer to this, if we suppose a relapse to have taken place, if, having presented ourselves, we have afterwards withdrawn the gift – then of course repetition is necessary. But this surely is not the life to which we are called. Having yielded ourselves, spirit, soul, and body to Him, what now we have to do is daily to recognize and confirm that act, and in this way the act once definitely accomplished becomes an attitude constantly maintained.
It is interesting to note what an able commentator (Dr. David Brown) remarks on this act of consecration: “A significant transition has been noticed here from one tense to another (Rom. vi. 13). In the first clause, ‘do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness,’ the present tense is used (¹±ÁιÃÄ¬νµÄµ), denoting the habitual practice of men in their old, unregenerate state; in the next clause, ‘but yield yourselves unto God,’ it is the aorist (¹±ÁιÃÄ·Ã±Äµ) suggesting the one act for all, of self-surrender, which the renewed believer performs immediately on his passing from death to life, and to which he only gets his continuous seal in all his after life” (Critical and Experimental Commentary. See Appendix, Note D).
To this important note, however, we would merely add this question, if the Apostle had felt sure that these Christians at Rome had, immediately on their conversion, thus surrendered themselves to God, would he have deemed it necessary now to press upon them so earnestly this definite act of consecration? The truth is, the Apostle does not assume or take for granted that all those Christian converts were really walking in a condition of practical consecration to God.
Looking at this aspect of our subject then, we may note two things of paramount importance. The first is the condition of the will; the second is the attitude of our faith. To be wholly the Lord’s – to let go one’s will so that henceforth Christ is to lead me and plan for me, and have His way with me in everything – it is to be ready to be separated from many ways and things to which naturally we cling very tenaciously. It is to let Him have the whole heart, to reign there supreme. The will is not really yielded if we have any reserves. We have not let go our moorings if there is still but one rope that keeps our little boat to the shore. We may have “slipped” many a cable that has kept us to the land, but if one single rope remains we are still held fast. We are not yet wholly the Lord’s in the sense of practical consecration.
But suppose this has been done, and that so far as the light has enabled you to see, everything has been laid on the altar, then comes the question of faith.
What is your attitude to your faith? As to justification, you are no longer seeking, but resting; you are no longer anxiously praying about that, but you can thankfully praise Him. That need then has been met.
And can He not meet your need as to sanctification? Your present and continuous need in this respect can only be met by a present and continuous provision. That provision is in Christ. He who commands us to ask commands us also to receive. To be in an attitude of trust is to be receptive, and being receptive we find that we lack nothing; for Christ is our sanctification. But this is the aspect in which we have next to consider the subject.
III. Lastly, sanctification in its fullest sense is a GIFT.
Nothing is more essential in order to dwell in God’s presence than holiness. Forgiveness of sins is not all we need. Peace alone is not sufficient. A perfect righteousness which places us in a position of acceptance with God is not all that is provided for us in the gospel. There must be likeness to God – conformity of heart – oneness of nature.
But what God requires He first provides. This is one of the chief features of grace; “all things are of God.” And grace characterizes each step in the believer’s progress. Salvation from sin is possible only because we are not left to ourselves – to our merits, our own efforts, or our own resources. He is the “God of all grace.” The moment we act as if we had to meet His demands from ourselves, that moment we forsake the ground of grace.
Salvation is of grace, because it is a gift. It is all included in Christ.
Now we know that without holiness no man shall see the Lord (Heb. xii. 14); and yet we believe that Christ is able to save the sinner even at the very last moment of his earthly existence. Taking holiness only in the one sense of a process or work wrought in us by the Holy Spirit suggests a difficulty. It may reasonably be asked, If without holiness no man can see the Lord, what becomes of those who, like the penitent thief, come to Christ at the eleventh hour? They have no time or opportunity for the growth and development of sanctification.
But the difficulty leads one to inquire, What does the Scripture mean by holiness? That it often refers to the process which is wrought in us by the Holy Spirit all must admit, but that Christ Himself is made of God unto us sanctification as well as righteousness, many of God’s children fail to understand. One of God’s greatest gifts – bound up in His “unspeakable Gift” – is that of holiness.
But what is holiness? How does God teach us what holiness means? Does He give us an abstract definition – a mere verbal description? No; He sends us His Son; He sets before us a Person, a living embodiment, His own ideal of holiness.
Jesus is God’s conception of a perfect man. In His life on earth we have set before us God’s ideal of Divine holiness manifested and unfolded in a real human nature.
God sent His Son, not only to be the “Just One,” who should fulfill all righteousness and meet all the claims of His righteous law, He sent Him to be the “Holy One,” who should satisfy all the desires of a Father’s heart, as the One in whom He could ever delight. He was therefore made wisdom to us from God, even righteousness and sanctification.
But how did Christ become sanctification unto us? He Himself declares, “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (John xvii. 19); or, to make sanctification possible, He sanctifies Himself. Christ here puts before us the progressive aspect of His own sanctification. Already He was sanctified by the Father. “do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified,” etc. (John x. 36). But He speaks now of His own personal consecration to the will of His Father, which should secure the sanctification of His believing ones.
What He would subsequently unfold and develop in those who should be brought into living union with Himself He first realizes in Himself. Their holiness should be essentially the same as that which was being accomplished in His own person.
It is important here to bear in mind that “to sanctify is not synonymous with to purify. To purify oneself implies that one is defiled; to sanctify oneself is simply to consecrate to God the natural powers of the soul and of the body, as soon as they come into exercise” (Godet).
He who was from the beginning absolutely holy became our holiness. He who was from the first absolutely perfect became perfected. Christ became in Himself, through trial and suffering, what He would afterwards be in us; namely, sanctification. The holiness of His believing ones should be the result and outcome of His own indwelling.
And so we read, “He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. v. 8). This denotes, not a transition from disobedience to obedience, but the development in His own person and experience of the principle of entire consecration to God in connection with the trials and sufferings of a real human life, which has constituted Him the Captain of our salvation. “Being perfected He became the author of eternal salvation” (Heb. v. 9). The “perfecting” of Jesus as the “Leader of salvation” was historically accomplished in His person, and in this manner, by His having actually passed through and completed His career of human trial and suffering (See Appendix, Note E).
He traversed the whole realm of faith; He ascended the whole scale, from the lowest to the highest step; He has gone through the whole course. He is the Leader and the Perfecter of faith (Heb. xii. 2); He has preceded the whole company of believers. He is the princely Leader of the faith-life; He came to fulfill the true ideal of faith. He, not only taught it in precept, illustrated it in parable, encouraged it by miracle, He exemplified it in His own life.
He became one in whom faith was exhibited in perfection. Faith cannot be exhibited without trial. Trial must have its course. “Knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (Jas i. 3, 4).
Christ then, who is the Pattern and Example, has also become the “Author of eternal salvation,” not merely as the external source, but as the indwelling Life – the vital Cause of our personal transformation. And this He becomes to all “those obeying Him.” Having reached the goal Himself, He becomes the cause or origin of their sanctification.
From this we learn that to become holy we must possess the “Holy One.” It must be Christ in us. Without that holiness “no man shall see the Lord.” Holiness of walk flows from the Holy One. Conformity to the will of God in conduct is the outcome of conformity to the will of God in heart and mind; and this can only be brought about by enshrining Christ as Lord in our hearts (1 Pet. iii. 15). That is, “Render to Christ in the inmost chamber of your being the reverence which belongs to Him who claims to be your Proprietor and Master” (Beet). Possess the source, and you have the stream. This is that “holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.”
But although this Gift is a present possession in the case of every believer, how many there are that fail to apprehend what it is they really do possess in Christ! It is one thing to be the owner of an estate; it is another thing to know what it contains. It is one thing to be in actual possession of the property, another thing to know the vast treasures of wealth that lie beneath the surface. So we may have received Christ Jesus the Lord into our hearts, and yet we may have seen but little as yet comparatively of the riches of grace and of glory stored up in Him for our daily realization.
And therefore, though Christ is ours – we have Him as a present possession – we must still follow on to know Him more perfectly. He must be ever the object of our daily aspirations. “Follow . . . that holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” This implies activity, earnestness, diligence, and zeal. To follow after an object is to have it constantly before you; you do not lose sight of it. It dwells in your thoughts; it becomes a part of your very life; it enters into your practice; it stamps your character. That which is the object of your desire and the aim of your energies will have a transforming influence on your life.
But this is a very different thing from saying that our likeness to Christ is just the result of a mere imitation of Jesus Christ. Christ is our sanctification in a far higher sense than that in which He is our pattern. He is our holiness, because He himself dwells in us, to control our whole moral being, to transfigure our whole lives, and to become in us the spring of all our thoughts and words and deeds.
But lest, by dwelling on the human side of Christ’s earthly course as exhibiting God’s ideal of holiness, we should for a moment lose sight of His essential deity, and the necessity of that deity in connection with our sanctification, we would here add some valuable remarks by the gifted author whose writings we have already frequently quoted:
“All that you withdraw from the essential and personal divinity of Christ you take away from the reality of that holiness which constitutes your glorious destiny. I am struck by two expressions in this passage (Gal. ii. 20)and by their instructive connection: ‘The Son of God, who loved me’; and, ‘Christ lives in me.’ A man could not live in another man. A man can leave us his memory, his example, his teaching; but he cannot live again in us. If Jesus is only a holy man, complete and normal Christian sanctification is necessarily reduced to the sincere effort to follow and emulate Him; and the Church would be nothing more than an association of well-disposed people, united together for the purpose of doing good, while studying their pattern, Jesus Christ. This is the level to which the most elevated and the most glorious idea of the gospel will immediately descend, when once the crown of deity has been snatched from the head of Christ.
“But, as Scripture and experience both teach us, true Christian holiness is something more than effort, an aspiration of man: it is a communication of God to man; it is Christ in person who comes and dwells in us by the Holy Spirit. Thus St. Paul calls Christ, not only our righteousness, but also our sanctification. And in St. John’s Gospel Jesus expresses Himself thus:
‘I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you’; ‘at that day’ – the day of the coming of the Holy Spirit – you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you’; he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and . . . We will come to him and make Our home with him’; ‘because I live, you shall live also.’ Who must He be, He who, not only comes and dwells in us by the Holy Spirit, but whose indwelling is, at the same time, the indwelling of the Father? ‘Without’ – or, out of – ‘Me you can do nothing,’ continues Jesus; ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit.’ The Spirit ‘shall glorify Me.’
“The Divine Spirit can never be said to communicate a man to other men. The Divine Spirit does not glorify a man in the heart and in the life of other men. The Divine Spirit glorifies a Divine being, the Son, who in His turn glorifies the Father. This truth is expressed in the form also of baptism, and is at the same time the secret of Christian sanctification; for holiness is Christ, and God in Christ dwelling in us by the Holy Spirit. And the Church? The Church is, not only a voluntary association of sincere imitators of Jesus Christ, it is the body of Christ, the living organ which He fills with His plenitude” (Godet).
And so in His Church Christ is still on earth fulfilling that glorious declaration “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” And this apprehension of Christ as our sanctification does not in the least detract from the honour due to the Holy Spirit as our sanctifier. Both facts are, not only in the most perfect harmony, but are necessary the one to the other.
“Perhaps it will be asked,” writes Professor Godet, “what is the connection between the passages in which our sanctification is attributed to the Holy Spirit and those in which it is attributed to Christ Himself living in us? (Gal. ii. 20).
“The answer is easy. In reality these two classes of expression refer to one and the same fact. What is the work of the Holy Spirit? It is to impart Christ to us, with everything that is His, and to make Him live again in us, as the grain of wheat which lies dead in the earth is made by the power of nature to live again in each of the grains in the ear. And, on the other hand, by what means does Christ live in us? By the operation of the Holy Spirit. There takes place in believers, by the power of that Divine Agent, an effect similar to that which produced the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ. ‘My little children,’ said St. Paul, ‘of whom I travail in birth again until Christ is formed in you'” (Gal. iv. 19).