Sanctification - Positional, Progressive, Complete
In my last blog post I defined justification as a complete and finished act of God. If you want to review the post just click on that link.
In this post I will discuss sanctification, which is an ongoing and progressive work of God. It is very important for our Christian lives to understand the similarities and distinctions between justification and sanctification. Both are a work of grace. Furthermore, they are constant companions. God does not justify without also sanctifying. They also both deal with sin. But here is the key distinction to keep in mind. Justification addresses the penalty of sin, sanctification addresses the power of sin over us. In short sanctification comes after justification. Sanctification is God's ongoing work to set us apart from the unbelieving world. He does this by renewing and transforming our mind, emotions, and will.
There are three aspects of sanctification we should know about. The first is a positional aspect. At the very moment of faith we are set apart to God. Every believer, regardless of the extent of their spiritual growth, has been positionally set apart by God. This is why the apostle Paul could call the Corinthians saints in 1 Cor. 1:2, then in the rest of the letter address all of their sinful practices and misunderstandings.
There is also a progressive aspect of sanctification. This means that God is working now in each of our lives to make us more holy in our thinking, our feelings, and our doing. Every time we read a command or exhortation in our Bibles it concerns growing in holiness. Jesus's companion Peter reminds us in 1 Pet. 1:16 that God calls us to be holy because He is holy. A holy God and a holy people.
Lastly, in this life we never make it to complete holiness, that awaits us in heaven. Once we go to be with the Lord we will at that point be completely set apart to God. Jude 24 is our reminder that it is God who sanctifies us progressively now and who will bring cause us to stand blameless before Him.
Now confusing justification and sanctification can lead to some real frustration. On that one hand, you can't sanctify the unsaved. Unless God's Spirit has moved in someone and caused them to place their faith in Christ (Justification), you can't expect them to have the power of the Spirit to overcome sin (Sanctification). On the other hand, there are a lot of nice, pleasant people who live ethically good and moral lives but who will not place their faith in Jesus. Although they may be "good" this doesn't mean they don't need Jesus. They need to hear the Gospel!
Another way justification and sanctification are confused is when a new or immature believer is expected to act like a mature believer who has been walking with the Lord for a long time. People who confuse justification and sanctification like this will often accuse the new believer of not being saved at all. This is like expecting a toddler to run a marathon. That little baby needs time to strengthen their muscles and bones. They need to improve their coordination. In the same way holiness takes time.
According to Eph. 4:11-13 the church is the place where we are nurtured into maturity. It doesn't happen all at once, it is progressive. This does not mean that we tolerate sin any more thane we would stand by if a toddler never progressed to walking, then running. It does mean that spiritual toddlers need to be taught by word and example and not spanked for being toddlers.
At Mountain View Bible Fellowship we are people who have been justified and positionally sanctified. Yet we are also being progressively sanctified. We are a community of spiritual toddlers being weaned away from the world and being set apart for God more and more. This is apparent in our care for each other, our generosity for the Lord's work, and our commitment to nurture one another to maturity in Christ.