The wonderful effect of God’s grace is that a sinner can cry out to God for salvation and receive forgiveness of sins. But in salvation, God does more than just forgive. He saves people from their sins and begins the process of changing us from a sinner having a desire to sin to a saint having a desire to be holy.
If one wants to walk with and enjoy a holy God, then one must be holy. Five times in Leviticus, the believer is called to be holy (11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7; 20:26; 21:8). Remembering this command, Peter reminds believers that they are to be holy in all their conduct (1 Pet. 1:13-16).
There are three facets to sanctification. The first is seen on the day of salvation, when the blood of Christ purges the sinner from sin and sets the believer apart for God (Heb. 13:12). On that basis, the believer is positionally sanctified (Heb. 10:14) and called holy (Col. 3:12; 1 Th. 5:27; Heb. 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9). “As he is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). They are called saints (Rom. 1:7; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2) and this makes it possible for them to live a holy life.
The second facet is practical, or progressive sanctification, and is seen in the believer’s daily life (1 John 1:9). Believers are in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). This means that the believer learns to stop practicing old, sinful habits (Eph. 4:17-5:5), and instead begins having Christ-like characteristics (Eph. 4:15, 25-29; 5:2, 8-9; Phil. 4:8).
The third facet will be seen in the future, when the believer is in heaven (1 John 3:2; Rom. 6; 2 Th. 3:13; 5:23; 1 Cor. 3:17; Eph. 1:4; 2:21). It is our final sanctification. There will be a day when the process of practical sanctification will be complete, and the believer will no longer struggle with sin (Eph. 5:27; 1 John 3:2-3). How does God practically sanctify the believer today?
It is the Work of the Holy Spirit
He is the power that works within. He regenerates, giving new life to the sinner (Titus 3:5; John 6:63), baptizes the believer into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13), indwells (1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Tim. 1:14), and seals (Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30) to produce practical sanctification. He also fills the believer with Christ (Eph. 5:18). The Holy Spirit is not interested in filling the believer with sin or the things of the world. His desire is to fill his people with the character, mind, and heart of Christ (Eph. 1:17-19). In addition, He gives believers spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:7-11). These gifts are designed to build up the body of Christ and for the care of God’s people (1 Pet. 4:10). He also comforts (John 14:16-17, 26; Acts 9:31), gives strength to God’s people (Acts 1:8), and produces fruit in the believer’s life (Gal. 5:22-23). There are so many things the Holy Spirit does on behalf of the believer for our sanctification.
It is the Work of Christ
Believers cannot obtain righteousness and sanctification on their own. It is a work of God. In Ephesians 5:25-26 Paul writes, “Christ loved the church…gave himself…that He might sanctify.” What does Christ do to sanctify the believer? He became a Savior (John 3:16), offering Himself as the sacrifice for sin (Heb. 10:12-14). He became a Shepherd (John 10:11), guiding believers out of sin (John 8:12), and into paths of righteousness (Psa. 23:3). He is a High Priest (Heb. 4:14), a Mediator between God and man (Heb. 1:3). Through Christ, a sinner can have a clean conscience before God (Heb. 9:14), made possible by the sacrifice of Christ (Heb. 10:10). As High Priest, Christ prays for those who belong to Him (Isa. 53:12; Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25), restores fellowship (1 John 2:1), and produces fruit in the believer’s life (John 15:1-7).
It is the Work of the Father
The Father cleanses and prunes the believer (1 Th. 5:23; John 15:1-2). Just as a gardener cares for plants, so the Father takes care of His own. As a plant may have branches that are not useful, so the believer may have things in their life that are not useful to God nor helpful for spiritual growth. In such cases, the Father works to rid the believer of things that are not bearing fruit.
The Father also sanctifies through discipline (Heb. 12:3-12). As parents discipline their children, so the Father disciplines his children. Though never pleasant, it produces the fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:11).
It is the Work of the Word of God
The Lord longs for his disciples to be sanctified (John 17:17, 19), and uses the Word of God to accomplish this aim (Psa. 119:11). His Word is foundational in believers’ lives (Josh. 1:8; Neh. 9:3; Psa. 119:18). It is to form the culture of the Christian’s life (Ezra 11:12) and is spiritual bread (Matt. 4:4).
Is it possible to be holy as God is holy? Can God change our desires from being sinful to being righteous? Believers come to God believing that in His love, mercy and grace, he not only will forgive sin, but also cleanse the believer from all unrighteousness. It begins with God’s work of salvation where God in mercy, forgives and places the repentant sinner into the family of God. It continues with God’s work of sanctification, where God in patience and love, changes the heart and transforms the mind to produce a Christ-like character in the believer’s life.
God promises that he will bring to completion the work He began in the life of a sinner when He saved him. With this in mind, every genuine believer should expect to see progress in the area of sanctification. This progress is not produced in the flesh, nor is it an act of the will. It is a work of God.
Salvation is more than forgiveness and more than justification. It involves a cry of the heart to be rescued from a life that is saturated with sin, and to see that life changed from having a desire to sin to having a desire to be holy, pure, undefiled, like the character of Christ. Christ does what humanity cannot. He justifies and sanctifies the sinner who has come to God in repentance and faith.