Maintaining Sanctification

“Be ye holy; for I am holy” 1 Peter 1:16.

God has made provision every believer with the means of maintaining holiness in his life. There is absolutely no Scriptural or reasonable excuse for not walking in sanctification. Let us remind ourselves at this point what we are discussing. There are those who teach that sanctification is a single act of God’s grace in a believer’s life at conversion. Others say that it is a second work of grace at an unspecified time after conversion. Biblical Sanctification teaches that there is an Initial, Progressive, and Ultimate sanctification at work in our lives. It should not be limited to one, two or three blessings, rather it is an ongoing work of God’s grace. To limit it would make it both stagnant and ineffective. It is far better to see sanctification as developing in a Christian’s life. With that said, we must ask:

What is our Response?

Every born again child of God must realise the desperate need of personal holiness. It is a subject that cannot be brushed under the carpet, neglected, or explained away. When we consider it in the light of God’s word we see the reality of our own nature. This should motivate us to do something about what we see. God demands a response from us. Peter writes, “As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16). Those who desire to live according to the principle of sanctification know that they cannot live their lives the same way as the world does, instead their aim is to live by godly principles. They know that “God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:7).

This knowing is actually the knowledge of God’s will made manifest in our hearts through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In actual fact, sanctification does not really get of the ground until one acknowledges that it is God’s will, “For this is the will off God, even your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). John Wesley asks, “What is it to be sanctified?” and the response is, “To be renewed in the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness.” If it is God’s will then we must respond positively to it rather than trying to see what we can get away with. Adam Clarke described this when he wrote, “Many preachers, and multitudes of professing people, are studious to find out how many imperfections and infidelities, and how much inward sinfulness, are consistent with a safe state in religion; but how few, very few, are bringing out the fair gospel standard to try the height of the members of the church; whether they be fit for the heavenly army; whether their stature be such as qualifies them for the rank of the Church militant! “the measure of the stature of the fulness” is seldom seen; the measure of the stature of the littleness, dwarfishness, and emptiness, is often exhibited.”

From this acknowledgement of Biblical Sanctification being the will of God for all believers, the next step is to realise that it is God Himself working in our lives rather than it being merely an operation of the will, “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). This admonition from the apostle Paul teaches us that obedience is vital on our part, but also that it is God who makes us aware of the need and gives us the means whereby we can perform His will.

A form of holiness may be achieved through personal effort and will power, or by some religious observance, but it still would not be Biblical Sanctification. The truly sanctified believer does not rely upon good works but stays in an intimate fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me” (John 15:4). Those living in sanctification have devoted themselves to prayer, “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2), desire to obey God’s Word, “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth” (John 17:17), and are sensitive to the will and leadings of God. Those living and walking in sanctification love God’s ways but hate everything to do with evil, “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity” (Hebrews 1:9). Even in the smallest details of their lives they desire to be obedient to the Lord.

The Believer’s position in Christ

This area is sometimes neglected when the topic of sanctification is being studied, but where we stand in Christ is the foundation on which holiness can perform its work. “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into his death? … Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him … Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Romans 6:3,9,16). This is what we need to know: a) That we are dead in Christ; b) The power of death has no hold on Christ; c) We are therefore alive in Him; d) The ways of death should no longer be controlling the Christian. Paul puts this extremely well in Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me”. A part of maintaining holiness is understanding that in Christ we have all the resources necessary for overcoming self, sin, and Satan.

These resources, and indeed the power of sanctification itself, are appropriated by faith in Christ. Scriptures teaches us that “without faith it is impossible to please” God (Hebrews 11:6). Therefore faith is required for sanctification in its progressive nature also. When explaining to King Agrippa what the Lord had spoken regarding his ministry, the apostle Paul said, “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (Acts 26:18).

Christlikeness

Our aim should be to be as much like Christ as possible while God works into our hearts both His grace and provisions necessary for such a thing to be accomplished. Satan would question this by whispering in our ears, “You are aiming too high!” If we are called to be Christlike then we cannot aim too high; the fact is, the majority of believers do not aim high enough.

What is being suggested here is that we copy the Lord’s example in every aspect of our lives. This was Paul’s method and he believed it ought to be so for all of us, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Another way of saying this is, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Peter said the same thing when he wrote, “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:21-22). H. A. Ironside said that such Chrislikeness should be part of the daily lifestyle of every believer, it is the “power for the new life, and thus practical sanctification day by day”.

We could term such Chrislikeness ‘Practical Obedience’. Those who have been sanctified (set apart by and unto God) should be walking in obedience to God’s word. There are too many Scripture references to support this, but the following are sufficient to prove the point: “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ … because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth … Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word … Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (1 Peter 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Psalm 119:9,11). Therefore we must actively obey the voice of the Holy Spirit as He speaks to us through the Scriptures and our conscience, and because of this sanctification should never stop increasing in our lives. This is hard work. God never said it would be easy. Dave Hunt wrote, “The Christian life is too glorious to be easy.” We have to agree!

Daily Maintenance

Discipleship calls for daily adherence to the word and will of God. Sanctification is the work of God in the lives of His people, but there must be the corresponding action (or working out of it) in our every day lives, “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). In order for sanctification to be accomplished we must respond to God’s call to holiness by separating ourselves from all evil, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Romans 6:1-2) even to the slightest appearance of it, “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). The Lord does cleanse us, but in daily practice we must cleanse ourselves, “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1); “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof” (Romans 6:12).

If we really want to walk in Biblical Sanctification then we must set apart (sanctify) a time of our day to both commune with God and study His word. Jesus taught the original twelve to “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41), and it is excellent advice for believers of the twenty-first century. A Christian grows in sanctification through believing and obeying the Bible, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:12-13). By daily applying it to their lives it has a purifying effect on their hearts and minds.

As followers of Christ there will be times when we will fail Him by giving in to the flesh. Instead of pulling further away from Him we should go to God in repentance, pleading for the sanctifying, cleansing power of the blood of Christ, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This does not negate the need to resist all temptation that comes along. Let’s not forget that God always gives us an escape route from sin and temptation, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). The apostles James encourages us to “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). In times of failure it is easy to get discouraged, exactly what the Devil wants, but we should cling even more to Him that saved us. “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanual’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilt and stains.

E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.

If there is a longing in our hearts for true holiness then there is a holy God ready to supply what we need, “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Sanctification, purity, Christlikeness, it is there awaiting the child of God who is determined to live holy in an unholy world. Jesus has paid the price for our sanctification, all that is now required is our obedience.

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