The Motivation for Sanctification

“Though earth and hell the Word gainsay, the Word of God shall never fail;
The Lord can break sin’s iron sway; ‘Tis certain, though impossible.
The thing impossible shall be, all things are possible to me.”

Familiar Concept
The dictionary defines ‘motivation’ as “the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way”, and ‘motivate’ as “stimulate (someone’s) interest in or enthusiasm for doing something”. The concept is a familiar one in the business and industrial world. Almost every company from the local supermarket to the multinational company seek to motivate their employees to greater productivity. Classes, seminars and outward-bound courses are offered for this very reason. There are various reasons why a person is motivated in this area. It may include personal pride, better position, higher salary, or simply self-improvement. For example, the Herzberg Motivation Theory states that there are five basic reasons for human motivation: [1] Achievement, [2] Recognition of achievement, [3] The work itself, [4] Responsibility, [5] Self-satisfaction. These are termed “satisfiers” that motivate staff to produce better work. Therefore we can readily see that human motivation is nearly always selfish in nature.

There can really only be one reason why a believer would even consider the need for personal holiness. This motivation for sanctification arises out of the fact that he or she loves the Lord with all their heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5). They further understand that “without faith it is impossible to please” God (Hebrews 11:6).

The Call of God
If the believer is in this spiritual position then he will seek to obey the word of God and His call to purity of heart. It is God’s will for every one of His children to walk in holiness, to be guided by heavenly morality, and to know what abundant life really is. Paul writing to the Thessalonians says, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification … For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:3,7). We live in an age where sin is acceptable and even promoted, but that does not give us the liberty to do as we please. As saints of God we are called to live holy in an unholy world. This call of God to holiness means that we cannot lower Biblical standards to accommodate new ideas, trends, and alternative lifestyles. If we accept God’s call to sanctification then we must agree that His is the only way regardless of the society we live in. God does not want us to be corruptible and dying with the world. He wants us to be holy. Therefore sanctification includes a call to be uncompromising.

Our Union with God
Since God is calling His Church to holiness then it follows that our will must be united with His. In this we are co-operating with God in the work of sanctification in our lives. This does not mean that we are on equal terms in the work. We should not forget that our co-operation with God does not in itself cleanse us from sinfulness, such cleansing remains solely in the hands of God Himself. Therefore resisting sin is not sanctification, for if it were then millions of unsaved people through sheer will power would be walking in it. Instead it is submitting to God’s will as He cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Our part in this work is both passive and active. Passive in that we accept God’s call and allow Him to do as He pleases, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). It is also active since we are called to put His desires into action, “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Romans 8:13).

According to our will
There are some who reject this view because they see it as undermining God’s Sovereignty. They speak of sanctification as a work of sovereign grace that needs no corresponding submission by man. Firstly, it was never God’s will to create robots. He has given to each man a free will to choose or reject His call upon their lives. How would it be possible for any one of us to be motivated by God’s will if the Lord proceeds to make us holy against our will? Secondly, we have to ask why God does not go all of the way and make all of His children perfect in holiness since He respects no man’s person? (Ephesians 6:9).

Because it includes our will then it will always be a struggle, a spiritual battle, as we advance towards Ultimate Sanctification. The apostle Paul understood this struggle very well. In Romans 7:14-25 he writes, “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin”. He describes this in terms of a civil war taking place within himself. He knew what was right but continued to gravitate towards the wrong. Luther commenting on these verses said, “The whole man is both spirit and flesh, and contends with himself until he is completely spiritual.”

 Immediate Sanctification
We now must understand the quality of the motivation that compels us towards sanctification. At this point it is important to note that sanctification is not to be considered to be a slow process whereby a believer forsakes sin little by little. Sanctification is not presented in Scripture as a slow work of God in our lives. Such an idea that it takes a long time is usually an excuse for personal failure and sin. Such an attitude (or teaching) goes against God’s call in the first place. A person who chooses to drop his sinful ways gradually has not really heard from God. Simply, he has been convicted of his sin, feels the weight of judgement, but loves his sin so much that he is trying to plea-bargain with God. Only a clean break from sin based upon a decision to follow Christ more exactly is the foundation of Biblical Sanctification. Those who respond to the call with the words, “Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first …” will receive the rebuke “No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:61-62). Therefore the quality of the motivation is directly related to the quantity of the commitment. If a hundred percent is not given then sanctification cannot become part of the believer’s life. This is not to say that a new believer automatically understands what fully submitting to God entails, but the desire and willingness to give God all must be there. This is especially true regarding sanctification. A person who purposes in his heart not to go all of the way can never be used by God.

Eternal Fellowship with God

Another aspect of the question of motivation towards Biblical Sanctification has eternal consequences. Scripture plainly tells us, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Holiness is a priority for all believers who desire to reach Heaven. Without it no one can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. There is a false assurance in so many that think that they will go to Heaven despite their sin and because they said a sinner’s prayer some time in history. If Hebrews 12:14 simply means that an unsanctified person cannot have fellowship with God in this life, then does it not follow that it must be true also with regards to the Holy of Holies in Heaven? Revelation 21:27 says that “there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth”. Every Christian believer should desire to both please God and live eternally with Him, but how few there are who love Him enough to go all out! “I maintain that believers are eminently and peculiarly responsible and under a special obligation to live holy lives” said J. C. Ryle. Without the delivering power of the blood of Jesus Christ this battle would be eternally lost and no man would be able to stand before a holy God.

The word sanctify or sanctification appears nearly eleven hundred times in our Bibles. This in itself proves just how vital and necessary it is for every believer. In Scripture, objects, altars, tabernacles, temples, days, and priestly robes were sanctified, set apart for God, but His greatest use of sanctification is achieved when those whom He has created are set apart for Him. God’s greatest delight is when men and women by faith accept His will for personal sanctification.