The Nuts and Bolts of Sanctification, Part I

The Nuts and Bolts of Sanctification, Part I

God’s saving grace in Christ is much bigger and more comprehensive than one might initially think. God’s grace not only rescues, it renovates. It not only justifies, it sanctifies. It not only reconciles, it renews. It not only propitiates, it purifies. It not only delivers, it matures. Indeed, the sovereign grace of God not only saves us from our sins, it saves us to a life of growing holiness. In these statements we are led to consider the biblical doctrine of progressive sanctification, a central but often neglected facet of the life-changing gospel of grace. The following are the first two of six brief points that constitute the nuts and bolts of sanctification.

Sanctification is a Work of God’s Sovereign Grace

We know that God, by his sovereign grace, regenerates (Eph. 2:4-5; I Pet. 1:3) and justifies (Rom. 3:24); but who, one might wonder, does the sanctifying? The Bible teaches that God is the author and finisher of our sanctification (Phil. 1:6; I Thess. 5:24). Sanctification is a work of God’s free grace, and not a work of a believer’s autonomous moral strivings (c.f. WSC Q.35). We do not perfect “by the flesh” what was begun “in the Spirit” (Gal. 3:3). Just as a sinner cannot justify himself, so also he cannot sanctify himself. Sanctification is a work of God. Christ promises to sanctify his bride, the church (Eph. 5:26). He is faithful, and he will surely do it (I Thess. 5:24). Of course, sanctification, while a work of God, is not devoid of Spirit-empowered effort on the part of the believer. We will expound on that point next week.

Sanctification is a Saving Benefit of Union with Christ

Union with Christ is at the very heart of the gospel. There are many wonderful saving benefits that flow from a believer’s union with Christ. Indeed, when a person is united to Christ he is brought from spiritual death to spiritual life (regeneration), pardoned for his sins and accounted righteous solely on the grounds of the saving work of Christ, received by faith (justification), and accepted into the beloved as a son and inheritor of eternal life (adoption, glorification). But that’s not all. What we sometimes overlook or deemphasize is that sanctification is also a benefit of one's union with Christ. As Christians, not only should we be celebrating our legal standing before God, but also our life-transforming relationship with God.

Christ, our living head, transforms the lives of his members (Rom. 5:18 - 6:14). As the true vine, he nurtures his branches (John 15:4-5). As the perfect image of God, he conforms us more and more into his image (Rom. 8:29). Therefore, one cannot be united to Christ and remain the same (I Cor. 6:11; Eph. 2:1-10). God justifies and sanctifies sinners by grace through faith in Christ.

What is the difference between justification and sanctification? Whereas justification is the once-for-all declaration that addresses our guilt and alienation, progressive sanctification is the ongoing process that destroys the remaining corruption of sin in our lives and increases the fruit of righteousness (Rom. 5:1-2; 8:12-14; Phil.1:9-11; WLC Q. 77). Justification and sanctification are distinct, but inseparable benefits of union with Christ (Duplex gratia). To negotiate either one is to negotiate the biblical gospel.

Next week we will consider the next four points on sanctification; namely, that sanctification is both definitive and progressive; fostered through the Holy Spirit’s use of the ordinary means of grace and the mystery of divine providence; a call to spiritual growth and personal holiness; and requires Spirit-empowered effort.

- Pastor Jon