Sanctification – Of God or Man?

A great debate has occurred in my church with some of the members, it was related to that oh great debate of Predestination!  The conversation quickly moved onto the topic of sanctification.  This is not usually misunderstood (or at least not debated hotly), but it was in this case.  One side of the argument suggested that we have a role in our spiritual growth while the other side of the debate shouted that it is all of God!  So which is it?

Sadly, I think that the debate among church members is not concluded, but I have wrestled through this topic many years ago, so I wanted to discuss this topic today.  Is it of God or of man?  The answer is ‘Yes!’

Process of Salvation

To understand sanctification, we must first understand what it is, and what it is not.  There does exist a great coin, the coin of salvation.  I use the illustration of a coin for our salvation because there are two parts to the process, but they are the same coin.  The first is Justification, and the second is Sanctification.  Justification is entirely of God, the term is a legal word meaning that we are no longer culpable for our sins before God.  Justification happened at one space-time point for all people from Adam to the child that is not born yet.  It happened when Jesus Christ died on the cross.  At that point in time, the sins of the elect were covered and God no longer considered them.  All Old Testament saints looked forward to it, all New Testament saints look back to it, one point, when Christ died.  You can read more about it on Grace to You.

Sanctification is a process, and it is a process that must include God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and man the sinner.  It is the Father that decided that you will be saved (if you are or will be saved), it is the Son that accomplishes that task (on the Cross), and it is Holy Spirit that guides your conscience toward Him every day.  There is a past in sanctification, we were set apart for salvation (Ephesians 1).  There is a present in Sanctification, where we are right now in working toward becoming like Christ by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2), and there is a future when we will be perfectly sanctified in the process of Glorification meaning that all sin is removed from our bodies (this point is after the second coming of Christ).

I want to focus this article on my position for the present, the fact that our present sanctification is dependent on both God and man to accomplish.  We do have a free will, not to the degree where we choose our salvation, but rather, a will to make our every day choices.  I can choose to go home and look at stuff on the internet that I should not see, or I could choose to go home and focus on God in prayer, the Word, or by some other means.  God, the Holy Spirit will move me toward the things of God, but my sin nature will lure me into the sins of man.  The one that I tend to feed by my habit of choices is the one that will usually win (Romans 7:14-25).

How to Be Sanctified

Fortunately, there is a prescription to move toward sanctification given in 2 Peter 1:1-11.  The book starts with this opening statement (2-4):

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

Peter is telling us that we have been selected, everything that is of life and Godliness is granted to us, we are given promises that we have divine truth, and we can escape the world.  There is so much in that paragraph that we could write pages just on that, but I digress.

Peter then moves on the prescription for sanctification.

Verse 5a – We need to be diligent about being morally excellent.  Of course many modern Christians think that striving for moral excellence is synonymous with self-righteousness and fleshly living.  I submit to you that this text means exactly what it says.  Peter is commanding you to work hard at living a moral life.  We should not be passing gas and laughing, stealing paper and pens from work, teasing people and jesting and joking about it.  We should live with very upright and moral lives and quit blaming our sin nature on the fact that we are not perfect.

Verse 5b – We should start to accompany our moral excellence with knowledge.  That is knowledge of the doctrines of the Bible, not the surface fluff.  Again, I see many American Christians that want to stay at the basic level of the Gospel, but is that not a negative as reported by the author of Hebrews?  No.  We are rather to seek the knowledge of God.

Verse 6a – Once we have moral excellence and knowledge, we need to add in a dose of self-control.  This is also called discipline and it is one of many exhortations in the scriptures.  The word self-control appears many times in the book of Titus, and Paul uses the concept of discipline in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 about living our Christian life.  Sadly, many Christians do not discipline themselves in anything whether it be to Biblical study or a plan to lose weight!

Verse 6b – Perseverance is a critical step.  It is means to stick with it.  See it through.  I experience this difficulty every morning.  I need to discipline myself to get out and run.  Once I do that, I need to keep perseverance to not stop running (at least for seven minutes which are the hardest seven in a run).  Scripturally, this means not giving in to sin and saying, “what does it matter, I am covered by the blood, I will do it just once”.  No, we need to keep up the faith understanding that we will be persecuted.  Be strong. Verse 6c – Adding Godliness means that we will start to live out our life not with the external morality (by the way, it is a great start to have external morality in the flesh), but Godliness is when the morality impacts our conscience and we are truly living the Fruit of the Spirit in our attitude, not just our body.

Verse 7a – Once the Fruit of the Spirit is inside of our regular attitude, we will be able to love other people.  Brother in this verse refers specifically to Christians.  That is the start of love to the whole world, first you love the brothers and sisters in the church.

Verse 7b – Once we can love our brothers, we are commended to love.  Love extends to all people, all places, all (dare I say it) religions!  We are simply to love other people and by that love, the Mark of the Christian is manifest in our life.

The next statement that Peter makes is the center of it all.  If these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. By verse 9 is the negative correlative: For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Amazing.  Not only do we participate in this process through hard work and discipline, but Peter says that we are blind if we do not do them.  He concludes the statement on sanctification with verses 10-11 placing the responsibility on the practice of these things with us.  Once we work hard and diligently at these things, the Holy Spirit will unite with that work in us and make us more and more like Christ.

So in the final analysis, Sanctification is a process that requires us to start it, and God to finish it.  We cannot lay back claiming to be covered by the blood and not work on our spiritual growth.  To do so, we demonstrate to God that we have forgotten about our cleansing from Sin.