|From the Fall 2011 issue of Knowing & Doing|
by Robert M. Norris
One of the great challenges for all Christians is to hold the balance between mind and heart, between doctrine and experience. If the doctrine is wrong, then the whole practice of our Christian faith will become distorted, and our Christian lives will be the poorer. Yet in our generation many Christians often say that they are looking for what they think is “practical” help in their living of the Christian life. When they hear of a “doctrine,” they become convinced that it belongs to the realm of the mind and dismiss it as having little or no practical value and consequently neglect or even avoid it. One of those doctrines frequently thought of in this way is sanctification. Yet sanctification is the biblical way of describing Christian discipleship, and unless we understand it in its full expression as the Scripture unfolds it, we risk reducing discipleship to a series of “do’s and don’ts” that all too often results in a rigid and arid legalism.
As is the case with many of the doctrines taught in Scripture, there exists a wide theological diversity in the Christian community on the understanding of what sanctification means. However, there is a general agreement about the absolute importance for every Christian to live out his or her faith in the midst of a world where Christ is not received or welcomed. This involves being faithful to him to see him as the only way to heaven and to live in witness to his uniqueness as Savior and the absolute Lord. This is how the Scripture understands sanctification in the life of the believer.
The Greek verb for sanctification, hagiazo, means to be “set apart,” and it always indicates the sovereign action of God who “sets apart” a person, place, or a thing in order to accomplish his purposes. When we become Christians by the call of God, every believer is thus set apart by God. The great privilege we have is that as distinct from our justification—where we are declared righteous by God on the basis of the finished work of Christ, and to which we contribute nothing—in our sanctification we bring our redeemed minds, hearts, and wills to cooperate with the Holy Spirit who indwells us, in living out our lives as Christians. This is what is meant by discipleship, which is a work of God in us. This is distinct from our justification in which God sovereignly declares us righteous, as the apostle Paul makes clear when writing to the Romans: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (8:33).
While justification is declarative, sanctification is concerned to eliminate sin from our lives and conform us to the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a lifelong process in which the Holy Spirit, who indwells us and causes us to persevere in the struggle with sin until Christ returns or calls us, “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body,” (Phil.3.21) so that we are delivered from that which is corruptible, and we put on bodies no longer subject to decay, death, or sin.
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