Blog

Sanctification and Holiness (Part 1)

Subscribe: Theology Unplugged on iTunes.

Tim Kimberley (TK): Well, fellas, it’s great to be back together again, and this week, we are talking about something that I think is probably something that hits us all in the very core of who we are, and it’s something that I don’t think we talk about that much in the church actually, and that is sanctification, or holiness. Michael, do you talk about holiness and sanctification very often when you teach, would you say?

Michael Patton (MP): Well, you know…

TK: I’m going to put you on the spot here!

MP: You know, from a theological perspective, using those words to introduce sanctification and holiness, I think is something maybe we don’t talk about in theory, the way we may hear today as we go through different views of sanctification. But I think, when we’re talking about living the Christian life there is, of course, an assumption behind it of how much we can be, in this life, be Christ-like, how holy we can be, how much (this side of heaven), how much we can be like we will be on the other side of heaven.

Sam Storms (SS): Well, Tim’s already there.

MP: Tim is!

SS: We’ve already conceded up front that the other three of us are still struggling. Tim has arrived.

TK: I didn’t want to say anything, but thank you, Sam.

JJ Seid (JS): I think, I bet you we already have some listeners that are already entering the fog because we’ve already talked about holiness and sanctification, those two big words, and they’re used different ways in Scripture. So, somebody help us out here, because most people don’t realize that sanctification and holiness are sort of interchangeable terms. And, too, there’s positional holiness; and then there’s progressive holiness, and it’s really important that you know which one you’re talking about.

TK: Yeah, okay. So I would give a very quick definition I would give is that God is holy, which means He is pure and He is the only holy being, like truly holy being, that we’ve ever seen.

MP: Perfect.

TK: Yeah, He’s perfectly holy, but we are not and we never will be. Now, I’m showing my cards there a little bit. But one of the things that’s very strange, I would say—and I’m going to use that word strange, I think—very strange in a very humbling way, is that God wants us to look more like Him. And He wants us to look like Jesus. And so when we believe, when we become believers, as we follow Jesus, we are not merely following Jesus; He is, from the inside out, making us look more like His Son. And I would say that that is what’s called sanctification.

And when you describe what’s happening, you can say, “Look! That person is living in holiness,” in one sense.

JS: Well, and people say, “In what way? In what part of your life?”

I like to say, “Progressively making us look more like Him in what we think, say, do and desire.”

Kind of giving people a concrete illustration of the areas in which there’s change, and movement, and progress. But there’s something else—our status—which isn’t related to those things. Somebody help me out here.

SS: Well, let’s get back, you already drew the distinction that’s it’s important. When people read their Bibles, they’re going to come across this word ‘sanctification’ in the New Testament. And they need to understand it’s used in two very clear senses: the word “sanctify” sometimes means “to set apart” or “to consecrate as unique.” God sanctifies us in the sense that He sets us apart unto Himself; we become His possession. There’s actually a book written on sanctification called Possessed by God, and this author actually argues that the primary meaning of sanctification in the New Testament is what JJ referred to as positional. It refers to our relationship with the Father that is unchanging: doesn’t fluctuate, doesn’t alter from day to day, it isn’t affected by whether we sin or whether we live in holiness. It means that we have been purchased, bought by God, set apart unto Him. We are His unique possession; we belong to Him; we’re possessed by Him. And then it’s used, of course, in a few places to refer to, as you used the term, progressive; what we would kind of call an incremental, daily transformation in what we desire, what we long for, what we hate, what we say, what we do that we hope by God’s grace is more and more like how that was revealed in the life of Jesus.

MP: You know, speaking of this in a couple ways, and I know we’re kind of shotgunning at the beginning to give people an idea of what we’re talking about—and maybe we’ll further talk about in other broadcasts—but there’s a couple of things that I have that are questions, very personal questions, because when I think of sanctification the first person I go to is myself, you know, and how sanctified am I, and am I being sanctified?

SS: Are you asking us for an evaluation?

MP: No, no no! Please, no! This is not a counseling session.

TK: Also, I think there’s probably proving that you need more sanctification when you always think of yourself, just because you’re so selfish.

JS: Tim’s just taking shots!

MP: I’m going to take some further shots at myself. But at one time in my life I did feel like, because of the things that I was doing, the things that I changed in my life, the outward appearance that I had become, and very, very important vestiges and sins that I had gotten rid of in my early 20s, that I was really looking sanctified, that I was really feeling sanctified; that I felt like I was more like God and I was holy. You know, I was a pretty good chap and pretty close to what I was supposed to be. But as I’ve grown in the Lord, I think—you know this is kind of the weird thing—as I’ve grown in the Lord, I have felt less and less sanctified. Every year, I don’t feel like I’m more sanctified than I was the year before, even though in some ways I should. And in other ways, it’s not as if there are vestiges that I’m picking up. It’s just, you start to feel the corruption more and more.

JS: I love JI Packer. He said, “Growth in the Christian life is growth downward.”

It was many years before I heard that, but the minute I read it, I said, “Oh, man! That sounds right! That makes sense.”

TK: But, that’s not the way that everybody’s always treated this, though. You know, because some people, when they hear “sanctification”, they will cower.

You know, they’ll think to themselves, “Oh my gosh! I’m not as sanctified as I should be. I’ve been following Jesus for twenty years. Why does my life not look that way?”

Like, kind of what you’re looking to. I think they probably have grown a lot, but it’s been growth downward.

But then other people will say, “No. I’m there. I’ve been sanctified. The power of the Spirit has worked in me.”

Men like John Wesley have led movements where this term “entire sanctification,” or I think there are other terms we could use here. I even had a friend of mine in seminary that was part of a denomination that you could not be ordained in this denomination unless you adhered to the statement that you have been entirely sanctified.

And so, and the challenge that he, and he would whisper to you and say, “You know, I want to be in this denomination. This is the denomination I grew up in.”

SS: Why?

TK: Well, a lot of it was allegiance. There were a lot of things he loved about it and he thought the heart behind a lot of it was good and it was what he grew up in.

And he was like, “You know, I feel called to this, but I can never be open and honest about my sins to the people of my church, because if I do and they know that I sin, then I will be fired from my job.”

MP: Wow.

JS: I would love for us to talk about that more. I have to throw an illustration in here because it’s so good. I’m afraid we might run out of time and I might not get to tell it. Clare Davis taught at Westminster Theological Seminary for many years, and he would famously give an illustration of everything we’ve been talking about. He gives a picture to sort of sum it all up.

He says, “Think of yourself as a yo-yo held in the hands of a man going upstairs.”

The man is going upstairs.

Philippians 1:6: “He will finish what He started in us by the day of Jesus Christ.”

There’s this guarantee that if we’ve been born again, if we’ve been regenerated and justified, God’s not going to let us go halfway. He’s going to make sure and finish what He started when we’re glorified some day in the future. The man is going upstairs. There’s a steady certainty and progress and yet we look at our own lives and we have this experience of high highs and low lows. You know? We’re like a yo-yo.

And so, Clare Davis says, “Our goal should be 1) to constantly remind ourselves that the man is going upstairs, and 2) our goal should be to return quickly to the hand of the man. We should be repenting more often and repenting more quickly.”

TK: That’s good!

JS: I think it’s such a good picture of, you know, holiness is the direction we’re moving; and repentance is the lifestyle we’re living as we’re moving in that direction.

SS: That’s not bad for a church historian! You don’t usually expect church historians to come up with those juicy illustrations. Clare Davis is a great church historian and that’s a great illustration.

JS: But I say all that to say that, Tim, this idea that you just trotted out, this idea of entire sanctification that we probably have Wesley partly to blame for, who was a good Godly man—that doesn’t sound like it jives with that illustration I just gave.

TK: Well, I think it could in the sense that you could say, “I’m so far up the stairs that, and the yo-yo maybe fluctuates slightly, but not really.”

You know? It’s so far up the stairs that you really can’t tell the yo-yo going, you know. I think John Newton brilliant in this statement that I think speaks into sanctification too.

He says, “I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still, I am not what I once used to be. And by the grace of God, I am what I am.”

And that seems to be a man that is on the road of sanctification, but is realizing that the yo-yo is going up and down quite dramatically.

MP: Well, and another question—not just to open up a lot of questions and not close them up—but a question is: “Why be sanctified?”

I’ve had this posed to me one time, where somebody said, “Listen, I mean aren’t we, when we get to heaven and stand before the Lord, isn’t everybody going to be instantly sanctified? Why is it that we are progressing in this life so hard, and working so hard, where if sanctification is a ten, you know, and we get to where we start at a zero and we get to a one, or a two, or a seven, or an eight in this life, and we’re all going to be a 10 instantly, right when we die, why even bother with it? Why do we push so hard for sanctification?”

TK: That’s a great question.

JS: I think Sam and I are both antsy to respond, so I’ll let Sam respond first.

SS: Well, I immediately thought of Hebrews 12:14: “Strive for peace with everyone and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

So why sanctified? Why pursue sanctification? Because without it you won’t see the Lord.

MP: So, in this life, if we’re not sanctified, we won’t see the Lord?

SS: No. If we’re not making progress, if there’s not progressive transformation; if there’s not a movement toward the image of Christ, I think he’s saying that we will not see the Lord.

MP: Well, that sounded very Roman Catholic.

SS: No, it’s actually very Reformed.

TK: It’s Biblical. Here, let me continue in the Bible. Is that okay? Is the Bible admissible in this conversation?

MP: No, it is! I mean in the sense of, you know, giving a command but still asking the question of the Bible.

TK: Yeah, and mine dovetails with Sam. I’m in Ezekiel 36, starting in verse 22.

He says, “Oh, house of Israel. I am about to act, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations,” verse 23 says, “I will vindicate the holiness of My great name, which has been profaned among the nations and which you have profaned among them.”

And then I’ll drop down to verse 26—it says, “I will give you a new heart, and a new Spirit I will put in you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh; give you a heart of flesh, and I will put My Spirit within you, and I’m going to cause you to walk in My statutes, and be careful to obey My rules.”

And then verse 36: “Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord.”

And so, I would say the reason why sanctification and holiness are happening because God wants the world to know that He is holy and that those that follow Him, reflect Him. So, I would say it’s an evangelistic way in one sense, and seems to me maybe the ultimate sense, is that we should strive for holiness because the One that we follow is holiness. And you know, if you spend time, I mean it’s the cliche example for some.

But, you know, if you spend time around, you gave the illustration, if you spend time around people who believe the earth is flat, and you join the “Earth is Flat” Society, you become the treasurer of the “Earth is Flat” Society, after a while you’re going to be like, “These people are starting to make some sense. And I’m starting to wonder if this is true.”

And it’s that sense of, we just naturally, our lives start reflecting the one that we’re around. And so, I think, if we’re around our God, and we’re telling people we’re around our God, He is orchestrating things so that our life exhibits holiness.

JS: Well, and I would love if someone asked that question because it would just give us a chance to talk about so many great things. Because in that question, they’ve been so reductionistic that it probably that they have a very narrow understanding of what it means to become a Christian, to be saved. You know, to sum the entire Bible up in a sentence: God saves sinners. Well, when God saves a sinner, what happens? You know?

And that person asking that question of, “Can’t we just dither around and do whatever we want since we’re all going to cross the finish line at the same time anyway; the tortoises and the hares are all going to cross the finish line?”

Well then I would say to them, “Then you have a fundamental misunderstanding of what God actually did in you; if, in fact, He did it.”

You know, 1 Thessalonians 1, he’s thinking about these Thessalonian believers’ conversion, and he says, “You turned to God, from idols to serve the living and true God.”

This from/to; if that really happened, then you should continue to be from/to-ing for the rest of your life. You know, there’s been a fundamental change in orientation of what you used to live for and what you live for now. And then I also think of 1 John, chapter 2, where he says—it was really fascinating, this jumped out at me; I’d never noticed it—oh, I lost it! Where is it? Oh, yeah, here it is!

1 John 2 verse 3: “By this we know that we have come to know Him.” Notice that, past tense.

“By this we know now that we have,” past tense, “come to know Him.”

Why? “If we keep,” present tense, “His commandments.”

So there’s also a huge issue here of self-deception. There are a lot of people that think they’re disciples of Jesus and they’ve been moved from death to life; but if there isn’t present evidence of change and transformation in their life, of turning from idols to serve the living God, then they have to at least ask themselves the question, “Am I self-deceived?”

SS: Let me, I want to come back to the question that Michael asked, and I know you didn’t intend it this way, but it sounded a little bit man-centered.

You know, “Why should we bother if we’re all going to get there in the end?”

And let’s put this in the context of our relationship with the Lord, and the passage that came to mind is what Jesus said in Matthew 5, in the Sermon on the Mount, and I think there are a number of other texts that would bear this out.

He said, “In the same way, let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

So if somebody asked me, “Why be sanctified? Why should you be concerned about the practical experience, day in/day out, and your struggle with sin, and how you conduct yourself, and how you speak, and how you relate to others?”

And I think our first answer should be, “Because I want my life to bring honor and praise to my heavenly Father, who’s delivered me from sin and condemnation. I want what I do to reflect well upon the majesty and the mercy of God Himself.”

So I think it’s important that we place the subject of sanctification and our personal holiness within the larger orbit of God’s glory and the praise that is due unto His name. Now, granted, we still need to talk about issues that have been addressed, but let’s never forget that the purpose of our progressive transformation to look like Jesus is not so that we will look good, but so that we will make Him look good; that His grace in us will be magnified, and the marvel of His mercy toward us and how the Spirit is working in us will be heightened and made known.

TK: I like that. It reminds me, I mean, just to take one example of the sexual ethic, if you look at 1 Corinthians 6, the direction that Paul goes with it. He could just say, “Stop doing that. That’s wrong. That’s bad. Don’t do it.”

Well, and that would be true in a sense, but that’s so flat, and he goes much deeper.

He says, “Don’t you know your body’s a temple of the Holy Spirit? You’re not your own. You were bought with a price. So, therefore, glorify God in your body.” It’s not yours anymore; that’s the short answer. He says, “You have no right. You’ve been purchased. You don’t get to choose anymore.”

MP: Well, I’m going to give you guys a better answer than anything you guys have said.

SS: Better than the Bible verses?

MP: This is a theology, it’s not just one verse.

JS: It’s good that you’re here, Michael. What would we do without you?

MP: Well, listen to this, okay. It’s kind of philosophical in a way. It’s kind of looking at somebody who, maybe sanctification’s hard for this guy. And that’s what he’s thinking—this is really hard. I can’t overcome my sin. And why do I keep on wrestling with it if, in the end, I will have overcome it? And, to me, I understand that because it is a hard process. We do still have the sin nature that bends us towards our old self and gets us in habits that are easier to stay in than the habits of righteousness, sometimes. And in the end, we ask the question: “Why be sanctified?” And in the end, it’s because it’s better! It’s actually better.

God has created it in such a way not to be grueling, and you get there, and you’re halfway there, or you’re getting close, and you’re saying, “Man, this just really stinks! It’s so hard!”

In the end, it’s better. It’s better for, when I look at people in my life that I know that are consistently drunk; they’re consistently controlled by alcohol; they’re consistently passed out; they’re consistently living life just filled with intoxication.

I look at them and they may say, “Why do I need to stop? It’s too hard!”

I say, “Because it’s better! It’s so much better to do what’s right.”

In the end, it’s harder, yes. But God didn’t create it and say, “I want you to do these really hard things, and it’s going to be a lot worse; and things are going to be just terrible in your life, and you’re going to be so unsatisfied.”

It’s more satisfying to follow the Lord because that’s the nature He created us with. In the end, we are like Him, and if we are in His image, being like Him is the most satisfying thing that we can do. It’s hard, yes, but satisfying.

TK: I like what you said about struggle, because I realize I’ve had to have that conversation with many friends. They see the struggle as discouraging and distressing, and we need to constantly remind ourselves that the struggle is comforting because it’s a reminder that we’re not enslaved to sin anymore. When we were enslaved, we didn’t struggle; we loved our sin. So the fact that they struggle should give them joy and confidence that they’ve changed; and the fact that they’re at war should be a comfort to them.

SS: Okay, let me just really throw, what is it, the monkey wrench into the works—I agree with you, Michael! You’re right. One reason why we should be sanctified is because it’s better, but I’m going to use another word.

I think we need to say, “We need to be sanctified because it’s necessary.”

Now, that opens up a whole can of worms. Necessary for what? Well, obviously we’ve already touched on some part—necessary so that our heavenly Father is glorified and magnified in and through our lives. But I also would say necessary for entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

MP: That’s a tough one. Yeah, we may not have enough time for…

SS: Well, that’s why we’re going to have to come back again and follow it up.

JS: I almost want to yell, “Crucify him!” to Sam.

MP: Yeah, that’s for sure, because there are as…

SS: “Pursue that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” That sounds to me like it’s necessary that there be an active, energetic pursuit of holiness, and an evidence of fruit in one’s life if we expect to see God. That’s what I mean by necessary.

JS: “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we,” present tense, “keep His commandments.”

TK: Yeah, so I agree with you guys. What I think the head-scratcher is, is because the growth is downward and because many times the Lord, in sanctification, is revealing new sin to you, that His light is shining into new areas of your darkness. How in the world can we live in a victorious Christian, free life where this is necessary, but then we aren’t freaked out the whole time that we’re going to go to hell when we die?

JS: And that’s something we haven’t said yet, and let’s go back to the illustration of the yo-yo held in the hand of the man. Repentance isn’t what you do when you fail to grow.

Martin Luther, one of the most important assertions he made, when he was match that lit the Reformation is, he said, “Repentance isn’t what you do when you fail to grow. Repentance is the way you grow.”

So these things are not incompatible. Growth downward is growth in repentance. Growth in repentance leads to greater fruit.

SS: And of course, obviously, the issue that’s standing out there that just needs to be stated, and maybe we’ll have to come back to this—is when I say it’s necessary, a lot of people are pulling their hair out, saying, “Are you saying then, that salvation is by works? Are you suggesting…”

MP: That’s what I’m saying!

SS: Yeah, I can see it in your eyes.

MP: I’m wondering why I’m sitting next to you.

SS: Well, you’re holding yourself in check there pretty well! Because I can see you’re fuming! Because it sounds like I’m suggesting that salvation is somehow suspended upon works. Upon the extent to which, or the degree to which, our lives are conformed to the image of Christ. So that, obviously, is a massive issue related to sanctification.

Now, just let me make it even worse here: Jesus, at the end of Matthew chapter 5 said to His disciples, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

MP: Let me end…

SS: You’re just going to ignore that verse, aren’t you? Just going to ignore it.

MP: No! I’m just going to throw a monkey wrench all in this with Romans chapter 7.

Paul is saying, “For I do not understand my actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do the thing that I do not want, I agree with the law that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin who dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me that is in the flesh. For the desire that I want to do is right, but the ability to carry out is not there. For I do not do the good I want; but the evil I do not want, I keep on doing.”

Now, that’s, I mean we do have, as we will see when we move on, a side in the Bible that talks about this struggle and this failure, and then also the necessity to push forward. And, as Sam said, to be holy, for God is holy.

SS: And I would simply say, let’s cap it with this, all right? This will actually open us up for the next time. I think what you just read, Michael, could only have been written by a man who was experiencing the gracious power of sanctification in his life.

Disclaimer: All quotations are transcribed as spoken by the participants. They have not been checked for accuracy.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply