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TEXT: I Peter 1:15
SUBJECT: Doctrine of Salvation #9: Sanctification
If any verse in the Bible undercuts our pride and self-sufficiency, I Peter 1:15 has got to be that verse. The Apostle grew up in Second Temple Judaism, where 'holiness' largely consisted of outward things, things like wearing phylacteries around your head, widening the hem of your garments, praying long prayers in public, washing your hands, pots and pans in a special way, and dumping large amounts of money in the Temple Treasury. These were the priorities of Pharisaism, which was, until the coming of Christ, the Gold Standard of holiness in Israel.
With the coming of our Lord, however, the human standards of holiness were exposed as the cheap and empty things they were. Jesus cared nothing for outward cleanness, but demanded something much harder to come by: inward purity.
The longer He preached, the deeper and wider His demands became. To Him, being 'decent or nice or religious' was not enough. Borrowing from His Royal Ancestor, He demanded-
Truth in the inner parts.
In other words, real, genuine, authentic holiness of body and soul. He didn't make up this ideal of His own, but got it from the Sacred Scriptures, the writings His own Spirit inspired and the Law by which He Himself lived. We can't say what His favorite proof text was, but we can be sure that Leviticus 11:44 was one of them-
Be ye holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.
We know He loved this verse, but Peter quoted it in the first chapter of his first Epistle. Thus, both he and Moses-and our Lord Jesus Christ-demand holiness, not just 'religion' or 'good manners', but something more, what our Bibles typically translate with one of these English words: Holiness or Sanctification.
This is today's topic, as we continue our afternoon study of Soteriology or the Doctrine of Salvation. The best place to start, I suppose, is with the meaning of Sanctification.
THE MEANING OF THE WORD
Not all Christians define the doctrine in the same way, but there is no dispute as to the meaning of the word.
Sanctification means 'separation', a sanctified person or other object is 'separated' from other persons or things. The first use of the word in the Bible is way back in Genesis 2:3, where God is said to-
Sanctify the Seventh Day.
If you read Genesis 1, you'll see that God worked six days on the creation and arrangement of the world. But on the Seventh Day, He rested. He didn't work: the first Sabbath was different from the six previous days; it was separated from God's workweek, you might say.
This is the first thing sanctified in the Old Testament-the first thing on a very long of other things. Read through the Law and you'll see people separated from each other-Israel from the nations, the Levites from the Israelites, the priests from the Levites, and so on.
You'll also find non-human things sanctified: Pots and pans and spoons and clothing and oil are separated from their common use and devoted to God in a special way.
All of these earthly 'separations' are meant to teach Israel the most important lesson they-or we-will ever learn: God is separate! He is sanctified or holy! There is not category for God; He is not one of a class of beings-not even a class of Divine beings. The Lord is totally separate from all other persons or things. Everything else is created; He is uncreated. Everything else is finite and limited, He is infinite and unlimited. Everything else is dependent on Him; He is dependent on nothing else.
This is the basic idea of the word, sanctification.
When applied to our salvation, it means being culled out from the world and its evil ways and devoted to God and His will for our lives. This is what God means when He commands us to be sanctified or holy: Be separate, be different, live for Me, not yourselves or other people.
Sanctification, therefore, means holiness. And, not holiness as the Pharisees defined it back in the day or some churches do today, but holiness as defined by God, and, in particular, by Jesus Christ.
I don't think any Christian would say that holiness doesn't matter at all, that God couldn't care less how we live. Even people who believe only in a vague and fuzzy and undefined god know he's for some things and against others!
But, how important is holiness? Or, to put a finer point on it, How important is holiness to our salvation? Is it a good thing or is it necessary?
There are many good things that are not necessary. Baptism is one of them. I and many other pastors have sometimes downplayed its importance. Because we don't believe that baptism saves or that one can go to Heaven without it, we sometimes make it into a matter of indifference. It isn't!
Every Christian is commanded to be baptized-not to consider it, study it, or debate it, but to submit to it. The Early Church practiced it without fail. We know of baptized people who are not Christians-Judas, Demas, Simon the Sorcerer-but we have no example of a Christian who was not also baptized, not after Pentecost, I mean. Baptism is important. But it is not necessary.
Holiness is. A few minutes ago, I said I Peter 1:15 is one of the scariest verses in the Bible; Hebrews 12:15 is another-
Follow peace with all men, and that holiness without which no man will see the Lord.
I wish the last part of the verse could be taken at face value, that unholy people will never see the Lord at all, that when they die, they simply disappear. This, however, is not consistent with the rest of the Bible. What the verse means, in fact, is that the unholy will never see the Lord's smiling face! In other words, he will be turned back at the Pearly Gates; he'll have no place among the Blessed.
No one is as holy as he ought to be, but if your life is not characterized by holiness-imperfect, but real holiness, you'll go to Hell. I don't know how much plainer I can make it. God give us ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches!
If we have to be holy, who can make us holy? It seems to me that there are only four possibilities: Either (a) We make ourselves holy, (b) Other people make us holy, (c) God makes us holy, or (d) Some combination of the above makes us holy.
Do we sanctify ourselves? After Arius, Pelagius was the worst heretic in the Early Church. He believed in the goodness of man and the power of human will. Anything you want badly enough, you can get! Thus, if you want to be holy, all you've got to do is try, and when this fails, try harder.
How anyone could take this seriously is beyond me! It is totally against what the Bible teaches, reduces the work of Christ to a Good Example, and is untrue to human experience! We do not sanctify ourselves! How could we? Job 14:4--
Who can bring an clean thing from an unclean? No one.
If we cannot sanctify ourselves, can other people do it for us? To ask the question is to answer it. If everyone is unclean how can an unclean man make another unclean man clean?
Think of the dry cleaners. You bring in a pair of stained pants, hoping they can get out the stain. But, the hands of the person who takes your pants are equally stained. And, then, looking at the machinery, you see it dripping with oil. And the garment bags have been fetched out of the garbage can.
Would you expect to get clean pants back from that dry cleaner? If not, how can you expect a mentor or even a church to make you spiritually clean?
But what if the cleaner was himself clean, his equipment spotless, and bags his impeccable. Might he get the stain out of your pants? I'd think he could. Applied to sanctification, only a Clean Sanctifier can sanctify, and there is no Clean Being but God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is the Agent of our Sanctification, Exodus 31:13-
I am the Lord who sanctifies you.
All Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity are at work in our sanctification, but the Holy Spirit takes the lead. He is the special agent of our sanctification. This, it seems to me, is the main reason He is called the Holy Spirit-not only because He Himself is holy, but because He makes us holy. Thus we read in I Peter 1:2, of-
The sanctification of the Spirit.
MONERGISM OR SYNERGISM?
No Christian really disagrees with the Spirit's work of sanctification, but what about the fourth option, the one I haven't covered yet?
A great many Christians believe sanctification is a joint-effort, even a community project, where the Holy Spirit, the Christian, and the Church work together to produce holy lives.
I don't believe this. I believe that sanctification, like every other aspect of our salvation is of the Lord, alone. But my difference with many of these brethren is more a matter of words than of substance.
Here's what I mean: Unlike regeneration, justification, and adoption, sanctification is not an Act of God's Grace, but a Work of God's Grace. In other words, it is not a one-time event outside of ourselves, but an ongoing process inside of ourselves.
This is why the Bible never says something like, 'Justify yourself' or 'Follow after Adoption', but it does say-
Sanctify yourselves.Follow after holiness.
We are active in our sanctification (and responsible for it), but there is no divvying up of the work between us and God or sharing the credit between the Holy Spirit and the Christian.
The Holy Spirit does all the work and gets all the glory because our holiness depends entirely on His work inside of us. Why do we admire holiness? Most people don't. It's because the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to its beauty. Why do we resist temptation? Because the Spirit empowers us to do that. Why do we become humbler and more prayerful and Christlike over time? Because the Holy Spirit is giving us a view of our sins and unworthiness, because He is stirring us to pray, because He is causing us to love Christ and want to be like Him.
What Jesus said in a slightly different context goes here as well-
It is the Spirit who quickens,
The flesh profits nothing.
We do not sanctify ourselves, nor do we help God sanctify us. God alone sanctifies us, chiefly through the agency of His Holy Spirit. This is why Paul says in Philippians 2:12--
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
Some of the Spirit's sanctifying work is immediate, that is to say, without the use of means. This is too mysterious for my mind, at least, and I'll leave it on the side for now.
Some of His work is mediate, that is, He uses things to make us holy. The four most important of them are: The Word of God, Prayer, the Sacraments, and the Church.
God can teach you His will without the Word if He wants to, but having given you His Word, why would He do that? One reason we don't do God's will more and more fully than we do, is because we don't know what it is: That's what the Bible is for! To tell us how to live our lives. We won't know how to live, however, unless we read the Bible with care and a sincere desire to know and obey it.
Prayer. Often, we have not because we ask not. And what is the usual Bible word for 'asking'? It's prayer. Are you praying for holiness? Are you praying to resist temptation? Praying against even being tempted? Are you praying for more sincerity, for more opportunities to do good, for a greater love and patience for the saints? Or compassion for the lost? Our prayer lives being what they are, it's no wonder our holiness lags so badly.
The Sacraments. If some churches idolize them, our temptation is to despise them. Why be baptized, it's such a bother! Why get up an hour earlier on Sunday to eat the bread and drink the wine? Well, since Jesus Christ gave us these Sacraments and commands us to observe them to the Second Coming, they're probably good for us! Unless He is just wasting our time with empty rituals!
The Church. By which I mean both the meetings and the informal fellowship. If 'reading the Bible in your bedroom' was enough, why did Jesus Christ equip men to preach it? If singing in your hearts to the Lord was enough, why did He appoint singing in the Church? If private prayer is all you need, why did He tell men to pray in Church? If your wife or husband or best friend is all the encouragement or correction you need, why did He tell us all to watch over each other, to provoke to love and good works?
Believe me, I said this to myself before I said it to you: Are you serious about sanctification? Does holiness really matter to you? Does it matter enough to read the Bible every day? To come to every service? To take correction? To turn off the TV? To re-prioritize your life?
If Sanctification were like some minor point of Eschatology, I'd say, 'Don't trouble yourself about it'. Does figuring out 666 really matter that much? But Sanctification is not a minor point of Eschatology! It's a matter of life and death, of Heaven and Hell. So we ought to care passionately about it: Both to know the doctrine of holiness. And the life of holiness. God help us to do so. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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