The Paradoxical Nature of Sanctification

by Dennis Michelson
(Novelty, Ohio)

Romans 7:18 and I Thessalonians 5:23


Introduction: There is a tension between the believer being already justified and in the process of being sanctified. In one sense we are perfect and in another we are being perfected. This causes problems and confusion for some. Justification gives us the title deed to heaven and sanctification makes us "meet" or fit for heaven.

1. The Meaning of Sanctification

(1) It can mean taking something from a common use to a sacred use
(2) It can mean dedication to the service of God
(3) It can mean purification from ceremonial defilement as in Hebrews 9:13
(4) It can mean the purification from the pollution of sin. This is the sense we employ in this message.

2. The Mistakes About Sanctification

#1 - Righteousness is imputed but not imparted. This is essentially the mistake made by the Antinomians.

#2 - Righteousness is reachable but not required. This is a common error of the "easy-believism" position.

#3 - Justification and sanctification are identical. This is the mistake made by the Arminians and some Romanists. The following are five reasons that this serious error should be avoided:

(1) They Differ in nature - Justification is a relative change in the state of the believer and sanctification is a real change in the status of a believer.

(2) They differ in order - Righteousness imputed precedes righteousness imparted.

(3) They differ in matter - Justification is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us; sanctification is an inherent righteousness communicated in us.

(4) They differ in form - Justification is a judicial act by which we are pronounced righteous; sanctification is a moral act (or series of acts) by which we are made righteous.

(5) They differ in properties - Justification is perfected at once and is equal in all believers; sanctification is imperfect at the outset and is not equal in all believers. Justification is an act and sanctification is a work.

3. The Mystery of Sanctification

(1) It is initial and progressive. The initial sanctification is our regeneration when we become a new creature. Progressive sanctification is the subduing and mortifying of the lusts remaining in the body of sin (flesh). The work started in regeneration is carried on in sanctification until the initial principle of holiness becomes the practice of holiness in the believer. This is the truth of Philippians 1:6.

(2) Its goal is perfection but our gains are imperfect (in this life). See Ecclesiastes 7:20; James 3:2; Proverbs 20:9; I John 1:8; and Philippians 3:12.

(3) The war has been won but the battles are not over. The ultimate outcome has been decided and is known and serves as an incentive to fight the fight of Galatians 5:17.

(a) The impulsive cause of sanctification is the free grace of God (Titus 3:5)
(b) The meritorious cause of sanctification is the blood and righteousness of Christ (Titus 2:14)
(c) The efficient cause of sanctification is the Holy Spirit (I Peter 1:2; II Thessalonians 2:13.
(d) The instrumental cause of sanctification is faith in Christ (Acts 15:9; 26:18.
(e) The external means of sanctification is the Word of God and prayer (John 17:7 and I Peter 2:2)

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