Sanctification Part 1: Chosen to be Holy
… just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,
Ephesians 1:4 NKJ
Question 75 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “What is sanctification?” It gives the answer, “Sanctification is a work of God's grace, whereby they whom God hath, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life.” Last week we examined what God did for us in our adoption. This week we begin to consider the doctrine of sanctification.
The first thing we notice about the Biblical doctrine of sanctification is how differently the Catechism begins to describe it, as compared to how it described justification and adoption. Both of these latter doctrines were said to be “an act” of God’s free grace, whereas the doctrine of sanctification is called “a work” of God’s grace. Here, there is a lifetime of difference between “an act” and “a work.” Both justification and adoption occur and our completed in a moment of time. As soon as the sinner repents and believes he is justified, and as soon as he is justified he is adopted. God acts and it is done. Not so with sanctification. In sanctification God works throughout the life of the believing sinner to, as the Catechism teaches, cause the sinner to “more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life.” Sanctification is a work of God’s grace that begins at conversion and continues until the sinner enters heaven. It is progressive, it is constant, and no believer is without it.
Likewise, sanctification is a work of God’s grace. We do not earn our sanctification, neither do we forfeit it. The word sanctification is from the same Greek root as the word “holy.” To be sanctified literally means to be made holy. Here holiness refers to moral purity. God saved you so that you would be holy as He is holy. Notice in the first part of its answer, the Catechism is merely paraphrasing the verse at the head of this article, that before the foundation of the world, God chose us so that we would be holy. God did not save us so that we could live however we want to for all eternity. He saved us so that we would be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29), so that we would be holy as He is holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16), so that we would be made righteous (Rom. 5:19), even as He is righteous (1 John 2:29). Our being conformed into the moral image of Christ, in holiness and righteousness, begins the moment we are saved.
Righteousness and sin are revealed by the law of God. Righteousness is the result of keeping the law, sin is the result of breaking the law. In sanctification God makes us more and more righteous. By the grace of God, through the working of His Spirit, all Christians actually are becoming less sinful and more righteous. This righteousness is not the righteousness by which God has justified us. The Christian is justified entirely by the righteousness of Christ. We contribute not one iota, not the slightest bit to the righteousness upon which our justification is based. Jesus did it all. He kept the law perfectly in our place so that God would accept us as His own children, justified entirely by the righteousness of Christ (Phi. 3:9).
However, God does not stop there. It would not be much of a salvation, if we were saved from the penalty of sin, but not from the power of it. God did not deliver us from punishment so that we could live lives forever plagued and buffeted by sin. The moment God justified us He began to sanctify us and actually make us righteous. God does this by the powerful operation of His Spirit, who stirs up our spirits to put off sin and to put on obedience. Thus, in sanctification we are active. God changes us and works within us so that we work out our salvation. In sanctification we actually participate with God in making ourselves more and more like Jesus Christ. It is a work of God’s grace, but it is a work in which God enlists our participation. The sanctification process is the life of the Christian. You were saved for this reason. You were chosen for this purpose. Sanctification is God’s will for your life in all things (1 The. 4:3). Praise God for this glorious and high calling, which gives all of life its meaning and significance!