God’s Spirit sanctifies; Legalism denies God’s completed work
Jesus continued His intercessory prayer – “’Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.’” (John 17: 17-21) From the Wycliffe Bible Dictionary we learn the following – “Sanctification needs to be distinguished from justification. In justification God attributes to the believer, at the moment he receives Christ, the very righteousness of Christ and sees him from that point on as having died, been buried, and raised again in newness of life in Christ (Rom. 6: 4-10). It is a once-for-all change in forensic, or legal status, before God. Sanctification, in contrast, is a progressive process which proceeds in the life of the regenerated sinner on a moment-by-moment basis. In sanctification there occurs a substantial healing of the separations which have occurred between God and man, man and his fellowman, man and himself, and man and nature.” (Pfeiffer 1517)
It is critical to realize that we are all born with a fallen or sinful nature. To ignore this fact may lead to the popular delusion that we are all just “little gods” climbing various religious or moral ladders to some imaginary state of earthly and eternal perfection. The New Age idea that we just need to “awaken” the god within all of us is a complete lie. A clear view of our human condition reveals our continual bend toward sin.
Paul dealt with sanctification in Romans chapters six through eight. He begins by asking them – “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace shall abound?” And then answers his own question – “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” He then introduces what we as believers should know – “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” Paul goes on to tell them – “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6: 1-4) Paul tells us and his Roman readers – “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” (Rom. 6: 5-6) Paul teaches us – “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Rom. 6: 11-13) Paul then makes a profound statement – “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Rom. 6: 14)
Grace is always contrasted with law. Today, grace reigns. Jesus paid the full price for our redemption. When we turn today to any part of the law for our justification or sanctification, we are rejecting the completeness of Christ’s work. Before Jesus came, the law was proven to be powerless to bring life and righteousness (Scofield 1451). If you are trusting in law to justify you, consider what Paul taught the Galatians – “knowing that a man is not justified by works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Gal. 2: 16)
Scofield points out what our responsibility is concerning our sanctification – 1. to know the facts of our union and identification with Christ in His death and resurrection. 2. to reckon these facts to be true concerning ourselves. 3. to present ourselves once for all as alive from the dead for God’s possession and use. 4. to obey in the realization that sanctification can proceed only as we are obedient to the will of God as revealed in His Word. (Scofield 1558)
After we come to God through trusting what Jesus Christ has done for us, we are eternally indwelt with His Spirit. We are unified with God through His empowering Spirit. Only God’s Spirit can deliver us from the pull of our fallen natures. Paul said of himself and of all of us – “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.” (Rom. 7: 14) We can have no victory over our flesh, or fallen natures without yielding to God’s Spirit. Paul taught – “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Rom. 8: 2-4)
If you have yielded yourself to some form of legalistic teaching, you may be setting yourself up for the delusion of self-righteousness. Our fallen natures always want a measuring stick of law to help us to feel better about ourselves. God wants us to have faith in what He has done for us, draw close to Him, and seek His will for our lives. He wants us to recognize that only His Spirit will give us the grace to obey from our hearts His word and will for our lives.
Pfeiffer, Charles F., Howard F. Vos, and John Rea, eds. Wycliffe Bible Dictionary. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998.
Scofield, C.I., D.D., ed. The Scofield Study Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.