“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13)
Regeneration is an act by which God renews the human heart. We often hear it expressed as being “born again”, “made alive” or “made new”. Regeneration’s natural progression is to faith and repentance on the part of man. Justification is to be declared not guilty, to have a right legal standing before God because Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us. Author and theologian, John Murray says “regeneration is an act of God in us, whereas justification is a judgment of God with respect to us.” Regeneration, justification and our adoption into God’s family is a work of God’s grace alone. Though not the primary subject here, these doctrines are important to our understanding the doctrine of sanctification and why understanding it matters.
So What is Sanctification?
In his book, Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem defines sanctification as a work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives. Sanctification is viewed in two ways: First, having been “set apart” for God’s holy purpose, it is viewed as a past event. This is referred to as positional sanctification. Secondly, sanctification is viewed as a continual transformation over time. This has been termed progressive sanctification. It is important for us to understand the difference. As a Christian, our position before God is perfect. When He looks at us, He sees the righteousness of Christ that has been placed on us. However, God also knows we are a work in progress. He knows that in this life we will never be perfect, but that by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit we are being transformed more and more into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). This transformation will not end until glory.
How Understanding Sanctification Helps Us in Our Christian Walk
So, why does understanding the doctrine of sanctification matter? There are several reasons: First, it helps to keep us from being defeated by our sin. On the cross, Jesus dealt with sin for all time—past, present and future. Understanding that there is a progressive aspect to our spiritual maturity helps to keep us from being overwhelmed by guilt that results from sin. We are never perfect in this life. It’s not that we don’t want to be, and shouldn’t want to be. And it’s not to make light of sin. It’s just how it is. Satan would love for us to be consumed with guilt because it has the potential of rendering us ineffective in gospel ministry. Remember, Jesus took the sin and all that goes with it.
Secondly, understanding the doctrine of sanctification makes us more effective as we minister in that it helps us to be more patient with others. People are always at different places in their walk with Christ and understanding that there is an ongoing spiritual progression in each of us allows us to meet people where they are, to better understand them and encourage them as they grow in grace.
Lastly, understanding the doctrine of sanctification brings glory to God. Doctrines aren’t taught to bring confusion, but to lessen it. They are taught because they matter. They help us take away from God’s revelation what He intended, thereby, enabling us to rest in the grace we find only in Him. This pleases the heart of God and brings Him the glory He is due!