It is the Heart and Will of God
for His People to be Holy as He is Holy.
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 (NKJV) Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God. . .
Sanctification: To be made holy; to be set apart, as set apart from the world and consecrated to God. In an ethical sense it means the progressive conformation of the believer into the image of Christ (2 Peter 3:18), or the process whereby one’s life is made morally holy. It begins at our conversion – our regeneration (2 Corinthians 5:17) and is completed when we see Christ – our glorification (1 John 3:2).
Is Sanctification something we do or something God does for us?
(Note how many “imperatives” are in these verses)
Romans 6:11-14 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. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (NKJV)
Romans 8:1-2 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. (NKJV)
Galatians 5:16-18 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. (NKJV)
Colossians 3:2-7 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. (NKJV)
The Difference in Justification and Sanctification
There are two aspects of sin: guilt and depravity. The guilt aspect of sin is the consequence of active sin in a person’s life and is what makes that person deserving of punishment. Sin as depravity is the result of Adam’s fall and is the power in a person’s life that causes him to commit sin. There are also two aspects of salvation designed to deal with the two aspects of sin: justification and sanctification. Below we will compare and contrast these two aspects of salvation and hopefully come to see how they are so intimately related.
Justification settles the problem of guilt. Jesus Christ paid the penalty for the sins of mankind through His death on the cross. We receive the benefit of that payment when we accept Christ and become one with Him. We are justified when God places the righteousness of Christ on our account and marks our sin as “paid in full.” Romans 8:1 states that “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Justification is totally an instantaneous act of God on our behalf. There is nothing we can do to be justified.
Sanctification, on the other hand, deals with the problem of depravity as it changes our experience with sin. It is the declared purpose of God that we should become holy as He is holy (I Peter 1:15-16). To this purpose He has ordained (Romans 8:29) that all believers will be conformed to the image of Christ. In other words, we will become Christ-like in our thoughts, words, and deeds. This is a process. It begins at conversion and will become complete at the resurrection when we shall see Jesus face to face and be like Him for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). While our sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit within us, it involves a person’s will. We must choose to do what we know is right. The chart below will help in contrasting and comparing these two aspects of salvation.
Can We Have One Without the Other?
Justification and sanctification, while clearly distinct, cannot be separated. You cannot have one without the other. In other words, justification (right standing with God) will be followed by sanctification (conforming to the image of Christ). There is no one who can conform to the image of Christ without first being justified, as this is required to receive the Holy Spirit. And without the Spirit, we are still ruled by our sinful nature and cannot do that which is pleasing to God (good works). Likewise, there is no one who can become justified through his or her good works since good works are a result of sanctification.
Two aspects of sin…two aspects of salvation to deal with sin – God certainly has left nothing to chance.
God’s Command to Be Holy
- Because it is written, be holy for I am Holy. (I Peter 1:16)
- Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts. (Rom. 6:12)
- Awake to righteousness, and sin not… (I Corinthians 15:34a)
- Be angry and sin not… (Ephesians 4:26a)
- My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. (I John 2:1a)
We have all heard messages preached that proclaimed the day would come when we would be set free from sin. At the resurrection, when we receive our glorified bodies, when we see Jesus face to face, when this mortal has put on immortality, in other words when this flesh has died and we are resurrected, we shall be like Jesus. No more sin, no more temptation, no more failure; what a wonderful day that will be! Do not misunderstand; there is nothing wrong with this message. At that time we shall receive the total redemption that Jesus purchased for us on the cross of Calvary, both physical redemption and spiritual redemption. The problem with that message is that it does not deal with our need to be set free from sin now, before we die! How do we deal with sin while existing in this mortal flesh? For it is now, while in this flesh, that we are to serve God, not just in eternity. Read these New Testament verses regarding God’s expectation concerning sin and holiness in the life of a believer.
I believe it is possible to obey and apply every instruction and command that God gives to us in His Word. Would God instruct us to do something that is impossible for us to do? Therefore, if God expects us to be holy and to be victorious over sin, then there must be a way for that to be accomplished.
Now before some of you close this book and walk away, be reassured that we who are preparing this lesson understand that we are not capable of becoming righteous by keeping the law. We are not justified by works, but by the grace of God through faith. We are born in sin, we all have a sinful nature, we are all sinners through Adam, and we are all sinners through personal sin. Indeed we are all dead in trespasses and sin, and there is no one who is righteous!
How then do we reconcile these simple verses that are instructing us to be holy and to not sin with the verses that tell us that we are all sinners and there is no one who is righteous? Add to that I John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” and the problem increases. So here we are born with a sinful nature, sinners by race and sinners by practice, instructed by God to “sin not,” but if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
What God Gives the Believer to Overcome the Old Nature
God sees His Son Jesus and the new believer as becoming one. The sin of the believer placed upon Jesus has been paid in full. The righteousness of Christ covers the believer so that God sees him as sinless.
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (II Corinthians 5:21 NKJV) THEN:
- As a seal (a surety) of our redemption God sends the Holy Spirit to indwell us. We actually become the temple of God because the Spirit of God dwells in us.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (I Corinthians 3:16 NKJV)
- The old sinful nature (that of Adam, by whom we all die) that has ruled over us throughout our lives is not removed, but a new nature (that of Jesus, by whom we all have life) is placed within us. We actually have the nature of Christ within us.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. (I Cor. 15:22 NKJV)
- God confirms His New Covenant with us by the writing of His Law on our hearts. We have no need for someone to tell us what is right and what is wrong because God’s Law dwells in our hearts.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Hebrews 8:10 NKJV)
Do you understand how it can be proclaimed, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new”? (II Corinthians 5:17 NKJV) In the eyes of God we are not the same old creatures we once were. We are a new creation, a holy priesthood, and the dwelling place of God. We have been given everything we need to be free from our old nature. We have been justified from sin and sanctified (set apart) for righteousness. God has certainly done His part. It is now time for us to apply these truths to our lives. God has prepared us to be a holy people. Now we must live like the people He has created us to be!
He Who Has Died Has Been Freed from Sin
Go back and read the verses at the beginning of this lesson. Notice how many times Paul mentions his death in and with Christ. In particular notice the following from Romans 5:6-7.
…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. For he who has died has been freed from sin. (NKJV)
It goes without explanation that Paul did not literally die on the cross with Jesus. It is obvious that every believer is not literally crucified with Christ. But it is this death with Christ that Paul directly connects to our being set free from sin, and that not in some future sense (i.e. the resurrection), but now, in this present life. Paul did not say that we would someday be set free from sin. He stated in Romans 6:22 “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become servants to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” This is not looking forward to some event in the future but looking back to an event in the past; you have been set free! “How have I been set free?” you ask. “Through your death,” Paul replies. “But I am still alive,” you argue. “Then consider yourself dead!” says Paul. The mystery of our death in Christ lies in our understanding of what happens when we accept (become one with) Jesus as our Savior. It should by now be obvious that in the eyes of God something occurs that can be considered our death.
Reckoning Oneself to Be Dead
It has been stressed previously, so by now you know all too well that within yourself there is no ability to be sinless. You should also understand that all believers are sinners saved by the grace of God and that salvation is not due to any work or merit of one’s own. Without doubt you know and understand these truths in your own experience. However, the Scriptures we have just reviewed tell us that we are no longer alone.
We have the Spirit of God indwelling us.
We have the nature of Christ influencing us.
We have the law of God instructing us.
Many Christians, in an attempt to show humility, often say that they are just sinners saved by grace, that they just can’t keep from sinning every day, but that their sin drives them to God in prayer for forgiveness. In reality this sounds very much like the issue Paul addressed with the Church in Rome, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid! How shall we who are dead to sin live any longer therein?” (Romans 6:1-2 KJV). I have always wanted to shout, “Well stop sinning and pray, thanking God for the victory over sin!”
I believe that while in ourselves we have no choice but to sin,
as that is our nature,
in Christ we have the ability to not sin,
as that is His nature.
The choice as to which nature we follow
is now ours!
There are many passages that instruct the believer to put off the old life (or the old nature) and to walk in the new life (or the new nature). Go back and review several of the Scriptures from the beginning of this lesson. It seems to be obvious that what Paul is saying is that once we have become joined with Christ, we then have the ability through the power of the Spirit and the nature of Christ in us to choose not to sin. Both natures dwell within us, and they war against one another (Romans 7). But it is up to us to choose to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh (Romans 8:1; Galatians 5:16). It is up to us to live in the light and not in the darkness (Ephesians 5:8). It is up to us to die to our old selfish nature and allow the nature of Christ to rule in us (Ephesians 4:22-24). When Paul says that he no longer lives but Christ lives in him, this is a statement of his choice (Galatians 2:20). When Paul says that he dies daily, this is a statement of his choice (I Corinthians 15:31). When Paul says that he keeps his body under subjection, this is a statement of his choice (I Corinthians 9:27).
We must not use the excuse
that we are sinners by birth,
(as true as that may be),
because we have been born again,
and that birth is unto righteousness!
What is being proposed is not the doctrine of a second work of grace where one proclaims he is totally and finally sanctified, and therefore can no longer commit sin; rather a work of grace that allows a person to proclaim, “By the grace of God, I am able not to sin!” In the eyes of God, my old nature is dead, crucified with Christ. When Paul declares that we are to reckon (consider) ourselves dead, he is stating that we are to see ourselves as God sees us. This will require self- discipline, self-control, and the breaking of old habits. The old nature will not give up peaceably. It has been in control too long to go without a fight. But every battle fought and won over the old nature causes it to weaken and the new spiritual nature to grow stronger. Until we acknowledge the conflict, declare war on the enemy, and take up the full armor of God, we will live in defeat…
And there is no place in all of Scripture
that declares we are to live defeated!
The Bible tells us that to whom we submit ourselves to obey, it is to him that we are slaves: “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey you are that one’s slave whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Romans 6:26 NKJV) We must not submit ourselves to sin, but we must submit ourselves to Christ. While it may not be prudent to list steps in this process, these four truths must permeate our hearts and minds before we are free from sin.
- We must understand that through Christ’s sacrificial death He provides the means whereby we can be set free from sin.
- We must acknowledge that while God has provided the means for us to be set free, in His sovereignty He has placed the choice upon us as to which nature we will submit to. In other words, after conversion, willful sin is a choice just as willful obedience is a choice!
- We must determine that our sin is offensive to God and make the willful choice to die to that sin. This means we make the choice that we will not submit ourselves to obey the desires of the flesh (See Joshua 24:15 “Choose you this day whom you will serve…”).
- We must reckon ourselves to be dead since he who is dead is free from sin.
Conclusion: Can We Become Sinless in This Life?
Through our death to self and rebirth in Christ, we have become partakers of His divine nature. As we have already discussed, this is the new nature in us that battles with our old sinful nature. At first we must accept by faith that this nature of Christ is already in us. It was by faith we first received Christ, and it is now by faith we become like Him. When temptation comes and the old nature rises up, it is by faith we accept this truth. The nature of Christ is in us even if at that moment we feel anything but Christ-like. We acknowledge Christ in us, we resist the devil in Jesus’ name, and we experience victory as we choose Christ over self.
We have now begun to walk in Christ. We associate with Jesus daily in prayer and through meditation on His Word. It is a proven fact that we become like those with whom we associate. Have you never heard the saying, “you are known by the company you keep”? As we keep company with Jesus, we begin to take on His characteristics. The mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14) is that every believer be conformed to His image – to take on the characteristics of Jesus!
God has set the mark;
He has ordained that we will be like Christ.
Will we ever finally reach that mark in this life? I think not, at least not completely. Paul said in Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.”
Paul acknowledged that he had not yet attained the reaching of the mark, but he pressed on. So we too must press on, knowing that the day will come when we will reach that mark, the day when Jesus is revealed. On that day we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Our goal, however, should be that when we do see Him there will be no “great change” since we have already conformed to His image throughout our lives. Are you pressing toward that mark? Is your goal to be like Jesus? John said, “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” (I John 3:3 KJV)
So think clearly and exercise self-control.
Look forward to the gracious salvation
that will come to you when
Jesus Christ is revealed to the world.
So you must live as God’s obedient children.
Don’t slip back into your old ways of
living to satisfy your own desires.
You didn’t know any better then.
But now you must be holy in everything you do
just as God who chose you is holy.
For the Scriptures say,
“You must be holy because I am holy.”
(I Peter 1:13-16 NLT)