Sanctification Is God’s Will For You
If repentance were all that was involved with being born again, there would be no need for any further activity. However, there seems to be a requirement that extends beyond repentance.
12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;
13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
Paul called the daily working out of your salvation Sanctification. That means that following repentance, it is necessary to go through the process of being sanctified. This is not just an idea made up by someone with numerous theology degrees … it is God’s will for you. Paul wrote the following to the Thessalonians:
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3a)
Having repented and received a new life, it is expected that you begin living your life in accordance with the new standard of behavior for your new life. John the Baptist warned the Pharisees and Sadducees, saying they should, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:8) He was saying that the baptism of repentance required that a new form of behavior follow it. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” (Ephesians 4:1) Notice that the expected behavior follows having been called. Jesus commented on the idea of one’s behavior fitting their new life even more directly. He simply said:
“If you love Me [that is, if you are in covenant with Me], you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15)
This love is agape (ag-ah’-pay) love … it is the love that compels two people to enter into blood covenant. Jesus is saying this: If you have repented and made covenant with me, then you will live your life in a way that is in keeping with your new covenant. That you are to adopt this new lifestyle is not a suggestion. It’s not about whether you feel like it or not. It’s not a matter of working your way into it, little by a little, over a long period of time. You have repented. Your old life of sin no longer exists, it has been crucified with Christ. You have been completely changed. Therefore, you are expected to live your new life according to the God-directed ways of that new life. Behaving in the manner of your old life is not an option.
Living your new life out day by day, moment by moment, in keeping with the covenant you have made with Jesus Christ is a process called sanctification. It’s not a matter of choice … it is God’s will for you. Going back to your old ways, the old life, will not be a pleasant experience since you make yourself what you once were. Paul wrote to the Galatians about his encounter with Peter when he was not acting in accordance with covenant love:
14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews
15 “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles;
16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus [that is, made covenant with Him], so that we may be justified by faith in Christ [by obediently carrying out the commandments of the New Covenant, i.e., walking in sanctification] and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.
17 “But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be!
18 “For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed [that is, if you go back to living as you formerly lived when you were a sinner by nature], I prove myself to be a transgressor. [That is, you have placed yourself in the same position with God as before you repented.] (Galatians 2:14-18)
Please understand that you had no choice as to your former nature. You were born into sin. In fact, David wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. (Psalms 51:5) He is saying that you, like him, were born into a covenant of sin. The sin you and I commit while we remain in that covenant is not pleasing to God, and there is a consequence for it. However, to break that old covenant by entering a new covenant with Jesus Christ, and then to reject the new nature you had received by choosing to return again to your former way of life places you in a position with God that is even more serious than before. This is so because now you have chosen the old way whereas before you were in the old life not by choice but by birth. Peter wrote:
20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world [the covenant with Satan] by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ [by making covenant with Jesus], they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.
21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment [of the new covenant] handed on to them.
22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:20-22)
And the writer of Hebrews gave this serious warning:
4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit [those who have turned away from the former life, repented, and made covenant with Jesus Christ],
5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,
6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (Hebrews 6:4-6)
Therefore, if you make covenant with Jesus Christ, and then knowingly and willfully return to your old sinful life, you make yourself a transgressor of the covenant. Please do not confuse this with sin that is committed unknowingly. When a believer’s sin is not willful, the consequence for that sin is discipline (see Curses, Blessings & Discipline — Part III). However, as you will see in future articles on the Righteous Judgment of God, the consequence for a believer’s willful sin is severe judgment.
When Paul said that sanctification was God’s will for you, he followed that statement with a partial description of sanctification.
3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;
4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor,
5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God;
[The Thessalonians were all Gentiles, i.e., sinners, before they repented. Paul is telling them they are not to live the same way they used to live.]
6 and that no man transgress and defraud his brother [this would be a serious violation of the covenant] in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things [Jesus is the mediator of the covenant], just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.
7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.
8 So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8)
Sanctification Leads To Eternal Life
The apostle John wrote:
11 He [Jesus] came to His own [the people of Israel with whom Jesus was in covenant through God’s covenant with Abraham], and those who were His own did not receive Him.
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,
13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11-13)
The ones who receive Him are not born of the flesh, but of God. These are the ones who have repented and been born again and received a new life in God. Notice that John says that these ones who have been born of God have been given the ‘right to become children of God’. Paul teaches that it is in fact sanctification that leads to eternal life.
20 For when you were slaves of sin [i.e., in covenant with Satan], you were free in regard to righteousness [that is, you were not required to live according to the dictates of the New Covenant].
21 Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death.
22 But now having [repented and] been freed from sin and enslaved to God [that is, to be in covenant with God through Jesus Christ], you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. (Romans 6:20-22)
The outcome of sanctification is eternal life. And sanctification follows being born again. Repentance opens the door to the kingdom of heaven … sanctification is the way through the door into the kingdom of eternal life.
The writer of Hebrews declared:
Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)
Do you really want to see the Lord, then pursue sanctification? Don’t just think about it. Don’t just talk about it. Do more than debate it or read articles about it. None of these activities will do. You must pursue it. And when you have laid hold of it, you must walk in it. Every day. Actually, every moment of every day.
What does this walk of sanctification look like? We explore that topic in the next article.