“Sanctification is that inward spiritual work which the Lord Jesus Christ works in a man by the Holy Ghost, when He calls him to be a true believer. He not only washes him from his sins in His own blood, but He also separates him from his natural love of sin and the world, puts a new principle in his heart, and makes him practically Godly in life. The instrument by which the Spirit effects this work is generally the word of God, though He sometimes uses afflictions and providential visitations without the word.” -J.C. Ryle
By Charlie Parish
Sanctification is one of the most misunderstood doctrines within many evangelical circles. Some within the church believe that sanctification is all a work of man, and that it is simply just striving to be a good person. Others believe that sanctification is fully a work of God, therefore we need not strive towards a life of Godliness. And yet others all together ignore the call to sanctification, hanging the lynch pin of their salvation fully upon a one time decision that they made or a sinners prayer they once prayed. Their life is not marked by a turning from sin or a pursuit of righteousness. Its merely decisionism.
Ryle, in the second chapter of his book ‘Holiness’, dismantled these false views of sanctification and gives us a true biblical picture of the doctrine. True sanctification is a work of God and man. God being the empowering catalyst to the work of sanctification. When God chooses to save a person, His Spirit enters a man and supernaturally regenerates his heart. This is a work that natural man is incapable of performing within himself. Man cannot raise himself from spiritual death.
Regeneration is the term that refers to God literally making a man into a new creation. Man’s decision to follow Jesus does not come first. The Spirit of the Lord must first regenerate a man in order for him to even have the desire to repent. If a person truly makes the outward decision to follow Jesus, it is only due to the fact that God had previously regenerated their heart inwardly. To say that we must first decide to give our lives to Christ before God begins to work in our hearts is to make man responsible for his own salvation and totally ignore the supernatural aspect of God’s saving grace.
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Ezekiel 36:26-27.
Apart from the supernatural workings of God through regeneration, it is impossible for sanctification to occur. It is God who must act first, cleansing us of our sinful desires and molding us into a new creation. Only then, after the new nature has been implanted can we begin to walk toward piety. We as believers have the desire to love and obey God only because He first loved us.
“We love because he has first loved us.” John 4:19.
Sanctification is also a work of man. Not that this work is done as a way for us to earn our salvation. Because no work of man can earn the gifts of God. Sanctification is the natural effect of regeneration.
“The faith which has not a sanctifying influence on the character is no better than the faith of devils.” -J.C. Ryle.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” Philippians 2:12.
A man who has truly been regenerated and made anew by the Lord will without a doubt be sanctified. Sanctification is proof of supernatural regeneration. You cannot have one without the other. Because a new creation walks differently than it did before.
“In a word, where there is no sanctification, there is no regeneration. And where there is no holy life, there is no new birth.” -J.C. Ryle.
If we say that we have been saved and regenerated by the Lord, we should be willing to examine ourselves to see if sanctification is proof of our profession.
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” 2 Corinthians 13:5.
“A saint in whom nothing can be seen except worldliness or sin is a kind of monster not recognized in the Bible.” -J.C. Ryle.
The work of sanctification ignited by God and brought to fruition through the Spirits working in a man. And now as a new creation in Christ, this man now desires to be sanctified. He pursues God not out of duty, but out of joy. Sanctification is a work of man, but also God. Because sanctification is the Spirit of God working in and through man. Again, it is the Spirit that makes the pursuit of sanctification possible, and it is the Spirit that will uphold a man until the day of the Lord comes.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6.
Where as before regeneration, we were enslaved to our sinful flesh, but now being made new in Christ, we are no longer willing servants of sin, but now we are free from its shackles and able to wage war upon it. We are free from the prison of sinful desires that we were once enslaved to, and by the power of the Holy Spirit enabled to pursue the righteousness of God, which leads to sanctification.
“But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.” Romans 6:17-19.
Sanctification is a war within the flesh of man. Even though Christ has made us a new with fresh desires that long for Him, we still find our earthly home in our flesh. Therefore, the flesh desires sin, but the heart longs for Christ. The flesh wages war against the new Spirit within us, and in this contrast, we empowered by the Spirit wage war within seeking to kill the desires of the flesh.
“…but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” Romans 7:23.
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Colossians 3:5-10.
The Spirit of God never lies dormant in a soul which it has inhabited. Fruits of the Spirit begin to blossom as an effect of true salvation. Patience, love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, faith, meekness, temperance, and a love for the things of God begin to exude from the new man.
We cannot physically see the Spirit of God, for it is as the wind. We do not see the wind blow, but we see the effects of the wind as the leaves blow and the trees sway. In the same way, when the Spirit blows upon a man, we do not see the Holy Spirit physically, but we see the effects in the new nature of a man.
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8.
“The Spirit is compared to the wind, and like the wind He cannot be seen by our bodily eyes. But just as we know there is a wind by the effects it produces on waves, and trees, and smoke, so we may know the Spirit is in a man by the effects He produces in a man’s conduct.” -J.C. Ryle.
James says if we say we have true faith, let it be seen in our works, or rather, or sanctification. Works are a produce of sanctification. Again, not works done out of duty to earn, but out of a new heart that actually desires to do the work of the father.
“I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.” Psalm 40:8.
May our prayer for one another as believers be for the sanctifying work of God to bear fruit in one another’s lives that He would receive all the glory. What can change and save a wretch like me? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.