“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
As our title expresses, Sanctification is the growth in likeness of Christ. Wayne Grudem defines it as, “a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.” (Systematic Theology).
To begin, a crucial understanding is that sanctification comes after justification (a right legal standing before God). Many people wrongly and dangerously get these two concepts switched around. The Bible tells us that through faith we are justified, for Christ’s blood is sufficient to pay the penalty for all of our sins, past, present and future. After we are justified, God begins the process of conforming us to the image of His Son.
One of the reasons that sanctification begins after justification is because of what happens at justification. In Romans 6:11-14, the Apostle Paul reminds the Christians that in Jesus they are now dead to sin and alive to God. Spiritual life occurs at justification, not before it. Verse 14 then says that sin has no dominion over those in Christ.
Now, this does not mean Christians will not sin. It means that sin is not their Master. Those are two different things. Because of Grace, God is now our Master and we, for the first time, have the power to reject sin and submit to God’s will. Prior to justification, we did not have the ability to not sin; as it says later in Romans 6:17 we were “once slaves of sin.” And because we were slaves, we only sinned because sin controlled us. Even our good deeds were sinful deeds, for they were not for the glory of God, but for the glory of something else. However, this is no longer the case for those who are in Christ, for at the point of justification Jesus breaks the chains of our slavery to sin and sets us free to follow Him, not Satan or our sinful passions.
The time between our justification and our death (or Christ’s return) is a time of sanctification. With each passing year Christians should look more and more like Jesus. However, this doesn’t happen by osmosis. Because we are made alive at justification, we partner with God in our sanctification. Philippians 2:12-13 says, “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, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” So how are we to work our salvation out and God’s work in us? It happens through reading and meditating on God’s Word. In John 17:17 Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in your truth, Your Word is truth.” We play a role in our sanctification, but it is only by the power of God’s Word and His Spirit. Praise be to God!