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Regeneration, Justification and Sanctification

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The word “regeneration” appears only twice in the English Bible. Both appearances are in the New Testament. It was used once by our Lord in Matthew 19:28 and once by the Apostle Paul in Titus 3:5.

The Meaning of Regeneration

The English word “regeneration” is the translation of palingenesia, from palin (again) and genesis (birth). It means simply a new birth, a new beginning, a new order.

When our Lord used the word, He said to His disciples, “Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). Here the Lord used the word in a wider sense when referring to His coming kingdom on earth. It is the time of the earth’s regeneration, the new order about which the prophets wrote, when Jehovah will set His King upon His holy hill of Zion (Psalm 2:6), “And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3). The coming kingdom of Christ on earth is the day of the earth’s regeneration, “the times of restitution (restoration R.V.) of all things” (Acts 3:21).

This re-birth of the earth in the coming Millennial Age will also fulfill God’s covenant with Abraham concerning his descendants, for Israel too will experience a re-birth at that time (See Ezekiel 37).

The kingdom of Christ on earth will be a time of world-wide subjection to the authority of Christ, when sin, sorrow, sickness, suffering and strife will not touch earth’s inhabitants. In that day God shall renew His creation. “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6), and “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).

In summing up “the regeneration of the earth,” it is that time still future when Christ shall rule on the throne of David (II Samuel 7; Luke 1:32, 33; 2:11), Satan will be incarcerated (Revelation 20:2), Israel will be spiritually re-born (Isaiah 66:8; Ezekiel 37; Matthew 24:8; Romans 11:1, 2, 26), peace, prosperity, social justice and equality will prevail (Isaiah 42:1-4; Micah 4:1-7). This is the golden age, the utopia for which man has sought in vain. It is God’s coming great society, the Theocracy in the earth.

When the Apostle Paul used the word “regeneration,” he wrote, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). The difference between our Lord’s use of the word and Paul’s use of it is obvious. Our Lord used it in its widest sense, of the restoration of all things, at His Second Advent to the earth. Paul used it in referring to the regeneration of the individual man, his being born again into God’s new order. This new order is the Church, the Body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22, 23), not an organization, but a spiritual organism. No effort on man’s part can bring him into God’s order, for it is “not by works of righteousness which we have done” (Titus 3:5), “Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:9).

Regeneration then, may be defined as an act of God whereby He bestows upon the believing sinner new life. This life is God’s own life, the imparting of His own nature. God Himself is the Source and Bestower of His life, so that believers are said to be “partakers of the Divine nature” (II Peter 1:4), “created in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:10), “born of God” (John 1:13), “born again” (John 3:3, 7), “a new creation” (II Corinthians 5:17).

The Mistakes About Regeneration

Some sincere students of religion have made wrong deductions from the Bible passages which speak of regeneration. Let us examine three erroneous views and then attempt a correct biblical interpretation.

    First, the mistake that water baptism is regeneration.

Our Lord’s words to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5), have been given widely different interpretations. Perhaps the most dangerous of these has been, and still is, “baptismal regeneration,” the idea that the text is teaching that water baptism is necessary to salvation. But to insist that the new birth occurs as the result of water baptism makes regeneration a matter of external ritualism. Whatever Christ meant by being “born of water,” He most certainly was not referring to an outward ritual.

If in His word to Nicodemus our Lord was referring to baptism by water, then it follows that all who have died and were not baptized are lost. This mistaken view would mean, then, that the penitent thief on the cross was not saved, notwithstanding the fact that Jesus said he was. If we accept the erroneous idea that baptism is a means of regeneration, then it would follow that all baptized persons are regenerated. But are they?

Simon Magus was baptized, but he was not regenerated. The Scripture does say that “Simon himself believed” (Acts 8:13); however, there is a belief which is followed by regeneration, and there is a belief which might not be followed by regeneration. “The devils (demons) also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19), but such mere belief cannot save one. A person can have an intellectual concept and give mental assent to a truth or doctrine, yet never become born again. When great numbers of Samaritans heard Philip and believed and were baptized, Simon also accepted the facts and came forward to be baptized. But was he ever truly saved? It appears from Acts 8:18, 19 that Simon never did enter experientially into the truth of the Gospel. He lacked the real power of God, so he thought to purchase it with money. “But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:21-23). I interpret Peter’s scathing rebuke to mean that there was a man who, though he was baptized, was never regenerated.

The “baptismal regeneration” theory is not merely erroneous but dangerous, because it holds that baptized babies of believing parents are saved, and unbaptized babies who die as such, are lost forever. This is an evil without any authority in the Bible. It is nowhere taught by Christ nor expressed in the writings of the Apostles that infant baptism was believed by them. There is no trace of infant baptism in the New Testament.

    Second, the mistake that reformation is regeneration.

Human reformation is superficial. Man’s nature is depraved, so much so that God Himself makes no attempt to improve it to make it fit for His holy presence. Most of us have at one time sought to improve ourselves by “turning over a new leaf” and attempting to throw off bad habits. But no matter how far one is able to proceed in the reformation of the old life, no amount of improving the fallen nature can serve as a substitute for the Divine Nature which is given us of God when we are born from above.

Dr. William E. Biederwolf once said, “Every creature born into this world has a nature after its kind. You can’t train a bird to crawl, for the same reason you can’t train a snake to fly. True to his nature, a caterpillar crawls, and when we see him fly we don’t say, ‘What an accomplished caterpillar!’ But we say the creature has been changed, it has a new nature, it has been born again; it is now a butterfly. The same thing is true of the natural and spiritual man.”

The best reformed person cannot measure up to God’s righteous standards. As to his understanding, he cannot know the things of God (I Corinthians 2:14); as to his will, he cannot subject himself to the law of God (Romans 8:7); as to his affections, he cannot love God (Romans 8:8). The utter inability of the natural man to enter into the Kingdom of God shows the necessity of being born again.

    Third, the mistake that regeneration is hereditary.

It is erroneous teaching which says that spiritual life can be transmitted from parent to child. The grace of God does not run in human veins. God has children but no grandchildren. In his first reference to the new birth, the Apostle John refers to those “which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Regeneration is “not of blood,” which means, I take it, that not even the finest Christian parents can impart Divine life to their offspring. It is not possible for a child of God to communicate the Divine nature to an unsaved person, even if that person is his own flesh and blood. All that is born of human blood is depraved and is therefore heir to death (Romans 5:12). Only God can communicate life.

Some who believe regeneration to be hereditary use Acts 16:31 in support of this theory. But when Paul and Silas said to the jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house,” they were telling him how he and the members of his household could be saved. If he believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, he would be saved, and if those at home would believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, they too would be saved. God has but one way of saving people. Paul and Silas were not telling the jailer that his faith would save both himself and his family.

The Must of Regeneration

It was not to a social outcast, criminal or drunkard, but to a religious, law-abiding man that Christ addressed the command, “Ye must be born again.” Some persons who possess a certain moral goodness and are therefore self-righteous, do not realize any need of regeneration. They feel that only drunkards, thieves, murderers, harlots, dope addicts, and the like need to be born again. A woman, whose parents were missionaries to India, told me that she did not need to be born again because she was born right the first time and simply needed to continue being good. This is far from the truth.

The necessity of regeneration for all men grew out of the depravity of man’s nature. The natural man is “dead in trespasses and sins . . . alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 2:1; 4:18) because his iniquities have separated him from God (Isaiah 59:2). The need for being regenerated is universal. “There is none righteous, no, not one . . . For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23). “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). “The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Psalm 14:2, 3). “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). The best thing God can do for man is to bring him to a knowledge of his sin so that he will realize his need of being regenerated. Our Lord left no doubt as to the indispensable necessity of the new birth as a pre-requisite to entrance into the Kingdom of God.

Heaven may be reached without education, wealth or worldly acclaim, but it will not be inhabited by those who have not been regenerated. It has been said that George Whitfield preached more than three hundred times using John 3:3-7 as his text. When asked why he preached so frequently from these verses, he replied solemnly, “Because ye must be born again.” This is a Divine imperative. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6), and “they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8), because in the flesh “dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). Man’s sinfulness and God’s holiness are opposed to each other so that regeneration is an absolute necessity. Inasmuch as our Lord said, “Ye must be born again,” you better believe it!

The Means of Regeneration

Regeneration is the implantation of a new life. The theory known as Spontaneous Generation, that is, that life can spring into being of itself, is no longer believed by modern day scientists. The evolutionary theory holds that life must come from pre-existing life, but it is at a loss to know where life begins. The basic error of false systems of theology, philosophy and science is the failure to accept the most sublime and comprehensive statement in human language which introduces us to the greatest revelation of truth ever given to mankind. The opening statement in the Bible says, “In the beginning God created . . .” (Genesis 1:1).

Here we learn that God is the Source and Cause of all things. Life begins with God. Neither the universe nor anything in it is self-originated. God stands at the commencement of all life. God is life. Man in his original state was the perfect work of God. But man has fallen. His willful sin brought death, both physical and spiritual, so that in his fallen, sinful state he is “alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:18).

God is the Source of the new life which is communicated to the believing sinner. Man is unable to impart Divine life, therefore he has no part in the New Birth. All Christian parents would bestow eternal life on their offspring if they could, but they cannot. A man is born again., “not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Since only God possesses creative power, He alone can impart life where there is no life. But by what means does God produce the miracle of the New Birth? Our Lord said to Nicodemus, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). We have already stated that it is erroneous to assume that one is born again at the time of his being baptized with water. The “water” in this verse does not refer to baptism.

But what did our Lord mean by being “born of water”? Whenever we come to a verse in the Bible, such as this one, about which there is disagreement and difference of interpretation, we must be patient and prayerful in our pursuit of other Bible passages which shed light on the subject under discussion.

There are occasions in the Scripture where the word “water” is used symbolically, and then the symbolism is not always the same. The following passage teaches that water is sometimes a symbol of the Holy Spirit--“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake He of the Spirit . . . ” (John 7:37-39). It would appear that when water is used symbolically of the Holy Spirit, it is in connection with drinking purposes.

Water is also used in the Bible as an emblem of the Word of God, and in such uses it is associated with cleansing or washing, not drinking. Baptism does not avail to cleanse the heart from defilement, but our Lord did say, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3). Is Christ speaking of the water of the word in John 3:5? Let us turn to the Scriptures for the answer. In the second most important passage on the means of Regeneration, we find our answer. The Apostle Peter wrote, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, but the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (I Peter 1:23). Here Peter speaks of the use made of the Word of God in Regeneration. The Word of God is the means by which the Holy Spirit accomplishes the New Birth. Here Peter is saying the same as Jesus said in John 3:5.

This is understood more clearly when we realize that the Word of God is both living and life-producing. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The living word came from the living God, and it has power to impart life to all who believe it. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). And if you are wondering how the Word of God quickens faith, the answer is, By imparting knowledge. Knowledge precedes faith, because faith always has an object. The Word of God presents to us the fact of our sin and condemnation, that without Christ we are without a Saviour and with no hope. The Word of God shows us that the Son of God came into the world to bear the sinner’s judgment through His substitutionary death for the sinner (Matthew 20:28; Luke 19:10; I Corinthians 15:3, 4). The Word of God assures us that all one needs in order to pass from death to life is to believe the facts and receive the Saviour. Our Lord Himself said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). So you see that without the Word of God a man cannot be regenerated, or born again. This is why people are not being born again in churches where the Word of God is not preached and taught.

The Holy Scriptures are both living and life-producing. The Apostle James attributes the sovereign work of God in regeneration to the living Word of God. He writes, “Of His own will begat He us with the Word of truth” (James 1:18). Our Lord said, “The words that I speak unto you . . . they are life” (John 6:63). “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3). He prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them through Thy truth; Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). The Psalmist wrote, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according the Thy Word” (Psalm 119:9). These passages of Scripture all lend support to the fact that God’s Word is the Divine means used in the regeneration of sinners, and that the “water” in John 3:5 is used as a symbol of the Word of God. In further support of the water-Word interpretation of John 3:5, the Apostle Paul wrote how Christ sanctifies and cleanses His church “with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26).

God the Father is the Author of regeneration and His Word the means. However, our Lord said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The Holy Spirit is the active Agent in regeneration. Just as there must be the human agent in a human birth, so there must be the Divine Agent in the new birth from above. When we came into the world by means of our physical birth, we were born of corruptible (or perishable, dying) seed, because two human parents can beget a child only in their own likeness. Through natural birth they pass on to their offspring their own nature and likeness. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6).

But on the other hand, “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). When we are born again, the Holy Spirit begets new life, Divine life, so that we are said to become “partakers of the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4). The New Birth is brought to pass through “incorruptible seed, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (I Peter 1:23), but the Holy Spirit is the Agent who accomplishes the miracle of regeneration.

The Holy Spirit was active in the generation of the physical universe. We read, “And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2).

The Holy Spirit was the active Agent in the creation of man. “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). “The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life” (Job 33:4).

The Holy Spirit was the active Agent in the conception and birth of Jesus Christ. “. . . Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 1:20). “And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found favor with God . . . The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:30, 35).

From the above passages it is clear that the act of imparting life has been the Holy Spirit’s work from the beginning. Regeneration is in a sense a repetition of that which took place in the first man, Adam; however, the processes are different. Adam, in his original state, was created with the gift of life; this was the implantation of life through the creative process. Today God is implanting spiritual life to believing sinners through the redemptive process. In both instances the Holy Spirit is the Agent.

To be “born of water and of the Spirit” is to be regenerated by means of the Word of God and by the active Agency of the Spirit of God. It is not by the Word of God alone that a man is regenerated, but by the Word and the Holy Spirit, “by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5).

The Mystery of Regeneration

That there is something incomprehensible about Regeneration no one can deny. While God did tell us some things about the New Birth, the Scriptures are clear also that as far as man is concerned, there are certain limitations in understanding fully this inexplicable phenomenon. The scholarly Nicodemus, to whom our Lord expounded the New Birth, could not fully understand it. “Nicodemus answered and said unto Him, How can these things be?” (John 3:9).

Our Lord admitted that to the natural mind there is mystery attached to this mighty subject. He said, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). The best trained meteorologists with the latest scientific radar equipment will admit a certain enigma in the movement of the winds. With their finest instruments and technological knowledge they cannot always perceive the current of the air masses. And even when man does know the directions of the wind, he is unable to regulate or control its power. The wind is an invisible and mysterious force; yet its effects are plainly evident. Its unseen power lies beyond the reach of our vision and understanding The wind is sovereign in its movements and silent as to its mystery. It blows where it pleases, and it is invisible, inscrutable, irresistible and inexplicable. The analogy of the movements of the wind to the Spirit’s operation in Regeneration is clear.

In connection with the mystery of the New Birth, there is a verse of Scripture which speaks of the mystery of another Birth. The Apostle Paul wrote, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh . . .” (I Timothy 3:16). This verse is speaking of the Incarnation of God the eternal Son, His miraculous conception in the virgin’s womb. What a theme! He existed in spirit form eternally before the world was, and still He was born an infant babe, of a woman, having no human father. “God was manifest in the flesh.” What man has understood or explained it? Paul says it is a “mystery,” inscrutable and inexplicable. Christ’s coming into the world was a supernatural event, both the fact and the manner of His coming being a mystery to man. That He came to earth none can deny, but any biological explanation remains a mystery. It is “without controversy,” that is, beyond all question and doubt.

The New Birth is no less a mystery than is the Virgin Birth of our Lord. He who denies the possibility of Christ’s Virgin Birth can hardly be expected to believe in the New Birth. There is a mystery attached to both.

The Miracle of Regeneration

Human birth is a complex miracle, but the New Birth is a far more complex miracle. The word “miracle” is used in the New Testament to refer to a work of supernatural origin and character such as could not be produced by natural agents and means. The word is sometimes translated “sign,” denoting a miracle or wonder of Divine origin and authority. When Christ was on earth He performed many miracles. His first recorded act that could not be produced instanteously by natural means was the turning of water into wine (John 2:1-10). Of this miracle John wrote, “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth His glory; and His disciples believed on Him” (John 2:11).

These miracles, or signs, or wonders, were performed by our Lord as an evidence of His Deity, and they were done by Him so that sinners would believe in Him and be saved. “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, in the feast day, many believed in His name, when they saw the miracles which He did” (John 2:23). “And many other signs (wonders, miracles) truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name” (John 20:30, 31).

In Christ’s day miracles were a substantial aid to one’s faith. In our day of scientific advance, miracles are to some an obstacle to faith. A religion that has none of the miraculous or supernaturalism is easier to accept than one that demands supernaturalism. Men refuse to accept historic Christianity because it claims for itself a supernatural revelation and demands of every man a supernatural Regeneration. A regenerated man makes no attempt to explain the miracles recorded in the Bible, the Miracle-Book. He accepts them. Put God into a miracle and doubt gives way to faith. Once a man has experienced the miracle of the New Birth, he will have no problem with accepting the miracles recorded in God’s Word.

To be born again is to be “born of God” (John 1:13). Therefore, it is enough to say that God, a supernatural Being, has revealed Himself in His supernatural Son and in His supernatural Book, and He will, by the power of that Word and His supernatural Spirit, impart supernaturally His own life to any person who will receive it by faith. My own regeneration is to me the miracle of miracles. It happened in December 1927, and it has been blessedly real.

The manifestations of Regeneration

The New Birth produces some glorious effects in the believer’s life. These should be examined carefully because the new life needs to develop. Where life begins it should mature. The effects of Regeneration are nothing short of miraculous because there is no power within man that can produce them. They are the spiritual birthmarks of the born again ones.

    The New Birth results in a new life.

“Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17). The regenerated person can testify that things are different now. With our New Birth we received a new power and pattern for living. The regenerated man is a “new creation,” the “new” meaning a difference in kind. He now possesses a different kind of life. The words in the text mean more than a mere outward reformation, for it is more than the improvement of the old life. A complete change has come. We have here a new creation as against the old creation. The source of the old creation was Adam, and from him we inherited sin and death. The Fountainhead of the new creation is Christ, so that a profound and radical change has taken place in the believer. The New Birth brought with it new life, and the new life has brought an entirely new set of desires, appetites, ideals and goals. Now the New Birth does not eradicate the old nature, but it does give new life to control it. And make certain that you are clear on one point, namely, the new creation begins with Christ.

    The New Birth results in a new fellowship.

“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren” (I John 3:14). When one is born again he instinctively is drawn to those persons of like precious faith. All regenerated persons are one in Christ, and love is their badge. Christ said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). It is not a fellowship of the rich, the elite, or of one denomination as against another. All born again persons have God as their Father; therefore they are one in Christ, sharing a mutual love. No person who hates has Christ’s new life in him. “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer; and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him” (I John 3:15). It is not possible to love God if we do not love our fellow-man. “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (I John 4:20). The fellowship of those born again is the most satisfying and productive among all fellowships. And again the point should be made that this fellowship is a spiritual one, having its roots in Jesus Christ (I John 1:3). “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and every one that loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him” (I John 5:1).

    The New Birth results in a new standard of righteousness.

“. . . Ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him” (I John 2:29). Righteousness is that character or quality of being right or just in the sight of God. Men have varying standards of righteousness, and they are sometimes sincerely zealous, “but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:2, 3). They refuse to believe that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), and until we are born again, “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:12). But after we are born again, Christ becomes our righteousness (I Corinthians 1:30). This righteousness is imputed to the believer by God on the faith principle apart from human works (Romans 4:5, 6). It is God’s gift to every regenerated man (Romans 5:17). Having become partakers of the Divine Nature we now see sin as God sees it. Our standards of what is right and just we now find in God’s Word. The word “again” as used by our Lord in John 3:3, 7, where He spoke of being “born again,” is the translation of another, which means from above. He did not use it with reference to repeated action, but rather in contrast to our physical birth which is from beneath, or earthly. Thus having been born from above, we are to “seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1, 2).

In summing up our study of the doctrine of Regeneration, we may conclude that the regenerated person has been given the power to obey God and to grow in grace. The act of regeneration itself is instantaneous. Spiritually speaking, you are either born or unborn. If you have not experienced the new birth, trust Christ now, and the Holy Spirit will give you new life.


All the doctrines of the Bible are important, but none is more vital to the peace and rest of the child of God than the Bible truth of Justification. The believer does not ascend to the peak of Christian joy until he appreciates and appropriates this aspect of the grace of God. Forgiveness is wonderful; pardon is wonderful; cleansing is wonderful; but Justification is more wonderful. In Paul’s day, and later in the days of the Protestant Reformation, and in our own day, it would be difficult to find a truth more cardinal to our historic Christian faith than the doctrine of Justification.

In the preceding lesson we discussed the doctrine of Regeneration. Now there is a difference between Regeneration and Justification. Regeneration is God working in us; Justification is God working for us.

The Fact of Justification

The question of man’s justification before God was raised early in man’s history. In the Book of Job we read, “How should man be just with God?” (Job 9:2), and “How then can man be justified with God?” (Job 25:4).

In the New Testament the Apostle Paul, chief exponent of the doctrine of Justification, developed it more fully. After his conversion, and during his visit to Antioch in Pisidia, he said, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38, 39). Paul says that forgiveness and justification are made possible through Jesus Christ, but he makes it clear that the two are not identical. If a criminal is found guilty and convicted of crime, he may be forgiven by the offended party and even pardoned by the governor, but he remains guilty of his offense. His guilt was established and the court records carry it as such. He has been forgiven but not justified.

The Apostle is saying that God does two things for the guilty but believing sinner that no man can possibly do for another; that is, He both forgives and justifies. Justification is more than forgiveness. We can forgive another for his wrong, but never can we justify him. Forgiveness assumes guilt; therefore, the guilty one cannot be justified. On the other hand, if we justify a man, then he needs no forgiveness, because justification assumes no guilt. But since all men are both guilty and condemned sinners before God, all need both forgiveness and justification before entering the Kingdom of God.

Justification can be defined as that act of God whereby He declares absolutely righteous any and all who take shelter in the blood of Christ as their only hope for salvation. Justification is a legal term which changes the believing sinner’s standing before God, declaring him acquitted and accepted by God, with the guilt and penalty of his sins put away forever. Justification is the sentence of the Judge in favor of the condemned man, clearing him of all blame and freeing him of every charge. Justification does not make the sinner righteous, but when God sees him “in Christ,” He declares that he is righteous, thereby pronouncing the verdict of “not guilty.” In modern jurisprudence a sentence in any court must be in keeping with the facts presented. A judge has no right to condemn the innocent or to clear the guilty. Only God can clear the guilty.

We must keep in mind the fact that there is a close connection between the act of justifying and the imputed righteousness of the one who has been justified. Though the words just, justify, justification, right, righteous, and righteousness are all translations from the same root, their individual meanings may differ slightly. However, a general meaning is common to all. The meaning of these words is always objective, not subjective. If we looked to men for a definition of the words justification and righteousness, their meaning might change with time and differ according to geographical location. Men change in their thinking. What might be considered just and right in one generation, or in one part of the world, might not be so considered in another generation, or in a different part of the world. Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest said, “God is the objective standard which determines the content and meaning, and at the same time keeps that content of meaning constant and unchanging, since He only is the unchanging One.” A just person is one who has been declared righteous by God. God is the Author of Justification. “It is God that justifieth” (Romans 8:33). Man has nothing to do with it except to receive it through faith, and that as the Holy Spirit enables him.

The Foundation of Justification

Forgiveness cannot be effected, nor righteousness declared, until guilt has been established. If a man is not guilty, no act or declaration of justification is needed. The man who contends that he does not need to be justified by God must first establish the evidence that there is no accusation against him. But he who believes the Scriptures, and examines his own heart honestly, must admit that he is an accused and guilty sinner before God. We know that there is something wrong with the human race. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

God chose the Apostle Paul to expound the doctrine of Justification. This Paul did in detail in his Epistle to the Romans. Romans 1:18-3:20 depicts a court scene. In 1:18-32 the unrighteousness of the Gentiles is exposed to the light. With great delicacy Paul alluded to some of the vile practices of which they were guilty. Then in clear and bold logic, he listed twenty-five charges against man. In chapter 2:1-16 he shows that the self-righteous are equally guilty before God. The moralists of Paul’s day were men of culture, refinement, and intellect, but they too were inexcusable. In the remainder of chapter 2, verses 17-29, the Apostle strips the Jew of every vestige of the cloak of self-righteousness, so that when we reach chapter 3, verse 19, God’s startling verdict is “Guilty!” Every mouth is stopped and all the world is accused before Him. A sad picture, but true!

Consider well and take seriously the fact of the universality of sin. You and I are guilty and condemned. No earthly or fleshly means, no court on earth can justify us in God’s sight. We lack righteousness. God has a righteousness which He desires to make ours. If we accept it, He will pardon, forgive, free, cleanse, and justify us. Upon this foundation God goes into action. Man’s need and his inability to help himself occasion a move on God’s part. He must find a way to ransom His fallen creature and to remove both the penalty and guilt of man’s sin.

The question arises, How can God justify the guilty sinner and at the same time remain just? How can He declare an unrighteous man righteous and Himself remain right? This is the problem simply stated, and it is the basis upon which God acts in Justification. The very nature of God demands that He justify the righteous and condemn the guilty. If, out of favoritism, or for other reasons, God cleared the guilty and condemned the righteous, He would not be administering justice. Little wonder that one theologian suggested that the holy and righteous God faced the greatest riddle ever when He set out to justify the ungodly.

I must confess that, as a parent, I have been guilty of dealing unjustly with my children, not in punishing them for their misconduct, but in finding some excuse for it. More than once I explained away their conduct because I did not want to administer justice as I knew it should be administered. In so doing I failed to deal justly on the basis of the facts in the case. Because they were my children and I loved them, I excused and shielded their guilt. Now I am critical of my sons when I see them dealing in this same way with their children. I am more ready now to judge my grandchildren justly, but love kept me from so judging my own children.

God, in keeping with His holiness and justice, cannot deal unjustly with guilty sinners. He must judge and condemn the guilty. But since all are guilty and deserving of judgment, how can He save those whom He loves? From the human viewpoint this is an insurmountable problem, one for which there is no solution. But God did find a way whereby He could remain just and at the same time justify the guilty who would do no more than believe. How He did it is the burden of our present study, for it brings before us one of the most majestic and profound truths in all the Bible, the doctrine of Justification.

The Function of Justification

What is the function of justification?

    First, we know that sinners are justified by God.

God Himself is the Justifier. Only God can justify a man; no man can justify another man. The tribunal of Heaven differs from all earthly tribunals. The source of justification must be in the one holy and righteous God. The governor of a state, or the President of the United States, can pardon a guilty and condemned criminal, but neither can reinstate the criminal to the position of an innocent man. The Bible illustrates this: “If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then shall they justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked” (Deuteronomy 25:1). In all human jurisprudence such a procedure is proper. If a man is not guilty of a charge made against him, he should be justified. But in the case of biblical justification, all men are sinners, and since all sin is against God, He only must be satisfied. “. . . whom He (God) called, them He also justified . . .” (Romans 8:30). “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth” (Romans 8:33). “. . . That He (God) might be just, and the Justifier of him who believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). Indeed, only God can justify sinners.

    Second, we are justified by grace.

“Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Look carefully at the text and notice that word “freely.” The Greek word (dorean) translated “freely” means “without a cause.” The same Greek word is so translated in John 15:25. There was no cause in the words and works of Jesus for which men should hate Him, yet He was hated “freely,” “without a cause.” Just as there was no cause that men should hate our Lord, so there was no cause that God should justify man; but He justifies him “freely,” without a cause. Jesus came with a heart full of love for mankind, but they hated Him. Man’s heart has been evil continually, but God loves him. Justification is something for nothing. In the Latin version the word “freely” is “gratis,” “being justified gratis.” God’s method of justifying men gives us a glorious demonstration of His sovereign grace. Grace has dug a foundation so deep that men have been drinking from its cleansing, justifying stream for centuries.

After Charles Spurgeon had finished preaching a sermon on “Justification by Grace,” a man came to him and said, “Oh sir, I have been praying and I do not think God will forgive me unless I do something to deserve it.” To which Mr. Spurgeon replied, “I tell you, sir, if you bring any of your deservings, you shall never have it. God gives away His justification freely; and if you bring anything to pay for it, He will throw it in your face and will not give His justification to you.”

You cannot buy it with money, for it is “freely by His grace.” You cannot work for it with your hands; it is “freely by His grace.” You cannot receive it through any rite or ceremony; it is “freely by His grace.” You cannot lay claim to it because you are not so bad as others, for it is “freely by His grace.” It is useless to wait until you improve, because it is “freely by His grace.” If you hope to be justified before God apart from grace, you have a false idea of the value of the Christian Gospel. Perhaps some of you think that it is all too cheap and not worth bothering about. If such is the case, I urge you to come with me that I may show you what it cost God to provide justification for you and me.

    Third, we are justified by blood.

The provision for righteousness is solely through the blood of Christ. “Much more then, being now justified by His (Christ’s) blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Romans 5:9). “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:24-26) These verses are of tremendous importance because they show the only ground of justification.

We emphasize the phrase “to declare his righteousness,” for to justify means to declare righteous, the basis of which is the shed Blood of Jesus Christ. The righteousness of God for sinners has been wrought through the redeeming process of God’s Son. When God declares a man righteous, that declaration and act finds its efficacy in the Blood of Jesus Christ, Who died on Calvary. The worth of His shed Blood is the righteous ground on which the grace of God can act in behalf of sinners.

Did you ever question why Christ died on the Cross? The answer is “to declare His righteousness.” You see, God could not remain just and at the same time allow sin to go unpunished. Justification cannot be on arbitrary grounds. There must be a moral basis for a holy God to justify a sinful man. God cannot be just and the Justifier of the ungoldly (Romans 3:26) unless a just penalty has been exacted. He is never merciful at the expense of justice. If God is to justify a guilty sinner, He can do it only on the ground that the payment for sin has been met. When an earthly judge shows mercy, he is not being just; and when he is just, he cannot show mercy. The only way that God could be both merciful and just was through Calvary, where Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sin. There He vindicated His Holy Law and at the same time showed mercy to sinners. The vicarious sufferings and death of Christ are the cause of our justification before God.

Paul set forth this doctrine clearly in II Corinthians 5:21 when he said, “For he (God) hath made him (Jesus) to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Justification is only “in Him,” for apart from Him no basis for it exists.

Let us put it another way--the only righteous basis for our justification has been provided through the death of Christ. This was the only way that God could have reckoned to us His righteousness, and it is the one way He found of not reckoning to us our sin. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer; the sin of the unbeliever is imputed to Christ as if that sin were Christ’s. Think you it was a fair exchange? Little wonder that men will love and serve the Lord Jesus by life and by death! Praise God for the atonement, for without it He could not reckon us other than what we actually are, nor could He deal with us differently from what we deserve. God can make bad men good only through the death of His Son, for we are justified by His Blood.

    Fourth, we are justified by faith.

“Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). “Therefore, we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28). “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). Faith is the vital point of contact between the sinner and God. All may be justified, but only those who believe are justified. Remember, there is no meritorious value in faith itself. The Blood of Christ and the grace of God compose the basis of justification and the principle upon which it is offered to man. This is the God-ward aspect of justification, but like all the blessings of salvation, the sinner cannot receive it until he accepts it, and this he does when he acknowledges his guilt and puts personal faith in what God has done for him in Christ.

Paul gave Abraham as an excellent biblical illustration of justification by faith. He says, “. . . Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3, cf. Genesis 15:6; Galatians 3:6). Abraham had nothing, or did nothing, that would stand boasting before God. He simply believed God, and through his faith in the truth which God had spoken, God in grace freely justified him. It was Abraham’s faith that was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Verse 5 tells us that only one kind of man can be justified; not the self righteous worker, but the ungodly man who believes, for, says Paul: “. . . to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). Do not misunderstand Paul. He is not inferring that faith is righteousness, but rather that faith is the means through which righteousness is reckoned. Faith is not the end in itself; it is a means to the end.

Abraham’s justification is the pattern of the justification of all men. The principle on which God declared him righteous is the principle on which He declares any man righteous. When God, by a judicial decision, made Abraham a righteous man, He did it on the principle of faith, “that he (Abraham) might be the father of all them that believe” (Romans 4:11). Abraham was justified, not by rites of religion, for circumcision was not required until later, nor by the deeds of the law, for the law was not yet given, but through faith in God’s Word.

The Bible so solemnly shows us that he who justifies himself by his own works must be condemned by God, but he who condemns himself and trusts in Christ will find complete justification in Him.

I would not work my soul to save,
That work my Lord has done;
But I would work like any slave
For love of God’s dear Son.

One further thought. In a comprehensive statement of the Gospel, Paul wrote, “Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25). Christ’s resurrection was as necessary for our justification as was His death. Had He not risen, man would be yet in his sins (I Corinthians 15:17), because Christ would not be what He claimed to be. He had to rise from death and appear before God in our behalf in order to secure for us the benefits of His death. Had death triumphed over Him, our justification would have been forever impossible. That He should pass into Heaven to appear for us was as necessary as His death on the cross (Matthew 16:21). On account of our offenses He died, and on account of our justification He arose, the latter being the ratifying counterpart of the former, the confirmation of the completeness and satisfaction of the atonement.

    Fifth, we are justified by the Spirit.

“And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11). I understand this verse to mean that the Holy Spirit is the agent and power by which we are declared righteous. It is the Spirit Who regenerates us (John 3:5; Titus 3:5) and puts us in Christ. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body . . .” (I Corinthians 12:13). All three Persons in the Holy Trinity are active in the justification of sinners. The believing sinner’s righteousness is the plan of God the Father, the provision of God the Son, and by the power of God the Holy Spirit.

There is no conflict between Paul and James in their presentation of the Doctrine of Justification. Both were inspired by the Holy Spirit, therefore both are correct.

Paul says, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28).

James says, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).

Paul is explaining how a sinner is justified (pronounced righteous) by God, namely, by faith alone. James is stating how a believer who has been justified by God is justified before men, namely, by works. James is speaking of the evidence of justification. He makes his point clear by use of illustration: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” (James 2:21). Of course he was! But when did Abraham offer Isaac upon the altar? It was many years after he was justified before God. God justified Abraham before Isaac was born (Genesis 15:6). Abraham justified himself before men after he had been declared acquitted by God. What was true of Abraham was likewise true of Rahab (James 2:25). Both have reference to justification before men. When a man says he has been justified by God, his fellowmen have a right to expect him to prove his faith by his good works.

The Biblical account of the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-29), shows that Paul and James were in perfect agreement. In Romans Paul is merely emphasizing the truth that faith is the means of justification, while James stresses the fact that good works are the fruit of justification. Paul says, “Do not depend on your good works to justify you.” James says, “Do not neglect to perform good works if you are justified.” Both are right. When a man is justified by faith, good works are sure to follow.

A solemn word of warning is in order here. When the covetous Pharisees derided our Lord, Who knew their hearts, Jesus answered them, “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men, but God knoweth your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). There is a false exterior justification that has the approval and approbation of men, but is despised of God because the heart is not right. There is always the danger of men trying to live the Christian life when they are not Christian at heart. Remember, it is by God’s perfect standard of justification that we all will be tried. The Pharisees made open and loud professions before men, but their hearts were full of covetousness. So much lower than God’s standard of holiness is man’s that things which are approved of men may be counted as evil in the sight of God. Let us make certain that by faith we are justified before God.

Nor can it be said that Paul contradicted himself when he wrote, “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Romans 2:13). Paul wrote this to those who were boasting that the Law was given to them. They gloried in the Law. They trusted in the Law. But the Law condemned them because they could not keep it. Paul was telling them that if they hoped to be justified by the Law, they had to be more than hearers--they must be doers. But where is there a man who ever kept the whole law? There was but One. His name is Jesus Christ, and He was the only Just Man. He needed not to be justified since He was already holy and just. If any person would be saved by keeping the Law, then he must keep it wholly, not merely in part, for “. . . he is a debtor to do the whole law” (Galatians 5:3). “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).

If a man’s obedience to some part of the law is his boast, he may glory before man “but not before God” (Romans 4:2).

The Fruits of Justification

Paul’s summary of his argument of this great truth lists the blessings which accompany it. Here is the believer’s heritage in Christ. These results of justification by faith are given to us in Romans, chapter 5.

Paul commences in verse 1 with the word “therefore.” This word definitely connects that which is to follow with that which has been said in previous chapters. It gathers up the truth of what precedes and sheds light upon the truth about to be affirmed. We began with man down in the depth of sin, Jew and Gentile alike, both guilty and condemned before God. Then we saw the record of the pure love and grace of God, in sending Jesus Christ to die in the sinner’s place and for sin, showing that the sinner could be justified before God, “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” “Therefore,” says Paul, “in view of what God in His Son has done for man, these are the blessings that pour forth from God to all who receive His justifying grace.”

    A. We Have Peace With God (Romans 5:1)

This phrase sets forth the greatness of our new standing before Him. This peace is not subjective; it is objective. It is not the tranquility and quietness of our own feelings and emotions. Elsewhere Paul speaks of the “peace of God” (Philippians 4:7), an experience of those believers who learn to cast their cares on Him. “Peace with God” means that the strife between God and the believer has ended, hostilities have ceased, and no longer are we His enemies. Praise God! The war is done, armistice has been declared, and God holds nothing whatever against us. Sin has been fully and finally judged in the Person of Christ, our Substitute and Sin-Bearer. God was satisfied with the sacrifice of His Son, and never again will He take up a case against those who have been justified by faith. He sees the believer just as if he had never sinned. Declared righteous through the redemption which is in Christ, the believer can now say with Andrew Bonar:

I hear the word of love,
I gaze upon the Blood;
I see the mighty sacrifice,
And I have peace with God.

‘Tis everlasting peace,
Sure as Jehovah’s name;
‘Tis stable as His steadfast throne,
For evermore the same.

A judicial peace between a holy God and a guilty sinner has been established. Jesus Christ “made peace through the blood of his cross . . . And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight” (Colossians 1:20-22).

    B. We Have Access to God (Romans 5:2)

Before our sins were put away, we had absolutely no right of approach to God. Sin shuts man out from God’s presence. Our first parents were driven out from the garden; Cain was driven out from the presence of the Lord; Israel was kept afar off from the foot of Mount Sinai lest some of the people should approach it. Only the high priest could come before the Divine Presence, and that only once each year, and not without blood. Of Jehovah, the Prophet wrote: “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Habakkuk 1:13). But Christ having taken away my sin, I now have access into God’s presence. Since only the righteous can enter, the believer has access because he has been justified--declared righteous. He now can be introduced to the private chamber of the King of kings, even into the holiest of all. Furthermore, it is important that we do not overlook the fact that this access is both a present and a permanent possession. Remember, we could never open the way nor introduce ourselves to God. We were brought there by Christ Who said, “I am the Door; by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:9).

Beloved, let us not neglect our privilege--“in and out.” Shame on believers to have access to so much and possess so little! We have access into His grace. It is our own fault if we are empty. But let us never lose sight of the glorious fact that our Lord Jesus Christ, through His Death, is the sole ground of our justification. We have access only through Him. Even in our daily prayer life, He warned us that we can be successful only as we pray, as He said, “In My Name.” It is “through Him we have access” (Ephesians 2:18). “In Christ Jesus our Lord . . . we have boldness and access” (Ephesians 3:11, 12). “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19). This truth is emphasized for us in I Peter 3:18, where we read: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” The last phrase of this verse, “that He might bring us to God,” can be translated, “that He might provide for us access into the presence of God.” This blessed privilege is all of grace.

    C. We Rejoice in Hope of the Glory of God (Romans 5:2)

When a man is justified by faith, he rejoices in the present because of the future glory. The writer knows from experience that when the truth of justification burst upon his soul, his joy and rejoicing increased. Knowing that we shall enter into and share Christ’s glory should make us rejoice now. There is glory for the believer which has not yet been manifested. It is future--“When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory” (Colossians 3:4 R.V.). It is His own glory which He has given to us (John 17:22), and it is the result of our being declared righteous through faith in His Blood. It is “the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18), for “whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). This means that justification by faith guarantees for us our future. It works! It will last!

    D. We Glory in Tribulation Also (Romans 5:3)

There is no promise in God’s Word that those who are justified by faith shall escape tribulation. But our present hope and future glory are not jeopardized by tribulation. Tribulation cannot touch the security of the justified. The mere professor is easily moved by tribulation (Matthew 13:21), but in the justified, tribulation works a positive good. Those who are justified by faith can take pleasure in tribulation (II Corinthians 12:10), for we know that it is “but for a moment,” and that it “worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (II Corinthians 4:17).

Someone may ask, “How can you take such an attitude toward your troubles?” Charles Hodge has said, “Since our relation to God is changed, the relation of all things to us is changed.” And that is the answer! Judicially we are declared righteous, we are justified, and the just shall live by faith. None but the justified who walk by faith can rejoice in the midst of tribulation, for rejoicing in tribulation is not natural to the unregenerate heart.

If this message should find its way into the hands of an unsaved person, I would say in closing that God can do nothing more to save you. Heaven was bankrupt to make you righteous. He did all that He could do. Reject the Saviour no longer, but, like Abraham of old, believe God, and it shall be counted unto you for righteousness.


The doctrine of Sanctification is doubtless one of the most misunderstood doctrines of our historic Christian faith. Many Christians either withdraw from it completely or else they associate it with fanatical fringe groups. The result has been its continued neglect or mistreatment.

Now I am aware of the fact that this attempt to expound Sanctification places me on controversial ground. If my reader will heed my plea for charity, I promise not to be quarrelsome. Moreover, I do not want to bring thunder and lightning crashing down upon my own head. If there is going to be any disagreement among us, please let us disagree agreeably. We are in a warfare, not against each other, but against sin. The very fact that we are saved people should tell us that the doctrine of Sanctification does not belong in the ring of polemical pugilism.

If there is a basic error, I believe it is the failure to grasp the meaning of the term Sanctification. On one occasion I gave to my class in a Bible College the assignment to write a definition of Sanctification. Many of the students stressed the idea of purification from moral evil. Several were more explicit in making Sanctification a state of holiness in which it was not possible for a saved person to sin. Not posse non peccare (able not to sin), but non posse peccare (not able to sin). Now the students did not learn this from the Bible. The Scriptures do not teach that Sanctification is the improvement of the unregenerate nature, nor that it is the eradication of that nature thereby rendering it impossible for a child of God to commit sin. I am not suggesting that there is no experiential aspect in Sanctification in which practical holiness will manifest itself in the Christian’s life. Most assuredly does the work of Sanctification in the believer involve victory over sin in his daily life. Sanctification is not merely a single act, but a continuous process.

The basic meaning of the verb sanctify (Gr. hagiazo) is to separate, or to set apart. Possible the latter term comes closest to the Greek word. Sanctification, then, is that sovereign act of God whereby He sets apart a person, a place, or an object for Himself in order that He might accomplish His purpose in the world by means of that person, place, or object.

Having stated the meaning and a definition of the term, let us look at some Scriptures where the word is used:

(1) A day can be sanctified. “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it . . .” (Genesis 2:3).

(2) A building and its contents can be sanctified. God said, “And I will sanctify the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar . . .” (Exodus 39:44). “And it came to pass on the day that Moses had fully set up the tabernacle, and had anointed it, and sanctified it, and all the instruments thereof, both the altar and all the vessels thereof, and had anointed them, and sanctified them” (Numbers 7:1).

(3) The house in which a man lives can be sanctified. “And when a man shall sanctify his house to be holy unto the LORD, then the priest shall estimate it, whether it be good or bad: as the priest shall estimate it, so shall it stand” (Leviticus 27:14).

(4) A mountain can be sanctified. “And Moses said unto the LORD, The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai; for Thou chargedst us, saying, Set bounds about the Mount, and sanctify it” (Exodus 19:23).

In all of the above passages the meaning of the word Sanctify is to set apart for holy purposes. However, a day, a tabernacle, a house, or a mountain cannot sin. These items are neither moral nor immoral; they are amoral. It seems quite clear, then, that Sanctification in these instances does not mean a state of holiness in which it is not possible for sin to enter.

An interesting passage in the book of Isaiah shows that men can sanctify themselves (set themselves apart) to do evil. “They that sanctify and purify themselves, in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine’s flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the LORD” (Isaiah 66:17).

We know that our Lord Jesus Christ was sinless and therefore free from all moral impurity, and yet He prayed, “And for their sakes, I sanctify myself . . .” (John 17:19). In this statement He was simply testifying that He had set apart Himself to fulfill the holy purpose for which He came into the world.

Sanctification is used with reference to God. “And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the LORD, saith the Lord GOD, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes” (Ezekiel 36:23). God is here telling of a day, still future, when He will set Himself apart as the one true and living God, and that all peoples in the earth will acknowledge Him as such.

And now, on the background of these preliminary thoughts, let us pursue our study in the doctrine of Sanctification in its relation to the believer in Jesus Christ.

Preparatory Sanctification

By Preparatory Sanctification we mean that initial sovereign work of God preliminary to any experience in the life of the person who is to be sanctified. The Apostle Peter wrote, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied” (I Peter 1:2). Here we see all three Persons in the Godhead active in Sanctification.

Before an unsaved person becomes a child of God, he is “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” Election and Foreknowledge are of necessity the preparatory work of God prior to experiential Sanctification in man. Peter does not here explain the doctrines of Election and Foreknowledge; he merely states the fact that God the Father made a choice before ever God the Son and God the Holy Spirit acted in behalf of our Sanctification. Divine foreknowledge is not limited to mere foresight of what men will do at some future time. It is God’s foresight and choice linked together with His own plan and purpose.

God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). This is a clear illustration of the Preparatory Sanctification of God the Father in Election and Foreknowledge. In the Divine plan God set apart Jeremiah for His work before ever Jeremiah was born, separating and appointing him to be a prophet to the nations. Jeremiah resisted the appointment on the ground of his immaturity and insufficiency, but God assured him that He knew what He was doing. Surely He would not set apart a man for a ministry without providing the enablement to carry out all of the responsibilities attached thereto. “Before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee.” That is Preparatory Sanctification.

The Apostle wrote similarly, “But when it pleased God, Who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood” (Galatians 1:15, 16). Paul was set apart for the ministry long before the cradle. His conversion, commission and career as an apostle were foreseen and foreordained before he was born. It was all according to God’s eternal purpose and grace. It was dignifying to Paul’s office as an apostle to know that it all did not “just happen,” but that he was chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:14). The Galatians must know that he was no self-styled, self-appointed apostle, but rather divinely set apart. The statement that God separated Paul from his mother’s womb is more than a reference to God’s providential care of him at birth. It refers to Preparatory Sanctification. Even though, as Saul of Tarsus, he waged a fierce warfare against the church, the Lord ruled and overruled, bringing him to the place where Paul himself knew that God had a plan for his life.

God set apart Jacob before he was born, in preference to his twin brother, Esau (Genesis 25:23, cf. Romans 9:10-13); Samson before he was conceived (Judges 13:3-5); and John the Baptist prior to his conception (Luke 1:13-17). And I am convinced that my own conversion and call to the ministry were of God’s choosing and not mine. It was no mere coincidence that I was present at 3314 I Street in the city of Philadelphia on December 25, 1927, the day I was saved. It was no mere incident when I enrolled as a student in The Philadelphia School of the Bible in 1935. I can testify with Paul that God put me into the ministry and has enabled me to continue (I Timothy 1:12). This is Preparatory Sanctification, that work of God the Father in which He sovereignly selects men and sets them apart before they are born into this world.

Before leaving this point of Preparatory Sanctification, let us have a look at some verses which refer to our Lord and His earthly ministry. When Jesus spoke on one occasion to the Jews, He referred to Himself as the One “Whom the Father sanctified, and sent into the world” (John 10:36). We know that this statement from His lips had nothing to do with moral behavior because “in Him is no sin” (I John 3:5). What He said is that the Father set Him apart and sent Him from Heaven to earth to accomplish the Divine mission of redemption. Therefore, he could say, “And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (John 17:19). He had set Himself apart for the purpose for which the Father had set Him apart. In the Father’s plan for the Son we see the principle of Preparatory Sanctification.

Positional Sanctification

From this point in our study we will consider Sanctification, not in relation to places or objects, but only to people. By Positional Sanctification we mean that act of God the Holy Spirit in which He sets apart every saved person. It is the first step in the experience of the believer. The preparatory work has been going on for some time according to Divine plan, but now that work becomes effective in the life of the individual person. He is now actually set apart as God’s possession and for God’s purpose. “This people have I formed for Myself; they shall shew forth My praise” (Isaiah 43:21). Positional Sanctification is the fact and act of belonging to God.

It is important to keep in mind the fact that all three Persons in the Godhead are active in the believer’s Sanctification. Man was created in the likeness and image of God, and he was God’s possession by creative right. But Adam’s sin broke the relationship between God and himself. In Preparatory Sanctification God included the means whereby fallen man could be restored to a right relationship with Himself. And what was that divinely provided means? The Blood of Christ! God could not set apart an unclean sinner for His possession and purpose, therefore, He purchased and purified the sinner by the Blood of His Son. “Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate” (Hebrews 13:12). “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). The once-for-all sacrifice of God’s Son purchased the once-for-all Sanctification for the sinner. “For by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). Apart from the atoning Blood of Christ, man could not be set apart unto God. But the moment we receive God’s Son we are said to be “in Him,” a phrase used more than seventy times in Paul’s Epistles denoting the believer’s unaltered and unalterable position. Thus we are sanctified by the Blood of Christ.

Who then are the sanctified? All who have received Jesus Christ have been “sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ” (Jude 1). This is every Christian’s position, independent of the length of time one has been saved, how much or how little one knows about the Bible, or how spiritual that person might be. So if you have trusted Christ to save you, then you have been set apart once for all; you are God’s sanctified one. Now I am not suggesting that the only Sanctification a Christian can experience and enjoy is that which is positional, or credited to him at the time he is born again. But I am insisting that there is a Positional Sanctification which was purchased by Christ’s atoning Blood and posited to the believer at conversion.

Let us look now at the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s Positional Sanctification. The First Corinthian Epistle contains some pregnant passages on this theme. “And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11). Notice the order; they are said to have been Sanctified before they were Justified. Earlier in this Epistle Sanctification precedes it, and the Holy Spirit prepares the heart of the individual, making him ready to receive it.

Some weeks before my acceptance of Jesus Christ I passed through a real struggle, restless and troubled because of a sense of guilt. With each passing day the burden of my sin became increasingly heavy. Then that Christmas Day arrived when my heart eagerly responded to God’s Word and I was born again, Justified. As I look back upon that experience, I know now that, during those weeks of struggling before I was saved, the Holy Spirit was doing His work of preparing me for the great transaction. The moment of the Spirit’s regenerating work in me climaxed His work of Positional Sanctification. Now after 45 years of Christian experience, that work resulting in my being set apart has remained unchanged. Like the Corinthian believers, and all true believers, I was at that moment justified by God.

Beware of the false teaching that urges the believer to seek Positional Sanctification after he has been saved. Positional Sanctification is not a second work of grace to be sought subsequent to the experience of Regeneration. Positional Sanctification takes place at the time of Regeneration. If you have not been sanctified, then you are not saved. The behavior of some of the Christians at Corinth was anything but commendable. Paul wrote, “For ye are yet carnal; for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (I Corinthians 3:3). But then he added, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:13). Notice it does not say that some of them were baptized into the Body, but that all were. This baptizing work of the Holy Spirit is synonymous with Positional Sanctification. The Body here is the Church (see Ephesians 1:22, 23). There is no other way of one getting into Christ’s Church apart from the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit. At the time of Regeneration He sets the believer apart, sanctifying him positionally. Some of us do not behave at all times as a believer should, but our behaviour does not alter our position in the Body.

Another significant passage appears in the opening of the First Corinthian Letter. The Letter is addressed “unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints . . .” (1:2). Two words in this verse stem from a common root; they are the verb “sanctified” (Greek hagiaso) and the noun “saints” (Greek hagios). The verb sanctified means set apart, and the corresponding noun “saints” are those persons who have been set apart, the set-apart ones. Paul is here addressing all believers in the Corinthian Assembly, not only those who were spiritual but the carnal ones also. Both the carnal and the spiritual are included in the sanctified saints. When they were saved they were set apart through the operation of the Holy Spirit. That operation effected an eternal union between the Sanctifier and the sanctified, “For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one . . .” (Hebrews 2:11).

The setting apart of the believing sinner as God’s possession and for God’s purpose is associated with the Holy Spirit’s entering the body at Regeneration. The unsaved man is spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1), “alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:18). Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life” (John 10:10). But how does one receive this life? The answer is, When he receives the Holy Spirit. When we were saved we became “partakers of the Divine nature” (II Peter 1:4). God the Holy Spirit entered the body to take up His permanent abode. Jesus said, “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:16, 17). The Day of Pentecost marked the beginning of the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise, so that now every born-again person is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Through His incoming He sets apart that believing one.

Child of God, the Holy Spirit is in you. He has set you apart for a definite purpose, and that purpose is God’s perfect will for your life. And be very certain that He has a plan for you. The fact that He is in you is the plain teaching of Scripture. The Christian assembly at Corinth was an assembly of saints, saved persons, set-apart persons, but not all of the saints were saintly in their behavior. There were disputes and divisions among the brethren. Covetousness and carnality had crept in among them. And yet they were instructed that each believer in the assembly was indwelt by the Holy Spirit. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (I Corinthians 6:19). The Holy Spirit dwells in the Church corporately as well as in each member individually and personally.

This is Positional Sanctification, and it is the portion of every regenerated person. “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Romans 8:9). “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6). “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, where we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). “He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, Who hath also given unto us His Holy Spirit” (I Thessalonians 4:8). “That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us” (II Timothy 1:14).

The above mentioned verses from God’s Word show clearly that Sanctification is the state predetermined by God for every believer, into which He calls them by His grace, and in which they commence their Christian life and experience. Beloved brethren, think of it! God has separated us unto Himself. “But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (II Thessalonians 2:13). “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption; That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (I Corinthians 1:30, 31). Are you rejoicing in His imputed Sanctification?

Somewhere I heard or read of a tragedy at sea in which a young fisherman was washed overboard and lost. All efforts to recover his body were futile. He left his young widow and eight-year-old son penniless. Their godly pastor who conducted the funeral service was deeply moved by the tragedy. After he returned from the memorial service he went to the local bank and opened a savings account in the name of the orphaned boy. From time to time he added to the account, which continued to bear interest. Ten years later, the boy graduated from high school and at the commencement exercises he was awarded a scholarship in a university hundreds of miles from home. One day the pastor visited the home to congratulate the boy and his mother. The mother expressed to the pastor her appreciation for the scholarship, but added the lack of necessary funds for travel, clothing, etc. would prevent them from accepting it. Whereupon the pastor advised her to go to the bank and withdraw the necessary money from the boy’s savings account. The mother said nothing but felt keenly disappointed with the pastor’s remarks. Several weeks later, another pastoral call brought up the subject again. Once more the mother expressed her regrets that her son was unable to accept the scholarship. Again the pastor told her to go to the bank and withdraw the necessary amount from the boy’s account. Within herself she thought, If this is supposed to be a joke, it is in very poor taste. But not many days before the deadline, she went to the bank, and after inquiring she learned that the money was there, deposited in her son’s name by another person. Her boy had not earned the money. It was credited, posited to his account.

Even so, when we were regenerated, there was posited to us the holiness of Jesus Christ, God’s gift of Sanctification. The Holy Spirit is a gift, not given discriminately to some believers, but rather to all believers, as the following passages teach: John 7:37-39; Romans 5:5; I Corinthians 2:12; II Corinthians 5:5. No distinctions are as much as hinted at in these verses, nor would we expect any because of the very nature of a gift. A gift is not a reward nor a debt nor a payment for service. The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to every believer; therefore, every believer has been positionally sanctified permanently.

Some Christians believe sincerely that when a child of God sins, his Positional Sanctification is lost by the Holy Spirit withdrawing Himself from that one. This viewpoint is untenable. Those who hold this view are in error. Our Lord said that the Holy Spirit would “abide with you forever” (John 14:16). If sin in a believer could cause the Holy Spirit to depart from that believer, then that same sin could cause the person who committed it to lose his salvation, and if one could lose his salvation, he never could be saved again. (See Hebrews 6:4-6). The believer’s Positional Sanctification is a Permanent Sanctification because of the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There was no discrimination among the mixed multitude of believers in Corinth. The carnal Christians were in conflict with each other, but without exception they were all addressed as those who were indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

In at least two Epistles, according to the Authorized Version, Christians are addressed as those who are “called to be saints” (Romans 1:7; I Corinthians 1:2). This is incorrect and therefore misleading. The italicized words “to be” should have been left out. Christians are now saints, already set apart, sanctified. These verses do not anticipate a time in the future when God’s children will become saints. Every saved person is as much a saint now as he ever will be in time or eternity.

Practical Sanctification

This portion of our study shall be given to the matter of the Christian’s responsibility in Sanctification, that piety and true holiness which deserve to be seen in the life of every saved person. As I study my own daily experiences as a child of God, and observe those with whom I associate in the Lord’s work, I have a deep conviction that this has been a neglected phase of Christian doctrine. Many who stress continually the great doctrine of Justification fail to see that Practical Sanctification is equally important. Satan knows well the power of true Sanctification in the believer’s life; therefore, it is to the advancement of his kingdom if he can perpetuate confusion in our minds and conflict among the brethren.

In our consideration of Preparatory Sanctification the sovereignty of God was stressed, and rightly so. God is sovereign in all matters. However, we who are His children are wrong when we use His sovereignty as an excuse for our sinful unwillingness to carry out our responsibility. When William Carey was pleading for missionaries to carry the Gospel to unevangelized peoples of the world, a group of preachers in England tried to silence him with the words, “If God wants to evangelize the heathen He will do it without your help or ours.” It was true, and still is, that God can reach the heathen with the Gospel without the help of any of us. However, it is equally true that God in His sovereignty has ordained that men should be the means of carrying His Gospel to the unevangelized. The sovereignty of God in sanctifying Jeremiah and Paul to preach His Word, and that before they were born, did not relieve them of their responsibility to obey God’s call when it came to them. Preparatory and Positional Sanctification are entirely the work of the Triune God, but in the matter of our Practical Sanctification there is that element of human responsibility. God does His work perfectly, but in the area of personal holiness we fail.

Our standard of living, viewed from the financial and material side, has risen to an all time high, but our standard of living, viewed from the spiritual side, has dropped to an all time low. Christians have time for sports, entertainment, travel, and socializing, but little or no time for communion with God in prayer and the study of His Word. The marvels of saving grace call for a life corresponding to our exalted position in Christ. The grace of God which brings Salvation also teaches Sanctification (Titus 2:11, 12).

When one makes a study of Practical (experiential) Sanctification, there are some pitfalls to be avoided. One serious danger is that of interpreting Practical Sanctification by someone’s personal experience. We must beware of that disproportionate emphasis on experience which neglects or omits doctrine. Many of the religious books coming from the presses today are long on experience but short on doctrine. We must see all of life’s experiences in the light of what the Bible teaches. Many persons have been led astray because they substituted some personal experience for the teaching of the Word of God. Dr. Chafer said, “Even if Sanctification were limited to the field of human experience, there would never be an experience that could be proven to be its perfect example, nor would any human statement of that experience exactly describe the full measure of the divine reality. It is the function of the Bible to interpret experience, rather than the function of experience to interpret the Bible. Every experience which is wrought of God will be found to be according to the Scriptures.”

Practical Sanctification differs from Positional Sanctification in that Positional Sanctification is solely the will and work of the triune God, while the Practical Sanctification involves human responsibility. “Follow peace with all men, and holiness (i.e., the Sanctification), without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). This Scripture stresses the pursuit of Practical Sanctification. Since we are exhorted to pursue it, then it must be the will of God for His children to do so. “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication” (I Thessalonians 4:3). This aspect of the believer’s Sanctification is then a matter of choice on our part. “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts, but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (II Timothy 2:21, 22).

Following are other Scriptures which exhort the Christian to self-sanctification: “But as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (I Peter 1:15, 16). “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:5). “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness” (II Peter 3:11). “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (II Corinthians 7:1). These Scriptures do not promise an eradication of the sin nature nor a state of perfection of this life, but they do exhort the believer to self-dedication and surrender to God.

The purpose of self-sanctification is to prevent sin in the life of the Christian. This is important because every child of God, as long as he is in this body, is able to sin. When Adam sinned he lost the Divine image and likeness with which he was created. However, in the redemptive plan God restores that image and likeness. “According as He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Ephesians 1:4).

At this point in our study we must make the necessary distinction between Practical Sanctification and that to which some Christians refer to as “sinless perfection,” an erroneous concept which teaches that a believer in Christ can reach a point in life where he will not commit sin again. The Bible warns against this false view where it says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8). This plain statement of fact should be followed up with the solemn warning, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12). It is dangerous for any Christian to associate Sanctification with “sinless perfection” in this life.

In the case of some Christians, the failure to distinguish between Sanctification as taught in the Bible and the deception known as “sinless perfection” results from a misunderstanding of the New Testament words “perfect,” “perfected” and “perfection.” When the Bible uses these terms in connection with us mortals, it refers to spiritual or ethical maturity whether in a person or the finishing of a work. Moreover, the word does not always mean the accomplished end as the net result of a process, but sometimes it is the process leading to the goal of consummation. It is the process that we must ever pursue. “Follow . . . holiness” (Hebrews 12:14), that is, pursue it, press on after it. The Apostle Paul said, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after . . . I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12, 14). Spiritual maturity should be the goal of every saved person. We should seek it eagerly, endeavor earnestly to acquire it with urgency, pursue it as a hunter stalks his game or as an athlete the winning of the race.

Sometimes the word “perfect” is used in the comparative degree. A person or an object may be said to be more perfect or less perfect than another person or object. An example of the comparative degree is seen in Hebrews 9:11 where we read, “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building.” It could be said that a wife is more perfect than her husband, or that the husband is less perfect than his wife, yet neither of them would have at any time attained to “sinless perfection.”

The Greek word translated “perfect” is teleios. Its varied usages in the New Testament shows shades of meaning far removed from the idea of “sinless perfection.” For example, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Brethren, be not children in understanding; howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men” (Gr. teleios) (I Corinthians 14:20). Here the Apostle is drawing a contrast between children and adults, exhorting them, not to “sinless perfection,” but to show forth the kind of understanding that would be expected of mature adults. The same word teleios is translated “of full age” in Hebrews 5:14 where it likewise means spiritual maturity. The Christian is to be “perfect” in the sense that he should be spiritually mature in his behavior toward God and toward his fellow-men.

How does one pursue Sanctification? How does one mature in the Christian life? Certainly it is not through struggling nor self-confidence nor by trying to duplicate those “experiences” to which others testify. For one thing, growth takes time. There is no short-cut to spiritual maturity. It takes twenty-one years before a new born babe reaches the twenty-first anniversary of his birth. No amount of struggling or self confidence or mimicking others will speed up the process. A healthy growth that leads to spiritual maturity necessitates time. Now it is true that some new “converts” appear to take off at an extremely fast pace. But this outward appearance might not be the accurate indicator of the inner man. Moreover, if there is going to be a healthy growth, the pace will be modified. Young believers must not feel that they are not making progress because they are not surging ahead at a fast rate of speed. This wrong attitude can lead to discouragement and even disaster.

We will not mature spiritually if we labor under the false idea that the Christian is free from temptation. No child of God is free from temptation, “because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8). His enticements to do wrong will come to us through every doorway of sense, nose, eye, ear, mouth and touch. But it is no sin to be tempted. A young man may seek to entice a young lady to engage in sinful sex, and the girl might be tempted to do so; however, no one can accuse her of indiscretion if she has kept the door shut against her tempter. Every Christian is tempted, but temptation does not necessarily lead to sin. We can be tempted by Satan (I Corinthians 7:5; I Thessalonians 3:5), by the natural desires of the old unregenerate nature (Galatians 4:14; James 1:14), by other persons (Matthew 16:1; 19:3). But God has made provision for His own so that they need not yield to the temptation. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (I Corinthians 10:13). Every temptation can result in blessing if when we are tempted we are driven to God’s Word and prayer and win the victory.

    First, consider the importance of the Word of God in
    the Christian’s Practical Sanctification.

This aspect of Sanctification was in view in our Lord’s prayer, where He prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth” (John 17:17). To the child of God who reads and studies the Bible, it becomes a cleansing, sanctifying power in life. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Psalm 119:9). When we meditate in God’s Word, the truth of God has its own inherent power to prevent sin. It becomes a stronghold in temptation. The Psalmist wrote, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11). Our Lord said to His disciples, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3). Of the righteous man it is written, “The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide” (Psalm 37:31). Paul had this same idea in view when he said, “. . . Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:25, 26). Peter likewise stresses the same truth where he writes, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (I Peter 2:2).

If the problem in the Christian life is to bring our practice up to our position, then let us become men and women of the Word. Practical holiness will manifest itself as we set ourselves apart to search the Scriptures. God’s Word is the active agent the Holy Spirit uses to this end. I cannot know the will of God for my life if I neglect the Word of God. The miracle of being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ does not take place in an instant; it is a day-by-day process wrought in us by the Holy Spirit through the sanctifying power of the Word of God. “For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the diving asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

    Second, know and reckon on the fact that
    you are dead to sin and self.

“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him. . .” (ie Christ) (Romans 6:6). Beware of the false theory which wrongly uses this verse to teach that a Christian by an act of his own will can die to self. It is not possible for a Christian to die to self. As a matter of fact, I have never met an advocate of the “death to self” movement who could tell me how I might die to self. The difficulty arises from a failure to examine the Greek text in which there is nothing to support the theory of self-crucifixion or dying to self. The verb in Romans 6:6 is in the past tense, so that the correct translation reads, “Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Christ.” The reference is not to something the Christian must try to accomplish, but to the perfect and completed work of Christ. The exhortation is not to try to die to self by some effort of our own, but to realize that when Christ died on the cross we did die to self with Him. This is positional truth, and it is important that we continually reckon ourselves dead to self. The death of Christ not only atones for the penalty of sin, but it has power to deliver us from the practice of sin. This is a mighty truth that we must “know” and on which we need to “reckon” continuously.

    Third, Christians are exhorted to yield their bodies to God.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). The surrender of our bodies to God is absolutely essential to Practical Sanctification. The body is not the entire man, but it is the vehicle of the human spirit and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Our bodies belong to God by a two-fold right, His right by creation and by redemption. “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Corinthians 6:19, 20). Sin manifests itself through the members of the body. “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Romans 6:13). This includes even that “little member” (James 3:5) which too often hurts the membership. It is by means of our bodies that God gets His work done. He chose to save us through a body, thus the necessity of the Incarnation. Jesus said, “A body Thou hast prepared Me” (Hebrews 10:5). The holy man of God will honor God with his body. The Apostle Paul testified, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (I Corinthians 9:27).

Total self-dedication to God is the result of self-determined separation to God. Make up your mind that unless you yield yourself to God you will not experience a life of holiness. Victory over any sin is the result of self-sanctification.

    Fourth, Practical Sanctification involves
    the surrender of the will.

The Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and must therefore be led by the Spirit. The will of God is all-important in the life of the child of God. And how does God guide us? He guides us through His Word. Basically, God’s will is found in God’s Word. “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). But closely related to guidance by the Scriptures is the work of the Holy Spirit in us. He gives guidance to those who sincerely want His will and who are already walking in obedience to the light which they received from the Word. Any person who is truly saved and who sincerely wants God’s will shall have it. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14). The will of God is the present sphere of Christian obligation. “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17). Each believer plays an important role in his own Practical Sanctification as he finds and follows and finishes God’s will for his life. The Christian who is out of God’s will is an unsaintly saint.

    Fifth, we sanctify ourselves when we walk in the Spirit.

“This I say then, Walk in (by) the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). The verb walk (Greek peripateite) is in the present tense and means to keep on walking by the Spirit. Christians in this dispensation are blessed with the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit who is the Divine enablement for our living a holy life. What is impossible for the Christian who is resisting or grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit is possible for the one who is walking by the Spirit. When we sin against the Spirit we break fellowship with him, thereby cutting ourselves off from the supply of His power. “Quench not the Spirit” (I Thessalonians 5:15), and “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30), and your life will be blessed.

Perfect Sanctification

Perfect (or ultimate) Sanctification is that aspect of Sanctification related to the final perfection of the children of God. It will not be realized while we are in this mortal body. Perfect Sanctification is the final step in the sanctifying process. Like Preparatory and Positional Sactification, it is wholly the work of God.

Paul wrote about this in closing his First Epistle to the Thessalonians. “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 5:23). When Christ returns the believer’s Sanctification will be complete. The word wholly (Greek {olotelhs) is found only here in the New Testament and is made up of two words, “complete” and “end.” The ideas of wholeness and completion are in view, meaning entire Sanctification, through and through, the whole of you, every part of you. It means to be complete and sound in every part. Now this process of Sanctification goes on during the present life here on earth, but it will be perfected at (Greek en), not “until,” the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. This passage is not an attempt to analyze the constituent parts of man; therefore it is not a proof text in support of trichotomy (the three-fold nature of man). What is in view here is the perfect Sanctification of the whole man, the time of its accomplishment, at “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and the fact that God Himself will bring it to pass, for “Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it” (verse 24).

The Epistle of Jude commences and concludes with a similar emphasis. It was written “to them that are sanctified by God the Father and preserved in Jesus Christ” (verse 1), and all such are assured that God “is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (verse 24). This is Perfect Sanctification.

Perfect Sanctification is the goal God has set for every believer. “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Ephesians 1:5). The Adoption (Greek huiothesia) is not a word of relationship, not the making of a son, but son-placing. Some students make the mistake of confusing Adoption with Regeneration. In Regeneration the believing sinner is made a son of God. In Adoption the regenerated son of God is placed in the position of perfect sonship. The Adoption is not experienced in this life while we remain in this mortal body. All the redeemed are assured of their Adoption (Galatians 4:4, 5) by virtue of the indwelling Holy Spirit Who is called “the Spirit of adoption” (Romans 8:15); however, we do not actually experience it until Christ returns for us and our bodies are redeemed. Paul wrote, “. . . Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, that is, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23).

Perfect sonship is that for which we are waiting. If we had it now we would not be waiting for it. There is never any danger of Christians not becoming perfectly Sanctified. The Apostle Paul said that through the indwelling Holy Spirit “ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). Because God did “predestinate (us) to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:28), the glorious goal of our Adoption is assured.

Before the ages God planned to bestow upon the redeemed a glory, unique and appropriate only to the Church in Christ. In ages to come the Church will display that glory because the God of all grace “hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus” (I Peter 5:10). Indeed this is a special kind of glory, even the perfection of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Whereunto He called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Thessalonians 2:14). In other words, when God called us it was with the view that we should obtain the glorified state. Verse 13 says that the Holy Spirit is the agent in “sanctification” to that glorious end. The glory of the revelation of the Lord from heaven will be shared by Christ’s Church at that day (Colossians 3:4).

“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (I John 3:2).

Related Topics: Regeneration, Justification, Sanctification

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