Regarding this item of “sanctification”, it is a very loaded issue. It was so “loaded” for me because I had been taught, and then taught it myself, that there are these three simple steps of salvation:
1. Justification – God’s legal declaration that I am not guilty.
2. Sanctification – the life long process by which I slowly but surely live up to my new “justified” legal status. The majoritive concept was “look as what Jesus has done—he justified you, now get busy living like it. Do all you can to live more and more holy (sanctification).” So in essence, it was the idea of “we all know you’re not really holy, I mean look at you…you’re a mess…you have a wicked evil heart…etc…etc, but now you need to try become thing you aren’t really. You’re not holy, but it’s time to try to be it over time.” Obviously that’s a great oversimplification, but the general idea I was focused on.
3. Glorification – the day in the future when either you die or Jesus returns when you actually will be holy and no sin, etc.
I think in general this is the same approach that many throughout the christian church have regarding salvation, christian growth, etc. Again, I did for years and years.
Back in 2012 after we moved to Crozet to start LJC, I began to read the scriptures where they said things like “you were sanctified” & “you have been sanctified”, etc. Not only are these used in both aorist tense (simple past action) and perfect tense (an event that fully happened in the past with continuing results into the present and future) but they are also passive. This means that our sanctification not only happened in the past and we live today in the results of it (the perfect tense element), but Someone else did the sanctifying. If it’s passive voice then we cannot be the ones doing it. We are the ones to whom it is being done. My entire concept of “sanctification” was being called into question. Not only is the Scriptures saying it is a past event whose results continue into the present and the future (perfect tense), but it is also something that God did to us and not us doing ourselves (passive voice). If you remember, I used to believe that it was an ongoing process that I did as I tried harder and harder. Wrong on two elements! I’ve been wrong a lot in my life! LOL.
An example of an aorist tense verb is “The baby cried.” It’s a simple past reality. It doesn’t not mean the baby isn’t still crying, but it is simply emphasizing the fact that there was a moment in the past when the baby cried. An example of perfect tense would be “The baby has cried for hours.” This conveys that there was a point in time when the baby went from not crying to crying and it seems to be still crying!
When the scriptures use “were sanctified” (like 1 Cor 6:11 – ἡγιάσθητε) it is aorist, passive, indicative, 2nd person, plural (you were made holy or sanctified), it is like “the baby cried”. It is saying there was a point in time in the past when we weren’t holy (sanctified), but then at a point in time we were made holy (sanctified). It’s punctiliar if you will.
When the scriptures use “have been sanctified” (like Hebrews 10:10), this is the perfect, passive usage. We were made holy, and we remain holy. In Biblical Greek, Zerwick defines perfect tense as “indicating not the past action as such but the present ’state of affairs’ resulting from the past action.” So the past action was “we were made holy (sanctified)”, but when used in the perfect tense the emphasis is on the fact that we remain holy (sanctified) as a result of the one time event of the past—our being born again. This may not be a great example, but if I were to say, “You and your spouse have been married for 10 years.” We’re not saying that you have been progressively getting more and more married over the last 10 years! You were married once and the result of that is that you now, 10 years later, are still married—not more married, not less married, but still 100% married. So “we have been made holy (sanctified)” means, we were made holy the day we were born again, and we remain holy to this very day and, as Hebrews 7:16 says, we remain holy forever because Jesus, who is our new life, lives forever!
Regarding the typical teaching that justification is the term referring to that pivotal moment at the time of salvation and sanctification being a long process, consider I Cor 6:11 again. The phrase, “you were justified” is aorist, passive. Meaning it happened once and Someone else did it. Therefore, I agree 100%. “You were justified” is a term referring to that “pivotal moment at the time of salvation.” Absolutely! But notice that “you were sanctified” also is aorist passive. So if we rightly treat “you were justified” as a past moment that occurred at salvation because it’s aorist (simple past) and passive (God did it—not us), then don’t we need to do the same to the phrase “you were sanctified” since it is the exact same tense (aorist) and voice (passive)? Why would we treat identical verbs in tense and voice differently in the same verse? Further, “you were washed” is also aorist and passive meaning our washing (forgiveness) is also as “done deal” as our justification and sanctification! Hallelujah!
Here’s my summary. I was clueless as to the new birth. I was clueless as to the “circumcision made without hands” that Paul speaks of in Col 2. I thought salvation was just some sort of simple paper transaction in Heaven, but I remained a sinner by nature. I thought I was supposed to do by best to pull myself up by my own bootstraps and live a holy life to prove to God and others that I really loved Jesus. In essences I was using my own power of the flesh to manage my sins and modify my behavior. It worked some days and didn’t others. But then I realized, almost 4 years ago now, that Christianity is much much more. I began to realize that there wasn’t some sort of simple paper transaction where God purchased me, but rather His purchase of me was one in which He plunged my entire old man, my old nature, my old spirit, my old identity, my old heart, all my sins, all me who I was in Adam, etc…He plunged all who I was into death with CHRIST. It wasn’t just some sort of paper transaction. It was the termination by crucifixion of who I was and the resurrection by new creation of a brand new “me”. A new creation. A new man. A new human spirit—no longer created in the image of Adam (Gen 5:1-5) but now created in the very image of God himself in true righteousness and true holiness (sanctification) Eph 4:24. We have a whole new identity—no longer Adam, but now Jesus. We have a whole new origin—no longer Adam, but now Jesus. We have a whole new hometown—no longer earth, but now Jerusalem above is our mother (Gal 4:26). We have a whole new citizenship—no longer of this world, but of the very kingdom of Heaven. We have a whole new nature—no longer a sinful nature from Adam, but we are partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). I could continue! It’s more than just a change in categories as I always thought. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I (the old me) who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me” Gal 2:20. This was never as clear to me as it is now! I died. Jesus is my life. He’s not a priority in my life, he actually is my life! WOW! If Jesus is my life, then am I holy (sanctified)? I am, all because of Jesus. “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified” Hebrews 10:14. The only way Walt Davis is holy, perfect, pure, righteous, forgiven, guiltless, redeemed, blameless, etc is because the old Walt Davis died with Christ. A new Walt Davis has been raised and created—truly a new creation. Paul even says in Gal 6:14-15 that because of our death with Jesus the only thing that matters now is the new creation.
But isn’t there a process? Who of us at the moment of salvation immediately live perfectly in this world?
Yes, there absolutely is a process! This is what Paul calls “Transformation”. In 2 Cor 3 Paul talks about how the law (specifically the 10 commandments) once had glory but now they have no glory in comparison to the far surpassing glory of Jesus who is now in us. “Our behavior in this world is not merely managed by trying to live up to laws written on stones”, I hear him saying. Our behavior is “TRANSFORMED” as the bi-product of us beginning to truly see who Jesus is (full of glory), and who we now are in Him (full of glory), for we have become one with Him (1 Cor. 6:17). Paul is saying that as we behold the glory of Christ in our inner man the natural bi-product is the very reality of who we now are in Christ to manifest itself through these bodies. This is the life long process of “transformation”. He says the same thing in Romans 12:2. As our minds are renewed to the truth of who Jesus is, who we now are in him (holy, blameless, etc) we will be transformed outwardly. The very fruit of the Spirit will “leak” out! But it doesn’t come by trying harder and harder to live in some sort of way contrary to who I think I really am. It comes by my mind being renewed to the truth of who I now am.
I used to see christianity as “try to live up to something you clearly aren’t.” Whereas today I see christianity as “see who Jesus is…see who we now are in Him (all by grace)… and now live here in this world based on the truth of who we now are.” This is how Paul approached the sinful church in Corinth. In chapter 1 he reminded them that they are saints. That they are forgiven. That they are holy (sanctified). That they are …! In chapter 6 he reminds them that they were sinners of all sorts, but they were washed, they were sanctified, they were justified. In other words, they’ve been made new! They aren’t who they once were, so why are they living like they once did. With a new nature, a new heart, a new spirit, etc, we simply live from who we now are. As we believe who we are, we live as who we are. If we believe we are still sinners by nature, we’ll likely still sin! However, if we see that we are holy (sanctified) and righteous as partakers of the divine nature now by new birth, we’ll begin to see (a process) that sin is not for us any more. It’s who we once were, but not any more! We’ve died to sin and are now alive to God (glorious fact), now consider yourselves dead to sin and live to God (renewal of the mind) Romans 6. In other words, “whether you realize it or not, you are dead to sin and alive to God…now believe it! Trust it! Internalize it! Personalize it! Etc”! I love it!
In fact, in 2 Peter 1, Peter says that sinning happens when we forget how pure (holy) we actually are! (2 Peter 1:9).
And so therefore, all of it (justification sanctification, transformation, etc) is all of God! He’s the one who does it all. In both 2 Cor 3:18 and Romans 2:12, “Transformation” is passive meaning God does it! We don’t even transform ourselves!
But what do we do? Isn’t there something we are to do?
Yes, absolutely! We are called to believe. Just like the serpent Moses lifted up in the wilderness (Numbers 21) and all who looked and believed lived, Jesus himself has been lifted up for all to look and believe. As we believe who He is and who we now are in Him—as our minds are being renewed—we will be like He is even in this world. We already are like him in the spirit for His Spirit gave birth to our spirit, but Christ in us is so powerful that even as our minds are set on Him, He transforms (process) these bodies by Him living through us. This is what it means to rest in the finished work of Jesus! “It is finished!” He said so Himself! LOL!
Here’s an article by a well respected theologian on what he calls “Definitive Sanctification” which is basically what I just outlined. I don’t agree 100% with everything he says, but it does a good job once it gets into the idea of sanctification being “punctiliar”. This isn’t anything “new”. It’s just getting back to what the scriptures originally taught before years and years of history.
Ultimately, if someone would rather use the term “sanctification” for call what Paul calls “transformation,” I’m not going to argue! My concern is that by using “sanctification” to refer to a process by which we are getting more and more holy, then we may, like I did for the first 31 years of my life, completely miss the truth that Jesus has already made me holy by killing the old me and raising a new me that is already holy and righteous. I don’t want people to think that they are getting more and more holy when the truth is that they have been made holy by new birth. One is religion. The other is the gospel.
Obviously, don’t ever just take my word for anything…please! I really believe that the christian church has gotten into the “mess” it is in today by simply listening and parroting what people say behind a pulpit instead of examining it for themselves and having the Spirit guide them in truth. Press in for yourself. Search the scriptures. Pray for a spirit of wisdom and revelation. Let the Spirit of the Living God Himself be your guide!