Deception by Omission
The Reality of Sanctification
By Jim Allen
Is sanctification part of everyone's salvation, or something achieved only by the super-spiritual? Evangelical preachers and teachers are correct to teach our salvation is a finished work and therefore nothing we do can add to it. However, what many fail to teach with equal emphasis is the need for believers to press on (struggle in the spirit) towards the high calling in Christ Jesus. The struggling (or working out our salvation) is an external display of a deeper work taking place within the soul. Using the Butterfly analogy in my last post, during the struggling phase, the Holy Spirit is at work helping believers digest the essential nutrients of the word needed to sustain and strengthen the flight muscles of faith. Pressing on is a daily decision to trust God for the power to overcome temptation, sin and the world. Pressing on, day by day, is a measure of abiding in Christ and holding fast to one's confession of faith.
God is calling believers to participate in the sanctification process by putting off the old with the new, which is analogous to transformation from an earthbound caterpillar to a heaven-bound butterfly. The struggle to emerge is real, it is daily, and it is for all believers. What believers do after the new birth will play into the quality of their eternal reward. Believers will enjoy great reward or suffer loss of reward for their measure of faithfulness (1 Corinthians 3:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). A butterfly falling prematurely from its cocoon, for whatever reason, is still a butterfly except for the fact that its flight muscles of faith are underdeveloped and too weak to produce flight. A believer who lets up in the struggle to overcome sin and enticements of the world is in danger of not developing fully, and enduring the eternal consequences thereafter. To be sure, believers are like butterflies God created to soar in the heavenlies, not to be earth-bound and move about in the soil like lowly worms.
Believers who get the wrong idea about their responsibility to press on in Christ after salvation can and will relax in their walk with the Lord, not realizing they must hold fast to their faith and strive to enter into the fullness of Christ (Hebrews 4:11). The apostle Paul warns we are in a race and that if we fail to develop self-control, self-denial, and love towards others, we (including preachers and teachers) could suffer defeat (1 Corinthians. 9:27). Paul says we are to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13.5). Paul tells us to labor (struggle) in truth until Christ be formed in us (Galatians 4:19). Paul tells us not to be ignorant and points to the example set by Israel (1 Corinthians. 10:1-12).
"Jesus warns there is no division in the Kingdom of God for those who are lukewarm towards Him (Revelation 3:16). Jesus said he would spew lukewarm believers out of His mouth on the Day of Judgment. Lukewarm believers are not part of the Body of Christ; they merely weigh heavy within the stomach of His body until such a time as He vomits them out! These are those who are hard and insensitive to the fact that Jesus died on the cross for them; they have not been broken down by the digestive action of the Word that they might be absorbed into the Body of Christ; they have not been broken down to become his hands, feet and mouth." (Paraphrased from Ray Comfort's book entitled "Hell's Best Kept Secret")
The epistles of Paul contain some of the most important chapters for understanding one's salvation. Paul established the finished work of Christ, which is a done-deal. However, Paul also talks about the challenges the believer will encounter during sanctification because growing up in Christ is not a done-deal. Paul goes on to say we must work out the meaning of our salvation in order to break free from the constraints of the sin-like cocoon. He also establishes the breakthrough promise that those who are successful in crucifying the flesh will enter into the fullness of Christ, who is our eternal inheritance and rewarder for faithfulness.
In closing, the Bible teaches God is the author of our salvation from beginning to end. Sanctification is God working to bring the believer's behavior into alignment with the image of Christ. At the same time, it is an opportunity for believers to flex their flight muscles of faith, an attribute in His children the Lord will find pleasing (Hebrews 11:6). How high we soar in the heavenlies depends, to a measure, on us. While some display little faith and are earth-bound, others encompass great faith and soar to unimaginable heights, far above worldly travail. In glory, Jesus will say to His faithful servants, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord (Matthew 25:21).
Image Credit: Tim Miller; "TRAQ Glasshouse 100"; Creative Commons