Boasting in Christ: Christ is Our Sanctification

boast-in-the-lordChurch words often need more careful articulation, perhaps even to church people. We use certain theological jargon but without ever clearly defining and understanding the term. Sanctification is one of those concepts that we need to carefully understand. Perhaps our failure to think carefully about the term is why it sounds so strange for Paul to write “Christ is our sanctification.” Once I understand how this is true, however, it again reminds me that I really do have nothing to boast in but Christ.

It’s an unexpected turn of phrase for Paul to say, “Christ is our sanctification.” Christ is our wisdom, our righteousness, our redemption? We get those concepts and they make sense in our theological categories. But this one feels strange. This phrase, admittedly, is a bit more peculiar. When we speak of sanctification within the Christian tradition we usually mean that process by which we become more conformed to the image of Christ. Being conformed to the image of Christ is usually something we think about with regard to our own discipline. So we teach on and speak about our own role in spiritual growth. We discuss the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, worship, fasting, and stewardship. We talk about our responsibility to put sin to death (Col. 3:5). We speak of spiritual growth as our duty. This is, of course all true. But it is entirely one-sided and misses the key element that Paul wants to communicate here about sanctification. To call Christ our “sanctification” is to acknowledge him as the power and source of our continued growth toward godliness. Without Christ not only can I not be saved, but I can’t grow.

The Bible reveals to us in a number of places that sanctification is actually, fundamentally the work of God in our lives. Hebrews 2:9 teaches us that it is “He who sanctifies”. In chapter 10 the author tells us that we are sanctified “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ.” He says the same thing again in chapter 13, where we read, “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood” (v. 12). It is Jesus who sanctifies, according to the author of Hebrews. Paul, in comparing marriage and the gospel, speaks of Christ’s love for the church, that he died in order that “He might sanctify her” (v. 26). It is Christ who sanctifies! We are dependent on Christ, on His work on the cross, for our sanctification. Our spiritual efforts are not unimportant in the process of sanctification, but ultimately it is God’s work that sanctifies. We grow because Christ causes us to grow.

We may be tempted here to draw out the distinction of positional and experiential sanctification. Theologians acknowledge that sometimes the Bible speaks of our already being sanctified, as in we are made holy in a moment (1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 1:4). At other times it acknowledges the progressive nature of our sanctification. It is not complete but ongoing (Phil. 2:12-13). Theologians have drawn out this distinction to adequately address the different set of texts. There’s a worthwhile discussion to be had about that distinction, and it does have some great value for us as we think about our relationship to and empowerment from the work of Christ. We should not, however, assume that Christ is the cause of our positional sanctification and we are the cause of our progressive sanctification, as some might be inclined to do. Christ is the cause of both. He is just as much the source of our progressive sanctification as He is the cause of our positional sanctification. I cannot grow apart from His continued help.

We are dependent upon Him if we are to change, grow, and become more holy. This is not something I can do on my own. Christ is the means, source, power, and hope of my sanctification. How do I know that I am not going to stay this way forever? How do I know that the sins that cling so tightly to me today won’t cling so tightly to me in the future? How can I have hope? Because, as Paul says, “He who began a good work in you will see it through to the day of completion” (Phil. 1:6). Christ is my sanctification.

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