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Sanctification or holiness, simply put, is the process of arriving at God’s standard of holiness in the believer’s life: “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness” (I Thess 4: 7). To be sanctified means to be set apart as an instrument for God’s holy purpose.

Before the 16th Century Reformation, there was no distinction between the doctrines of justification and sanctification. They were considered as one. Subsequently, the Reformers made their relationship clear and distinct. Justification happens at a single point in time, while sanctification continues from that point onwards. Justification concerns the legal position before God whereby He pardons our sins and declares us not guilty, imputing to us the perfect righteousness of Christ. Sanctification is a moral transformation through the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil 2: 13). It is the cooperative work of both God and the believer. Notwithstanding, God is its Initiator and Author.

Sanctification is, therefore, the ongoing work of God in man. Being born again in Christ, we are empowered by the Spirit to overcome the corrupting influence of sin that resides in our mortal flesh (Gal 5: 16-17).

As such, sanctification bears two inseparable parts, namely, mortification and vivification. Mortification involves dying to sin and vivification means walking in the steps of our Saviour, Jesus Christ: “If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph 4: 21-24). Vivification involves spiritual discipline and fervent striving against sin in our daily lives.

How can a believer be sanctified? Through the God-appointed means of grace which include the public and private reading of the Word of God, prayer, partaking of the sacraments and the communion of saints.

What are the marks of sanctification? First, there must be the constant, uphill struggle against our sinful nature. This life-long conflict – that continues as long as we are in the flesh – does not necessarily become easier with time. In fact, as we draw nearer to God, and become more conscious of our sins, we become more and more dissatisfied with our state of holiness. Consequently, our struggle to overcome our depraved nature will become more intense. The Apostle Paul shared of his personal tug-of-war with his flesh: “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom 7: 22-23).

Sanctification and good works are two sides of the same coin. True saving faith will yield the fruit of good works. A faith that saves is a faith that works: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (Jas 2: 26).

Thus, sanctification finishes what justification begins; one cannot exist without the other. As a plant’s health is determined by its strong roots and good fruits, a healthy believer must likewise produce the good fruit of the Spirit which is a reflection of the image of our Saviour: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom 8: 29).

The process of sanctification – of making us holy – must be present in every born-again believer. There is no such thing as a believer who continues in his old sinful ways, to please himself. A true Christian will manifest a transformed life because of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Dearly beloved, do we yearn to be sanctified and be more Christlike in every area of our lives? As exhorted by the Apostle Paul, let us “walk in the Spirit” that we will “not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal 5: 16-17). Take heed also to the Apostle’s command to “put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds” (Col 3: 8-9).

As we yield to the Spirit’s control and do our part to strive fervently against sin, we will be able to live a holy life and be conformed to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ. May Christ be seen in our good works unto the praise and glory of our God and Saviour.

– Pr Kelvin Li