Jesus changes Christians (1 Co 1:30) through the work of the Holy Spirit at regeneration (Titus 3:5). While sanctification begins at one’s conversion the process is life long (2 Co 3:18) and completed “at His coming” (1 Co 15:23; Phil 3:21). So sanctification is said to be progressive, meaning a continuous, ongoing progression of being conformed to the image of God’s Son (Rom 8:29). God is at work in the lives of believers (Phil 2:13) to wholly sanctify Christians (1 Thess 5:23). He equips (Heb 13:20-21) through The Spirit who indwells saved people (2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2) who are said to “walk in The Spirit” (Gal 5:16-18). The internal development of conformity to Christ looks forward (Phil 3:13-14) affecting thought process (Col 1:10), emotions (1 John 2:15), will (Phil 2:12), body (2 Co 7:1) and spirit (1 Co 7:34).
While “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6; cf. 2:13) believers are also responsible to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). There is never to be a spirit of perfectionism leading to legalism, however (cf. Col 2:16-23). “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). When Christians do sin the advocacy of Jesus (1 John 2:1-2) allows repentance to take place (1 John 1:9). Jesus even taught His disciples to pray daily for forgiveness of their sin (Matt 6:11-12). But John says that believers will not continue to practice sin without a struggle against sin (1 John 3:6, 9). Believers are to “yield” (Rom 6:13), “present” (Rom 12:1), “strive” (Heb 12:14), “purify” (I John 3:3), and “make every effort” (2 Pet 1:5) to work out the sanctification process before God.
Self-disciplined effort on the part of believers (Gal 5:23; Titus 1:8) is “keeping in step with The Spirit” (Gal 5:25). Motivation for pursuing righteousness comes from love for God (John 14:15, 21), fear of God (1 Pet 1:17; 2:17), clear conscience (1 Tim 1:5, 19), and increased effectiveness in the use of God-given gifts (2 Tim 2:20-21). Why believers desire to live for God’s glory is premised upon that which is internal and eternal. People will see the progress of our lives (1 Tim 4:15-16) but the perseverance is for the next life (Col 1:22-23).
The change begun by Christ’s salvation is a continuous work until glorification. Sanctification produces the following guidelines for service in the Christian community:
(1) affective goals prompting lifestyle change in believers are imperative;
(2) while rules are followed for the benefit of all, legalistic pursuit regulating rules is not the role of the community;
(3) a beseeching, encouraging attitude should wrap all Christian exhortations;
(4) while clear Scriptural commands are mandated, an “open-arm” policy should be the response of all Christian authorities (Gal 6:1-5) to those they serve;
(5) motivations for doing good should be explained as coming from the inside out, with eternity in view (Titus, esp. 2:1-14; 3:1, 8, 14).
Dr. Mark Eckel is Professor of Leadership, Education & Discipleship at Capital Seminary & Graduate School, Washington, D.C. This statement was originally written for “School Wide Biblical Integration,” an ACSI enabler in 2002, having been used in various venues since.