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Jesus Christ Our Sanctifier

Third in a series on the Fourfold Gospel

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The great distinctive of The Christian and Missionary Alliance is its laser-sharp focus on Jesus Christ as expressed in the Fourfold Gospel—Savior, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King. When we begin to speak of Him as Savior, nearly every evangelical Christian has a fairly good idea of what we mean, and there is a large amount of agreement across denominational lines on the necessity of having an experience of Christ as Savior. We may even expect, with some degree of certainty, that most Christians will agree about how one becomes a follower of Jesus—the words “by grace, through faith” come easily to mind.

But when we begin to speak of Christ as our Sanctifier, as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 1:30 (“It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”), there is considerably less agreement and far more confusion.

The Gospel of John records the words of John the Baptist on a day early in the ministry of Christ, when John, seeing Jesus walking down the road, proclaimed: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29). In this statement, perhaps looking back upon the experience of Israel on the night of the Passover, John clearly casts Jesus in His role as Savior. Just a few sentences later, however, John makes a second statement about Jesus: “. . . [this] is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” With this declaration, John announced that Jesus is also the Sanctifier. While not all Christians agree on this point, it seems clear that John the Baptist understood from the very beginning that there were not one, but two great gifts that Jesus came to bring His people: salvation and sanctification. These two gifts are related but distinct, and the sad reality is that while every Christian understands and experiences the first, many Christians neither understand nor experience the second.

The results of this deficiency are crippling to the spiritual life. Without the experience of Christ as Sanctifier, we are condemned to an ongoing and unsuccessful struggle against sin. The desire to “separate” (the root meaning of the word “sanctify”) from sin exists, but there is no power to achieve it. More than that, there is a lack of power in our lives and ministry. This is often accompanied by a lack of assurance of salvation and a corresponding lack of joy in our walk with Christ.

When we know Christ as Savior, we experience the reality of deliverance from the penalty of sin. When we know Him as Sanctifier, we are delivered also from the power of sin. Salvation brings freedom from eternal death. Sanctification brings the freedom to live “in the power of the Spirit.” The first great gift of Christ releases us from the guilt of our past. The second equips us to resist the temptations of the future. At the point of salvation, Christ lives “in” us because we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. At the time of sanctification, Christ begins to live “through” us because we are now filled with the Holy Spirit.

Even a cursory reading of the New Testament should be enough to convince us that there are two different kinds of Christians. In 1 Corinthians 3:1–4, Paul calls them “spiritual” and “worldly” (or “carnal”). In Romans 7 and 8, he distinguishes between believers who are self propelled and spirit driven and in Ephesians 5:18 between being “filled” or not filled.

It has been argued that in normal experience, every believer ought to receive both of these amazing gifts at the point of conversion. If every convert completely understood the teaching of God’s Word on these subjects, that would probably be so. There is no reason why it should not be so. Our experience, however (and apparently that of the writers of Scripture), suggests that for most of us, the experience of Christ as Sanctifier comes later. It is an experience that we have to seek, but the promise of the Savior is that the Father in heaven will give the Holy Spirit to all those who ask Him! (Luke 11:13).

It is not hard to recognize a Christian who is experiencing the reality of the Spirit-filled life. That person lives in victory and begins more and more to both look and act like Jesus. The presence and the power of God are upon that person, and his or her life is full of the “joy of the Lord.” Fear can keep us from experiencing that reality. (We never like to surrender control, but that is what being filled with Christ’s Spirit requires.) Sin can also keep us from it, for that is how we “grieve the Spirit” (Eph. 4:30). Self-satisfaction or apathy is another natural enemy of sanctification. Until we “hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matt. 5:6), it will never come to us.

Our lives in Christ are often much poorer than He intends them to be. The fullness of “Christ in us, the hope of glory” will never be ours until we know Him not only as Savior but also as our Sanctifier!

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