September 1, 2010
By Dr. John Stumbo
Five syllable words usually need a definition. “Sanctification” is no exception.
Entire books have been appropriately written on the subject, but the definition that has been most helpful to me is the simple idea that to be sanctified is to be set apart as holy. When God sanctifies us, He sets us apart for His special purpose.
My wife has made some wonderful desserts through the years. However, most of them have come with a warning: “This is for company. Nobody gets to touch it until they get here!” She has every right to do this. She is wise to do this. If she didn’t, the company would go hungry because four other forks would have made the treat disappear before the visitors arrived. My wife “sanctified” the dessert—she set it apart for a special purpose.
When I was a boy, my mother made sure I had “Sunday clothes.” These were not to be worn for my normal day of playing football or fishing in the Mississippi River. I had plenty of clothes for that kind of activity. But she set apart—she “sanctified”—my Sunday clothes for the special purpose of going to church or performing in a dreaded piano recital.
While these examples are simple, I believe they illustrate what God has done for us and wants to accomplish in us. In fact, in the Holy Scripture, God Himself uses a very common example in describing who we are to become. “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Tim. 2:20–21). God’s people are to be set apart for His holy purposes.
Our Historic Understanding
In The Christian and Missionary Alliance, we have explained the process of sanctification in a manner that has confused some but, once understood, is very helpful. Our Statement of Faith recognizes that sanctification “is both a crisis and progressive experience.”
By “crisis” we mean that there is a starting point of significance. All who follow Christ must come to a place where we understand our complete need of His lordship in our lives. We have already come to Him for the forgiveness of our sins. We’ve admitted to Him our complete inability to achieve salvation on our own. We acknowledge that without Him we cannot enter heaven.
Now, we come to Jesus with an even deeper awareness of our own inability. We need Him for the power to overcome sin. We realize we are unable to live a holy life—to be sanctified—on our own. We cannot experience the life He has for us on earth—His Kingdom come, His will be done in our lives now—without his intervening power. This is a crisis of surrender and submission. For many of us, it is a joyful acknowledgment that we must have His work in our lives and He is willing to do such a work. Waving the white flag is an exciting moment when we have come to believe that our Conqueror is good.
This beginning point, this crisis, leads us to a daily experience of yielding to Him that we refer to as the “progressive experience” of sanctification. What can begin in a moment takes a lifetime to fully enjoy. It is here that we begin to learn what it means to “live by the Spirit and . . . not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Gal. 5:16). It is here that we begin to enjoy the mysterious but powerful divine/human partnership that calls us to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12) while we know that He is at work in us “to will and to do his good pleasure.” We’re not alone in this journey of sanctification, nor can we coast along, believing it is all up to Him. He declares us holy. He sanctifies us—sets us apart for Himself as holy people. Meanwhile, He empowers us to live out this holy life in our daily life. It’s a fascinating journey.
This is far from the first or final word on this vital subject. So much more must be said. In these brief words, I’ve not even mentioned the work of the Holy Spirit, the role of spiritual disciplines, the theological basis for our understanding of sanctification nor how this one “fold” of the gospel relates to Christ as our Savior, Healer and Coming King. There is a large body of important teaching on this subject that no one article—or book, for that matter—can encompass.
For this reason, Alliance Life is dedicating this section for ongoing teaching on sanctification. With other C&MA writers, I look forward to sharing this journey with you. The editor, staff and contributors to alife believe this is an essential subject for our experience as followers of Christ. We pray that each reader will prioritize it as well.