Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (John 17:17)
There is a wonderful and dynamic balance and interaction between the Word and the Spirit in our lives. It is ongoing and powerful, a continuation of the same irresistible unity that created the universe. We often hear expressions like ‘washed in the Word’ or ‘cleansed by the Spirit, but the depth and magnitude of these statements aren’t always fully recognised. The concept of plunging into a cleansing fountain is great. But the process of sanctification is far deeper and more transforming than simply ‘getting clean.’
Sanctification is both already accomplished and an ongoing process.
In one sense, we are already sanctified through Christ’s work on the cross, just as we are already saved. Like so many other wonderful gifts of grace, sanctification is already our spiritual reality, bought and paid for by the blood and sacrifice of Jesus, and assured by His victory over the powers of darkness. But it is not simply and once-and-for-all established spiritual fact. It is also part of the ‘working out’ of our salvation, a process of transformation and restoration as God begins to manifest all these promises in us.
Because, by grace, God sees His Son when He looks at us, He sees the completed work of sanctification in us, but we still have to grow into it. As we yield more of our selves and make space for more of Him, we begin to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. One aspect of this is being sanctified – manifesting and living in the sanctification we already possess in Christ. So, while it is first and foremost a spiritual truth, it also has dynamic and practical applications – the daily outworking in us.
The three-fold impact of sanctification.
It’s easy to settle for a simplistic understanding of sanctification, and so to miss out on the full measure of this gift of grace. The reality is far bigger. Sanctification covers three critical truths which provide wonderful assurance and encouragement. The first of these is to cleanse or purify, and is usually the one we think of first and most. The practical work of sanctification is to cleanse us, which has a double relevance. We are cleansed from the sins of the past when we come to salvation, but we are also continually cleansed as we walk the road of surrender, humility, and ongoing repentance for sins committed after salvation.
The second aspect is consecration, the process of being set apart. At salvation, we are set apart for God as His vessels for His holy purposes. That’s an established spiritual fact, but it’s also an ongoing process as we yield to His sovereign will in all aspects of our lives. We choose to surrender all at salvation, but the practical aspects need to be worked out as we actually surrender things we hold onto in our walk with Him. As we yield more, sanctification is established and worked out in us.
The third aspect is one seldom mentioned. Sanctification is also the act of making legitimate. It’s a powerful principle which covers our new relationship with God as His children, ambassadors, saints, and servants. It implies recognition of our place in Christ. It defines our authority in Christ. And it manifests our blessings – our inheritance – in Christ. While we are already sons and heirs in Christ, a holy nation and royal priesthood – the ongoing process of sanctification is our growing into and exercising the reality of the full implications of this amazing blessing.
The inseperable dynamic of Word and Spirit in sanctification.
From the very beginning, God has defined His nature and action through His dynamic of Father-Son-Spirit. This is simply illustrated in the creation of the world. God willed (sovereign Father), He spoke (Living Word, the Son), it was (Spirit, the power of God to fulfill His will and Word.) It’s a very practical and perfectly balanced relationship, and it governs the way God acts in every single situation. The Bible tells us that God will never change, and this interaction will also never change. The work of sanctification will always conform to the way God works.
I often hear people say that sanctification is one of the works of the Spirit, and this is basically true. But it also provides a cop-out. By nature, human beings look for the shortest route. We want the quickest, easiest way to the good things without having to actually invest ourselves in the reality that it requires our participation. It’s so much easier and more comfortable to sit back and assume that we simply have to be present, but that the Spirit will do all the work. The reality is that God can quite easily work in this kind of unilateral, sweeping, sovereign way. He doesn’t need us to participate, but He requires it. God will never change what He has already established.
The Spirit of God never works sanctification outside of the Word of God.
It is absolutely an undeniable fact that we are wholly dependent on the power of the Spirit working in us in our Christian life. But the Spirit is not our ‘free pass’ that qualifies us for easy blessings without our commitment, and sanctification is no exception. There is not one single instance in the Bible where the work of the Spirit – in either the Old Testament or the New – was separated from the Word of God. Not once does God move by the power of the Spirit without His Word being present.
What this means is that if we expect or experience the Spirit to ‘work’ without being first established and defined in the Word, whatever ‘move of the Spirit’ we look for or even may see is not legitimate. It is the Word which establishes legitimacy. The Word is the Law – that which declares the will of God – and the work of the Spirit is to effect what God has spoken. We must avoid the deception that grace abolishes the law. It never has and never will. God’s Word is eternal. His Law is forever. Everything else will pass away but His Word – His Law – will still remain. The ‘new covenant’ is simply a mercy clause – God Himself has provided the way for us to meet the spiritual conditions of the Law. Sanctification is outworking of this.
The Word is the power in the sanctification process.
As the spoken will of God, the Word is like the cleaning agent while the Spirit is the water. We need the combined power to effect real sanctification. The Spirit will do what God has spoken, and His will must always manifest, but unless we include the Word in the process we’re continually limiting our transformation. Today’s verse makes it very clear that we are sanctified by the Word, not the Spirit. The Spirit is the ‘doer’ and the Word is the material He works with.
This leads us to a wonderful but startling truth. The Word means God’s Word in its entirety. Sanctification isn’t an entirely separate thing that exists outside the practical, day-to-day details of our lives and God’s Word for each moment or situation. Sanctification, to be effective, requires the application of every single truth contained in the Word of God. If we exclude those things we don’t like, or cease to study the Word and allow the Spirit to reveal and work it out in us, we’re short-changing ourselves.
The transformation of sanctification is the Spirit working with the Word we have in us.
If there’s no cleaning agent in the bucket, we can’t clean. It’s as simple as that. God, through His Spirit, uses the Word to sanctify us. If we desire to live our sanctification – cleansed, purified, wholly set apart for God, a royal priesthood and holy nation, as legitimate sons of God and ambassadors of Christ – we must focus on getting the Word into us. The Spirit will work with however much of the Word we have available in us. Sanctification works from the inside out. It’s not an external, miraculous process that is completely separate from our lives in Christ.
Every single moment and detail in our lives is a part of sanctification. Every aspect of our relationship with God is a part of sanctification. We cannot separate Word and Spirit, and while the power of the Word is available on a spiritual level, not having the Word in us is rather like having the bottle of cleaning agent in a cupboard and never adding it to the bucket. We may manage a surface ‘wipe-down’ but will never get to the nitty gritty deep down inside. Getting the Word in requires work, commitment, effort, and self-sacrifice. It demands discipline and obedience. It means put in the time and being participants, not spectators. But unless we do this, we will always be living in a false sense of security, and a fraction of the abundant life in Christ that was purchased for us at a terrible cost.
Father, touch our hearts today and turn them to desire Your Word. Help us to take hold of Your truth, even those that are uncomfortable or which challenge us to greater commitment. Help us to work alongside Your Holy Spirit, and forgive us for expecting easy solutions and comfortable miracles. Grant us the courage, today, to do whatever it takes to put Your Word inside us, to immerse ourselves in it and make it a part of everything we say, think, and do, so that Your sanctification may work in us to Your glory.