Continuing on in this series of posts, I’d now like to discuss the necessity of an active and pervasive awareness of sanctification as vital to spiritual formation in Christian education. Last week I made an introduction and discussed justification. Without an active, ongoing, commitment to an organizational culture saturated in the reality of our justified state in Jesus Christ, there will be no foundation upon which a healthy culture of sanctification can be built, period.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Eph 2:19–22)
The simple fact of the matter is that education from a Christian perspective, as all vocation is, a sanctifying work in the life of a Christian. In fact, Christian education’s purpose is to harness that reality to full potential. Where there are erroneous or heretical views of sanctification within institutions of Christian education, there will be spiritual abuse of all kinds. If anything other than Christ’s atoning work in the lives of Christians serves as the basis by which all spiritual growth springs, there will be idolatry and false worship. Christian education presents unique opportunities and challenges in this arena of Christian living and worship.
13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Th 2:13–14)
Justification is the penalty of sin having been paid, full stop. It is a past, present and future reality that is completely finished by Christ’s death on the cross. Sanctification is the act of Christ through the Holy Spirit saving us from the power of sin day by day. Justification: I have been saved from the penalty of sin. Sanctification: I am being saved from the power of sin, it is a present reality that does not end until death or the return of Christ. Justification is static, sanctification is dynamic.
11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Co 6:11)
Christian education exists to provide an arena for administrators, teachers and students alike to grow in wisdom and stature under the loving lordship of Christ, which occurs only with an active awareness of who Christ is, what he has done and is doing. It exists to be an engine of maturity and preparation for life with a clearing view of the sanctifying work of Christ through all of life. It is vital to understand that we are not sanctified by education, but only by Christ. The primary text is the Bible as God’s word, whereby all things are viewed through it’s lens. This is the anatomy of a Christian worldview, and this is the guiding measure of a distinctively Christian spiritual formation.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Ti 3:16–17)
Leadership is perhaps the hottest furnace of sanctifying experiences in an organization. Much of the troubles rise to the top, and the burden sits uniquely on the shoulders of leaders. It is their task to engage prayerfully as a united front seeking God’s will at all times. How will our decisions, demeanor and communications play out in the reality that we and everyone in our care are currently fighting against the powers of sin as Christ seeks to make us more like himself? When I fail, am I able to own it and repent? When I succeed, am I able to remain humble? How am I setting the standard by which those in my care will learn to go through life leaning on Christ’s power for growth in grace?
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Co 11:1)
Teachers in Christian education have the task of educating minds and encouraging hearts in the reality of the ongoing battle with the power of sin in their own lives and the lives of their students. How will the daily interactions in the class serve to create a social culture where it is believed that Christ will be working to make us, not just smarter, but holier, as he uses all things to bring about spiritual maturity in our lives? How will our curriculum be built to reflect the active awareness that the Holy Spirit is working in us every day to lead us to a greater relationship with our creator because of what Christ has done for us? How will our classes reflect the reality of the penalty of our sins being paid, but our fight with the power of sin raging on to a definite end? Every subject area deals with the brokenness of the world, the question is how does Christian education uniquely form the spirituality of its students? Though it can be answered in many ways, perhaps the simplest is to say through cultivating an active awareness of the Gospel, specifically Christ’s justifying work that pays the eternal penalties of sin, and the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work that is saving us from the powers of sin day by day.
23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. (1 Th 5:23–24)
Nobody is good at sanctification, it’s really not ours to be good at. No one can boast. All we can do is realize how it works according to scripture, and worship Jesus as we experience the reality of his work in our daily life and the lives of those around us. As workers in Christian education, it is our delight and privilege to teach this to the next generation through every avenue available to us. We want students who come out knowing, I’m not perfect, only Jesus is, and he is making me more like himself everyday. We get to demonstrate that we are not perfect as well, and display Christ as students watch us grow.
I grew up believing the lie that Christians should be perfect in every way or they are not truly Christian. Many Christian youth have had this experience. As I learned the anatomy of the Gospel, the details, I was and continue to be comforted by the reality that I can rest in my justification even as I wage war against sin in my sanctification through God’s power. A few years ago when I was taking a class that focused on this in detail, I was so moved I wrote a poem I titled “An Ode to Imputation.” Imputation is the teaching that our sin is imputed or given to Jesus on the cross, and Jesus’ righteousness is imputed or given to us through faith in him. As I thought about that truth, about how I can rest in being saved from sin’s penalty, and that my daily battle with sin’s power is not hopeless, I thanked God. I want my students to thank God for those reasons too. I hope you will find it helpful as you keep a balance between the head and heart of these precious realities.
An Ode to Imputation
Did You consider my condition
Before You sent me on Your mission?
Before You called me from the grave,
Where devils rule and have their way,
Where I was a slave,
Did You see me?
Was not my sin—
Dark and reprobate,
My perfectly punishable state—
Was it not in view?
Was it my mouth—
Where there is both cursing and praise,
Double tongue setting the world ablaze,
Blaspheming, demeaning, demonstrably damned—
Was it my mouth You saw?
Was it my hands—
Cursed beyond repair,
Hailing the prince of the air,
A listless, lost, and wasteful pair—
Was it my hands You saw?
Was it my feet—
Unready and wavering,
Stubborn and sin savoring,
Running feral on the path of ruin—
Was it my feet You saw?
Was it my mind—
A library of lust,
Indolent and gathering dust,
Beacon of idolatry, adultery, and pride—
Was it my mind You saw?
Was it my heart—
Damnable at best,
Lifeless stone inside my chest,
A fountain of fetid desires—
Was it my heart You saw?
Did You see me?
From where came this mouth of mine,
Filled with golden tongue,
Fountain of things divine?
From where came these hands at my side
Calloused in service
Perfect and purified?
From where came these feet ,
Ready with the Gospel of peace,
In holiness replete?
From where came this mind anew,
A library of Love
Only satisfied in You?
From where came this softened heart
On which a Law is written
From which it won’t depart?
To whom do I owe this nature
That is not my own,
Who is my Savior?
I must conclude thus:
In His sovereign Will
He has given me His righteousness.
His Name must be great!
His Ways must be mysterious!
His Love must radiate!
His Wrath must be furious!
What does it mean,
For me to be looked upon
And it be Christ who is seen?
I am dead,
And He lives in me.
This is my condition
As You send me on Your mission.
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Ro 3:21–26)
Term meaning being made holy, or purified, it is used broadly of the whole Christian experience, though most theologians prefer to use it in a restricted sense to distinguish it from related terms, such as regeneration, justification, and glorification.
A comprehensive definition of santification by the New Hampshire Baptist Confession (1833) states: “We believe that Sanctification is the process by which, according to the will of God, we are made partakers of his holiness; that it is a progressive work; that it is begun in regeneration; and that it is carried on in the hearts of believers by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the Sealer and Comforter, in the continual use of the appointed means—especially the Word of God, self-examination, self-denial, watchfulness, and prayer” (Article X).
Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 1898). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
SANCTIFICATION Process of being made holy resulting in a changed lifestyle for the believer. The English word “sanctification” comes from the Latin sanctificatio, meaning the act or process of making holy, consecrated. In the Greek NT the root hag- is the basis of hagiasmos, “holiness,” “consecration,” “sanctification”; hagiosune, “holiness”; hagiotes, “holiness”; hagiazo, “to sanctify,” “consecrate,” “treat as holy,” “purify”; and hagios, “holy,” “saint.” The root idea of the Greek stem is to stand in awe of something or someone. The NT usage is greatly dependent upon the Greek translation of the OT, the Septuagint, for meaning. The hag words in the Septuagint mostly translated the Hebrew qadosh, “separate, contrasting with the profane.” Thus, God is separate; things and people dedicated to Him and to His use are separate. The moral implications of this word came into focus with the prophets and became a major emphasis in the NT.
Cranford, L. L. (2003). Sanctification. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 1443). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
SANCTIFICATION—involves more than a mere moral reformation of character, brought about by the power of the truth: it is the work of the Holy Spirit bringing the whole nature more and more under the influences of the new gracious principles implanted in the soul in regeneration. In other words, sanctification is the carrying on to perfection the work begun in regeneration, and it extends to the whole man (Rom. 6:13; 2 Cor. 4:6; Col. 3:10; 1 John 4:7; 1 Cor. 6:19). It is the special office of the Holy Spirit in the plan of redemption to carry on this work (1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Thess. 2:13). Faith is instrumental in securing sanctification, inasmuch as it (1) secures union to Christ (Gal. 2:20), and (2) brings the believer into living contact with the truth, whereby he is led to yield obedience “to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come.”
Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.