Theological Thursdays


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.


After several disturbing experiences I’ve had in Christian organizations over the years, I have developed the habit of asking myself a question: what’s Christian about this organization? Is it just the name? Is it what they believe? Is it the market they serve? What are the key indicators to how Christian an organization is? I ask this of churches too. I believe there are many Biblical principles that can be in place in any organization, but the real litmus test of how Christian an organization is is how much the Gospel is a part of who they are and what they do. This goes beyond mere statements, and must be an actively sought after part of the lives of the people and the culture they create.

Even if it’s part of the organizational culture to say “Gospel” all the time with no theological clarity to it, it will never gain real traction. Even, “Jesus died for my sins” can be used in such a generic way that the actual helpfulness, the culture creating power of the details of that truth, can be substantially minimized or entirely diminished under the weight of so many other culture creating ideas that vie for the ideological rule of the organization. In some cases this minimization and diminishing is spiritual abuse, but that’s a focus for another post.

I’ve worked for churches, parachurch organizations and in Christian business as well. Now I work for a Christian school, with my chief focus on Christian Education. I wouldn’t claim to know everything on this issue, but here is something that I do know. Without a pervasive active awareness of our justified state in Jesus Christ, awareness that we are free from the eternal penalty of sin because Christ has paid it, an awareness that permeates everything we do, then we are somewhere on the spectrum of a weak Christian organization to not one at all.


Specific to spiritual formation, justification through faith is foundational, such that without it admin, teachers and students are all either teaching or learning something contra Christian without it’s active presence. I say active because the worst thing that usually happens is assuming this is part of the belief and culture of a “Christian” organization without actively seeking out whether this is true or not, and what should be done to ensure it is. This takes different shapes in the different contexts of a school.

From an administrative perspective, it must become part of what guides every decision. Will a decision lead to stronger unity and clarity around our justified state as followers of Christ? Will what we do magnify or diminish that reality in our lives? In what manner should all the business of the school be done? Are we doing it in a way that drips with the reality we are living in, of being graciously justified by Christ dying on the cross for our sin, and are we handling our affairs in a way that points to that? Sometimes it’s easy to connect these dots, often it is not. When speaking in a devotional, or leading meetings, it’s easy to communicate directly, to speak in a way that builds a clear understanding of justification into the identity of the school. When handling a tough human resource issue, how does a leader thread the needle of correction and care? It’s definitely a challenge, but one that must be faced head on in the light of a school’s identity as a Christian one.


From a teacher’s perspective, classroom management and curriculum design are big burdens. Doing them well at all is a skill that takes practice and a lot of trial and error. I know I am still learning so much each class I question whether I should teach at all sometimes, especially in an ESL environment. Nevertheless, the challenge is to do it all in a way that is soaked in the truth that we, and all those who trust in Christ are, free from the eternal penalty of sin because we are justified in Christ because of his perfect life, unjust death, miraculous resurrection and well-witnessed ascension to Heaven where he is ruling and reigning today. Do I lead my class in that reality? When I need to punish a student, am I doing it in a way that leads them to believe that even though they are misbehaving, God still loves them such that he sent his Son to die and justify them before him on the day of judgement? It’s a question that is hard to default to in the moment, but again, it’s a distinctively Christian way to handle the moment, and a challenge we face willingly to maintain our identity as a truly Christian school doing distinctively Christian spiritual formation. Does our curriculum do anything to diminish the reality of our justification? Are we teaching anything that would diminish that truth in our students lives? Is there any way, though not all subjects are created equally ripe for direct communication on this point, that we can build this reality in our students through our curriculum? I will leave it to the experts in their fields to determine if this is possible and if so how easy it is, but as a Bible teacher I cannot get away with failing to build this into my curriculum and still call it a Christian curriculum. I would say for other fields, science, language, math, art and history, a clear goal would be to do nothing with the curriculum that takes away from that reality even if it would feel arbitrary to do any direct teaching on the subject of justification. But I would encourage prayerfully looking for any opportunity to highlight areas in your specialization that might naturally draw attention to Christ’s work of justifying us before God.

A few years ago, before I got married, I got some counseling. There were issues I was carrying with me from childhood that were affecting my relationship with God, and along the way there was no short supply of baggage life had help me accumulate on top of that. I wanted some help before I even thought of marrying anyone, and once I met the woman I wanted to marry I sought all the help I could get. As part of the process I wrote this following poem. A big part of my problem was trusting God’s love for me, and a healthy focus on his justifying work in my life was a big part of a lot of emotional healing after living under many lies that people had led me to believe, and I had taken on as part of my identity. I don’t consider myself a poet, I just know it’s good to read and try to do sometimes. I also want to be clear this isn’t just a head exercise for me, but something I’m deeply and emotionally invested in.

Yes, Jesus Loves Me…

Jesus loves me
This I
For it was man’s esteem
That I have sought.

Christ would hand me
His identity to receive,
But I
Have worked to achieve.

As a little one To Him I RAN!
As a man.

I am so weak,
And the days are long.
I am
But He is STRONG!

Does He love me?
wretched man;
Does He love me
as I am?

In spite my sin and shame,
He’s done what a savior must:
He died in my place,
And has declared me just.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Ro 5:8)

The act of God in bringing sinners into a new covenant relationship with himself through the forgiveness of sins. Along with such terms as “regeneration” and “reconciliation,” it relates to a basic aspect of conversion. It is a declarative act of God by which he establishes persons as righteous; that is, in right and true relationship to himself.

Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 1252). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.


JUSTIFICATION Divine, forensic act of God, based on the work of Christ upon the cross, whereby a sinner is pronounced righteous by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. The doctrine of justification is developed most fully by the Apostle Paul as the central truth explaining how both Jew and Gentile can be made right before God on the exact same basis, that being faith in Jesus Christ. Without this divine truth, there can be no unity in the body of Christ, hence its centrality to Paul’s theology of the Church and salvation.

White, J. (2003). Justification. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 970). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.


justification. In dogmatic theology, the event or process by which man is made or declared to be righteous in the sight of God. Despite the suggestion of the etymological form of the Latin verb justificare (justum facere, ‘to make righteous’), it is widely held that in the NT (and esp. in St *Paul) the Greek δικαίωσις and its cognates reflect Hebrew usage, and are thus to be understood as legal metaphors signifying ‘vindication’ or ‘declaring to be righteous’. St *Augustine, however, interpreted the Latin term iustificatio to mean ‘making righteous’, thus establishing a tradition which remained unchallenged until the end of the Middle Ages. At the time of the *Reformation, controversy surrounded both the meaning of the term, as well as the means by which justification comes about. In classical *Protestant theology, ‘justification’ was interpreted as God ‘declaring man to be righteous’ (thus recovering the sense of the original Hebrew term), to be distinguished from sanctification, in which man is ‘made righteous’. The Council of Trent defined justification in strongly transformational terms, rejecting the Protestant understanding of the concept. In both *Lutheranism and *Calvinism, justification is an act of God, effected without man’s co-operation (an idea expressed in formulae such as sola fide (‘by faith alone’) and sola gratia (‘by grace alone)). According to the Council of Trent, justification requires man’s co-operation with God. A further difference of importance concerns the formal cause of justification, which Protestants held to be the imputed rightousness of Christ, and Trent defined as the inherent or imparted righteousness of Christ. Much Anglican theology has followed the Calvinist tradition on this point, though classical High Anglicanism of the 17th and 18th cents., while affirming that man is justified by grace through faith, insisted that he must also labour for salvation, doing the good works prepared by God for him to walk in. Recent ecumenical disussions have suggested that many of these distinctions are verbal rather than substantial, with the result that a degree of consensus on the doctrine has emerged, for instance in the Agreed Statement of the Second *Anglican–Roman Catholic International Commission (1987). However, the biblical roots of the doctrine have been challenged by some NT scholars whose interpretation of Pauline theology, and the function of justification language within it, have cast doubts upon traditional (esp. Lutheran) accounts.

Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A. (Eds.). (2005). In The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev., pp. 919–920). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.


JUSTIFICATION—a forensic term, opposed to condemnation. As regards its nature, it is the judicial act of God, by which he pardons all the sins of those who believe in Christ, and accounts, accepts, and treats them as righteous in the eye of the law, i.e., as conformed to all its demands. In addition to the pardon (q.v.) of sin, justification declares that all the claims of the law are satisfied in respect of the justified. It is the act of a judge and not of a sovereign. The law is not relaxed or set aside, but is declared to be fulfilled in the strictest sense; and so the person justified is declared to be entitled to all the advantages and rewards arising from perfect obedience to the law (Rom. 5:1–10).

It proceeds on the imputing or crediting to the believer by God himself of the perfect righteousness, active and passive, of his Representative and Surety, Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:3–9). Justification is not the forgiveness of a man without righteousness, but a declaration that he possesses a righteousness which perfectly and for ever satisfies the law, namely, Christ’s righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 4:6–8).

The sole condition on which this righteousness is imputed or credited to the believer is faith in or on the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith is called a “condition,” not because it possesses any merit, but only because it is the instrument, the only instrument by which the soul appropriates or apprehends Christ and his righteousness (Rom. 1:17; 3:25, 26; 4:20, 22; Phil. 3:8–11; Gal. 2:16).

The act of faith which thus secures our justification secures also at the same time our sanctification (q.v.); and thus the doctrine of justification by faith does not lead to licentiousness (Rom. 6:2–7). Good works, while not the ground, are the certain consequence of justification (6:14; 7:6).

Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.