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The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit   (See Archives)

Walking in the Spirit in Sanctification

Fall 1989 Faculty Preaching Series

Assemblies of God Theological Seminary

By Richard W. Bishop

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. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23,24).

A classified ad in the Lake Zurich, Illinois, Advertiser read, “Braille dictionary for sale. Must see to appreciate.” Sanctification is like that. You must see sanctification to fully appreciate it. People are not as concerned about our theology as they are about our lives. And that is what sanctification is all about.

The Meaning Of Sanctification

Linguistically, the word for sanctification in the Hebrew is qadash, translated “holy” or “separate.” In the Old Testament the temple, sacrifices, feast days, etc., are called holy. A priest is spoken of as sacred also, but in the sense that he is set apart to God and His service. A vessel used in the tabernacle or in the temple would also be called holy or sacred in this sense.

The Greek word, which is really the counterpart of the Hebrew word qadash is hagios, translated “holy or set apart.” The verb hagiazo means “to make holy or to hallow,” as for example in the Lord’s prayer, “Hallowed be thy name.” Then the noun hagiasmon is translated “sanctification or holiness.” This gives us an idea of the linguistic background or derivation of the key Hebrew and Greek words.

To sum up, then, we would say holiness was first attributed to the pure nature of God, who is separate from all evil. Later, the Scriptures make it clear that holiness is to characterize those who are in covenant relationship with God. So the Word enjoins us, “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Those words are in Leviticus 19:2, but they recur thoughout Scripture, including the New Testament, and 1 Peter 1:15,16 in particular.

Now let us look at this term theologically to understand better its meaning as used in Scripture.

First, the positional aspect of sanctification. The moment a person believes in Christ, he or she is sanctified. First Corinthians 1:2,3 brings this out. Paul writes, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy … ” As is often the case, the verb “to be” is not in the Greek and is therefore supplied by the translators for smoother reading. But actually, it could be rendered literally “called holy.” When we accept Jesus Christ, we are sanctified and regarded as the hagioi, “the holy ones,” “the saints.” Someone may respond, “I don’t think most of those I know are very holy.” Well, that is really looking at it the wrong way. The holiness of Christ is imputed to us, and so it is His holiness. Whatever holiness is there is not of our making but is what Christ both imputes and imparts to us. So the Word tells us, “It is because of him [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness [or sanctification] and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). Christ is made unto us holiness, and only in that holiness can we be what God wants us to be.

I like the words of the song, “It Is Well With My Soul,” written by H.G. Spafford: “My sin oh, the bliss of this glorious tho’t: My sin not in part, but the whole Is nail’d to the Cross and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!” Let us always give Him the glory for what He has done in us and whatever He may do through us.

So believers are separated unto God and purified from moral evil at conversion. In his first letter, Peter addresses Christians as “God’s elect … who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood” (1 Peter 1:1,2). The Holy Spirit does a sanctifying work, enabling us to walk in true holiness.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9–11, Paul describes some people who had lived corrupt, immoral lives, and then he tells us that they have been changed: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 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.” Thank the Lord that He can change the vilest people and make them holy!

You may be worshiping with people who lived in some of these ways. But don’t think about their past. Think about what they are now in the Lord Jesus Christ. They, too, are saints. They are holy ones by what He has wrought in them. Romans 1:7 says we are “called saints”—kletois hagiois. Thank the Lord He can look upon us as saints!

Now that we have noted the positional aspect of sanctification, we want to look second at the progressive aspect of sanctification. We do not grow into sanctification, but we grow in sanctification. As a process, sanctification continues throughout our lives. There are those who have tried to teach sinless perfection.

I attended a university that emphasized sanctification as a second work of grace. There were many students in that school who lived beautiful Christian lives, and I couldn’t fault that. But I couldn’t agree with their theology. The Word does not present sanctification as a subsequent work to salvation. It begins initially at conversion, but, thank God, we can grow in grace in the knowledge of the Lord. We can become more like Jesus as we walk this Christian pathway. So there is scriptural warrant for this.

While Hebrews 10:10 refers to the positional aspect of sanctification as something accomplished (“ …. we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Christ once for all”), 10:14 refers to the progressive aspect by speaking of those same Christians as literally “those who are being sanctified.” Additionally, Hebrews 12:14 (NASB) tells us to “pursue … sanctification” (literally “the holiness”—ton hagiasmon). Thank God, we can become more like the Lord. The quality is there, but we need an abundance of it. We need to apply it in each phase of our lives.

You may be shocked to know that a former director of foreign missions, Noel Perkin, smoked a pipe for 3 weeks after he was saved. Some would say, “Well, he couldn’t have been a Christian if he still smoked.” But he felt he was a Christian; God had forgiven him. But he didn’t keep smoking the rest of his days. He quit, by the help of the Holy Spirit, as the Lord convicted him, and he became our highly esteemed director of foreign missions.

In Ephesians 4:22–24, we are exhorted to “put off your old self,” representing the old, carnal, unregenerate life and to “put on the new self” created in Christ Jesus. And we are to add to our lives those virtues that come from the Lord. They help us to be more well-rounded Christians so we can be a greater testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ and His sanctifying work in our lives.

Also, in Colossians 3:8–14, we are urged to put off all that is evil and put on Christian graces and virtues. When we are converted and sanctified, it is something like exchanging an unkempt suit or dress for a spotless and beautiful new one.

We used to sing a chorus about the windows of heaven being open, and part of it went like this: “I gave Him my old tattered garment, He gave me a robe of pure white. I’m feasting on manna from heaven, and that’s why I’m happy tonight.” What an exchange! We gave him that old, vile life of sin, and He threw it away. He gave us a new life. He gave us new garments, garments of righteousness. In the righteousness of Christ, then, we go forth to live for him. Praise God!

The Motive For Sanctification

The highest motive for sanctification should certainly be to please God. We don’t want to be holy just to try to impress people with how righteous or sanctified we are. The hypocrites did that with regard to their almsgiving, fasting, and prayer in order to be seen by men. Christ said, “They have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:2,5,16). But He said not to be like that: “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet” (Matthew 6:6). We are not to give, pray, or fast to be seen by people so they might say, “Oh, how holy they are. My, they must be spiritual.” Not at all. We ought to do these things in such a way that people are not aware of what is going on. Rather, our concern is to please God. “Just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’ ” (1 Peter 1:15,16).

Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2:12 about his sojourn among the Thessalonians. He was able to say that they had observed his life and saw it was righteous before them. Then he urged them to live lives “worthy of God who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” We should seek to live lives that reflect who God is, that are worthy of the trust God has put in us.

Another motive for sanctification isthat we may be worthy of our calling. In Ephesians 4:1, Paul says, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” God has given us a high calling—I don’t mean only as ministers, but as Christians, Christ’s ones. So we should seek to adorn the gospel by living right. Think of the harm done to the cause of Christ because of the moral failure of leading ministers of our own and other denominations.

In a letter I read from a district superintendent to his ministers, he made the statement that out of 30,522 credentialed Assemblies of God ministers in 1983, only 165 were dismissed for moral compromise, which is half of one percent. But that is still too much. There shouldn’t be 165 Assemblies of God ministers each year who fail in their moral lives and cause untold harm. God help us so to live that we will not fail.

You have read, no doubt, about a minister of a very large denomination in the South who is suspected of having strangled his wife. They found her in a coma and did not expect her to recover. This man was pastoring one of the most prestigious churches in his denomination. Writing about this failure in U.S. News & World Report, Sarah Peterson made the statement that “the veneer of perfection suddenly began to crack.”

If our perfection, our sanctification, is just a veneer, something we put on, a facade behind which we hide, it is not enough. It is going to crack. God wants us to be genuinely holy in our thought lives, our hearts, desires, and motives. In all we do, God wants us to be His holy ones.

In 1 Corinthians 9:24–27, another motive comes to light, and that is to be fit for service. Here Paul talks about the athletic events sponsored biennially by the city of Corinth and known as the Isthmian games. He emphasizes that those who are engaged in the games discipline themselves so they may run and win the race. Then he tells us to run in such a way that we will get the prize. Regarding himself, he said, “Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” Or as it says in the King James Version, “lest … I myself should be a castaway.” We should desire above all else to live in such a way that we will adorn the gospel of Christ.

Alexander Maclaren, the great Scottish expositor, addressing the Baptist World Congress in 1905 said to the ministers, “Power for holiness and character is first. … The first, second, and third requisite for our work is personal godliness; without that, though I have the tongues of men and angels, I am harsh and discordant as sounding brass, monstrous and unmusical as a tinkling cymbal.” I think we would say “amen” to that. In the Assemblies of God we have put a lot of emphasis on power for service—and certainly that is important. “Ye shall receive power, the Holy Ghost coming upon you and ye shall be witnesses unto me.” We need that power; but not only power in witnessing and preaching. We need it for holy living as well. May God help us to be fit for service!

Charisma magazine, October 1989, carries a very perceptive article by Dr. Jack Hayford, “Why Sex Sins Are Worse Than Others.” One reason he gives is that sexual sin breaks trust with the whole body of Christ. How true that is! People in congregations where pastors have been guilty of sexual sin have felt their trust violated. Some, not knowing how to handle it, have dropped out of the church altogether. It is so important that every minister live a clean and genuine life, not allowing any thoughts to remain in his mind that could lead to acts that would bring untold harm to him, his family, and his church and denomination.

On the last Sunday of December 1987, Jerry Falwell preached for Dr. Criswell in his great church in Dallas. In his sermon, he mentioned how devastated he felt shortly after his conversion when the church learned that the pastor had committed adultery. Jerry was just a young man from a non-Christian home. He said he considered the pastor next to God. Now the pastor had let him down. Fortunately, he didn’t give up his Christianity. He continued to serve God and has won multitudes for Christ. God expects all Christians to live right, but how important it is for those who are leaders, in particular, to live lives that are holy and without any blemish.

The Means Of Sanctification

Ninety-one times in the New Testament, the Spirit is called “holy.” He is the Holy Spirit. Pagan religions do not emphasize holiness or morality. Their gods are not holy. Ours is a holy God. This distinguishes Him from all other so-called gods. And God’s standard for His people is a holy standard, so the Holy Spirit plays a large role in our sanctification, initially and progressively.

First, the Holy Spirit makes sanctification effective in us. In Romans 15:16, Paul writes that the Gentiles were sanctified by the Spirit as they received the gospel he preached. And often, the Word of God is associated with the Spirit of God. We need that association of the Word and the Spirit. The Word states that the Corinthians were sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Then, the Holy Spirit helps us control our minds and put to death the misdeeds of the body, which is another means of sanctification by the Spirit. How important it is that we control our thought life! Acts of sin begin in the mind, go to the heart, and influence the will. So the Spirit helps us control our minds and put to death the misdeeds of the body. Romans 8:5–14 is a classic passage in this regard. Paul says, “Those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. … You, however, are controlled, not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.” Then he goes on to say, “If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

As a third means of our sanctification, the Holy Spirit produces the fruit of the Spirit in us. This is evident in Galatians 5:22,23: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace. … ” I like to emphasize the joy aspect. First Thessalonians 5:16, “Be joyful always,” and several other passages refer to the joy in the Holy Spirit—and living for the Lord is a joy, not something we have to endure. When I was first saved, I thought I had to give up a lot of things. I had to give up dancing, going to the show, jazz music, roller skating, and just about everything. I thought there wasn’t too much left, but I had to do it. I had to tough it out. But, once I got deeper in the Lord, I learned it was a joy to live for Jesus. What I received in exchange was so much better than anything I had given up. We can live an overcoming Christian life by the help of the Holy Spirit.

Richard W. Bishop, D.Min., is an ordained Assemblies of God minister and professor and chairman of the Practical Theology Department at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri.

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