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Sanctification by works?

by Aramus Crane
version 04.06.01 


Sanctification, as I am using it, is defined as the purity of one's life, growing into Christ-likeness. This includes the mind (e.g. thinking, ruminations, meditations), heart (e.g. will, motives), and soul (e.g. peace, patience) . This inner purity, when coupled with one's intelligence and good counsel from other Christians in the community, produces works (words and actions) in quantity and quality to be a good witness of one's faith. However, these are usual fruits of sanctification and not its roots, trunk, or branches.


Problems from Scripture

There exist not a few people who believe that salvation is by works, whether in the process of justification or of sanctification. This couldn't be further from Gospel truth. Paul has harsh words for these people in Galatians.


Ephesians 2:8-9 leaves no room for works in salvation so that none can boast. If sanctification is by works, and sanctification is a part of salvation, (as these people believe) then once again works are introduced into salvation and boasting is enabled. If human boasting is enabled, then the grace of God is reduced because man believes he has won an increase in God's favor. The glory of God is also reduced as man takes glory upon himself. This is selfishness that is the root of all sin.


Problems from logic

Apart from the soteriological problems presented by such a concept, logical problems are also created. Take as an illustration, someone who is bound in chains and gagged all of his Christian life, like a prisoner in Siberia, unable to produce any works. He is no more hindered to be sanctified by God than a man who is free to perform works.


Are you skeptical? Suppose that this man reacts positively towards his bondage, devoting himself to prayer, to ruminations on things good, wholesome, and beautiful, and to meditation upon the one verse that he may have heard in his life. Assume his heart is filled with the holy love of God for his captors and that he desires freedom not for his own comfort but for serving the Lord and his fellow men. In this man's soul is peace, joy, love, …all the fruit of the Spirit.


This is purely theoretical and clearly as impossible as a sinless man, (Romans 3:23) but would there be any man on earth to claim that this man is not the most sanctified saint on the planet? Yet, he performed no works in his entire Christian life. Thus, sanctification by works has no logical basis for truth.


Problems from Physiology

Apart from theological and logical problems presented by the idea that sanctification is by works, moral problems are easily created. The sanctification intended by God is interior to a man, since God looks on the heart. If works considered “good“ by the Church (charity, chastity, water baptism, etc.) are done with improper motives, the action has done nothing to sanctify the individual. In fact, he has worked against his own sanctification by reinforcing selfish thought patterns. Another synapse is incorrectly formed in the brain, making future thoughts and motives fractionally more likely to be selfish.


Problems, problems, problems

So, we see that the idea that sanctification is by works has severe flaws, theologically, logically, and morally. People promoting such a doctrine should realize the damage they are doing to individuals and the body of Christ. Good works are the normal result of love and inner purity. They are as inevitable from a life lit by the grace of God as a beautiful aroma from a lit incense stick.


Resolving problems

Now that we have addressed a common misconception of the modality of sanctification, let us consider how sanctification is achieved.


When a man is born in the spirit world, he receives God in Triune form. Jesus Christ lives within him and the Living Water forgives him through confession and cleanses his soul. (Acts 3:19) The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in him. When he moves in, He furnishes His abode with fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are most of the ingredients for sanctification. Add to these fruits a bias for action instead of laziness, and you have the perfect recipe for good works as God defines them.


God does most of the work as the Christian makes himself available to His call. This means that one must have a powerful prayer life. Study of Scripture is of vital importance as it helps one see God. Meditation upon these enables one to mentally rehearse correct actions and reactions before one encounters them in real life.


So we see that after one becomes a Christian, sanctification requires the following:

  • Making oneself available to the Holy Spirit
  • Fueling a God-given passion for Him and for serving Him and others
  • Praying with passion.
  • Studying God's Word
  • Meditating upon the life of Christ
  • Mentally rehearsing the correct actions and reactions to life's situations.
  • Thinking upon what is good, noble, true, and beautiful.


Where do we fall short?

Each denomination and culture has its strengths and weaknesses. Most of my experience is in the American Protestant and Evangelical spheres. But my times in other countries in other denominations has helped me to step out for a view that most in my sociopeople group don't get. We generally have a problem taking time out to pray, meditate, and mentally rehearse the positive. The last may be so unknown to the reader that he or she might want to read my article entitled: Mental Rehearsing's Role in Sanctification.

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