Are You Sanctified?
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)
The denominational tradition I’ve been in all my life, and in which I am ordained as a minister, covenants to the teachings of the Heidelberg Catechism. This beautiful document is not meant to replace Scripture. It’s not infallible or inerrant or as authoritative as the Word. It’s a 460-year-old document, and we think it summarizes Biblical teaching quite well on many points of doctrine.
Part of the Catechism’s beauty is that it tells the story of the Christian’s life. The first question and answer (Q&A) tells us our only comfort is, “That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ…” Q&A 2 follows that, “What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort? Three things: first, how great my sin and misery are; second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance.” That word know isn’t just intellectual knowledge, recognition, or identification; it points to faith. “True faith” is described elsewhere as, “…Not only a sure knowledge…it is also a wholehearted trust…” You don’t figure this out or arrive at these conclusions on your own. No, “…These are gifts of sheer grace, granted solely by Christ’s merit” (Q&A 21).
Hopefully you’re picking up the heart of all this is that our faith and our freedom from sin and condemnation comes through Jesus Christ. We—all human beings—are totally depraved, “…unless we are born again…” (Q&A 8). But Jesus.
He is the satisfier of God’s justice (Q&A 12), a “mediator and deliverer…who is a true and righteous human, yet…one who is also true God,” (Q&A 15), and our only Savior (Q&A 29) among other titles and attributes. Each of us must repent and believe if we are to be saved, which is the justifying work of God. Jesus accomplished salvation on the cross—He bore the wrath we deserved from God as a substitute, and we get His righteousness imputed to us by God’s grace.
Why do I bring this Catechism up? Remember, we aren’t just to know how we are freed, but also how we live out our freedom. “Since we have been delivered…without any merit of our own, why then should we do good works? Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, is also restoring us by His Spirit into his image, so that with our whole lives we may show that we are thankful to God for His benefits, so that He may be praised through us, so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits, and so that by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ.”
Because we have been justified and redeemed, because we have believed we were bound for hell but for the love of God, Christians are to be a grateful people. That’s not just something that comes out of our mouths as we sing at a worship service or write in a prayer or song or devotional reflection. No, the Catechism encourages, “…We may never stop striving, and never stop praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, to be renewed more and more after God’s image, until after this life we reach our goal: perfection” (Q&A 115).
Actions matter. Deeds and works matter.
Not that they are what save us by any means—0.0%—but if you are doing good works—things “…done out of true faith, conform to God’s law, and are done for God’s glory…” (Q&A 91) they are a testimony to God’s saving work in and through you. You and I will never be perfect until we are made so at our resurrection following the second coming of Christ. But we don’t get to say: “I believe; therefore, I can ignore God’s commands.” We don’t get to say: “God’s grace is enough; I can rebel against Him all I want.” Not only is it we don’t get to, but we shouldn’t want to!
The sanctification Paul addresses in his letter to the believers in Thessalonica captures that God isn’t done working or now on vacation just because Jesus died, rose, and ascended. No, he taught and confirmed for the early church and the church since then that God is working to sanctify His people completely.
What is sanctification about? We are His holy people, His set-apart people, set apart to bring Him glory and to exhibit blamelessness. This is why recognizing and fleeing from and guarding against sin is so important. We’re to be careful that we don’t become legalistic and ignorant of grace. But Scripture reminds us there are deeds of the world and the flesh that we are to have nothing to do with. Jesus prayed for His disciples, “…I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one…Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:14-17). Paul wrote to the Corinthians, …Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. 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 Corinthians 6:9-11). Finally, before the verse that started this article, Paul wrote, Abstain from every form of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22).
God sanctifies us, and we live into it. We think, we decide, we act out sanctification. As Jesus warned those who gathered at His baptism, including the Pharisees and Sadducees, “…Bear fruit in keeping with repentance…” (Matthew 3:8).
Gratefully being sanctified, but not yet perfect,