Sanctification: A Work by Grace
How much work is sanctification? The answer to that question has been approached from many perspectives. However, the servant of God must chew through the text of scripture and discover for themselves the answer. That journey is part of formation. Christ said “… be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Peter also spoke about this call to a certain kind of conduct when he said “he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” Without doubt the scriptures are calling the Christian to a certain form of character. Paul tells his readers that they are to renew their minds and that they cannot continue living the same way they have if they claim to be dead to sin Another way to say it, is that the scriptures call the Christian to have certain types of attributes. The description of those attributes is the person of Jesus Christ. This process is best called sanctification and since the entire process of sanctification is contained in the statement that a Christian is being conformed to the image of the son, Romans 8:29-30 is a central text on how sanctification works even though the word sanctification is not used. God does a work in the life of his people, individually and corporately, by grace that transforms the rebels, sinners, into justified members of God’s own household and ultimately culminates in those rebels being transformed into the image of Christ as his brothers, and they are brought into eternal glorious relationship with God through Christ; as these rebels press into the new life they have in God through Christ, they turn forensic sanctification into transformative sanctification. The Christian leader is called to model this transformation and be a practical example of what Jesus taught and modeled. Condensed to a specific statement, Christian Formation is the process of sanctification, it comes in two forms: forensic and transformative; it is the unmerited gracious work of God in the life of the believer, both personally and corporately.
Thinking Biblically about Christian Formation
The Bible is the story of redemptive history. Part of the redemption is the transformation of God’s people from the fallen state of rebellious sinners, into members of the divine family. Central to this process is character formations in the lives of those who are justified by the grace of God. Formation is necessary because when sin entered into the world it distorted the image of God that rested on the human race. Each human is currently in a state where they are not in unity with God and the formation part of the Christian life is bringing them back into that unity. The unity man had before sin came into the world. Jesus, when he came into the world, said that he came to “seek and to save the lost”, this speaks of the state of a person before they are justified by Christs work, they are lost. However, this finding of the lost was not viewed by Jesus as a simple moment, Jesus was adamant that if his people did not live as dedicated to his teaching they were not “worthy” of him and if they did not keep his words they did not love him. For Jesus, the process of formation was clearly in action because he charged is followers to teach all to obey what he commanded. The apostles took this mission to heart and throughout their writings they indicate that the Christian is held to a higher standard. This positional standard is holiness. The Christians character must be holy like God is Holy. Therefore, the key to this character formation is being like God. Thinking about character formation is biblical not only in the statement be holy and God is Holy, but also in that humans were created to be in His image. So then, all people, are created to be this representation of God, however, few ever achieve any measure of that standard and none complete this perfectly. So, is there no point in seeking the formation of character, by no means.
Justification, Sanctification, and Grace
This character formation is the work of God and God completes His works. Some definition here is important, character formation is how the Christian experiences God’s work of sanctification. Ralph Cunnington describe two forms of sanctification, forensic sanctification which is the instant right relationship with God that is administered through the work of Jesus in propitiation, and transformative sanctification. Ralph Cunnington see these two sanctifications as two different orders of God working. J. Fesko on the other hand pictures rightly that transformative sanctification naturally flows from forensic sanctification. Fesko’s view of sanctification as a work completed in the work of Christ is consistent with Jesus turning to the sinner hanging near him on the other cross and professing that he that day would be in glory with him. Romans 8:29-30 gives us the clues to unravel this further. The word “predestined” in verse 29 links the ones “conformed to the image of his Son,” which is just another way of saying those He is sanctifying, to those that are “called”, “justified”, and “glorified”. The passage is saying that God is sanctifying those that he called to Christ, justified in Christ, and will Glorify with Christ. In Ephesians the Paul tells us that all of this work is by grace through faith Therefore, it is an act of unmerited favor that God calls the believer to their need for justification, and at the point of justification God applies forensic sanctification; that forensic sanctification then appears in the life of the believer as transformative sanctification which is the outward expression of the inward completed work of Christ. However, this does not address the question, what form does this outward expression of inward transformation take and what is the believers role in the process?
Application Personally and in Leadership
Christian formation then, as the expression of sanctification, in conformation to the image of the Son, who is the example of what humanity was created to be, is experienced by the individual believer. Klaus Issler uses the sermon on the mount to isolate six themes that apply the idea of sanctification to the everyday life of the believer: abiding in God, relationship, missional, scriptural, inner formation, and focused on the kingdom of God. Klaus’ order of the six themes is impeccable and highlights how the process works, as the believer seeks to abide in God, pressing deeper into relationship with Him, the believer starts to take on the heart of God for missional work, and all that pressing and mission is fueled and found on scripture which then leads to the inner formation that this paper is concerned with and that inner formation leads to kingdom mindedness. One level further down is the action part; or, in other words, what actions does the Christian need to take to bring about this transformation in their life. Keith Meyer wrote “… that not only is Jesus my Savior and Lord, but also, as part of that saving, he is my Teacher of life.” This practical advice is basically saying the character formation happens as a person emulates Jesus. That is the heart of the issue, emulating Jesus, as he is revealed in scripture, leads to personal character conformation to the image that God intends for his people. The Christian leader has a double charge in this area, and that is why James warns that being a teacher has a higher standard. Not only is the leader responsible to be working on personal formation, they are also the example to those that follow of how to follow Christ. Paul’s words are the heart cry of the Christian leader: follow me as I follow Christ.
The processes of sanctification, forensic and transformative, is the work of God in the life of the believer; it is God drawing and correcting His people into emulating Christ until the believer experiences true relationship and unity with Christ; the leader has a double charge to exemplify this formation. The clear call of scripture is that the Christian is not to look like the world, rather they are to look like Christ. Christian formation is actioned in the Christian life by seeking to emulate the Christ found in the scriptures. This action of emulation flows from the perfect sanctification that is Christ’s work, which is given to the believer by grace through faith and is a work of God from start to finish. The Christian leader has to be extra diligent to act like Christ and walk in conformation to Christ because they are examples of following Christ in a tradition started by the apostles. Practically there are six themes that Jesus taught, which all flow together, aiding, relationship, mission, scripture, formation, and kingdom, to bring about the character change in the believer. This process of sanctification happens in many ways in the believer’s life but in the end, it is to make the Christian holy as God is Holy and unites them to God’s family forever in Christ.
. Matthew 5:48, ESV.
. 1 Peter 1:15. ESV.
 Romans 12:1, ESV.
 Romans 6:2, ESV.
. Genesis 1:27, ESV.
. Luke 19:10, ESV.
. Matthew 10:37, ESV.
. John 14:15, ESV.
. Matthew 28:20, ESV.
. 1 Peter 1:15. ESV.
. Philippians 1:6, ESV.
. Ralph, Cunnington. 2012. “Definitive sanctification: a response to John Fesko.” Evangelical Quarterly 84, no. 3: 234-252. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed June 20, 2018).
. Fesko J. Sanctification and union with Christ: a Reformed perspective. Evangelical Quarterly [serial online]. July 2010;82(3):197-214. Available from: Religion and Philosophy Collection, Ipswich, MA. Accessed June 20, 2018.
. Luke 23:43, ESV.
. Romans 8:29, ESV.
. Romans 8:30, ESV.
. Ephesians 2:8, ESV.
. Klaus Issler. 2010. “Six Themes to Guide Spiritual Formation Ministry Based on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.” Christian Education Journal 7, no. 2: 366. Supplemental Index, EBSCOhost (accessed June 20, 2018). 376-377.
. Keith Meyer. 2010. “A pastor’s lessons in kingdom life from a master apprentice of Jesus.” Journal Of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care 3, no. 2: 296-310. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed June 20, 2018). 300.
. James 3:1, ESV.
. 1 Corinthians 11:1, ESV.
Cunnington, Ralph. 2012. “Definitive sanctification: a response to John Fesko.” Evangelical Quarterly 84, no. 3: 234-252. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed June 20, 2018).
Fesko J. Sanctification and union with Christ: a Reformed perspective. Evangelical Quarterly [serial online]. July 2010;82(3):197-214. Available from: Religion and Philosophy Collection, Ipswich, MA. Accessed June 20, 2018.
Issler, Klaus. 2010. “Six Themes to Guide Spiritual Formation Ministry Based on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.” Christian Education Journal 7, no. 2: 366. Supplemental Index, EBSCOhost (accessed June 20, 2018).
Meyer, Keith. 2010. “A pastor’s lessons in kingdom life from a master apprentice of Jesus.” Journal Of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care 3, no. 2: 296-310. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed June 20, 2018).