by Doug Smith
I should probably subtitle today’s post as “an outline with brief interaction” instead of “an interactive summary.” There is so much material to analyze and so much worth quoting. And there is so much I must devote myself to today that will pertain more to my sanctification than in writing the same type of article I have written the last two weeks on Ryle’s book, Holiness. What follows is an outline adapted from the chapter, with my thoughts at the end of the article.
I. The true nature of sanctification
A. Definition: “Sanctification is that inward spiritual work which the Lord Jesus Christ works in a man by the Holy Ghost, when He calls him to be a true believer. He not only washes him from his sins in His own blood, but He also separates him from his natural love of sin and the world, puts a new principle in his heart, and makes him practically godly in life. The instrument by which the Spirit effects this work is generally the Word of God, though He sometimes uses afflictions and providential visitations ‘without the Word’ (1 Pet. 3:1).”
i. Sanctification is the invariable result of that vital union with Christ which true faith gives to a Christian.
ii. Sanctification is the outcome and inseparable consequence of regeneration.
iii. Sanctification is the only certain evidence of that indwelling of the Holy Spirit which is essential to salvation.
iv. Sanctification is the only sure mark of God’s election.
v. Sanctification is a thing that will always be seen.
vi. Sanctification is a thing for which every believer is responsible.
vii. Sanctification is a thing which admits of growth and degrees.
viii. Sanctification is a thing which depends greatly on a diligent use of scriptural means.
ix. Sanctification is a thing which does not prevent a man having a great deal of inward spiritual conflict.
x. Sanctification is a thing which cannot justify a man, and yet it pleases God.
xi. Sanctification is a thing which will be found absolutely necessary as a witness to our character in the great day of judgment.
xii. Sanctification is absolutely necessary, in order to train and prepare us for heaven.
II. The visible marks of sanctification
A. The following are not visible marks of sanctification:
i. Talk about religion
ii. Temporary religious feelings
iii. Formalism and external
iv. Retirement from our place in life, and the renunciation of our social duties
v. The occasional performance of right actions
B. The following are visible marks of sanctification:
i. Habitual respect to God’s law, and habitual effort to live in obedience to it as the rule of life
ii. An habitual endeavor to do Christ’s will, and to live by His practical precepts
iii. An habitual desire to live up to the standard which St. Paul sets before the churches in his writings
iv. Habitual attention to the active graces which our Lord so beautifully exemplified, and especially to the grace of charity
v. Habitual attention to the passive graces of Christianity
III. A comparison and contrast of justification and sanctification
A. How they are alike:
i. Both proceed originally from the free grace of God.
ii. Both are part of that great work of salvation which Christ, in the eternal covenant, has undertaken on behalf of His people. Christ is the fountain and root of both.
iii. Both are to be found in the same persons.
iv. Both begin at the same time.
v. Both are alike necessary to salvation.
B. How they differ:
i. Justification is the reckoning and counting of a man righteous for the sake of another, even Jesus Christ the Lord. Sanctification is the actual making a man inwardly righteous, though it may be in a very feeble degree.
ii. Justification gives us a righteousness that is not our own, but Christ’s imputed to us through faith, whereas in sanctification the Holy Spirit imparts to us a righteousness that is our own, but mingled with much infirmity and imperfection.
iii. Faith alone justifies, apart from works, but we are called to work in sanctification, as God bids us fight, watch, pray, strive, take pains, and labor.
iv. Justification is finished and complete, with a man being perfectly justifies the moment he believes. But sanctification will not be finished until we reach heaven.
v. Justification cannot grow or increase; one can never be more justified than when he believes in Christ, but sanctification is a continual progress whereby believers grow as long as they live.
vi. Justification has special reference to our persons, our standing in God’s sight, and our deliverance from guilt. Sanctification has special reference to our natures, and the moral renewal of our hearts.
vii. Justification gives us our title to heaven, but sanctification prepares us for heaven.
viii. Justification is the act of God about us, and is not easily discerned by others, whereas sanctification is the work of God within us, and its effects cannot be hidden from the observation of men.
IV. Practical reflections
A. We should awake to a sense of the perilous state of many professing Christians.
B. We should make sure of our own condition and never rest until we are certain of our
C. If we would be sanctified, our course is clear and plain – we must begin with Christ.
D. If we would grow in holiness and become more sanctified, we must continually go on as we began, and be ever making fresh applications to Christ.
E. For another thing, let us not expect too much from our own hearts here below.
F. Let us never be ashamed of making much of sanctification and contending for a high standard of holiness.
Thoughts on Sanctification
It is obvious that Ryle does not think sanctification is an option for believers. He does not believe a person could be a true believer without being a true disciple of Jesus. He obviously would not say that one could receive Christ as Savior but not as Lord! Although we are justified by faith alone, Christ will be looking for evidence in our lives that we are His on the day of judgment.
However, Ryle does take a view that is balanced in that it recognizes the reality of degrees of growth in holiness. Although the Christian’s life should evidence an upward and forward trajectory, there are times we are less holy and times that we are more holy. The sanctified life is still a struggle. If there is not a struggle, something is wrong! Spiritual conflict does not disprove a believer’s sanctification.
Ryle is right to emphasize the “diligent use of scriptural means” for sanctification. “Bible-reading, private prayer, regular attendance on public worship, regular hearing of God’s Word, and regular reception of the Lord’s Supper” must not be neglected by the growing Christian. It is no wonder that so many make so little progress in godliness when these means are neglected.
One of Ryle’s warnings that particularly struck me was that true sanctification “does not consist in talk about religion.” (We could apply this to blogging too!) He speaks of an “unholy familiarity” with Christian truth that lends itself to people talking “so fluently about its doctrines that you might think them true Christians.” This is reminiscent of the character Talkative in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. He could talk the talk, but would not walk the walk. I think of what Don Whitney said in the Biblical Spirituality class I took: “We are often educated beyond our obedience.” Our thirst for knowledge should not surprise our hunger for holiness!
Holiness grows in the soil of difficulty. Christ prayed for His followers, not that God would “take them out of the world, but that [He should] keep them from the evil” (John 17:15). Ryle said, “True holiness does not make a Christian evade difficulties, but face and overcome them.”
Ryle labors to show us that sanctification is shown, not in the temporary, but the habitual, steady patterns of life. Talk is not enough. Feelings are not enough. Bright, occasional bursts of obedience will not suffice. A day-by-day, constant walk with the Savior is what we are called to. The mundane, routine, cultivation of regular habits is a major part of holiness. This encompasses active obedience to God and how we react to providence and the treatment of others. Sanctification reveals itself in our love to others, self-denial, and “submission to the will of God” and “longsuffering, gentleness, and meekness” (from the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22, 23). Note a couple of Ryle’s warnings:
The selfish Christian professor, who wraps himself up in his own conceit of superior knowledge, and seems to care nothing whether others sink or swim, go to heaven or hell, so long as he walks to church or chapel in his Sunday best, and is called a “sound member” – such a man knows nothing of sanctification.
People who are habitually giving way to peevish and cross tempers in daily life, and are
constantly sharp with their tongues, and disagreeable to all around them – spiteful people, vindictive people, revengeful people, malicious people – of whom, alas, the world is only too full! – all such know little, as they should know, about sanctification.
Ryle is helpful in his comparison and contrast of justification and sanctification. He is clear that they come as a package, but that they are two different things. We are justified through faith alone by the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. This justification is complete and is apart from our works. But sanctification is a righteousness worked in us by God’s Spirit, a continual progress, and one that requires active work on our behalf. These distinctions are relevant for considering controversies such as the Lordship debate (in which one side tends to separate the two unnecessarily, making sanctification and option) and the New Perspective on Paul (which seems to confuse the two).
In my look at the introduction, I questioned whether Ryle would find John Piper’s “Christian Hedonism” a helpful term. I think he would not be impressed with it. But the truth Piper is endeavoring to convey, that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him” (gleaned from the Bible and the theology of Jonathan Edwards), sounds like the same thing Ryle tries to convey when he writes, “Let us feel convinced, whatever others may say, that holiness is happiness, and that the man who gets through life most comfortably [not in the sense of external conveniences, but in the sense of being encouraged and content] is the sanctified man.”
Ryle does not pretend to have exhausted this topic, but refers us to John Owen’s work on “The Holy Spirit” for further study. However, this chapter is a helpful look at sanctification and gives us much to consider, much to repent of, much to praise God for, much to pray for in our own lives and in those of others, and much to obey.
Ryle quotes are from J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Moscow, ID: Charles Nolan Publishers, 2001). Holiness was first published in 1877 with a revised and enlarged edition appearing in 1879.