The Work of the Spirit in the Life of a Believer: Sanctification
In my first post, The Work of The Spirit in the Life of the Believer: Regeneration, we saw that the Spirit is responsible for giving new life to the non-believer. He gives life to the dead, eyes to the blind, and ears to the deaf. He replaces the dead, hard heart with a new heart of flesh.
The Spirit, having turned the human heart towards God, now begins a work in him. “Human sin and depravity can be effectually eliminated only by the act of God himself renewing and transforming the heart of man”(John L. Nuelsen). The Spirit of God gives us new birth and makes us new creation, but he doesn’t just leave us there. He also makes us act like a new creation. He renews us and he sanctifies us. A believer who has been given new life is called to no longer live like they used to, but to live as new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). They are to put sin to death (Ephesians 4:22), Colossians 3:5) and to live out their new identity, which is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24, cf. Colosians 3:10). The believer is to imitate and obey Christ (Philippians 2:3-8), John 13:12-15), John 13:34), John 15:9-11), 1 John 2:6). The problem is that the believer lives in a world which is still ruled by sin. Although the Spirit has brought the believer into the light and produced new life, that life is still affected by sin, struggles, temptation, and shortcomings. The power and the presence of sin remains, but through the work of the Spirit believers “are being transformed” (2 Corinthians 3:18). It is through the Spirit’s power and work that the believer can grow up into Christlikeness. It is the Lord who sanctifies (Leviticus 20:8) and he does this through the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 6:11, 2 Thessalonians 2:13).
Man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) “But it lost righteousness and true holiness by sinning, through which that image became deface and tarnished”(Aurelius Augustin). Though we have been marred by sin and the image of God has been distorted, through the Spirit we are “partakers of the divine nature” (1 Peter 1:4). And so new life in itself is not the end goal. The goal of God’s regenerating work is that one would be transformed into the likeness of Christ. The Spirit takes “those who have distorted God’s image in the shame of sin, and transforms them into those who bear that image of glory”(Sinclair B. Ferguson).
Since the Holy Spirit is responsible for sanctification, the believer is to be dependent upon Him in order to live a life of true obedience. The believer is to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Being filled with the Spirit means the believer can and will obey (Ezekiel 36:26-27) and that God’s law is now written on the heart (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The Holy Spirit “transforms His people to share His moral character and empowers them to fulfill His purposes”(Craig Keener). The fruit of the Spirit’s work is the slow progression of the believer into Christlikeness. They now hate the sins they once loved, and therefore are called to “by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). The righteousness once hated is now delighted in and longed for. When walking in with the Spirit, the desires of the flesh will not be gratified (Galatians 5:16). He empowers the believer to act in sacrificial service (1 John 4:10, Romans 5:8, Phil 2:5-8) towards their neighbor (Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39, Luke 10:25-37). He causes them to have “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23).
The Spirit will sanctify the saints, but it does not happen right away. There will still be struggles and temptations, successes and failures. Sanctification is a process. We will fall short of living out our new identity and choose to gratify the desires of our flesh rather then trusting in the promises of God. When we do this we refuse to glorify God in our bodies, which grieves Him (Ephesians 4:30) since our bodies is his temple (1 Corinthians 6:1). However, a believer cannot go on sinning with a clear conscience, because the indwelling Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and righteousness (John 16:8).