Sanctification at the New Birth
The act of becoming a Christian is described by our Savior as the New Birth. That often confuses some who are not serious Bible students. If you ask some people when they became a Christian, they may say that they have always been one, or they are trying to become one, or they have asked Jesus into their hearts many times. If it is a birth, then it occurs one time. If I were to ask you when you were born, and you gave me three or more dates, I would wonder if you understood the question! You have one birthday, many anniversaries of that day, perhaps, but one day on which you were born! It may be that the exact date has escaped you, but you remember the place and the time of your life when you met Jesus!
At that time, you became a new creature, old things passed away and all things became new. Let me give you a few of these new things. You probably acquired a new interest in the Bible. God’s Holy Spirit came to live within you, and became your Teacher in the Bible. It began to open up to you and you found yourself interested in what it said. Prayer became a part of your life, not just the “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayers, but conversational times with God. You had a story to share with others about being lifted out of the clay and put on the rock. You had begun a new life!
Now, remember that at this point, you were a baby Christian! Just like a baby, you had certain characteristics that marked you as a baby. You could not walk yet, so you may have just laid down most of the time. You could not feed yourself, so, hopefully, someone fed you from the Word. (Personally, I thank God for a godly Pastor who nurtured me and fed me from the Bible.) You had received the initial dose of Sanctification. Maybe you were like I was. I was so overwhelmed by this initial dose that I felt it was all that I needed and I wanted to go into full time ministry right away! I felt that the Pablum and milk diet I was enjoying would see me through my Christian life. Peter describes the diet of the new Christian: 1Peter 2:2 “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:” Paul told the Corinthians, “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” (First Corinthians 3:2)
There are those who teach that sanctification is a “second work of grace”, that is an act that occurs whereby God imparts holiness to a Christian all in one dose. Some suggest that Christians tarry somewhere for some period of time to gain holiness. However, the Bible teaches that there are great similarities between the normal physical growth and the normal spiritual growth. Peter, Paul, and many others went through growth pangs, failures, victories, and finally spiritual maturity. Study their lives and you will see the progress in their sanctification.
We sin against newborn Christian babes by not giving them the proper diet and expecting too much from them too soon. They need the care and nurture that a baby needs. We have been stunned to hear of mothers and fathers leaving babies and small children alone for periods of time, whether in hot vehicles or in some other place. We have even criminalized some of these acts! Do you suppose our Heavenly Father looks on our carelessness with new Christians with any less contempt?
The writer of the Book of Hebrews speaks of those who have not been nurtured and thus have not grown to maturity or made progress on their sanctification. “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.” (Hebrews 5:12) If you want an awakening experience, just give a quiz to average Christians who have been saved for ten or more years, and watch their answers. Use questions that would fit the description of the “first principles of Christian doctrine.” That is what has led me to bring this series on Your Sunday School Lesson on Major Bible Doctrines.
Sanctification along the way
As the babe begins to grow, there are further growth spurts that occur. The baby begins to crawl, then walk, perhaps run, ride a bike, etc. The method of locomotion change with the maturity of the being. The language changes from the initial sounds of babyhood to the more advanced vocabulary and thoughts of the maturing person. The adolescent gives way to the adult who advances to the mature adult.
So in the Christian life, the spiritual babe grows into a child, then an adolescent, an adult, and finally a mature adult. John writes about these stages of the Christian life. First John 2:8 “Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. 9 He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. 10 He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. 11 But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.” This is the new born stage. The person has just passed from darkness to light and has begun to love the brethren. (Wouldn’t if be nice if we could keep that going into adulthood)
12 “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.” Here is the child stage. The person really grasps forgiveness and the fact that he or she has been set free from the penalty of sin. The child experiences the liberty that release from guilt brings, but is not ready to act responsibly yet. There is still growth and maturity ahead.
13 “I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.” Here we have three of the stages of Christian maturity in reverse order. The fathers (mature Christians) are addressed as knowing Him who is from the beginning. The Greek word for “knowing” here is ginosko which means knowledge that is gain through experience. It is used of a man’s knowledge of his wife by experiencing intimacy with her. The mature Christian knows the Lord in a way that pure study will not reveal, it takes experience to bring the knowledge of God in this way.
The young men are mentioned as overcoming the wicked one. The young adult is still battling the devil in his life as a primary effort, and does not have the wisdom that is needed for spiritual leadership yet. The little children are commended because the have come to know the Lord, although it is not suggested that they have experienced him for a long period of time (as from the beginning) Henry Blackaby wrote the study, “Experiencing God.” That is what is being spoken to in First John.
14 I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. One of the problems we face in Christianity is expecting a newborn to behave as a mature adult or putting a spiritual child in a place of authority that demands the wisdom of a mature adult.
What is the spiritual diet and exercise that develops the child into an adolescent, and on to an adult and mature adult? First, reading and studying the Bible. This should involve several types of Bible study. Most Christians merely ready straight through the Bible, or books of the Bible. This is good to gain an understanding of the events and stories of the Bible, but a subject study will help you develop your doctrinal understanding of the Bible. Biographical Bible study will help a person learn what God has done through people in the past, and what He wants to do through you.
Prayer is another part of the Christian’s diet if he would grow spiritually. Perhaps nothing is neglected more than prayer, “O what peace we often forfeit, O, what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” Prayer is time with God and helps us to become more godly.
Witnessing and church attendance are two more ingredients in the sanctification diet.
Sanctification complete in Heaven
One day, sanctification will be complete, not in this lifetime, but in Heaven. “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” First John 3:2, NKJV. No one prior to glorification (which is the graduation of the course called sanctification) has experienced complete sanctification. One day, though, we will have totally sanctified minds and bodies and will be free from sin. Hallelujah! Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.
For more on this topic see: New Lifestyle In Christ