K Neill Foster


a series of essays on the Spirit-filled life
by Del McKenzie

To live in a relationship with the Holy Spirit is to have Him move us toward holiness.  The filling of the Holy Spirit is a provision for the believer to have divine assistance in fulfilling the instruction to make every effort to be holy – Hebrews 12:14.  This work of the Holy Spirit is often identified as sanctification.  We can ask and expect Him to sanctify us – Romans 15:16; II Thessalonians 2:13; I Peter 1:2.

God demands for us to be holy and states that without holiness no one will see the Lord. It cannot be otherwise because He is a holy God.  His holy nature can never be compromised and so it is always His will for us to become holy people.  But this requirement raises a huge question for us, "How can I, as sinful as my heart is, ever be holy as He is?"  God has made a wonderful provision by sending the Holy Spirit to work in and for us to sanctify us.

But what is sanctification?  The words, "sanctify", "holy" and "saint" all come from the same root word and mean "to set apart" or to be different because of a dedication to God.  Israel was to be a holy or "different" people because they belonged to God.  Sanctified people are those who are different, set apart and dedicated to God to please Him and do His will.  As far as followers of Christ are concerned a working definition is: "Sanctification is a work of grace whereby the believer is separated from self and inward sinfulness and, by the filling of the Holy Spirit, set apart to holiness and ministry."

To understand and experience this ministry of the Holy Spirit it is helpful to be aware of the different aspects of sanctification pictured in the Bible.  There is historical sanctification.  It took place when Jesus died on the cross, took care of the sin problem, defeated the devil and his forces and secured a release from bondage to sin for every member of the human race.  It is an accomplished fact that can never be reversed or diminished.  He who had no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.  A second aspect is positional.  When a person puts their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior a transaction takes place and that person becomes a saint – a holy one.  Sanctification has taken place.  Holiness is imputed, put on that person's  account.  That is their position in Christ. The grace of God in Jesus allows God to view that person as clothed with holiness.

But there seems to be a contradiction.  Why does God command someone who is holy to be holy?  The third aspect of sanctification is experiential.  It must be appropriated so that it becomes a personal experience.  This aspect of sanctification must be initiated as some point in the believer's spiritual journey.  That usually happens sometime after the person has started their faith walk and when they come to realize that even though their sins are forgiven the power of sinfulness has not been broken.  Then it is that we cry out for deliverance, not from the guilt of sins we have committed, but from the bondage of our sinful nature which causes us to commit them.

It is dealing with heart holiness.  Paul instructs us to purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God – II Corinthians 7:1.  We come to face and deal with the stuff that is often internal such as self-promotion, self-pity, self-protection and a multitude of other manifestations of our sinful nature.  This is an identifiable and definitive point in our lives which is often described as a crisis of the deeper life.  It may be very traumatic and emotional or it may be a quiet resolve of addressing the impurity of our inner person.

That does not end the journey of sanctification, however.  A fourth aspect is the continual and progressive.  To personally enter into sanctification as an experience means we address every known unholiness in our lives.  But there will always be some that we cannot see at the moment and will become clear to us as we walk in the loving relationship with our Companion, the Holy Spirit.  The more we walk in His control the more we will see how much things like self-glorying and self-sufficiency have hidden themselves in our very character.  And then there is always the potential for lapsing back into the ways of the sinful nature.  Our capacity to love God will increase, our faith to trust Him for holiness will deepen and our eyes will be opened to see reality in a greater way and thus our sanctification will become deeper and broader.

Still another aspect of sanctification is the conclusion or ultimate.  Jesus will present the church to Himself as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish but holy and blameless – Ephesians 5:27.  That includes the individual members in His body.  We will all see Jesus and be like Him for we will see Him as He is – I John 3:2.  All the details of how Jesus will accomplish this aren't given but what a wonderful goal to be heading for and cooperating with Him to see reached!

Christ is the provision for everything included in sanctification.  What He has done cannot be added to.  We are complete in Him and all fullness abides in Him.  The work of the cross and His resurrection provide all that is needed for holiness.  The agent for sanctification is the Holy Spirit.  He takes the things of Christ and makes them real to us.  He applies them to our lives when He is filling us.  He will take us to the cross where we can by faith enter into Jesus' death as our representative.  Christ died not only for our sins but also for our sinfulness.  Paul would boast in nothing but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ though which the world had been crucified to him and him to the world – Galatians 6:14.  He could say that he had been crucified with Christ and no longer lived but it was Christ who lived in him and the life he did live in the body he lived by faith in the Son of God who loved him and gave Himself for him – Galatians 2:20.  The Holy Spirit will not sanctify the sinful nature.  It must die.  We must consent to die with Christ.  Crucifixion is the only way to deal with it.  When we let the Holy Spirit take us to the cross we find a solution to the power of sin.  Paul explains it in Romans 8:3-4: "For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.  And so He condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit."

The Holy Spirit uses the Word of truth (John 17:17), the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 13:12) and the cooperation of the Trinity to produce this holiness in us (I Thessalonians 5:23, Hebrews 2:11 and II Thessalonians 2:13).  Spurgeon asks, "How can anyone become holy except by the Spirit of holiness?"  The only way to turn positional holiness into personal holiness is by His ministry.  And yet "many believers know almost nothing of His empowering and sanctifying influence," Spurgeon adds.  If our holiness is positional only, there would be no reason to make every effort … to be holy, without which no one will see the Lord.  Or why would we purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness?  Or why would those who have the assurance of becoming like Jesus purify themselves – I John 3:3? A holy man is the workmanship of the Holy Spirit and we must trust the Holy Spirit to work in and on us.

That is likely why Paul asked the Ephesian believers if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed – Acts 19:2.    Receiving implies something active on the believer's part.  There is a parallel with sanctification.  We are born of the Spirit in the new birth (positional) but we need to receive Him in His fullness (experiential) and continue to be filled with Him (progressive).  The question in Acts 19 can also be translated, "Are you receiving the Holy Spirit now that you have believed?"  It is probably both.  Did you?  Are you? These people were asked about their receiving, not their giving.  Paul elsewhere asks, "What do you have that you have not received?"  Nothing can come out of us if it does not first come into us.  Have you received the Holy Spirit in His fullness so holiness can flow out of you?  Have you turned the positional into the experiential? 

This is a great ministry of the Holy Spirit, to sanctify us through His filling.  We are to be sanctified so we can live in holiness and have power for effective ministry to other people.  We can influence others toward God, spiritual things and heaven but only when the Holy Spirit is sanctifying us and empowering us by His infilling presence.