Man's Part and the Law's Part in Sanctification


Dennis McCallum and Gary DeLashmutt

Christian leaders should develop a crystal clear theology of sanctification. This must include very definite convictions about the following questions: What is man's part in sanctification? What is God's part? What is the Law's part? This paper deals with the first and third questions. The second has to do with the ministries of the Holy Spirit, and our position in Christ. These will be covered elsewhere.


Man's Part in Sanctification

The Bible teaches that there is a continuity between sanctification and justification (Colossians 2:6; Galatians 3:3)--both are by grace through faith. Specifically, man's part in sanctification consists of three distinct responsibilities. All three should be carefully defined, understood, and taught regularly, along with God's part. Each area can be summed up by one key word for memory purposes.

  • SEEK - It is not only that we are willing to be sanctified, but that we want to be! Therefore, we advocate the use of the word "seek" rather than the passive concept of "being willing." Those who assume that God will sanctify them one way or the other even if they don't particularly want it are wrong! Three words are important in defining what kind of seeking is effective: 
    • Active - This is the opposite of a passive mentality. It speaks of volition in the positive sense, and implies action. The idea of effort cannot be excluded at this level. However, there is a difference between effort to perform works and effort to cultivate the right attitude. The former has to do with behavior; the latter has to do with will.
    • Earnest - God knows the difference between lip-service and real desire. If we are only going through the motions, He will leave us alone until our need intensifies.
    • Persistent - Unlike justification, where we present ourselves once for all, in sanctification there are regular opportunities to present ourselves to God. The presentation we made last week doesn't apply to today's decision. According to Romans 6:13, we have the option of presenting ourselves to God as slaves of righteousness. If we fail to do this the opposite will usually occur--we are automatically presented as slaves of sin.
  • BELIEVE - The content of our belief in the area of sanctification is very important. 
    • First of all, we must believe that God can deal with our sin problems, and that He will deal with them. If we have a fatalistic attitude, to the effect that we will always live in a relatively defeated state, we probably will. The young believer needs to be alerted to the fact that Satan will attack his mind at this point. This is especially true after a failure has occurred. We have to learn to review the relevant biblical promises, and rely on them rather than our defeated feelings.
    • Note: Even if it is impossible to develop a feeling of confidence in God's sanctifying power, it is still possible to believe. We have to take note of our doubtful or distrustful feelings and pass judgment on them (2 Corinthians 10:5). It is possible to say, "Even though I feel like I will never change, I recognize that as a lie, and I elect to believe your Word."
    • A second area of content is belief that God has freed us from the authority of our sin natures (Romans 6:6). In other words, the believer must have a strong sense of his identity (position) "in Christ." We are not trying to believe that it is impossible for us to sin, but that it is incongruous for us to sin. The more we know about, and believe in, our position in Christ, the less power sin will have in our lives (see also Colossians 3:1-3 & Ephesians 4:17-25ff.).
  • RECEIVE - The changing power of God does not usually come to us mystically like radio waves. Neither are dramatic experiences the normal mode of spiritual growth. On the other hand, both of these can contribute. Most of the time, sanctifying grace comes through defined channels. These channels can be called the "means of growth." There is nothing in the Bible which indicates that the regular use of the means of growth is God's responsibility. Neither can we expect sanctification without them. Partaking in the means of growth should not be viewed as "works" sanctification, but as active receiving of grace. The means of growth emphasized in the Bible are prayer, the Word, Body-life, and the discipline of the Holy Spirit. (The Reformed and the Roman Catholics also accept that communion and the law are means of growth.) 
    • Note: The use of three out of four means of growth will not result in 75% sanctification. Instead, it may eventually result in a complete breakdown of the growth process. Most people will realize that spiritual growth is not possible without prayer, but do they realize that the same thing applies to the other means of growth? In addition, the discipline of the Spirit may be viewed as God's responsibility, but we are responsible for our reaction to it. An incorrect response to God's discipline can render it totally ineffective.
    • Emphasize that you cannot get by neglecting the means of grace that you're weak in!! The majority of spiritual problems can be traced back to this failure & the previous two. Apply James 1:21ff to this. The reason for our lack of spiritual vitality is usually embarrassingly simple. We're looking for some exotic reason (childhood; satanic attack; etc.) - when we're not praying, in the Word, in fellowship, responding to conviction - or have an unbelieving attitude.

The Role of the Law in Sanctification

The following passages will also demonstrate the role of the law in sanctification. We see two basic roles that the law plays.

  1. The law has a negative role similar to the role that it plays in justification. That is the role of convincing the believer of the hopelessness of his sin nature, and of his need for the outside power of God. This is the Romans 7, or "law school" concept. This use of the law is not well understood by those who have been taught in the institutional church.
  2. The Old Testament law does not apply to the Christian except where it illustrates the character of God, and as such is always binding on the whole universe. Therefore, there is a certain validity to the "moral law" distinction in the Mosaic code. Another important distinction is that between Old Testament moral principles and case law. It is the moral principles that still apply, not the case laws. 
    Even with the moral principles, it is important to realize that they are not approached in the Old Testament way as something that we attempt to perform by our own power (see Hebrews 8:8-13). There is a difference between this legal approach to the law and the approach that recognizes our own impotence to perform it. Viewed in this way, moral imperatives serve to give content to our "seeking" (see above), whether they are from the Old or New Testament. It isn't enough to say in general, "I want to be sanctified." God presents us with area after area and waits for specific volitional action on our part. This action may take the form, for instance, of praying that God will effect the prescribed changes. Another necessary act of the will may be to a step of faith in the direction indicated. God may call on us to replace old patterns of living, by being available to have our needs for stimulation, security, love, purpose and joy filled in healthy ways.
  3. Reformed theologians generally recognize the "third use of the law" which states that the Christian is "under the law as a rule of faith and conduct." As stated in #2, we think this formulation is misleading and uninformative. It creates the impression that the Christian is under the moral law in the same way that the Old Testament believers were. It also argues that the law is a means of growth, which is contrary to New Testament teaching (Romans 6:14; 7:4,6,10; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Hebrews 7:18,19).