Growing up, I interpreted the message of “Jesus and the cross” wrong. The view I had was that salvation was complete. Jesus died once and for all to forgive us of our sins so that we could enter fellowship with Him. So far, so good. Further, I thought that it was my responsibility to maintain that fellowship with Him. In a way, this is correct. Every day we must decide to live for Him (take up our cross). Some of the choices we make are not in agreement with Him. This does not change the fact that He has cleansed us from our sins. In this instance, I believe that we need to seek forgiveness for making a wrong step instead of following His lead. However, I used to think that every time I sinned, I needed an “at the cross” moment. Consequently, my life was spent at the foot of the cross instead of progressing down the road of righteousness. This is not a life filled with joy as Christ intended for us. Instead, it is a life of fear. Fear of failure. Fear of Hell. Fear of God, and not a holy, respectful fear, but a fear that He is watching us like a hawk so that He can squash us whenever we slip up. I don’t know if this teaching was done by my church – I grew up all over the US and it seems that everywhere I went, this teaching was reinforced. I have even met some Christians in my adult life that say that this was their experience growing up as well. As an adult, I have decided that there are many things I need to unlearn, and to really dig into my Bible looking for the true answers. I want the Lord to teach me what Christian Living is all about, rather than just taking the word of the many preachers I have heard, and allowing them to determine how I should live my life.
After much study, here are my thoughts on salvation:
Christ died for our atonement. We still have a part to play in our salvation. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves acceptable to Him. However, we must recognize the price He paid for our freedom, and accept it.
The first step to salvation was accomplished by Christ on the cross. He paid the ransom placed on us by our sins. We, in turn, have to accept that. Salvation is free for the taking, but we must reach out and take it.
The next step, then, is our repentance – turning from sin. This is action, not just being sorry that we sinned, but a change takes place as we turn from our sin. Hand in hand with repentance is conversion – turning toward God. So, this step is two-fold, we must turn from our sin and turn towards God. I like to think of this as “mental action.” This is not a process. We turn from sin and toward God in an instant – the moment we accept the invitation given by our gracious Lord.
The next step is called justification – God declaring that we are free from sin. I like to think of it as Justification = “Just as if I never sinned.” Along with Justification is Regeneration – the actual impartation of Christ’s life to the new convert.
No one needs to understand this in order to be saved. The only knowledge that someone needs is that they are a sinner, separated from Christ. Christ died in their place to provide a way for their salvation. That person needs to accept the free gift of salvation from God. That’s all there is to it.
Receiving salvation is a life-changing event that happens; with the expectation that life will be much different than pre-conversion. The fact that you turn from sin and turn towards God means a change has taken place. Then, the Lord imputes His righteousness into our lives, so we now live for the righteousness that has been placed within us.
The next step is sanctification – to be separated, set apart to God; holiness. Sanctification is the development of the new spiritual life that one receives with regeneration. This has been the cause of much debate. Some would say that we obtain sanctification here on Earth. The belief is that a person, after salvation, has the ability to not sin. This does not mean that they cannot sin, just that, through the nature of Christ imputed into that person, they choose not to sin. One writer put it this way, “Even though we never come to the place in this life where we are not able to sin, we can have help so that we are able not to sin. Another view of sanctification is that it is a life-long process where we learn to be holy through our relationship to the Lord.
It would seem that there should be plenty of scriptural evidence to prove one of these theories true and one false. However, the scriptures seem to fuel the confusion rather than solve it:
In Romans 6, Paul uses several phrases that seem to say we have the ability to not sin. “How can we who died to sin still live in it…We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin…For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (vv. 2, 6-7, 14). Then in ch. 7, he goes on to describe how he is unable to refrain from sin.
Christ tells us, “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23). Paul tells us that he “dies daily.” (1 Cor. 15:31).
A look into the Old Testament shows the rituals that had to be followed for the tabernacle. Before anybody could participate in care of the temple, he had to be consecrated, or cleansed in the way prescribed by the Lord. The body had to be cleansed as well as the clothes. If a person became “not clean,” then he had to go through the cleansing process all over again. These “cleansing” rituals point to how we are to live for the Lord, today. We are initially consecrated, set apart for God. If we should become “not clean” (sin) then we need to get forgiveness for that sin, too.
I think it is impossible to narrow sanctification down to either time period. I have seen the timing of sanctification described as 3 phases:
- Past positionally
- Present progressively
- Future perfectly
At the time of regeneration, the Lord sanctifies us, cleansing us of our sins and setting us apart for God. “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11). “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17). “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb. 10:10). “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–” (Phil. 3:9)
As we progress through this life, He continues to strip away who we were, replacing the carnal nature with a holy nature. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Pet. 3:18). “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18).
We look forward to a time when the prospects of sin will be no more, for the deceiver will not be present, and we will all live in true holiness to the Lord. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom. 8:18). “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” 1 Cor. 15:51-52).
So, basically, I think that sanctification covers 3 specific periods in our life: Past, Present, and Future. I think this is appropriate, after all, the book of Revelation tells us, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” (Rev. 1:8) If Jesus is the past, present and future, it only makes since that He sanctified us (past), is sanctifying us (present) and will sanctify us (future).