This post deals with the progressive process of sanctification that believing Christians go through as we walk through this journey on earth. You may agree with me or you may disagree with me but this is my understanding of this sometimes perplexing process.
I believe that it is vitally important to understand that there is indeed a process, why this process is necessary, what is actually involved in the process and the implications of “pressing towards the mark” as the Apostle Paul puts it in Philippians 3:14.
I have encountered Christians who think that they don’t sin. I have also encountered Christians who think that because they are saved, and all of their sins have been forgiven, past , current and future, therefore there is no longer a requirement to confess their sins anymore. I don’t agree with either of these perspectives. Understanding what happens to the sins that we have committed in the past after we are born again and the sins that we commit thereafter, as new and maturing Christians is vitally important.
We know that Jesus told us that we must be born again.
John 3:1-5 ESV “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
And we know that in order to be born again there is really only one requirement.
John 6:26-29 NIV “Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
Of course, there is a requirement to understand exactly what “believing” in Jesus entails. That would be believing all of the essentials of who Jesus is, what He accomplished on our behalf and following His teachings and commandments. Believing isn’t a singular event in your life that you do once and then carry on as per your normal previous life thereafter.
And we also know that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith.
Hebrews 12:2 NKJV “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
For me, this verse tells me that Jesus is the all in all. He is our Creator, He is our Redeemer, He is the Son of the Most High God, our heavenly Father. He is our heavenly Father’s answer to our separation from Him and how Jesus did for us what we in ourselves could not ever do. Jesus is the Alfa and Omega, the beginning and end of our faith.
So, what happens to the sins that we have committed, prior to being “born again”? The Bible, God’s Word, tells us that our sins are forgiven, not because of anything that we have done but because of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus paid the price that our sins against God demanded, so that we could be at one with our Heavenly Father again. Sin separates us from God, Jesus atoned (atonement – the reconciliation of God and humankind through Jesus Christ) for our sins by giving His life for us on the cross. Not only did Jesus pay the price for the sins that we previously committed but He also paid the price for the sins we commit today and in the future.
Hebrews 9:24-26 NIV “For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.
ONCE FOR ALL – ONE time for ALL sin
Does that mean it doesn’t matter whether or not we sin? No, of course not. Sin is serious; it is an offence to God, and it breaks our fellowship with Him. Sin also compromises our witness for Christ. The Bible is clear: “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).
But we cannot live the Christian life in own strength. We need God’s help–which is why He has given His Holy Spirit to us.
But if Jesus has already paid the price for all of the sin we have committed, past, present and future, why is there a need to even acknowledge sins that we may commit today or tomorrow? The answer is simple – sin can still separate us from communion or fellowship with God, which explains why we are instructed to confess the sins that we have committed today to Him so that the blood of Jesus can clean us from all unrighteousness.
We see, as an example. the truth of this reality in the Scriptures where the manner in which a husband treats his wife, if negative, hinders his prayers. (1 Peter 3:7 NIV)
Note that the verse AFTER 1 John 1:9 reads “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us”. To me, that means that even though we have His Word in us, we still sin and if confessed, this sin is also forgiven. Paul also speaks about not having achieved perfection in Philippians 3:12 where he says “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”
While we are in these bodies we are still subject to sinning. Dying to self, to me, which I believe is in line with what the scriptures say, is a process. Are we saved when we ask Jesus into our lives as Lord and Saviour, absolutely. But thereafter, as our minds and hearts are changed, we become progressively MORE aware of what being holy actually means. The verse that comes to my mind, which explains this process is Hebrews 10:14 NIV which says “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” The NASB says it this way: “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are [a]sanctified.” The footnote for (a) reads “Or being sanctified”.
Who are the people that have been perfected for all time? It is those who “are being sanctified.” This is why the tense is so important. Now “those who are being sanctified” are not yet fully sanctified in the sense of committing no more sin. Otherwise they would not need to go on being sanctified. So here we have the shocking combination: the very people who “have been perfected” are the ones who “are being sanctified.” But the translation, “those who are sanctified,” at the end of the verse, could also look in English as if the sanctifying is also complete. They “are (now, already) sanctified.” But that is not what the tense in the original Greek means. It is the present tense and signifies an ongoing process. So this time the NIV gets it exactly right, not the NASB. The NIV says, “By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” “Are being made holy”, that’s exactly right. The process of sanctifying is continuing now in their lives. So the NIV makes the process idea of the tense much clearer and this is going to be very important in understanding what this verse is teaching. So let’s step back now and put the whole verse before us again in its context: “For by one offering [the sacrifice of his own body on the cross] Jesus Christ has perfected for all time those who are being made holy [or: are being sanctified] now progressively in this life.”
In Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV we read: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Bear in mind that the writer of Hebrews is writing to Christians when he states “and the sin that so easily entangles”.
Now taking a look at Hebrews 10:14 again where we read: “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Turn your eyes upon Jesus here and see two things about Jesus that relate directly to our life today.
1. First notice that Christ has perfected his people, and it is already complete. “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” He “has” done it. And he has done it “for all time.” The perfecting of his people is complete and it is complete forever. Does this mean that Christians don’t sin? Don’t get sick? Don’t make mathematical errors in school? That we are already perfect in our behavior and attitudes?
There is one clear reason in this very verse for knowing that is not the case. What is it? It’s the last phrase. Who are the people that have been perfected for all time? It is those who “are being sanctified.” This is why the tense is so important. Now “those who are being sanctified” are not yet fully sanctified in the sense of committing no more sin. Otherwise they would not need to go on being sanctified. So here we have, as previously stated, the shocking combination: the very people who “have been perfected” are the ones who “are being sanctified.” Besides, you can also remember from Hebrews chapters 5 and 6, that these Christians he is writing to are anything but perfect. For example, in Hebrews 5:11 he says, “You have become dull of hearing.” So we may safely say that “perfected” does not mean that we are sinlessly perfect in this life.
Well what does it mean? The answer is given in the next verses (15-18). The writer explains what he means by quoting Jeremiah again on the NEW COVENANT, namely, that in the new covenant which Christ has sealed now by his blood, there is total forgiveness for all our sins. Verses 17-18 “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more. Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.” So he explains the present perfection in terms of forgiveness. Christ’s people are perfected now in the sense that God puts away all our sin (9:26), forgives them, and never brings them to mind again as a ground of condemnation. In this sense we stand before him perfect. When he looks on us he does not impute any of our sins against us, past, present or future. He does not count our sins against us.
2. Verse 14 tells us plainly: “By one offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” So notice, secondly, for whom Christ has done this perfecting work on the cross. You can put it provocatively like this: Christ has perfected once and for all those who are being perfected. Or you could say (and the writer does say as much in verse 10): Christ has fully sanctified those who are now being sanctified. Or Christ has fully accomplished and guaranteed the holiness of those who are now being made holy.
What this means is that you can know that you stand perfect in the eyes of your heavenly Father if you are moving away from your present imperfection toward more and more holiness by faith in his future grace. Let me say that again, because it is full of encouragement for imperfect sinners like us, and full of motivation for holiness. This verse means that you can have assurance that you stand perfected and completed in the eyes of your heavenly Father not because you are perfect now, but precisely because you are not perfect now but are “being sanctified”, “being made holy”, that, by faith in God’s promises, you are moving away from your lingering imperfection toward more and more holiness. (See Hebrews 10:32-35; 11:24-26 etc. for examples of how faith in future grace sanctifies.)
Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that salvation or being “born again” is something akin to getting vaccinated, where getting one shot has cured us forever. I believe that we are indeed saved when we are reborn and enter into God’s Kingdom, but we need to get our “booster” shots or maybe a better way of explaining it is to be mindful that we need to maintain our relationship with God by confessing our sins daily and asking for forgiveness for those sins which we consciously or unconsciously commit, thereby purifying us from ALL unrighteousness. We are BOTH sanctified and in the process of being sanctified, all at the same time, and in both instances, it is because of the shed blood of Jesus on the cross for our sins.
My trust and faith is like the Apostle Paul states in Philippians 1:6 NIV “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
As I indicated in the beginning of this post, this is my understanding. It’s how I relate or interact with regard to my daily walk with our Lord. I would be interested to know if my understanding correlates with your understanding.
Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!