“Sanctification is that gracious and continuous operation of the Holy Spirit by which He purifies the sinner, renews his whole nature in the image of God, and enables him to perform good works” (Berkhof, Summary of Christian Doctrine).
Sanctification is the necessary and inevitable fruit or consequence of justification. If true faith is present, there is a change in one’s actual nature that manifests itself in good works. It is impossible for a converted person to remain unchanged. This truth serves as a warning to those who hold the view that it is possible for people to be converted to Christ yet never bring forth good fruit or change in behavior. This is the idea of “the carnal Christian.”
In a certain sense, Christians are “carnal” throughout their lives – in the sense that we have to struggle with our sinful flesh until we enter into glory. But if someone makes a profession of faith, yet remains unchanged, then this individual is not a carnal Christian but a carnal non-Christian.
WORKING OUT WHAT GOD WORKS IN
We tend to seek instant gratification. We want to know how we can be sanctified in three easy steps, but there are no three easy steps. Sanctification is a life-long process (with peaks and valleys) that involves an enormous amount of labor. Scripture nowhere teaches that we should expect an instant cure for sin or a victorious Christian life by means of a special dose of the Spirit.
Paul writes to his fellow Christians: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Sanctification [unlike regeneration] is a cooperative process in which God works and we work. In fact, we work for God’s good pleasure because He first works in us.
HERETICAL VIEWS OF SANCTIFICATION
Activism is the self-righteousness attempt to obtain sanctification by your own efforts.
Quietism is the view that sanctification is exclusively the work of the Holy Spirit. Christians do not need to worry about doing anything, only to “Let go and let God.”
Legalism adds man-made rules to God’s law, such as forbidding Christians to dance or to go to movies.
Antinomianism teaches that because Christians are under grace, they have no need to obey the law of God.
“A truly godly person understands he is no longer under bondage to the law, yet still loves the law of God and meditates on it day and night because therein he discovers what is pleasing to God and what reflects God’s character.”
[Adapted from R.C. Sproul Everyone’s a Theologian]