Sanctification, the Christian’s continual process of growth in holiness, actually has instantaneous aspects to it. In other words, sanctification can occur “on the spot.” Of course, it is a gradual process in the course of a believer’s life. But there is also a sense in which the Holy Spirit actively applies sanctifying truth to a believer through their faith in the Word of God.
I’ve been listening to an RTS Virtual course called Preaching the Gospel in a Postmodern World (click link to open iTunes), with Edmund Clowney and Tim Keller. In one of the question and answer sessions, Dr. Keller explains this “on the spot” characteristic of sanctification. I’ve paraphrased his thoughts here:
Sanctification happens when I’m resting and trusting in Christ as I should. My failure to live as I ought is a failure to trust in Christ. It’s always unbelief beneath misbehavior. But how does that actually work out?
I believe you can actually get sanctification done on the spot. I don’t think a sermon’s job is only to tell people how to go out and get sanctified. I have to be worshipping Christ through hearing the Word of God. I have to be more in awe and wonder. I have to be feeding on Christ by faith. I need to be finding him more beautiful and more attractive. I need to be rejoicing in Christ rather than in the other things my heart wants to rejoice in instead.
I think rejoicing in Christ — worship — actually consumes the flesh. It actually withers the flesh. It’s like light ray treatment on cancer. The flesh is self-will and self-righteousness. As I’m worshipping Christ, I’m being humbled and being built up. I’m humbled out of my sin and yet built up with a sense of being loved. I need both of those things. It’s not one or the other. On the one hand, one of the reasons I misbehave is pride. Another reason I misbehave is a lack of confidence. As Richard Lovelace says, I’m trying to steal from other things what I should really be looking to Christ for.
As the sermon goes on, if I’m worshipping as I’m preaching, and the people are worshipping as I’m preaching, they’re getting sanctification done on the spot. In other words, they will not be as angry when they leave. If they’re actually worshipping, they’ll find the things that irritated them before won’t irritate them as much because those things are not as necessary as they were. Worship is the sanctification . . . It’s not telling people, “Here’s the information you need to go out and sanctify yourselves and live a good life.” You’re actually getting sanctification done on the spot.