Theological Variety: Sanctification

This is part of a series on theological variety. Diversity in theology has been part of Christian faith from the very start. A modern movement is growing which embraces and appreciates it instead of dividing and quitting over it. Find the intro here: Coming Soon: Theological Variety

What does it mean that a person is “Saved” or that a person is a “Christian.” Does a person who accepts the faith and the life philosophy that must therefore follow actually change? Does their mindset as a person of and for the Kingdom make them a different person than they were before? And if a person is indeed changed inwardly by their faith and made into a “new creation” as many have called it, what status do they now have in relation to the Kingdom and to the world? Are they indeed a new creation and now separate from the world?

We are indeed supposed to be a new creation. In accepting Christ, we are choosing to let our old self “die” and to continue on as a person living to serve and carry and emit and reflect and live for the kingdom. We are to be set apart. To be made holy. To be “sanctified.”

And sanctification is exactly that. It is becoming set apart and holy and in essence as perfect as Christ was. To be sanctified means to be set apart for a purpose, and that purpose is to do the work of the Kingdom.

Within Christianity the means, methods, and results of Sanctification are a topic of debate. A debate which at some times causes far greater division than it should when one considers that the goal of achieving sanctification is completely agreeable.

Of the leading schools of though on how a Christian becomes sanctified, Theosis is perhaps the highest and most lofty. Theosis can be most easily understood to mean that once sanctified a person becomes one with God and therefore becomes like God. Many have and will be too quick to assume that this means one becomes not only like God and with God, but equal to him as well. Some “sects” that would call themselves Christian do in fact believe something similar to this, but the more correct term for that would be apotheosis. Theosis, while bringing a person closer to and more like God, does not make a person God.

Theosis is a favorite among the high churches, specifically among the Eastern Orthodox. They cite Athanasius of Alexandria (late 3rd-early 4th century) and Maximus the Confessor (late 6th-mid 7th century) who best described the base argument for Theosis. Both compare the process of man becoming more like God as akin to how God became like man when he lived with us as Jesus Christ. While all the while Christ walked the earth AS a man, he was still God in full. We can never be God in full, but we can walk as “little Christ’s.”

Biblically, proponents of this theory will cite scripture in which Christians are called “children” or “sons” of God. As we believe Jesus is both the “son” of God and is God himself, we are given similar status as adopted children. We have been transformed into a likeness of Christ as Christ is God, though in a way much further than likeness.

On the other end of the spectrum is the idea that sanctification is a progressive trend in which we work to act for and of the Kingdom, but often find that we cannot reach an adequate level of Christ-likeness. The “Progress” view is much more forgiving of human nature. It can be best described by posing Sanctification as a goal for a Christian’s life. As we grow in the faith and in understanding of who Christ was and who WE are to be in the world, we grow closer and closer the perfection that Christ calls us to. While this view still exemplifies perfection and sanctification as the end goal, it tends to be more realistic in that those who accept this view understand that they will not achieve it. Our sinful nature as mankind does not allow us to be like God, but it is God’s divine grace that allows him to overlook this. This is directly contrasting from Theosis in that not only do we not achieve similarity to God, but we don’t even achieve Sanctification in this life. Nonetheless, this is one of the prevailing ideas on Sanctification among Christians.

A third common view is the Wesleyan view of Entire Perfection.  This view claims that God transforms us from our humanity (sinful in nature) into a sanctified and “perfect” new creation. Wesley argued that this happened through Love. In a way that we fulfill the greatest commandments and supremely Love God, and in the way that God supremely Loves us our sinful nature is “removed.” In loving God, and in living with an intent to serve the Kingdom and act our role as his ambassadors on Earth, it is as if our intentions make up for our nature. This view goes further than the “progress” view in that we are in fact able to achieve perfection and sanctification in this life, while not going so far as to say that we achieve a status that is similar to God.

There are many variations of these views, and they mostly have to do with the timing of sanctification. It cannot be argued that in Christ, we are indeed sanctified. If we are not, then we are constant in our sin and cannot be accepted by God (this was the purpose of the law given to Moses and of Christ’s sacrifice). The crux of the argument is whether or not we are sanctified in our world-life, or to what degree do we achieve Christ-likeness (or God-likeness), and what weight our actions and intentions carry in the sanctification process.

One thought on “Theological Variety: Sanctification

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  1. Good thoughts, Andy. I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic myself. As I’ve studied it, I’ve come to understand that salvation is both an event (justification) and a process (sanctification). The cross is what justifies me, through Christ. The Holy Spirit within me is what sanctifies me. The problem is figuring out what the end result of sanctification is.
    I tend to think that I will never reach sanctification in this life on earth. I’m frail and prone to sin, but it doesn’t change my identity as God’s adopted son. But then again, why would Jesus command us to “be perfect as Father in heaven is perfect” if it weren’t possible? Was he highlighting that only in him could we be seen as holy or “perfect” in the eyes of God? Or was he showing us there is a way to achieve that destination?
    I don’t know. But I’m grateful whichever way it shakes out. Good work, man.

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