The Work of the Holy Spirit in Sanctification

By O.C. Birdwell, Jr.

Vine’s Expository Dictionary says the word “sanctification” is used of “(a) separation to God, 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2; (b) the course of life befitting those so separated, 1 Thess. 4:34,7; Rom. 6:19,22; 1 Tim. 2:15; Heb. 12:14.” He also says, “The Holy Spirit is the Agent in sanctification, Rom. 15:16; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2; 1 Cor. 6: 11.”

The verb form “sanctify” means “to set apart” or “to make holy.” In Old Testament Scripture, days, houses, fields, feasts, altars, people, and many other things were sanctified. Today, all Christians are to be sanctified. This means that they are to be set apart for the Lord and consecrated for his uses and purposes. As our subject affirms, the Holy Spirit has a work in this sanctification. This writer agrees with Z.T. Sweeney when he wrote, “It has been aptly and truthfully said that ‘no importance can be attached to a religion that is not begun, carried on and completed by the Spirit of God'” (The Spirit and the Word, 117). The apostle Paul said, “And such were some of you: but ye were washed, but ye were sanctified, but ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). In speaking of his work among the Gentiles, he said, “Ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be made acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:16).

The Continuing Work of Sanctification

The continuing work of sanctification, by the Holy Spirit, of one who has been initially set apart as a Christian is the primary focus of our discussion. When one believes that Jesus is the Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized unto the remission of his sins, he is washed, sanctified, and justified (1 Cor. 6:11). In this obedience one puts on Christ and begins to live a life that is consecrated and set apart for Christ. This, however, is not the end of the process. Sanctification is not a one time matter. To the Roman Christians Paul said, “For as ye presented your members as servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, even so now present your members as servants to righteousness unto sanctification.” Peter admonishes Christians, “As children of obedience, not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts in the time of your ignorance” (1 Pet. 1:13-15). He goes on to say, “Be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living.” To be holy is to be sanctified. Paul said, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service” (Rom. 12: 1).

The Holy Spirit Works Through the Word

The Bible teaches, as set forth in another article in this issue, that the Holy Spirit works through the Word in the conviction and conversion of the alien. We affirm that he continues his work of sanctifying the Christian through the same means. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth: thy word is truth” (Jn. 17:17).

Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles into all truth. He said, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth” (Jn. 16:13). If Jesus did what he promised, the inspired New Testament writers received, by the Holy Spirit, everything that pertains to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). All was revealed, including all that pertains to our sanctification. He has given complete instructions and guidance in the inspired written revelation. The Holy Spirit is God’s agent in the work of sanctification but the means used by the Spirit is the word of truth.

Christians have a responsibility in their own sanctification. Peter said, “Be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living” (1 Pet. 1:15). Sanctification is not something imposed by the Holy Spirit apart from the obedient will and action of the Christian. In speaking of unequal yokes with sinful people in sinful practices, Paul said, “Come ye out from among them and be ye separate saith the Lord” (2 Cor. 6:17). The individual must act in separating himself from sin and he must act in being holy. The Holy Spirit in the written Word has told us how it is to be done. Our part is to give diligence to present ourselves approved unto God (2 Tim. 2:15), and to be doers of the word, and not hearers only (Jas. 1:22). We are to put away filthiness and malice and with meekness receive the implanted word, which is able to save our souls (Jas. 1:21). Wherein we fall short and fail we receive forgiveness by God’s grace and in Christ as we meet the conditions for forgiveness. In none of these passages are we told that the Holy Spirit does any of his work of sanctification through a direct intervention or indwelling. He sanctifies us by leading and directing us through the word.

False Ideas About Sanctifications

The 1960 Church of the Nazarene Manual says the following: “We believe that entire sanctification is that act of God, subsequent to regeneration, by which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and brought into a state of entire devotement to God, and the holy obedience of love made perfect.” False ideas beget false doctrines. The idea that man is depraved and guilty of Adam’s sin causes those with a Calvinist influence to teach that the Holy Spirit must operate directly to overcome the depraved nature and provide entire sanctification by which the person is brought into holy obedience. Both the depravity doctrine, and the doctrine of sanctification by a direct operation and personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit are false.

The Manual goes on to speak of “the abiding indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, empowering the believer for life and service.” The author apparently believes that the Holy Spirit personally indwells and provides, apart from the written word, protection against involvement in sin, and keeps the Christian’s life on tract, sanctified and consecrated . The Philadelphia Confession of Faith says, “This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated” (Article VI). Calvinism teaches that man is totally depraved to the extent that he cannot think so much as one good thought. Calvinists, therefore, teach that a direct operation of the Holy Spirit is essential to initial conversion. They also teach the necessity of a continued indwelling and work of the Holy Spirit, apart from the word, because of the alleged remaining “corruption of nature.”

Some members of the church of Christ seem to believe the same thing. It is understood that one stated that those who do not believe in the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit are more likely to be immoral. The inference is that the Spirit personally indwells the body and acts, apart from the Word, as a deterrent to sin. Z.T. Sweeney, in his before mentioned book, lists a large number of things the Spirit might do for man in initial and continuing sanctification. He says the Holy Spirit might provide the following: Faith, the new birth, wisdom, conversion, understanding, quickening, salvation, sanctification, purification, cleansing, freedom from sin, a divine nature, and strengthening (Rom. 10:17; 1 Pet. 1:23; 2 Tim. 3:14,15; Psa. 19:7,8; 119:28, 50,104; Jas. 1:21; Jn. 17:17; 1 Pet. 1:22; Jn. 15:3; Rom. 6:17,18; 2 Pet. 1:4). He then shows by the Scriptures cited that all of this is spoken of as being done for us through the Word. The conclusion being that the Holy Spirit does all these things by means of the written Word of God.

The doctrine of a personal indwelling and work by the Holy Spirit apart from the word to keep one from sin is dangerous in that it tends to make one’s subjective feelings a guide and rule for conduct rather than the written word. Many of the popular “devotional” and “comfort” books written by denominationalists and bought by multitudes of Christians are dangerous for the very same reason. They are filled with false concepts about the indwelling, guidance, and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

There is general agreement that the Holy Spirit works in the sanctification of the Christian. There is a difference over how, or by what means, the Spirit works. In 1 Peter, the apostle Peter speaks of the beginning of the consecrated life when he says, “Ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth” (1 Pet. 1:22). The apostle continues to show in the rest of the book that for the Christian to continue to be consecrated he must continue to be obedient to the truth. He instructs the Christian as follows: “Put (ing) away therefore all wickedness” (2:1); “Abstain from fleshly lusts” (2:11); “Be subject to every ordinance of man” (2:13); “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (2:17); “Servants be in subjection to your masters” (2:18); “Wives be in subjection to your own husbands” (3:1); “Husbands, . . . dwell with your wives according to knowledge” (3:7); “Be . . . like-minded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tender-hearted, humble-dminded” (3:8).

The Holy Spirit empowers, directs, and leads the Christian unto sanctification through this teaching by the apostle Peter along with other such instruction found in the New Testament. Let us submit ourselves to his guidance in order for our lives to be sanctified.

(Author’s Note: Part H in the book The Indwelling of Deity, by Maurice M. Lusk, III, discusses “Questions of Where’ and ‘How’ in the Indwelling Issue.” Chapters discuss the Spirit dwelling within the heart and mind of the believer. There is also a chapter on “The Human Spirit and the Spirit of God. ” This is the best material on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that I have seen. The chapter on “The Spirit and Christians, ” by Z. T. Sweeney in The Spirit and the Word is outstanding. Every Christian needs both of these books They are inexpensive and may be ordered from Guardian of Truth Bookstore or CEI Bookstore.)

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 8, pp. 235-236
April 18, 1991