Study of Romans 6-8, Ephesians 4:20-32, and Colossians 2:20-3:14
The Word of God gives a clear representation of how sanctification progresses throughout the life of a believer. The process moves at different rates of progress for different individuals. One thing is certain in regard to being a child of God. God has saved us to make a difference in this world for His glory.
The process starts initially with something called positional sanctification. This is a supernatural act of God in which He sets individuals “apart” for His own purposes. In the case of eternal salvation, believers have been set apart through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. This setting apart should make a difference in the lives of those who experience it. Then comes progressive sanctification, which is a lifelong process for a believer. God supernaturally works in a believer’s life from the point of salvation to the death of a believer (or the rapture of the Church) to conform them to the image of Christ. The goal of progressive sanctification is for a believer to be like Jesus Christ in every aspect of their lives. Sinless perfection is not possible this side of heaven. This leads us to final sanctification. This is the state when sin will be completely eradicated from the bodies of all believers. This occurs at the time of death or the return of Christ. Let us look at three important passages dealing with sanctification.
The book of Romans deals a great deal with the issue of sanctification. Romans 6:1 begins with an all-important question, “should we continue in sin in order that grace may multiply?” Most evangelical Christians know the Bible’s answer to this question. If someone is a believer in Jesus Christ, continual sin should not be a reality. Paul says in verse 2, that since we have died to sin, we should not continue to live in it. He then establishes how his basis for saying that we have died to sin in verses 3-11. Since we have been baptized into Christ Jesus (through the baptism of the Holy Spirit) we have been baptized into His death (v. 3). We were baptized into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead, we would walk in a new manner of life (distinct from our old manner of life characterized by sin – v. 4). Paul says that since we have died with Christ, we will now live a new life for God (v. 5). Our old sinful manner of life (in our unregenerate state) was crucified with Christ, so that sin would no longer rule over our body, and we were freed from sin’s reign (v. 6-7). Paul then declares that since we died with Christ, we will also live with Him. The reality that Christ died to sin, and now is living His life for God is connected with believers dying to sin (in Christ) and now they too are to live their lives for God (because of new life in Christ – vv. 9-11).
Verses 12-14 speaks about not letting sin control our bodies. Believers are not to offer their body to sin, so that sin can do whatever it wants with the body. We are alive from the dead, and we are to give our bodies over to God for righteousness. God is to control our bodies, not sin. Verse 14 states that as believers we are not under the dominion of law, but we are under the dominion of grace. But, in verses 15-23 Paul goes onto explain that even though we are under grace, we are not to continue in sin. He says that if believers obey sin’s desires, then they are slaves to sin which leads to death. Paul says if believers obey God it leads to righteousness. The fact that there is to be a break between a true believer and sin is alluded to in verses 17-18. Believers used to be enslaved to sin, but now through Christ they have been liberated from the reign of sin, and enslaved to righteousness. From this we see that there was a relationship to sin in the unregenerate state, but now there is a break from sin as a result of the new relationship with God through Christ, which is to be characterized by righteousness. Paul states that this new relationship with God results in sanctification (progressive) which leads to eternal life (v. 22). Paul describes a whole new manner of life in Romans 6. The believer is no longer a servant of sin, and is now a servant of God.
In our unsaved condition, sin took advantage of the commandments of the law, and in breaking them we produced fruit resulting in death (7:5). The Bible says that we were put to death in relation to the law through Christ, so that we would belong to Christ, and bear fruit for God (7:4). As a result of this newfound freedom in Christ, believers are able to live according to the Spirit, and not according the commandments of the law (Rom. 7:6). Paul emphasizes in Romans 7:7-13 that the law is not evil, but it revealed sin for what it really is, evil. He goes on to describe the frustration of living life in the flesh in verses 14-25. This passage portrays the life of a man who desperately desires to please God, but there is a war going on inside of him. There is a “principle” that desires to obey God, and there is a “principle” that desires to disobey God. Paul then looks for a solution for this plight, which is found in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ has given Paul unshakeable hope that even though this war characterizes this present life, it will not characterize the life to come.
Romans chapter 8 declares that even though there is condemnation under the law, for those who are in Christ there is no condemnation. The Holy Spirit’s law of life in Christ has set believers free from the law of sin and death (8:2). Again there is a definite contrast between the unsaved and saved periods in the lives of people. Paul says that God sent His own Son in the flesh to die for the sins of mankind, so that those who believe in Him will fulfill the law by walking according to the Spirit (8:4). An absolute essential for belonging to God is set forth in verse 9. To be a true believer you must have the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit gives us life, just as it gave Christ new life. But, verse 10 states that even though Christ is in us, the body is dead because of sins but the spirit is alive. So we see from these verses that even though we are saved, sin is still there in our lives. The Bible is explicit in stating that sin should not continue to control our lives as it did when we were unsaved, but it has not been eradicated.
Paul proclaims that we are not obligated (as though we have no control) to the flesh (sinful nature) (8:12). As believers we do not have to give in to the demands of sin. In fact if we do so, we will die (8:13). If we “put to death” the sinful desires through the enablement of the Holy Spirit, we will live. If we are led by the Spirit this is evidence that we are children of God (8:14). We have not been given again to slavery, which leads to fear, but we have been given the Spirit of adoption (8:15). If we are saved the Holy Spirit testifies with our own spirit that we are children of God, heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ, and we suffer with Christ so that we will be glorified with Him (future glorification – 8:17). Paul states that creation is eagerly waiting for the time when God’s children will be finally be completely set free from sin (final sanctification), and the children of God eagerly anticipate that time of freedom (8:19-23). The ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers is seen in chapter 8:26-27. This indicates that there are times when believers do not really know how to pray, and the Holy Spirit prays on our behalf according to God’s will. Scripture indicates that no matter what comes into our lives, that God according to His plan has meant it for our good spiritually. God foreknew us, meaning that He consciously entered into a relationship with us in eternity past (8:29). Most importantly God predestined that we become exactly like His Son Jesus. This greatly glorifies God, to have His children be like Him. God predestined us to become like Jesus, He called us to be His children, He justified us so that we could be His children blameless before Him, and He glorified us with the glory of the Son.
Paul after taking these things into account says that if all these things are true (which they are), God is for us (and no one can stand against us – 8:31). God gave His very own Son to die for us. He has justified us (we are declared righteous before Him), and Christ lives forever to make intercession for us with God the Father (8:33-34). Scripture then goes on to say that there is absolutely nothing that can separate a believer from the love of God that is in Christ (8:35-39). This means that the relationship with God is forever sure through the provision and ongoing intercession of Christ, and as a result so is the eternal salvation through Christ.
Romans 6-8 states, that believers have been freed from slavery to sin, and they have now became servants of God through Jesus Christ. Believers have died to sin (they are no longer helplessly under its power), and they are alive to God (being able to live for and serve Him). The Bible says that since believers are free from slavery to sin, they should be obeying God, and sin should not characterize their lives. There is a balance though. We see from the example of Paul, that sin is still present in this fleshly body, but we are no longer to yield to its control since we have been freed from it by God through Christ.
Now keeping in mind the teaching of Romans 6-8, let us examine Ephesians 4:20-32. Paul states that if you are a believer that you are to “lay aside” the sinful lifestyle that characterized your former unregenerate state. This former state was completely infested by sinful desires. But, now as a believer in Christ you should not be characterized by the former manner of life. As a believer your mind is being renewed, and you now have a new manner of life created in God’s likeness (characterized by righteousness and purity). Paul then goes on to list sins that are not to be a part of a believer’s life. They have died to these sins, so they should no longer give in to them. A believer’s speech should be truthful, not false. It should also be edifying, not corrupt. This conduct is in accordance with the new life in Christ that the believer has received. Verse 30 states that it is possible for a believer to grieve the Holy Spirit by sinning. The same Holy Spirit that is 1/3 of the Triune Godhead, and who sealed all believers for the day of redemption (the removal of the sinful nature). If it were not possible for these sins to be part of the lives of believers, Paul would not have said they “must be removed from you, along with all wickedness.” Paul then goes on to say that believers should forgive each other, just like God forgave them in Christ. This infers that believers were guilty of withholding forgiveness.
So again we see that believers are reminded that in Christ they have been made new. They are to be living a new manner of life since the Holy Spirit has caused them to die to sin in Christ. Believers are to be submitting to God in their daily lives, and not to sin. But, we also see exhortations from Paul that since they have been freed from sin, be actively obeying God. This seems to infer that it is possible to yield to sin, even though as a believer you have been made free from its bondage.
Keeping in mind the teaching of Romans 6-8, and Ephesians 4:20-32, let us look at Colossians 2:20-3:14. Paul begins this section of Scripture by questioning the Colossian believers on why they have been living contrary to the new manner of life that they should be living. He reminds them that they died to sin with Christ, but they are submitting again to sin. This shows the unfortunate reality of saved people not submitting to God, but to sin which leads to death. Paul then gives them corrective instruction. He says that since we have our position in Christ (we have died to sin, and been raised to new life with the ability to obey God), we should be seeking to please God, and be heavenly minded. This infers that they are not presently being heavenly minded, but earthly minded and are yielding to sin. Paul reminds them of their blessing of being hidden with Christ in God, they have a relationship with God Almighty. He also reminds them that when Christ returns, they will be with Him. There is a definite reminder to the Colossians that as Christians they are to remember who they belong to, and what kind of life they should be living. The Bible says that as believers we are to put to death (do away with) all worldly desires, because God’s wrath is poured out on those who practice such things. Paul reminds believers that they once lived in such sinful excess, but that should not be the case now because of what Christ has accomplished for them. Believers should stop living like they did when they were unsaved, and start living the new manner of life that God has made possible in Christ. This new manner of life is being renewed according to the likeness of God. Again we see a major importance in God’s plan, for believers to become like Him. God did not save us, so that we would be the same. God has made provisions for us to become conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.
In chapter 3:12-14 believers are again reminded of their blessed position. We are God’s chosen ones (He elected us to salvation, He made us His own). We are holy and loved (God has set us apart, and His love in our lives is evident). The purpose of this reminder is to exhort the believers to obedience and unity.
Colossians 2:20-3:14 again shows the reality of believers who have been made new in Christ, but they are still struggling with sin. The Bible shows that sin should not characterize the lives of believers, since believers have been freed from its power, and they have been made a new creation in Christ Jesus. But, the reality is that sin is still present, and still a struggle for believers to overcome in their daily lives.
From the testimony of Scripture we see that believers have died to sin in Christ, they have been given new life in Christ, and they have received the Holy Spirit. As a result of the believer’s new relationship with God through Christ, the believer is now expected to submit to God and not to sin. We see that even though Scripture says that God has given us victory over sin, believers are still able to submit to the influence and power of sin. This is a battle that wages on in the lives of believers from the moment of salvation until final breath (or rapture). Spiritual growth (sanctification) seems to come slower to some than others, but there needs to be a submittal to the Holy Spirit for their to be success in the Christian’s walk. Praise be to God that He conforms us to the image of Christ (in-spite of us most times), and that someday He will remove the curse of sin from our bodies totally someday in glory. It is such a comforting thought to know that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.