Sanctification by the Spirit

by | Jun 1, 2011

Every act and every habit of holiness is by the Spirit. Though those who are Christ’s are said themselves to “have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts,” this is in union with the mystery of the cross in the fellowship of Him “who died unto sin once,” which only the Spirit can affect. Hence the Scripture immediately exhorts,

“If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”

Whatever is done by man in the mortification of his sin is really done by the Holy Spirit in him. While the Christian keeps his evil nature impaled on the interior cross, it is the sword of the Spirit from on high that takes its life away; and when he is entirely swayed by divine love, this is “the law of the Spirit of life” within him.

There is a consummation of the experience of sanctification which may be said to introduce what sometimes is called “Christian Perfection,” when the Spirit cries, “It is finished” in the heart of the believer. The moment when sin expires is the divine victory over sin in the soul.

Remember this is the work of the Spirit alone. The moment when love becomes supreme in its ascendency is the Spirit’s triumph in the soul’s consecration. Whenever that maturity of Christian experience and life is reached which the Apostle prays for so often, it is solely through the operation of the same Spirit.

It is being “filled into all the fulness of God,” and that through “being strengthened with might by His Holy Spirit in the inner man.”

While the tenor of the New Testament represents entire sanctification as the result of a process, it is also ascribed to the result of the constant effusion—that is, the pouring out—of the Holy Spirit, crowned in one last and consummating act of His power. But we must remember that this final and decisive act of the Holy Spirit is the seal set upon a previous and continuous work. The process may be hastened and condensed into a short space, but the process precedes the moment of entire sanctification.

Remember, too, that even the justified have their “fruit unto holiness” (Romans 6:22). The same Spirit that justifies believers will also sanctify them. Never do we read in Scripture of a “higher life” that is other than the intensification of the lower; never a “Second Blessing” that is more than the unrestrained outpouring of the Spirit who gave the first. Nor is there any restraint of time with the Holy Spirit.

The preparations for an entire personal consecration to God may continue for a time or they may be hastened. Whenever the seal of the Spirit is set on this work it must be a decisive and instantaneous act.

Always this work of sanctification needs constantly the mediatorial work of Christ our great High Priest. It demands His constant influence to preserve His people in the gift that He has imparted to them. The mediatory intercession of our Savior is never so urgently needed as for those who have so priceless a treasure as entire sanctification in earthen vessels.

The higher the grace and the more finished the sanctity, the more alien it is from the surrounding world, the more hateful it is to the devil, our tempter; and the more grace does it require for its protection. Our Lord’s rehearsal for His abiding intercession tells us this:

“I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil.”

Dr. William Burt Pope (1822–1903) was an English Methodist theologian whose A Compendium of Christian Theology is considered a classic statement of systematic theology in the Wesleyan tradition. This selection is from Volume III of that work.