By Elias Ayala (MDiv & M.A.T.)
When a person experiences spiritual rebirth (regeneration) and they are hence united with Christ by faith and are justified (declared righteous) by faith in Christ alone, the Christian life has just begun. The believer then begins his/her journey in being conformed into the image of Christ. This is called “sanctification.” Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.”1 Before progressing then, it will become important to distinguish between the two theological concepts of justification and sanctification. Justification “is an instantaneous legal act of God which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight.”2
Notice that justification is what God does on the person’s behalf. It is God who justifies (Romans 8:33). God does this in response to our faith, which is itself a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8) and is thus “granted to us by him” (Philippians 1:29). However, in the work of sanctification, man plays an important role. Remember in our definition of sanctification, it was said that it is the “progressive work of God and man…”. In regeneration (spiritual rebirth), the person is passive in that it is God who brings the spiritual birth about and this bringing about of spiritual rebirth is not based in nor depends upon the will of man. Likewise, the justification that comes by faith which is a result of being spiritually reborn by the Spirit is something that God does for the sinner and hence declares the person innocent and imputes the righteousness of Christ upon him. Sanctification on the other hand is not a passive experience upon which God works in man and the man does nothing. Rather, in sanctification there is an intimacy of relationship between the person and God, which is most powerfully exemplified by the work of God’s Spirit living within the person.
In the work of sanctification, the Spirit of God chips away the rough edges of the believer by molding and reworking him so that he looks more like Christ as life progresses. This molding may come in many forms, but one way in which it occurs is through bringing correction and conviction. When the believer sins, they are convicted by the Spirit and reminded of the correct course which is line with the will of God for the believer as laid out in scripture. The believer is constantly reminded to look to Christ as their model for living. Indeed, this is one of the primary works of the Spirit, namely, to bear witness to Christ. In doing so, the believer who is indwelt by the Spirit chooses to submit to the call of the Spirit to be continuously conformed into the image of Christ. In this sense, sanctification is both the work of God in the believer, and the work of the believer in submitting to Christ in their actual lives. Such submission and conformity to Christ brings both blessing and spiritual maturity.
How does this important process of sanctification relate to apologetics? We need to remember that within the Christian life everything is connected in very important ways. Apologetics pertains to the defense of the gospel and so we usually associate this with mounting an intellectual defense in the form of logical and rational argumentation. This is definitely an important and central aspect to apologetics, however, we must not forget that providing logical and rational arguments to the unbeliever is not the only way that the Christian faith is defended. Indeed, one of the most powerful ways that we can give witness to the reality of Christ is in the way we live our lives. A powerful apologetic is one that is coupled not only with intellectual argument but with a life that is continually being transformed into the image of the one we are defending. This is where sanctification is connected to apologetics. On the one hand sanctification is important because the goal of the Christian life is to be conformed into the image of Christ, but it has the supplemental value apologetically in that it demonstrates a genuine transformation in that the God we defend is evident not only in the created order and the bible, but in our very lives.
1. Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. (Grand Rapids, Michigan): Zondervan, 1994, p 746.
2. Ibid. p 723.