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What Sanctification Is and Is Not

J.C. Ryle’s Holiness is a classic work that bears repeated readings. Recently I returned to his chapter on sanctification, a term that he defines as “an inward spiritual work which the Lord Jesus Christ works in a man by the Holy Ghost, when He calls him to be a true believer.” After defining the term, he lays out the differences between true and false sanctification, first saying what it is not and then saying what it is.

Sanctification Is Not

True sanctification is not:

  1. Talk about religion. “People hear so much of Gospel truth that they contract an unholy familiarity with its words and phrases, and sometimes talk so fluently about its doctrines that you might think them true Christians. … [But] the tongue is not the only member that Christ bids us give to his service.”
  2. Temporary religious feelings. “Reaction, after false religious excitement, is a most deadly disease of soul. When the devil is only temporarily cast out of a man in the heat of a revival, and by and by returns to his house, the last state becomes worse than the first.”
  3. Outward formalism and external devoutness. “In many cases, this external religiousness is made a substitute for inward holiness; and I am quite certain that it falls utterly short of sanctification of heart!”
  4. Retirement from our place in life or renunciation of social duties. “It is not the man who hides himself in a cave, but the man who glorifies God as master or servant, parent or child, in the family and in the street, in business and in trade, who is the Scriptural type of a sanctified man.”
  5. Occasional performance of right actions. “[Sanctification] is not like a pump, which only sends forth water when worked upon from without, but like a perpetual fountain, from which a stream is ever flowing spontaneously and naturally.”

Sanctification Is

True sanctification shows itself in:

  1. Habitual respect to God’s law and habitual effort to live in obedience to it as the rule of life. “The same Holy Spirit who convinces the believer of sin by the law, and leads him to Christ for justification, will always lead him to a spiritual use of the law, as a friendly guide, in the pursuit of sanctification.”
  2. Habitual endeavour to do Christ’s will and to live by his practical precepts. “He who supposes [that Christ’s precepts as recorded in the Gospels] were spoken without the intention of promoting holiness, and that a Christian need not attend to them in his daily life, is really little better than a lunatic, and at any rate is a grossly ignorant person.”
  3. Habitual desire to live up to the standard with St. Paul sets before the churches in his writings. “I defy anyone to read Paul’s writings carefully, without finding in them a large quantity of plain, practical directions about the Christian’s duty in every relation of life, and about our daily habits, temper and behavior to one another.”
  4. Habitual attention to the active graces which our Lord so beautifully exemplified, and especially to the grace of charity (love). “A sanctified man will try to do good in the world, and to lessen the sorrow and increase the happiness of all around him. He will aim to be like his Master, full of kindness and love to everyone … by deeds and actions and self-denying work, according as he has opportunity.”
  5. Habitual attention to the passive graces of Christianity (those graces which are especially shown in submission to the will of God, and in bearing and forbearing towards one another). “Of one thing I feel very sure—it is nonsense to pretend to sanctification unless we follow after the meekness, gentleness, patience and forgiveness of which the Bible makes so much. People who are habitually giving way to peevish and cross tempers in daily life, and are constantly sharp with their tongues, and disagreeable to all around them—spiteful people, vindictive people, revengeful people, malicious people—of whom, alas, the world is only too full!—all such know little, as they should know, about sanctification.”