I was blessed today to have the opportunity to discuss the doctrine of sanctification at some length with a fellow pastor. He pointed out a statement that J.P. Boyce (noteworthy Baptist theologian, 1827-1888) made in his work Abstract of Systematic Theology. In Chapter 37, Part III, Number 2, while answering the question of the nature of sanctification, he said:
It is a real sanctification, not merely one that is imputed, as is righteousness. Holiness is not merely "accounted to men," so that they are treated as though holy, but they are made holy. Holiness becomes the characteristic of their natures. It is habitually exercised in their lives. It will eventually be possessed in perfection. It is real and in no sense only virtual. [emphasis added]
This is the distinguishing factor from justification. Justification is a declaration of holiness from a judicial standpoint. Sanctification is not a mere declaration, but an actual making! It is God conforming saints to the image of Jesus Christ. As God has already sanctified his people (I Corinthians 6:11), so He will continue that work (Hebrews 10:14). This gives us a responsibility and a goal. What is our goal? To be like Jesus! The apostle Paul proclaims this prize very succinctly in Philippians 3:12, I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. In other words, our goal is to be all that God saved us to be.
As my pastor friend pointed out during our fellowship today, if we fail to recognize the practical, ongoing work of sanctification in our lives, we will be apt to become apathetic in our spiritual walk. True, we are already seated in the heavenlies with Christ (Ephesians 2), but in this life, we have not yet attained. May God grant us this grace to be ever growing, ever increasing in our knowledge of, and desire for Jesus Christ.