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Sanctification — Its Scope

It was the whole man that sinned, and it is the whole man whom God wants sanctified. The apostle writes:

    And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. — 1 Thess. 5:23.

Any view of sanctification that does not include the whole man comes short of Bible sanctification. Although it may present a phase of sanctification which is true, it is still liable to heresy. "Heresy is truth, but truth pushed into undue importance, to the disparagement of the truth upon the other side." — William Lincoln.

For instance, sanctification is very much a thing of the heart (1 Pet. 3:4; Ps. 51:6). But some have taken the heart to mean only the affections. When sanctification is focused exclusively on the affections of the heart, it comes to be regarded as a change of religious feelings or a sort of spiritual rapture. People are consequently encouraged to measure their progress in holiness by the intensity of their religious feelings. When they are stimulated by certain spiritual exercises, they regard themselves as full of the Holy Spirit. When there is no spiritual ecstasy, they feel destitute of the Spirit. This type of sanctification craves a steady diet of group revivals and "emotional devotionals." Sometimes "the sickly, sentimental, erotic bridal metaphors of the syncretistic Hellenistic cults . . . have been permitted to cross the threshold of Christian devotional literature unhindered in the allegorizings of the Song of Solomon." — Adolf Koberle, The Quest for Holiness (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1964), p. 10.

Some have confined sanctification to a thing of the understanding. In their view sanctification resolves itself into illumination. There is a lot of truth in this theory. The Bible teaches that knowledge leads to eternal life (John 17:3). Conversion is effected by a revelation of Christ, and transformation into His image comes about by beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (John 3:14; 2 Cor. 3:18). St. Paul prayed that the eyes of the understanding of the redeemed community might be enlightened (Eph. 1:18). The sinful state is called blindness and darkness, while the Spirit brings sight and the vision of light. Spiritual apprehension of truth awakens faith, love and delight. All this is very true and important. But it is still a one-sided theory of sanctification. As Dr. Charles Hodge observes, "The Scriptures, however, do not teach that regeneration consists exclusively in illumination, or that the cognitive faculties are exclusively the subject of the renewing power of the Spirit." — Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1874), Vol. 3, p.17.

The heart, or mind,1 includes the cognitive faculties (the powers of understanding, reason, imagination, perception, observation, memory and judgment) as well as the will, the affections (feelings, emotions) and the conscience. Since the image of God is to be restored in the human soul, the Bible is concerned with the sanctification of the whole mind. Growth in grace should embrace the harmonious development of all man's faculties to the glory of God.

Nor is Bible sanctification exclusively a thing of the mind. The body is very much a part of it. The Bible has a very un-Grecian view of the human body. It teaches that God created it and Christ died to redeem it (Rom. 8:23).

Whereas the Greeks taught that the body was a prison which temporarily incarcerated the human soul, St. Paul taught his Grecian converts that their bodies were a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). But the Corinthian church did not easily shake off their Grecian outlook. They were all too prone to interpret the Christian message in terms of Grecian philosophy. They thought that sanctification was a thing of the spirit only; therefore, what they did with the body was a matter of indifference. Some of the most corrupting heresies came into the church in this way. There were those who advocated that the spiritual elite whose spirits were wholly sanctified could commit the grossest deeds of the flesh without sinning. "Every sin that a man doeth is without the body," they argued. Not so! answered the apostle. ". . . he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost . . ." 1 Cor. 6:18, 19. So it was to these Grecian Corinthians that the apostle wrote so pointedly about the place of the human body in sanctification. He spoke of moral purity, marriage, eating and drinking to the glory of God, temperance and bodily discipline and, finally, the bodily resurrection and a judgment of all deeds done in the body.

While no evangelical Christian today would espouse the heresy that immoral acts are no hindrance to holiness, still the Grecian view of the human body is hard to shake off. Many of us still treat the body with shameful indifference. We make little effort to preserve our powers in the best possible condition. We invite great bodily debility by the indulgence of appetite and hurtful habits, and think that God is not concerned with how we regard the laws of life. By intemperance our powers of body and mind are greatly impaired, yet we think this has little or nothing to do with progress in the divine life. But so-called harmless indulgences of the flesh can enslave us and prove to be the greatest hindrance to soul sanctification. We need to distinguish between this spurious "Grecian sanctification" and the New Testament sanctification of the whole man.

1 The Bible knows of no distinction between heart and mind. Sometimes both terms are used together for emphasis, and at other times they are used interchangeably.