In many of his letters, Paul uses a word that might sound scary or too theological for the everyday Christian. This word is sanctification. While sanctification may not be a word we use everyday, it is something that’s for all believers. If this is true, what role do we play in our own sanctification, if any? Romans 6 will be our guide in understanding the balance between the status and practice of sanctification.
But first, we need a good definition of sanctification. A simple yet strong definition might be that sanctification is being in everyday life what we are already deemed by God through Christ Jesus: holy. Sanctification is the process of living out our holy status before God.A simple yet strong definition might be that sanctification is being in everyday life what we are already deemed by God through Christ Jesus: holy. Click To Tweet
Looking at Romans 6 grounds the definition and highlights three things the new or experienced believer can learn and practice concerning sanctification.
1. You Will Always Serve Something
Starting at the end, we realize that Paul makes a clear assessment about human nature: we want to serve, worship, or idolize something. This could be status, career, relationships, or even ourselves. But, for the Christian, Paul says we are to serve something, or rather Someone, else…
“For just as you once submitted your members as slaves to impurity,” Paul writes, “so now present yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Romans 6:19).
He goes on, encouraging us that we left a bad situation to turn to one that brings sanctification and eternal life (Romans 6:22). According to Paul, this is a human way of explaining a supernatural truth (Romans 6:19). Nevertheless, it applies well in showing us that we once served sin and now as Christians, will serve Christ for eternity.
2. Submission Brings Sanctification
Submission to righteousness and obedience to God are ways the Christian participates in sanctification. Paul notes that sanctification leads to eternal life. If the aim is eternal life, then sanctification is the vehicle that carries the Christian to such an end.
The most compelling charge of this passage is found when the Apostle appeals to the believer to “present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Romans 6:19). This is an interesting statement because much of Romans has been dedicated to the fact that people don’t earn their salvation with God. Ephesians 2:8-9 confirms that we are saved by grace through faith, not by our own works. However, Paul is not contradicting himself. He says that since we have a new master—Jesus Christ—we can serve God with purpose while knowing that our work does not earn us our salvation.
“But now that you have been set free from sin,” Paul writes, grounding his main point, “the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Romans 6:22).
It seems the most prominent point the Apostle is trying to make is that the believer can—and perhaps must—participate in his or her own sanctification, while leaving salvation from sin up to God.
3. The Goal is Life in Christ
Sanctification is a deep and confusing part of theology sometimes, so let’s not forget the main point of participating in it. The last verse of Romans 6 is a popular one, but I think the weight of its meaning is often overlooked. After so many analogies and confusing parts of the letter, Paul makes a short summary: sin brings death, but eternal life is a gift from God. Not only is eternal life a great gift from God, it is also one that is found “in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
After all he has said, Paul wants us as servants of a new master to know that life in Christ is the goal.
This is where Paul breaks free from his analogy. Slaves are typically not close—and especially not loved—by their master, but this is exactly what we see in Christ. The beauty of a loving Savior is not merely that He saves us, but that we get to serve Him. Christians, our goal is to “present our members as slaves to righteousness” for all of eternity (Romans 6:19).Slaves are typically not close—and especially not loved—by their master, but this is exactly what we see in Christ. The beauty of a loving Savior is not merely that He saves us, but that we get to serve Him. Click To Tweet
Paul wants us to begin now. In heaven, our sanctification will be complete, the work Christ began in us finished. Through Christ, we’ll be as holy as ever, able to present ourselves completely to God. But until then, we have hope that as we submit ourselves to Christ here on earth, He will award unto us the fruit of the Spirit and the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:22).