“New birth is the beginning of the new life in Christ, a life of growth in holiness. The term Methodists have historically favored to describe growth in holiness is sanctification.” (Ted Campbell, Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials)
The third shade, or movement, of grace according to our United Methodist tradition is sanctifying grace. Sanctification as a word comes the Latin “sanctus,” which means “holy” or “saint.” As such, sanctification can be understood as the process of growth in holiness, as the quote from Ted Campbell above implies. The United Methodist Book of Discipline puts it this way:
We believe sanctification is the work of God’s grace through the Word and by the Spirit, by which those who have been born again are cleansed from sin in their thoughts, words and acts, and are enabled to live in accordance with God’s will, and to strive for holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
To reach entire sanctification is to reach entire perfection in love. As John Wesley would say so often, we are all striving towards perfection. The misunderstanding that sometime occurs is that when we have been born again, life will be a bowl full of joy at all times as we pursue good works of compassion and justice. But, that simply is not the case.
We cannot forget that sanctification is a process in which the born again Christian is cleansed and grows in faith. Growth is an important aspect to sanctification. The Christian we are when we are justified, is not the Christian we will always be. God is at work in our lives constantly. All the time. God’s not done with us yet.
In 1939, when the Methodist Episcopal, Methodist Episcopal South, and other Methodist Protestant churches united as The Methodist Church, this now historic statement:
Sanctification is that renewal of our fallen nature by the Holy Ghost, received through faith in Jesus Christ, whose blood of atonement cleanest from all sin; whereby we are not only delivered from the guilt of sin, but are washed from its pollution, saved from its power, and are enabled, through grace, to love God with all our hearts and to walk in his holy commandments blameless.
Just as we are justified by grace through faith alone, we are sanctified by grace through faith. But Wesley was quick to point out that while grace is a gift, we respond to the gift. It is an action followed by a reaction. God acts; humanity responds. “God’s breathing into the soul, and the soul’s breathing back what it first receives from God,” John Wesley wrote in a sermon, “a continual action of God upon the soul, and re-action of the soul upon God.”
This re-action, or response, to God’s gift of grace is when and how growth is possible. And so, we engage in works of piety and works of mercy as we strive towards perfection. Works of piety include Bible study, small groups, prayer, devotional time, worship, and participation in the sacraments. Works of mercy, on the other hand, include feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, giving voice to the voiceless, as well as other acts of compassion and justice.
And because it will not be easy; because it will get messy; because we will still experience pain and suffering, there is grace for this journey. Sanctifying grace is the divine grace by which the process of sanctification takes place within us – making us holy.
A couple of months, our youth group made this short video to communicate the process of sanctification.