The prayer of the Lord as our great High Priest as recorded in the seventeenth chapter of John contains seven petitions. The fourth of those petitions has been much on my own heart and a matter of personal petition for me. It reads as follows: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (v. 17). From this verse, Bishop Ryle enumerates the following four principles.
The importance of sanctification and practical godliness. Sound doctrine provides a foundation for the believer. But Christ’s prayer (as well as the entire scope of the Word) makes clear the fact that the Lord has not called out a church for the purpose of wrestling in the intellectual realm of doctrine. The Christian life is, above all other types of lives and of living, eminently practical. Christian character is so important to God that the subject is a focal point of His prayer for His disciples as the Lord faces the cross. And while there can be no sanctification apart from sound doctrine and while maintaining sound doctrine is a focal point of the Word of God, the preponderance of exhortations address the walk of a believer. Sound doctrine is merely academic theory until it is applied to the life and walk of a saint. We are to be concerned with becoming Christlike in our practical behavior.
The wide difference between sanctification and justification. Justification is the act by which God declares to be righteous in His eyes the person who believes in Jesus Christ. It is a complete and finished work at the initial instant of salvation. Sanctification involves separation unto God. The initial part of that work is wholly the doing of God as He imputes the righteousness of Christ once and for all to the believing sinner. But there are at least two additional aspects to sanctification, namely, purification from moral evil and conformity to the image of Christ. It is these two aspects of sanctification for which our Lord prayed, both of which involve our will and our effort. In the practical affairs and daily walk of our lives, we are to choose what is right and reject sin. We are deliberately and consciously to seek to be Christlike in character and behavior. Until we leave this world, we are required to believe and obey the exhortations of the Word.
The progressive nature of sanctification. Our lives as believers are not to be static. What we are at any given moment is not what we ought finally to be. The fact that the Lord prayed that His disciples might be sanctified and the fact that the Word of God is filled with exhortations to believers indicate this point. The only exhortation to sinners is that they be saved. Believers, on the other hand, receive myriad exhortations involving every aspect of their lives—their behavior, choices, even their thoughts, desires, and motives. We should be more godly in our attitudes and actions today than yesterday, and tomorrow than today.
The instrumentality of the Word in sanctification. God is not calling us to some form of mechanical asceticism or external austerity. Sanctification comes from within. We are to be people of the Word, the ultimate result of which is not to enable us successfully to argue doctrine or expound truth, but to live it. We are to read and heed the Word of God, to learn, love, and live it, to believe and obey it. A salvation that does not find us focused on God’s book in a way that transforms our lives in our daily living is a salvation that has strayed from God’s intended purpose. He intends for us to make our choices, adjust our attitudes, govern our actions, temper our emotions, establish our goals, and fix our thoughts in accord with His Word. We are to grow in holiness and in victory over sin. That is sanctification through the truth.
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