Sanctification is Not a Process

by John Crowder
Okay, what's the deal you're asking? What's with the deconstructionist title? You’re always preaching that I don’t have a sinful nature anymore, now you want to take away by sanctification process as well? How dare you!
All I can say is buckle up friend. This goes a lot deeper than we realize. The church has a lot of cardboard wadding shoved into its foundation and termites have eaten right through the basement walls. Don’t blame me, I’m just telling you this thing isn’t built to code.
The most scholarly minds would all agree that we shared a mystical death with Christ that purchased union with Him. But then a theological dishonesty creeps in. We are next taught that – although the old man is dead – we still have a daily process of putting that old self to death. I die daily is a common motto!
They call it a paradox. Two opposites that are held in tension. They say your fleshly nature is dead, yet it is still in need of crucifixion. Paradox indeed! I call this a lack of revelation at best. Lazy exegesis at worst. The scriptures never contradict themselves. The word “paradox” sounds fun, but there are far fewer of them in scripture than you would imagine. Lobotomy is a fun word as well, but I dont want one. People think, “We havent figured it out, so it must be an unsolvable puzzle! A paradox!” There are no unsolvable puzzles. Every mystery has been plainly published on the tree.
The word people use for this supposed process of killing the old self is “sanctification.” It is widely believed that sanctification is a lifelong, extended journey of becoming holy. A process of removing sin – progressively having ones soul purged over an entire lifetime.
The Greek verb “to sanctify” does not mean to “purge and purify over a period of time.” The word hagiazo simply means to “set apart” or to “make separate for God.”[i] The moment you were saved, you were set apart for God. Sanctification is not a process. It is a Person. The Bible tells me so!
And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30, ESV).
He is your sanctification. Any system that tries to draw your attention away from the person of Christ and onto your own efforts is antichrist in nature. Your union with
God is not an incomplete relationship that comes progressively. Time is not the magic formula that makes you holy. Jesus sacrifice made you holy. Christs work was enough to purify you, spirit, soul and body.
Often, when intellectuals cannot explain something adequately, they use the element of “time” as a magic ingredient to cover up their lack of understanding. For instance, how can brilliant scientists really believe a ridiculous fallacy such as evolution? How did humans defeat the exponentially impossible odds to evolve from inanimate mud? Simple. Add a magic ingredient called “billions and billions of years!” Anybody will believe it!
The same is true to explain the lack of fruit in the unconverted soul. Why is this supposed Christian still living in sin? “Oh, because it takes years and years to sanctify you! Then you will have a sin-free life!”
Think of how the word “sanctification” is used in other places in the New Testament, none of which ever require a time element or involve a long grueling process. Here are a few examples:
With food:
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; it is sanctified (hagiazo) by means of the word of God and prayer (1 Tim. 4:4-5, NASB).
All it takes is one blessing to sanctify your hamburger! No inner healing program necessary. Your food is going to get cold if you spend too much time saying the blessing.
With the Fathers name:
He said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed (hagiazo) be your name, your Kingdom come. ...” (Luke 11:2, NIV).
Not going to see many translators write, “Father let your name be sanctified” because it doesnt jive with the process theology they have attached to the word. Does the Fathers name need to be purged and purified? Does the Father need a deep inner healing or deliverance class? No. We recognize that the Fathers name is “set apart.”
With the Son:
Do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified (hagiazo) and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God?” (John 10:36, NASB)
Here, we read that Jesus was sanctified by the Father. Does that mean it took His whole life to get cleaned up from his sordid past? Did Jesus go through a 12-step program or years of therapy? No. He was simply “set apart” just like you.
Evangelism of the Heart
One popular phrase coined by progressive sanctification proponents is this: The entire heart needs to be evangelized. By this, they mean that the entire inner man needs to be saved bit by bit. This phrase, evangelizing the heart, sounds catchy and romantic. In fact, I agree that the heart needs to be evangelized. But it happens in one fell swoop.
The Lord tells us in the book of Ezekiel that, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26, NIV). God removed the old, hardened heart that was cold and unloving. He gave you in its place a new, tender, touchable heart.
Now, wouldnt God be a cruel masochist if your entire life were a long, bloody open-heart surgery, where He removed your heart bit by bit? This heart transplant was a one-time transaction. The old is gone; the new has come.
Did you know that it was His own heart that He gave you? I am not talking about an amalgamated, pantheistic absorption of your personality. Yes, you do have a unique personality, but it is so melded and united to His that Paul could rightly say the following:
I consider myself as having died and now Im enjoying a new existence which is simply Jesus using my body (Gal. 2:20, DIS).
In a very real sense, Christ has replaced you!
Christians dont usually have a problem believing that Jesus lives inside of them. The thing that is really hard to swallow is that the devil doesnt live in you anymore!
It is true that our heart is growing to trust and believe more and more. But it is still a new heart that is growing in faith. Not the old one.
You Have Fullness
Paul told the Colossians that in Jesus Christ, the whole fullness of the Godhead lives in bodily form (Col. 2:9). That means Holy Spirit was in Jesus; the Father was in Jesus; and of course, there was Jesus Himself. The entire triune God. Paul continues to write:
And, by your union with Him, you also are filled with it (Col. 2:10, TCNT).
What are you filled with? Just Holy Spirit alone? No. Your mystical union with Christ fills you with the entire Godhead. That means Jesus is in you. It also means the Father of Lights lives within you – the One who breathed the very stars into existence. Hes right here, fully inside of you!
You dont just have a little portion of God. Not just one percent of Him. Not just a little Bobby or Suzy sized version. You have the fullness of the Godhead in there. All thanks to your union with Christ. If you started to actually believe how much heat youre packing inside of you, you could change the world in a single day.
So many people are paranoid of the devil. They attribute so much to him, as if he were Gods equal and opposite adversary. As if God and the devil were sitting up in Heaven playing chess, wondering who will win. They are always talking about principalities of darkness and warfare and witches and dragons and conspiracy theories. It makes my head spin at the superstition and utter lack of revelation of the gospel. I dont know much about warfare, but I know a lot about joyfare. I dont know much about your principalities, but I know a lot about mine. Colossians 2:10 continues to tell us He is:
The head of all principality and power (KJV).
The fountain head from which all dominion and power proceed (KNOX).
The authority over all authorities, and the supreme power over all powers (PHI).
He is the highest ruler over every other power (TAY).
This is the Godhead who lives right inside of you! You have an inexhaustible and eternal source of power, dominion and exhilarating joy living inside of you. All of God lives within you thanks to your union with Christ. The devil is not a bit scared of your shofars and worship banners, but the blood of Christ did a tremendous job of defeating him.
It is amazing how often I hear people talk about “pressing in” for more of Gods fullness. They have all sorts of little formulas and methods that they think will give them more of God. Whether its an ascetic fasting and prayer routine, or something more bizarre. They think they have to overcome their flesh or beat up the devil to get more of God. But the Bible clearly states that you already have fullness because of your union with Christ! You are already hooked up to the fullness valve.
If you think it is up to you to take hold of Gods fullness, how far along are you? Two percent? Twelve percent? Anybody ever get hold of ninety-eight percent of God? Sounds ridiculous, eh? You have all of Him or nothing.
Circumcision of the Heart
In this same passage of Colossians 2, Paul jumps immediately from discussing your union with the fullness of the Godhead right into a very strange topic … circumcision.
Ouch! Sounds painful I know … but relax. He says it is a circumcision made without a bodily operation – not a physical circumcision done by mans handiwork. This is a mystical act. It is a circumcision of the heart.
You may not be a specialist physician, but I hope you understand what circumcision entails. It means that something is cut off! I will spare you the graphic, anatomical explanations here, but you get the picture. Something has been completely cut away. Chopped off once and for all. And guess what that something is?
In the circumcision of Christ you were set free from your sinful nature (Col. 2:11, NOR).
Again, Paul reiterates this same reality. The gospel cuts away the sinful nature from the believer. This death of the old man is the foundational mysticism of St. Paul. In the next verse, he relates circumcision to the same spiritual death you died in baptism:
You, by baptism, have been united with His burial, united, too, with His resurrection, through your faith … (Col. 2:12, KNOX).
Just as we received a singular heart transplant, so likewise did we receive a singular circumcision of the heart. The sinful nature was circumcised off. That thing is not still hanging on.
Arent you glad that circumcision is not a daily process? It would give the term “I die daily” a whole new meaning! No. Circumcision is a one-time occurrence that Christ performed mystically on the cross. Joshua (lit. Yeshua, a type of Christ) circumcised the entire army of Israel by his own hand when they first entered the Promised Land. In the same way, Christ circumcised of the entire corporate entity of sinfulness, bringing us into a land of new existence. You now have unadulterated access into the Most Holy Place. You are now in permanent residence in the land of milk and honey.
Oh, how we should revel in the joys of the cross! It is not a somber place where we must go to suffer and die. It is the place where the feast lay before us. The place where we have already mystically died with Him! It is your get out of jail free card. You did not even feel the pain of it.
You are an Isaac company. Isaac means laughter. Isaac means “Ha! Ha! Ha!” We are a people of promise, a people of Ha! Ha! Ha! Martin Luther once said that the gospel is nothing less than laughter and joy. You are not the slavish people of Ishmael. Ishmael was fully grown when he was circumcised. He had to feel the pain, because he represented the old, do-it-yourself covenant on Sinai. But little baby Isaac was different! He was only eight days old when he was circumcised. Isaac doesnt even remember what happened to him. He has no memory of the pain. Your death found its substitution in Christ – He took the bullet for you!
I Die Daily
Just as it would be foolish to think we have a daily heart transplant or a daily circumcision … in the same way, it is foolish to think death to self is a daily process. Death is a finite event. Not a continuous prolongation.
Have you heard the term “I die daily?” I know you have. Its a very common Christian cliché. People even know to attribute the phrase to the Apostle Paul. I have done an informal case study in dozens of revival meetings. From a regular show of hands, about 99 percent of people know the term “I die daily.” But only about five percent remember reading the scripture in context.
When you read the Bible, you realize that Paul was absolutely not talking about a daily crucifixion of his old sinful self. The Apostle Paul was talking about facing the dangers of persecution on a constant basis!
“How often have we heard those who believe in a gradual process of sanctification quote this text to prove their argument!” writes author W.E. Shepard. “Nowhere do we find that the Scriptures teach a daily dying in order to get sanctified. Neither do they teach, that after one is sanctified, there is any further dying out to carnality. And especially does the text, ?I die daily,’ have no reference to either thought. Then, what does Paul mean by the expression? … Paul is stating that his life is in jeopardy every day and every hour.”[ii]
St. Paul was not talking about an introverted, masochistic killing of his own inward self. Paul's former self was not merely crippled, paralyzed or maimed. His old nature was not merely left dormant, suppressed or pacified. Nor was the sinful self left half-dead or narcoticized. He was killed. Dead to sin and alive to God. It was this very revelation that stirred trouble for him! He was persecuted for the blissful message of the gospel.
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches (2 Cor. 11:23-28, ESV).
Reading this, you realize why Paul said this: I myself run the risk of dying every single day (1 Cor. 15:31, WMS). Paul faced the firing squad everyday – he was a code red security risk. He even caught heat from the top notch “super-apostles” – even men sent from James, the brother of Jesus! Imagine the top-notch prophets of the charismatic circuit coming down on you, because they dont fully understand the message of grace you are preaching. On top of that, Paul had the daily pressure of all the churches – the stress of running the company as a CEO. And that was just on top of the shipwrecks, beatings, etc. At least the Jews stopped beating him at 39 lashes (they thought they were being merciful by not giving the full 40 prescribed by the law). But the Gentiles would beat him all day long. If the Jews had a hypocritical conscience, the Gentiles had none at all.
When reading “I die daily” in context, we must include the preceding verse. There, you see that he didnt just die everyday. He said it happened every hour.
Besides, why do we live dangerously every moment? (1 Cor. 15:30, BER)
Why also do we apostles take such risks every hour? (1 Cor. 15:30, WEY)
And I too, why do I put my life to hazard every hour (1 Cor. 15:30, CON).
And why do you think I keep risking my neck in this dangerous work? I look death in the face practically every day I live. Do you think Id do this if I wasn’t convinced of your resurrection and mine as guaranteed by the resurrected Messiah Jesus? Do you think I was just trying to act heroic when I fought the wild beasts at Ephesus, hoping it wouldn't be the end of me? Not on your life! Its resurrection, resurrection, always resurrection, that undergirds what I do and say, the way I live. If there's no resurrection, “We eat, we drink, the next day we die,” and thats all there is to it. But dont fool yourselves. Dont let yourselves be poisoned by this anti-resurrection loose talk. “Bad company ruins good manners” (1 Cor. 15:30-33, MSG).
Why was Paul so hazard prone? First of all, the scandalous message of grace attracts major persecution. When Paul stopped preaching the do-it-yourself law of physical circumcision and started preaching the free gift of the cross of Christ, it made him very controversial.
As for the rumor that I continue to preach the ways of circumcision (as I did in those pre-Damascus Road days), that is absurd. Why would I still be persecuted, then? If I were preaching that old message, no one would be offended if I mentioned the Cross now and then—it would be so watered-down it wouldnt matter one way or the other. Why dont these agitators, obsessive as they are about circumcision, go all the way and castrate themselves! (Gal. 5:11-12, MSG)
Dont think Paul was just some unusually tough character to be able to handle all this kind of flack. He didnt just have the gung ho of a Marine Corp sergeant. Paul was tapping into a joy unspeakable that fueled him. The Holy Spirit is like a glorious anesthesia that enables you to endure any kind of external trial. Otherwise, why didnt the apostles always cry and suck their thumbs when being afflicted, rather than jumping, leaping and shouting for joy? Paul was running on a million volts of bliss, which drove him into crazy situations.
Yours is the bliss, when men shall heap their insults on you, and persecute you, and tell every wicked kind of lie about you for my sake. When that happens, rejoice and exult in it, for you will receive a rich reward in Heaven … (Matt. 5:11-12, BNT).
Is this just a future joy that you will experience in Heaven after suffering down here? No. Heaven is right here, right now for the born-again believer.
O the bliss of those who are persecuted for their loyalty to Gods way of life, for the blessings of the Kingdom of Heaven are theirs here and now (Matt. 5:10, BNT).
This is bliss in the midst of the storm. Youre never disconnected from God.
Taking up Your Cross
Stop looking at sufferings and persecutions from an outward, external perspective. Although Stephen was being stoned in the body, yet he was experiencing a rapturous, out-of-body experience seeing Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father (Acts 7). Paul clearly remembered the death of this first martyr. He stood there that day, batting for the other team. Paul was the jacket caddie while the fat cat Pharisees shot bogies.
You have to understand that Paul was not depressed while going through these persecutions. Persecution does not equal depression. In fact, it ignites a wellspring of supernatural bliss and Glory within you. These brief troubles dont hold a candle to the immeasurable weight of Glory they produce in us (2 Cor. 4:17).
Because you are in union with Christ, He does not leave you to suffer for Him alone. The Lord promises innumerable blessings to us through the atonement. Forgiveness. Healing. Prosperity. Supernatural power. Reconciliation. Adoption. Joy. The blessings are endless. But … He also guarantees persecution to His followers! Yet, He makes this an easy pill to swallow with His deep consolations, so theres no room for self-pity. The blessings always outweigh it all, both now and later. On top of that, remember that it is not Jesus who is persecuting you! He loves you! So dont misjudge Him.
He also doesnt want you to be an ignorant dolt and go out looking for trouble and self-harm. He actually tells us to avoid persecution, unless love or righteousness requires it at the moment. Dont take a spirit of suicide onboard. Suicide and religion are the same thing. Hopefully, this should now clarify another often misunderstood verse, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 14:27, NASB). Simply put, Jesus is saying lose sight of yourself. On one hand, we should be ready for persecution and troubles to come if we are going to follow Him. But even in that, His yoke is easy and light. The Lord doesnt say that tribulations wont come. But He does promise to bring you through them with joy unspeakable and full of Glory! Dont be self-focused, but be God-focused. Its really Him suffering through you.
In no way is Jesus saying you have to die for your own sinfulness by carrying your own cross. Nor is He saying that you still have a sinful nature to continually destroy.
He Took Your Cross
At the end of the day, you really dont even get to carry your own cross. This is such an idol in the church! Religious people love to boast about the “cross they are carrying.”
When Jesus talks about denying yourself and taking up your cross, this is really a passage about ceasing from your own self-efforts and self-driven attempts at spiritual advancement. Let self be smudged totally out of the equation.
“In the eternal sense this verse means that we are to follow after Christ’s sacrifice, not mimic it, but trust in it alone for our salvation and sustainment,” writes our friend Ben Dunn in The Happy Gospel. “The sense here in this scripture is not self-sacrifice in the way that most would see it. It actually is a call to deny any heavenly advancement through self-achievement.”[iii] Let me ask you a question. If you get to carry your own cross, then whose cross did Jesus die upon?
Did He deserve His cross? I’m sorry … I may have missed something here. ... What sin did Jesus commit to deserve His cross? What crime was done to merit such punishment? Oh … wait a minute friend. He didn’t commit a crime … you did! Jesus was carrying your punishment. Any system of religious belief that puts the emphasis on what you need to do for the Lord, rather than what He has done for you, detracts from the Glory of God and spits on the work of the gospel.
God actually wants to boast in single-handedly saving the world.
Christianity was originally called good news. It used to be a happy message that people wanted to be a part of. The original version of the gospel seemed too good to be true. That’s why it spread like wildfire. Heaven as a free gift. Your sinfulness abolished. Effortless union with God. Amazing benefits! Easy, instant soul purge.
Let me tell you, if the gospel you’ve heard is not too good to be true, it probably isn’t. The frequency of the gospel always inspires, always brings life and hope. The flavor and sound of the true gospel never puts rule and regulation and heavy trips on you. Never makes you feel you have to live up to any systematic expectations for acceptance. It always encourages, always hopes, always trusts, and always loves. Some would accuse us of preaching a candy-coated gospel. That’s not entirely true. This gospel is not just candy-coated. It also has bubble gum in the middle.

This article contains excerpts from John Crowder’s new book: Mystical Union. Get a copy by clicking Here    

[i] James Strong, Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1890), Entry 37.
2 William Shepard, Wrested Scriptures Made Plain or, Help for
Holiness Skeptics.
3 Benjamin Dunn, The Happy Gospel (Santa Cruz, CA.: Joy Revolution, 2010), 102-103
BER Berkeley Version of the New Testament From the Original Greek With Brief Footnotes (Berkeley: James J. Gillick and Co., 1945). Verkuyl Gerrit.
BNT The New Testament: A Translation by William Barclay (London: Arthur James Ltd., 1968, 1969, 1988). William Barclay.
CON – The Life and Epistles of St. Paul (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978). W.J. Conybeare, J.S. Howson.
DIS – The Distilled Bible: New Testament (Stone Mountain, GA: P. Benjamin Publishers, 1980). Roy Greenhill.
ESV The English Standard Version Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with Apocrypha (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
KJV The Holy Bible King James Version: 1611 Edition.
KNOX The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (Springfield: Templegate Publishers, 1945). Ronald A. Knox.
MSG – The Message (Colorado Springs: NavPress Publishing Group, 2005 ed.). Eugene Peterson.
NASB New American Standard Bible (La Habra, Ca.: The Lockman Foundation, 1977, 1995).
NIV – The Holy Bible, New International Version (Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1973, 1978, 1984). International Bible Society.
NOR The Simplified New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1961). Olaf Norlie.
PHI – The New Testament in Modern English (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1962). J.B. Phillips.
TAY – Living Letters: The Paraphrased Epistles (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1962). Kenneth Taylor.
TCNT – The Twentieth Century New Testament (New York/Chicago/Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company).
WEY The New Testament in Modern Speech (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1903). Richard Francis Weymouth.                                                               

John Crowder, 2/15/2011