According to our Statement of Faith, The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BF&M):
Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God’s purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person’s life.
Our understanding of sanctification is rooted in the Biblical teaching that all believers are saved by grace through faith in Christ and are in the process of becoming more like Christ. Knowing who we are and who we are to become is key to living a joyful Christian life.
Sanctification: Our Current State
We are not yet Perfect
This should go without saying, but sometimes we become delusional and think we don’t have any flaws. Let’s take a moment to consult our Statement of Faith on the topic of salvation and the four primary ways it is referenced in Scripture: regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. Regeneration is the new birth when a person becomes a Christian. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “you must be born again” (John 3:3). An immediate result of regeneration is Justification. Justification is “the full acquittal [forgiveness of sin] of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ”. Having been justified, all Christians undergo the lifelong process of Sanctification to grow in spiritual maturity and to become more like Jesus Christ. Sanctification continues throughout the Christian’s life and upon death, the Christian experiences Glorification; which is “the culmination of salvation and is the final blessed and abiding state of the redeemed.”
Understanding this, Paul wrote of his current state as a Christian in Philippians 3:12, “not that I have already attained, or am already perfected…” (3:12). Paul has been regenerated and justified and now he is being sanctified by God. Paul recognized that he has not yet attained to that which he hopes to attain. He desires spiritual perfection but realizes he has not yet arrived. While he is a Christian and has had his sins forgiven, he is not yet as mature as he ought to be. It is also true for us and it is vital to our spiritual lives that we recognize that we have not yet been perfected.
Having not yet attained, Paul said, “I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (3:12). Paul’s response to his need to grow in spiritual maturity is to press on and strive towards it. If the Apostle Paul understood his need to press on in faith and spiritual maturity, how much more so should we adopt the same attitude. We press on in faith and joy as we remember that we can press on because Christ has laid hold of us.
We Strive to be Made Perfect
Look closely at what Paul wrote: “Not that I have already attained or am already perfected” (3:12). When Paul wrote that he is not already perfected, he is not saying that he is perfecting himself, but that God is working to perfect him. Our actions do not result in our perfection, but God is at work within us to perfect us through His grace. Complete perfection cannot be reached on this earth, but in the process of sanctification we are growing in spiritual maturity.
There is a wordplay between verse 12 and verse 15. In verse 12 Paul wrote, “Not that I am already perfected” and in verse 15, he wrote, “Let us, as many as are mature…” “Perfected” in verse 12 and “Mature” in verse 15 are essentially the same Greek word. Literally Paul is saying “If you are really perfect/mature, you will realize you are not yet perfect/mature!” (ESV Study Bible). This may sound like a contradiction but is a fundamental truth of salvation. In other words, the more you are being perfected by God the more you realize how imperfect you are before God. The more mature you become in the faith the more aware you are of how immature you are in the faith. The closer you come to Christ in faith, the more you realize how dependent you are upon faith as you approach Christ. This works to humble us and to glorify the grace and mercy of Christ who has laid hold of us (3:12). A troubling sign of Christian immaturity is when you no longer notice/grieve over your own sin.
Sanctification: Our Prize
Forgetting What is Behind
Paul has not apprehended or attained perfection, but he is growing in maturity. There is an old children’s song entitled, “He’s still working on me”. It goes, “He’s still working on me to make me what I ought to be. It took Him just a week to make the moon and the stars, the sun and the Earth and Jupiter and Mars. How loving and patient He must be, because He’s still working on me.” A key part of God’s work of sanctification is to get us to forget “those things which are behind and [reach] forward to those things which are ahead” (3:13). Paul is using an illustration a runner in a race. The key to running well is to forget (stop focusing on) what has already happened in the past and focus on running well in the present with an eye out for the future. What should we forget? We should forget our shame because God has forgiven us. We should forget our self-confidence and place our confidence in Him.
Reaching Forward to What is Ahead
Continuing the illustration of a runner in a race, the runner must always keep in mind the end of the race. The runner is running for the prize. For Christians, the prize/goal is eternity with Christ. It is the upward/heavenly call of God. The prize is not earthly. It is not a nicer house, boat, computer, etc. The prize is not more money, friends, prestige, etc. The prize is the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:14). The prize originates in Heaven and leads us towards Heaven. Our deepest aspiration to be to know Christ and to enjoy Him forever. We desire to be “perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt 5:48).