WEDDED BLISS ILLUSTRATES SANCTIFYING GRACE
By: Frank G. Tunstall, D. Min.
The institution of marriage offers an excellent illustration of sanctifying grace. When a young couple marries, the union can be successful only if they spiritually, mentally and emotionally forsake all others – all former suitors – so that they are set apart in their hearts from all past courtship relationships. They must be “sold out” to each other, for better or for worse, until death parts them.
While marriage is a wonderful illustration of sanctifying grace, no illustration is perfect. Only Jesus is our perfect example.
“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth,” Jesus prayed for His disciples in His High Priestly prayer. And He went on to petition: “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified” (John 17:17-19). Jesus is not only the perfect model; His example is also the clearest definition of sanctifying grace.
Based on the Lord’s pattern, sanctify can now be defined. The term describes a lifestyle that is set apart or consecrated, soul, mind and body. For all of Jesus’ followers this calls for forsaking one’s old way of life (all old courtship friends and attractions) and confessing wholeheartedly (saying “I do”) to a new lifestyle of obedience to the heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. This understanding expresses the meaning of the Greek word, hagiazo, as Jesus used it. To sanctify is to be set apart. The basis of this set apart lifestyle in the church is the Word of God, which is always the truth to which the Holy Spirit witnesses. Jesus earnestly prayed for the disciples to grow in the truth.
Our sinless Lord as the living Word of God made His decision in eternity to become man and set Himself apart from all others to achieve His strategy to save the world. Salvation comes from Jesus alone, by faith through grace alone, without any aid from anybody or anything.
This is no doubt part of what the writer of Hebrews had in mind:
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:7-9).
The phrase, “He learned obedience” does not suggest Jesus had been disobedient in His past. Instead, the sense of the statement is the man, Jesus of Nazareth, “learned the [wisdom of] obedience” because of what He suffered. Nor does the phrase, “once made perfect,” assume a time when Jesus was imperfect. Instead, the Biblical concept of sanctification is best defined by the term, set apart. When Jesus made His decision a final time in Gethsemane to drink the bitter cup of the sins of the whole world, He was indeed perfected in the sense of being totally set apart unto the Father’s plan and dedicated to the mission ahead. His objective was to pay the price and become “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:9).
In the gospel, this separation embraces an intentional departure from the world and its value system and the institution of marriage illustrates it well. It is normative for the spiritual change to happen in a major life situation, often identified as a crisis life changer. Jesus the Son of God is looking for followers who will bond to Him and Him alone as their first loyalty. The cross of Jesus is history’s greatest life changer.
Using the word picture of marriage, this union begins with a courtship phase that matures into a willingness to make a lifetime commitment in matrimony. In theology, the doctrine of salvation includes both the new birth and sanctification. What begins in courtship culminates in the moment when a couple says “I do” at the altar of God. With those words they enter into a “sold out” union, each to the other. From that highly special, moment of truth, they begin a lifetime of growing that reveals what is meant by “keep thee only unto him,” or “her, so long as ye both shall live.”
The Apostle Paul described our relationship with Jesus Christ with the language of the “old man” and the “new man.” The old man and the old way of life must “die” for the “new man” and the new set apart life in Christ to blossom (Romans 6:6; Ephesians 2:5; 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-11). Marriage too assumes a “death” to yesterday and a sold out commitment in all our tomorrows of each to the other. This understanding reveals the rich meaning of the word, sanctification.
The set apart experience can be summarized as separation from the old values and worldly attractions that actually lead to death: the path of one’s yesterdays. It then embraces separation unto or resurrection unto total commitment to Jesus’ teaching and values, including His international vision, for all of one’s tomorrows. The blood of Jesus through the Word of God is the agent that cleanses the heart, and the Holy Spirit is the power that makes this transformation possible in a new lifestyle.
It is essential to recognize the heavenly Father set Jesus apart from eternity, and sent Him into the world to challenge the culture and save the world. Jesus, in turn, set apart His disciples and commissioned them to confront the world’s values and attractions with the gospel message and win people to Jesus. The disciples had the awesome responsibility to spread the good news everywhere they went. Assisted by the prophets, they faithfully laid the foundation of the church. This even included writing the New Testament scriptures that would become the written standard for truth in every generation (Ephesians 2:20-22; 2 Timothy 3:16).
What special and awesome trust.
It is a fact that Jesus sanctified Himself, or set Himself apart from any relationship or any desire that would hinder His union with His Father and the fulfillment of His plan to save the world. Can anyone dispute that Jesus lived wholly set apart from the world and unto His Father? This set apart reality expresses the holiness of God as it was lived out perfectly in Jesus Christ.
The Lord’s commitment included willingness as Israel’s Messiah to go to the cross to make salvation possible for “whosoever will,” and do it even if they rejected Him. Jesus’ disciples saw the effects of the Lord’s total separation, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, became motivated to live the same set apart lifestyle.
The writer of Hebrews contrasted Jesus, the perfect High Priest of the New Covenant, with Israel’s flawed high priesthood:
“When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctified them [hagiazo, set them apart] so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:11-14).
Our sinless Lord as the living Word of God volunteered in eternity to incarnate and set Himself apart from all others to achieve His strategy to save the world. Salvation comes from Jesus alone, by faith through grace alone. The hymn, Rock of ages, says it well: “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.”
The blood of Jesus is the agent of sanctifying grace.
Yes, the term, hagiazo, embraces the idea of separation – [set apart from sin and set apart unto service to God; set apart even unto death]. Let it be restated: the ultimate example of set apart living was the sacrifice of the Lord Himself on the Hill of the Skull (John 19:17). The institution of marriage illustrates this with excellence.
It should not be missed in this discussion that the writer of Hebrews used the term, “eternal Spirit,” to describe the role of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ sacrifice. In doing so he attributed eternality to the Holy Spirit. Eternality is one of the attributes of Deity. The Holy Spirit is the administrator of the cleansing blood of Jesus.
Known only to God are the millions of martyrs through the centuries who have been inspired by the Holy Spirit to set themselves apart from this world at the price of their own blood (see Revelation 6:9-11; 12:11-12; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24; 19:2, 13). Estimates in the twentieth century alone soar as high as about fourteen million.
THINK ABOUT IT: A husband and father will become so bonded to his wife and children he will put his life on the line to protect them. It is a sobering thought, but the word picture fits. Sanctified or set apart living calls on all believers to be willing by God’s grace to die for Jesus Christ and the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
The meaning of living a set apart lifestyle unto Jesus Christ is also beautifully modeled in the relationship between Naomi and Ruth, her daughter-in-law. Naomi urged Ruth, who was a Moabite, to go back home to her people and her gods. But Ruth’s response is superlative in expressing the change that had happened in her heart as she watched how her mother-in-law handled unspeakable grief and loss – the deaths in a foreign land of her husband and two sons. The commitment that followed set her apart in her heart from the idolatry of Moab. In her soul, mind and body she walked away from her upbringing and Moabite culture. She also became an example to the Lord’s followers in ancient Bethlehem of what being set apart meant to her. Even to this day, over 3,000 years later, we celebrate her example:
“Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” (Ruth 1:16-17 KJV).
The fruit of set apart living by a Godly pastor, or teacher, or parent, is often multi-generational, reaching far beyond what the first generation lives to see. Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David, and is a mother in the lineage of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5). Ruth had the heart of her Messiah over a thousand years before Jesus came. Her story illustrates vividly how millions of believers in Jesus Christ “die” to the old desires of the flesh, and become bonded in their hearts to Israel’s Messiah.
Whither thou goest I will go.
Wherever thou lodgest, I will lodge.
Thy people will be my people my love,
Whither thou goest, I will go.
For as in that story, long ago,
The same sweet love story, now is so,
Thy people shall be my people my love,
Whither thou goest, I will go.
By: Guy Singer
The Apostle Paul chose to use marriage to illustrate the Lord’s obvious love for the church that He died to establish. One day Jesus will “present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:27-28). Paul was not teaching here a doctrine of physical marriage to Jesus. Instead, until the great day arrives of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, wedded bliss will remain a beautiful illustration of set apart living.