I believe it is possible for Christians to make the mistake that salvation and sanctification are one in the same. I believe this is possible because each one is related to a direct act from God and each one creates a relational change in our existence with Jesus Christ.
To be saved; to receive salvation; by grace through the acceptance of the sacrifice that Jesus made is to be rescued from the cost of sin which is death. It is to be made a new creation and a child of God and heir to heaven. To be sanctified is to have forgiveness from sin and to be washed new. To be as John said “a new creation” includes the gift of sanctification. In the moment that someone accepts Jesus into their life they seek salvation from sin and forgivness of sin.
I believe that these are really separate gifts that happen at the same time, in compliment of each other. Looking at the word salvation we can observe a sense of urgency and immediacy about it. To save, rescue implies a danger or risk. Salvation is the act of removing someone from the situation that will cause them harm.
When we rescue people from a burning building we do not focus just on the fire. Our first instinct is to pull the people away from the fire. We rush in and quickly snatch them out of the grasp of the fire and bring them to a position of security. When we save a swimmer in danger we do not drain the pool or pond, but we remove them from the water. Salvation once completed does not have to be repeated.
In an eternal salvation the situation is the cost of sin which is death. We as humans can not on our own pay the full cost of our sin to God the Father. The wages of sin is death and Jesus on the cross is the atoning sacrifice for sin. It is because of his death and resurrection into glory that man can be removed from the situation he is born into.
At the same time that we pray for salvation we also pray for the forgiveness of our sins and to be washed new. This is where I believe the gift of sanctification is received. By our repentance from our sinful nature we ask Jesus to remove from us any impurity that would cause Him displeasure. We are asking this so that we can stand beside him and be pleasing in his site and so that we no longer need to carry the burden of guilt and shame.
Anyone that has walked with Christ can give testimony to the fact that our feeling of sanctification does not last forever. In our life in this fallen world we often continue to sin against the will and pleasure of God. We make choices that are not in the spirit of fellowship with Jesus. The spirit of Christ that lives in our heart convicts us of this sin, and while we are saved from the full cost (death) of sin we can not help but feel un-sanctified.
The imagery that comes to my mind is that of a farmers field. Each year before a farmer can plant he must first go rock picking. As the winter months harden the soil, pressure forces rocks upward. These rocks if left alone can break the blade of a plow and prevent him from planing the seed. So each year he must navigate his field and remove these rocks if he expects to reap a harvest.
The existence of the rocks do not cause the farmer to cast out the field or to curse the soil. He is patient and willing to remove them so that he can use the field to produce good fruits. Even though he knows that this is work that will be repeated often, the farmer continues to pour his energy and hopes into the field.
It is in this image that I see the importance of continued sanctification in our lives in this world. Where the image of the field and our life most differs is that unlike the field which is helpless against the rocks, we are not helpless against sin. We have the power of Jesus that lives in our hearts that can change our lives.
Paul said we are to “commit ourselves to the constant changing of our minds” so that we can become like Christ. It is in this task that we must put forth our efforts and energy. It is said “as a man thinks he acts” and our paradigm of the world dictates our reactions to it. If we think someone is against us, we treat them as an enemy. If we think we are helpless to our flesh then we will make immoral choices.
I believe the inner work that all folowers of Jesus need to do is to daily lessen the need for sanctification in their life. To become more dead to the world and more alive to the spirit. I believe that man does not have to live with the burden of sin as a major part of his existence. I believe that God has provided a means by which we can make sin if not totally removed from our life, at least not the normal part of it.