Sanctification: The Narrow Path To Eternal Life

Philip P. Eapen

You chose the small, narrow door. But are you walking the narrow path that leads to eternal life?

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. – Jesus Christ. Matthew 5:13-14

The Bible commands Christians to be holy just as God is holy. (Leviticus 19:19 cited in 1 Peter 1:15) To be holy means to be wholly set apart for God, exclusively for Godʼs purposes. What is holy should not be used for common or profane purposes.

The process of setting aside a person or a thing exclusively for Godʼs use is called sanctification. Every Christian, after having been freely justified by faith, must willingly go through sanctification in order to be glorified and welcomed into eternal life. The holy scriptures say so.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23. NIV)

In other words, to be set free from sin is just the beginning. Those who are forgiven and liberated from sin must become slaves of God. This becoming doesnʼt happen automatically. It comes as a result of oneʼs conscious decision to consecrate oneself, and all that one has, wholly to God. Although such a consecrated life starts with a one-time decision, it is sustained by a series of moment-by-moment decisions to remain consecrated to God. This produces a holy life, says the above verse. The end result of such a holy life is eternal life. The Amplified Bible makes it amply clear.

But now since you have been set free from sin and have become [willing] slaves to God, you have your benefit, resulting in sanctification [being made holy and set apart for God’s purpose], and the outcome [of this] is eternal life.

Those who choose to wallow in sin will die; those who chose the narrow lane of holiness will receive the gift of eternal life. Just because eternal life is a gift, it doesn’t mean that just about anyone will inherit it. Let’s not be deceived by ‘easy believism.’ Faith must be backed up by appropriate action, without which that faith is dead.

Christians who sanctify themselves consecrate their mind and body exclusively for God’s holy purposes. Their body, though alive, is placed on God’s altar as a “living sacrifice.”“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1 ESV) Every organ of their body is dedicated to obey God’s will. This sacrifice is their act of worship toward God. Even their talents and abilities are devoted to God—not just on Sundays but throughout the week. Their talents are not up for sale to the highest bidder. For example, a singer devoted to God consecrates her voice to sing just for God. A consecrated singer won’t sing for God on one day; and for the devil, the next day. A consecrated ear, similarly, will not lend itself to become a trash can that receives the world’s junk. It’s devoted to listen to what’s good. A sanctified eye will not behold any vile thing. So on and so forth.

Sanctified Christians recognize their body as a part of Christ’s body on earth. Literally. A Christian who engages in sexual immorality takes a “member” of Christ’s body and joins it with the body of another immoral person. A sexually immoral Christian sins against his own body, and against the body of Christ “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! … Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” (1 Cor 6:15, 18 ESV) Therefore, every Christian who’s serious about his consecration to God will flee sexual immorality in all its forms and expressions. Sexual immorality, under whatever guise or excuse, is unacceptable.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;

that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.

For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8. ESV)

It’s not just the act of sexual immorality that’s anathema; everything that leads to immorality needs to be shunned—including the lustful gaze, lascivious words and gestures, crude jokes, indecent exposure, and the filthy portrayal of immorality via any medium.

“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.” (Ephesians 5:3-5; 11-12. ESV)

How can a true Christian ever talk smut or appear to enjoy coarse jokes regardless of whether he’s at the workplace or in a locker room? Worse still, how can any Christian approve of shameful deeds done in secret? It is indeed tragic that so-called “Christian” leaders try to soothe the stricken conscience of sinners caught in a web of lust, impurity, and immorality. They are immersed up to their eyeballs in popular culture. Is it any wonder they adopt worldly standards of speech and behavior? Even their vocabulary reeks of hell.

A sanctified Christian will naturally be out of place in today’s world. He does not run away from worldly folks but he keeps his life unspotted by its impurities. That indeed is a true mark of godliness acceptable before God.“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James 1:27 ESV When a worldly man or woman looks at a Christian, they should see a difference in the Christian’s attitude and behavior. They should naturally be “surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery.” (1 Peter 4:4 ESV) What’s the point of calling oneself a Christian if a worldly person cannot find any difference between his life and the Christian’s? That’s why Peter admonished his readers to make a clean break from their sinful lives.

“You’ve already put in your time in that God-ignorant way of life, partying night after night, a drunken and profligate life. Now it’s time to be done with it for good. Of course, your old friends don’t understand why you don’t join in with the old gang anymore. But you don’t have to give an account to them. They’re the ones who will be called on the carpet— and before God himself.” (1 Peter 4:3-5 The Message)

A Christian’s body is God’s property, bought at a price. It is also the “temple of the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, a sanctified Christian makes it his aim to glorify God through his body—through every action, gaze, gesture, and word.“… do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor 6:19 ESV) If God doesn’t have the final say over what you do with your body, your hope of attaining resurrection is just wishful thinking. Please pay careful attention to what the Holy Spirit says here:

“The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” (1 Cor 6:13b-14 ESV)

In other words, if your body is for the Lord, the Lord is for your body. Why would He bother to raise a body that wasn’t consecrated to Him? What’s the point of leading a half-baked Christian life without yielding total control over oneself to the Lord? The Apostle Paul made this one of his greatest goals: “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” He wasn’t talking about earning his resurrection. Even when salvation is a gift of grace, one needs to repent, obey the Gospel, and stay in the lane of sanctification in order to receive glorification.

Samson, an Israelite Judge, was “separated unto God” from his motherʼs womb. He had to be a Nazirite to God until his death. Apart from keeping his hair uncut, he was prohibited from defiling himself with dead bodies and from drinking wine. His mother wasnʼt allowed to eat anything from the grapevine as long as she bore him! Samson was thus sanctified for God as per divine directions.

Samsonʼs was no ordinary separation or holiness. His Nazirite vow, in addition to being imposed on him by God, was for life. He wasnʼt allowed to opt out of the vow. To keep away from wine, he too had to keep away from everything that the vine produced. Such was the level of caution he was to exercise.

His superhuman physical strength was a result of his total dedication to God. He was Godʼs gift to the nation of Israel that had prayed for a redeemer. If Samson were to compromise his total dedication toward God, heʼd lose his miraculous strength.

Even so, young Samson had a deadly fascination for the very things that could pollute him. Once while traveling to a Philistine town with his parents, Samson decided to take a detour to go close to a vineyard – without his parentsʼ knowledge – probably to take a closer look at grapes, even if he wasnʼt allowed to eat the fruit. From near the vineyard, a lion pounced on him! By Godʼs mercy, he could kill the lion.

On a subsequent visit to that town, Samson wished to see what had happened to the lionʼs carcass. Curiosity got the better of him although, as a Nazirite, he knew he had to protect himself from defilement from a dead body.

Samson devised a way to take honey out of the very thing that was a source of ritual pollution. Honey was good. But honey in a lionʼs carcass? How could that be clean? But then, he didnʼt “touch” the carcass. He used a stick! He gave the honey to his parents but didnʼt tell them where it’d come from! Probably he knew they wouldn’t have approved of his ways. Actions that were questionable had to be shrouded in secrecy.

Thus began Samsonʼs long journey to utter destruction. Step by step, he moved away from his holy calling. The farther he got away from God, the less sensitive he became while violating his vows. The man who didn’t hesitate to eat honey from a carcass eventually grabbed a donkey’s jaw bone to strike his enemies down. He probably didn’t even give it a second thought before he picked up that fresh bone. What more? He was still going strong in his “ministry” of killing Philistines. He couldn’t care less about remaining consecrated to God. But finally, instead of being a celebrated warrior till his last day, he ended up being a blind slave in his enemyʼs prison, to be summoned as a comic before “uncircumcised” Philistines. The account of Samsonʼs fall is one of the saddest stories in the Bible.

Why were the stories of fallen heroes recorded in the Bible? St. Paul, while writing to the Corinthian Church about Israelʼs sins, explained why such events were recorded:

“These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall.” (1 Cor 10:11-12)

The Bible is replete with warnings about falling into sin. These were not written for the benefit of those living in sin but for those who claim to live in a relationship with God. No Christian is too strong to be felled by temptation. On the other hand, God never allows us to be tempted beyond what is commonly endured by the rest of humanity. He also provides a way of escape—that is, to those who wish to escape!“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13. ESV

The Lord Jesus himself was tempted in every way that the rest of humanity is tempted. Yet he remained “without” sin.“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15. ESV The phrase “without sin” conveys something more than mere absence of sin, as the Greek text indicates. χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας. χωρὶς is an adverb. According to Strong’s, “without association with sin, i.e., without yielding to sin, without becoming stained with it.” It indicates a separation from sin. Although Jesus was tempted in every way, He remained outside the domain of sin. He kept Himself away from sin unlike Samson who wanted to get closer to sources of pollution. Therefore, Jesus taught His disciples to pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation.’

There are Christians who seem to pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation; we will find our own temptations.’ They would rather flirt with unholy attractions in the world instead of maintaining a safe distance for the sake of Godʼs holy call on them. What excuses might they come up with? “The carcass might be unholy but there’s something in it thatʼs interesting or even useful. I know how to extract it without making myself unholy!” The filth that surrounds the supposedly “useful” stuff doesnʼt bother them. The secrecy in which they operate gives them a false sense of security. As a Christian, you can be certain that their secret pursuit of some questionable “honey” is capable of ruining their relationship with God.

Sadly, many Christians are swayed by the sinful world’s “liberal” opinions on sin. As a result, they dive into sin, reveling in the ways of the world. They claim to be “saved” but are lost in sin, with eyes and hearts full of adultery, greed, pride, rebellion; their bodies defiled by impurity and self-indulgence.

The Apostle Peter warned the early Church against false prophets and false teachers who were destined for destruction. He feared that “many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” (2 Peter 2:2) Peter went on to describe such carnal Christians:

And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!” (2 Peter 2:3, 13-14)

If Christians walk in sin, they might lead others to sin. Jesus didnʼt mince any words while warning his disciples against leading others to sin.

If anyone causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a huge millstone tied around his neck and to be thrown into the sea. Mark 9:42

And what about leading oneself to sin?

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off! It is better for you to enter into life crippled than to have two hands and go into hell, to the unquenchable fire. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off! It is better to enter life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out! It is better to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched. (Mark 9:43ff)

It is no accident that Jesus clubbed the eye, the hand, and the foot in the passage cited above. The foot, by the way, is a Jewish euphemism for one’s private parts. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus referred to the lustful eye and to one’s errant right hand that could lead a person to hell. Jesus insisted that it was better to go to heaven without “your right eye” or “your right hand.”“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” – Matthew 5:28-30 ESV

Obviously, Jesus wasnʼt advocating self-harm as an effective way to combat sin. Instead, he wanted his disciples to know that sin would lead them to hell; that they should spare no effort in their fight against sin. Eternal life is worth any sacrifice. Are we then to earn our salvation? A Christian cannot earn Godʼs forgiveness. We are forgiven and justified freely through faith in Jesus Christ. However, since we were declared as “righteous” for free, we have to live out a life of righteousness, resisting sin “to the point of shedding one’s blood.” “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” – Hebrews 12:4 NIV Godʼs “grace is not opposed to effort; it is opposed to earning.” - Dallas Willard

Jesus, Take This Heart Of Mine

Jesus, take this heart of mine;
Cleanse from sin and make it Thine.
Thou for me hast bled and died;
I to Thee my heart confide.

Jesus, take this heart of mine,
Make it ever, wholly Thine;
May I daily watch and pray:
Never from Thy path to stray.

Jesus, take these hands of mine;
Hold them in Thy power divine;
Safe am I when led by Thee,
I Thy child would ever be.

Jesus, take these feet of mine;
May they to Thy paths incline;
May I never from Thee stray;
Keep me faithful day by day.

Jesus, take this heart of mine;
May it with Thy glory shine;
I would live for Thee alone;
Make me, keep me, all Thine own.

— Ernest G. Wesley (1911)


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About the author

Philip Eapen, an environmental scientist by training, devoted his life to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ ever since he realized that the world needs Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything else. Apart from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Philip teaches Christians in order to equip them for service. He is supported by donations from readers. Philip is married to Dr. Jessimol and they are blessed with three sons and a daughter.

Date: May 2, 2020




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