In the last issue of this Co-Laborer series, we explored the necessary link between an eternal hope and the need for sanctification. Before continuing with the rest of the history of eternal hope, we will give thought to what is involved in sanctification.
In May we noted that individual commands in both Testaments do not express the essence of God’s nature and need not be followed by any but those to whom they were given – e.g.: Abraham offers Isaac as a sacrifice, Joseph takes Jesus to Egypt. Most commands in both Testaments are not addressed by conscience or reason – e.g.: touching a corpse is a sin requiring sacrifice, women not having authority over men, not bringing litigation against a fellow-believer. Quite the contrary; a case can be made that they violate reason and, thus, our conscience as well. Many commands appear in one Testament but not another – e.g.: divorce, drunkenness, head covering, bastards not attending the congregation of the Lord.
You can argue that a distinction exists between His character and His will when applied to general commands; most believers probably do. Although I do not agree, I do not disapprove either. Scripture is too unclear to be dogmatic. If you say a difference between His character and His will exists in these matters, then how do you make the determination between them? Divorce? bastards in the congregation? drunkenness? At this point you turn to reason and conscience – which, I suggest, will lead you where you do not want to go.
Sanctification in the Old and New Testaments
We find in the Old Testament three types of sin:
1 – The violation of God’s moral code, for which there existed no sacrifice, resulting in death.
2 – Sins committed by the individuals, of which the nation as a whole was unaware, and for which the priest made sacrifice once a year at Yom Kippur (cf. Leviticus 16). We looked at this in the third issue of Eternal Hope. Please note, by way of review:
“In order to understand Yom Kippur, it is necessary to divorce it from New Testament concepts of sin and grace. For example, in the Old Testament God linked illness and disease to sinfulness. Diseases such as leprosy were included under God’s broad category of impurity. Leviticus 14 (cf., esp. v. 7) instructs the priest to take a bird and offer it as expiation for the individual’s uncleanness, while setting another bird free, to communicate the idea of riddance. The scapegoat was also set free, and in bearing the sins of the nation it played a central role in the ritual of Yom Kippur.”  As Hebrews 9 (cf., esp. v. 7) reminds us, Yom Kippur could not atone for willful sins committed by an individual, only sins committed in ignorance; it was a national rather than an individual expiation: “… Yom Kippur became the major occasion for communal penitence.” 
“By way of illustration, let’s say that on the Day of Atonement recorded in Leviticus 16, ten people from among the tribes sinned without being exposed. Two of the ten committed adultery, one stole from his neighbor, etc. The nation, ignorant of these sins, offers Yom Kippur in order to assure God’s continued presence with Israel. Although Israel had sinned, the nation’s guilt was expunged by the sacrifice simply because the nation had no way of determining the individual guilt of the law-breakers. If, after Yom Kippur, one who committed such a crime was discovered, he still had to be either expelled from the community or put to death.
“When the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies with the blood of a bull, he sprinkled the blood on the Mercy Seat for his own sins committed in ignorance. If he had committed willful sin, he could not have functioned as High Priest. If he was aware of the sins committed in ignorance – i.e., he became impure and learned after the fact that he had done it – he would have offered the appropriate sacrifice at the time. Thus, this sacrifice in the Holy of Holies deals with those sins committed unintentionally and without awareness. Because God ties impurity with sin, the priest would not be acceptable to God without this sacrifice of purification at the beginning of the Yom Kippur ritual.”
3 – Unintentional sins, which could be expiated by the sacrifice of an animal.
In the Old Testament economy, God clearly states that He did not provide sacrifice for intentional sin: “But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. ‘Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be on him.’” He did establish sacrifices for sins the people could not control – such as the uncleanness of a woman after she had a baby, touching a corpse, or unintentionally eating unclean food: “Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: If a woman be delivered, and bear a man-child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of the impurity of her sickness shall she be unclean… And when the days of her purification are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt-offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtle-dove, for a sin-offering, unto the door of the tent of meeting, unto the priest.”
Israel viewed sanctification as the necessary means by which she could ensure God’s presence corporately. God assured His people that through the sacrificial system He imputed sanctification to them. However, God’s refusal in the Old Testament to record a promise to the individual granting eternal life seems to indicate that God did not intend Israel’s corporate sanctification to transcend temporal goals and objectives. I can find no compelling reason to conclude that Yahweh’s Old Testament followers thought in terms of individual sanctification.
By way of illustration, note the interaction between Jesus and Peter: “And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” Obviously, Peter did not see Jesus as the one making it possible to go to heaven; he saw Him, like the rest of Israel, as the conquering King. Jesus never accused the disciples of sinning, and therefore they had no reason to believe they needed individual sanctification. Messiah came to earth; His people did not go with Him to heaven.
In the New Testament, God intends sanctification to prepare His people for an eternity with Him. Unlike the Old Testament paradigm, we go to Him; He does not come to us. He imputes to the believer sanctification, rendering sacrifice unnecessary, while allowing the Holy Spirit to reside in His people. We see this illustrated by Paul addressing 1Corinthians to “the saints in Corinth,” followed by 16 chapters rebuking the Corinthians for ungodly behavior.
We can only conjecture how this life prepares the believer for eternity. Note that God clearly teaches that the believer’s behavior in this life appreciably influences the quality of His eternity with God. Not only so, we cannot imagine a meaningful relation with another person without the involvement of the will. In eternity, will you find yourself meeting the will of God and not wanting to do it? (Jesus did in Gethsemane.) If so, you are best served spending this life schooling yourself in being His obedient slave.
With all commandments, God tests His people, and with the general commandments calls to their attention what He considers intrinsically evil. The violation of every command in Scripture, like the choice facing Adam and Eve in the Garden, is both failing a test and committing an intrinsically evil act. As in the Old Testament, God declared those committing sins of ignorance holy, after they offered a sacrifice, so also in the New Testament God declares us holy by imputed sanctification.
Just as in the Old Testament God did not address issues like drunkenness, hatred, and lusting after a woman, so in the New Testament He does not address issues like touching a corpse, eating of various foods, and laws of cleanliness. Paul, in Romans 11, notes that God did not demand compliance with the Old Testament Law because it would be a barrier to Gentiles coming to Christ. The New Covenant, exposited in Hebrews 8, includes the Law, and God will enforce it during the millennial reign of Christ.
It may be that all the commandments contained in Scripture are “just the tip of the iceberg.” When we arrive in glory, we may find a host of other commands reflecting the nature of God. Just as you should consider evil the violation of New Testament commands, so also, whatever commands await us in glory He will consider them sin if they are transgressed. However, just as God did not hold the Old Testament saints responsible for many of the commands mentioned by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount, and just as God does not hold the New Testament saints responsible for many Old Testament commands, so also, He currently does not hold people responsible for obeying laws that He may reveal in heaven. His imputation of sanctification makes it possible for us to fellowship with Him.
Obeying God’s commands does not make a person legalistic, but rather the opposite. When you major on a life of obedience to God’s commands, you will find yourself tolerant, even when you disapprove of those things not proscribed by Scripture. By way of contrast, when people do not consider violation of God’s commands intrinsically evil, they not only ignore those commands not affirmed by conscience and reason, but they also tend to make non-essentials normative in the lives of others.
Progress in Regression
Paul argues in Romans 1:18-32 that the natural flow of religion begins with God and ends with moral degradation. Idolatry, an irrational worldview, flows from man’s insatiable desire for autonomy, which in turn drives man to seek a perpetual state of happiness. Post-modernity leads religion in a quest for this perpetual state of happiness found in autonomy.
Once a person begins this descent described by Paul in Romans, nothing can turn him back but Divine intervention, known as regeneration. Those on the path to moral degradation have neither the desire nor the power to change. The quest for happiness becomes a right, which, when not experienced, breeds anger and even greater degradation, so that eventually the unnatural becomes natural. Idolatry and the quest for happiness cohabit; they are two sides of the same coin.
As the Roman Empire slipped from its former greatness, reflected in its republican form of government giving way to dictatorship, the great minds of the republic saw that man left to himself moved ever more deeply into decadence and degeneration – and the gods were of no help. The Apostle Paul starts here, giving the Christian philosophy of history: God alone can help, and He must take the initiative. The moral bankruptcy of man is such that he cannot find an exit from this abyss.
For this reason, sanctification can never originate with the will of man. For example, when Paul says, “…receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet,” he may be saying that homosexuals are locked into the perception of who they see themselves to be. When David confessed to murder and adultery, he confessed to what he did, not who he was. So too with most sins. However, homosexuality is different today in that such people view it as not what they do, but who they are.
At this point you may be asking, “So what? What difference does this make?” I suggest four fundamental reasons why it is important:
1 – Failure to understand that in the Old Testament God did not record His giving the individual an eternal hope can easily lead you to conclude that He sanctifies His people the same way in both Testaments. This means that the Mosaic Law continues in the New Testament, and you are faced with the application of commandments such as, “A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD.” Does this mean that if your great, great grandfather was a bastard, you cannot go to church?
2 – You may conclude that because many Old and New Testament commands differ from one another, such commands do not reflect the nature and character of God, and therefore conscience and reason determine whether you should obey them. Such reasoning can easily lead you to disobedience. Once again, note that when you accept the premise that some commands reveal His will but not His character, you naturally use the template of reason and conscience on New Testament commands, and on that basis apply or ignore them. Most New Testament general commands are not addressed by conscience. Those believers neglecting New Testament commands do so reasoning that they represent the culture of those times, and not their own culture.
3 – I suggest that in your quest for sanctification, you should understand what God expects of you. For example, some argue that sin must involve the will; if you behave poorly in reaction to something, and you do not involve your will, you cannot call it sin. Others argue that with grace, obligation to keep the commandments does not have a place in sanctification; your sense of obligation is legalism. What did Paul have in mind when he told Timothy that he was “the chief of sinners?” Do you consider yourself, like Paul, the “chief of sinners?” If so, why? If not, why not?
4 – Understanding the ways of God constitutes one of the fundamental reasons for studying Scripture. “As a man thinks, so is he.” Thinking biblically helps you become godly.
Rejoicing in who He is,
 I am unable to reconcile Leviticus 6 with Numbers 15:30-31.
 Cf. Leviticus 16:20-22
 Op Cit. Levine, Baruch, The JPS Torah Commentary on Leviticus, page 235. Although I know of no specific reference in Leviticus 16 to the effect that this sacrifice dealt with national, rather than individual, sins, Jewish scholars like Levine understand this to be the case.
 Numbers 15:30-31, NAS
 Leviticus 12:2, 6, KJV
 Passages such as Psalm 119:9-11 may point to the individual seeking sanctification, but it may also be that such people wanted to obey God to avoid temporal consequences for sinning. I cannot be certain.
 Mark 8:31-33, KJV
 I define legalism as adding to the commandments of God and/or believing that your good works contribute to your going to heaven.
 By way of illustration, a person believes that the prohibitions regarding women in ministry are cultural, while also believing that gambling is sin.
 Cf. Ephesians 2:1
 Romans 1:27, KJV
 Deuteronomy 23:2, KJV
 1Timothy 1:15
 Proverbs 23:7