18. What is sanctification?

Sanctification is the act of setting something apart for the purpose of purification and righteousness. Believers set themselves apart from worldly pleasures to be wholly devoted to God, and in submission to God receive God’s righteousness by His grace. God’s grace is not only God’s unmerited favour to forgive us of our sins, but it is also His enabling power to overcome the power of sin. Mankind is unclean through sin. God offers us cleansing from sin through the blood of the sacrifice of His own Son Jesus Christ making sanctification (cleansing from sin) possible for mankind. It is impossible for us to make ourselves clean, pure or holy. The apostle Paul taught us in Romans 6 that we all have a sinful nature as a result of our disobedience and the curse of sin has been inherited through our first ancestor Adam. This sinful nature is at war in us to try to make us sin and keep on sinning. He instructs us in Romans 6 verses 12-14; ‘Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. Use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead you live under the freedom of God’s grace.’

The Qur’an does not appear to refer to sanctification, as the process by which we are cleansed, set free from the power of sin, and given the righteousness and power of God. However, the Qur’an has a lot to say about repentance and how to repent which is the first essential step towards sanctification. Feelings of remorse and guilt are natural reflections of sinning, if the person who has sinned has a conscience which is active. After committing a sin, a person who fears Allâh and gives high respect to Him would feel a sense of despondency and despair, thinking, ‘How will God forgive me for this sin?’ However, it is noteworthy that despairing of God’s mercy is in itself one of the major sins in Islâm, for God is ever merciful, ever forgiving. In the Qur’an it states: ‘Do not despair of God’s mercy; He will forgive you of all your sins’, (Surah 39:53). In another verse, Allâh says: ‘And He wishes to forgive you’ (Surah 4:146). Islâm understands the temptations that come in the way of every one of us, and which most of us fall for. It is only through repentance that one can wipe out those sins and past misdeeds and gradually get freed from the clutches of the ego. Repentance is the most noble and beloved form of obedience in the eyes of Allâh the Almighty. He loves those who repent. Repentance has a status that no other form of worship has. This is why Allâh is extremely happy when a servant repents just as a traveller is happy when he finds his lost camel in the desert. Feeling Allâh’s satisfaction has its great impact on the heart of the one repenting. Hence, the repenting person reaches the status of being amongst the beloved through his repentance. Moreover, repentance brings about humility and a sense of helplessness to the only Creator, Allâh, and that is not easily acquired through other forms of worship. Allâh says in the Qur’an: ‘Except those who repent, have faith and good deeds, those Allâh will charge their sins for good deeds. Certainly Allâh is most forgiving and merciful.’ (Surah 25:70). This is the greatest glad tiding for those who repent and combine their repentance with deep faith and good deeds. Repentance breeds good deeds, whilst sinning (without repentance) can cause deprivation of obedience altogether. It has been said that committing sins regularly will darken and harden the heart and make purifying it once again a difficult mission. It may even lead a person to reject Allâh completely (Allâh forbid) or lead him to commit a bigger sin. There is no recourse for a sinner except to ask Allâh for forgiveness and to feel great regret for his actions. Repentance is to repent from the heart, to train the heart into obedience, and to make a firm resolution never to commit the sin again.

So how can a Muslim repent? For repentance to be accepted by Allâh, one should go through these four stages:

1- Stop the sin

2- Regret deeply and truly the sin you committed

3- Return to Allâh for forgiveness

4- Have a strong intention never to return to that same sin again

What would help in fulfilling the above four stages? The repenting person should remember three facts:

1. The grave consequences of sin

2. The painful punishment for sins

3. How weak a person is when committing such sin

Abu Bakr Al Siddiq, narrated: ‘I heard Prophet of Islâm, Mohammad saying: ‘There isn’t a man who, when he commits a sin, rises, makes ablution, and offers two rak’as of prayers, but Allâh forgives his sins.’ Allâh says in the Qur’an: ‘Those (are the true believers) who, when they commit an evil deed, or wrong their souls, remember Allâh, and seek forgiveness for their sins – and who but Allâh forgives sins? They do not insist upon the sins they have committed, and they know (that Allâh is forgiving).’ (Surah 3:135).

In the Bible it states in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 verses 27 – 30 ‘but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God. But by His doing (His grace), you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us the wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.’ The teaching of the Bible is that none are righteous. Only when we repent of our sin and receive Christ into our lives is God’s righteousness imparted into us by His Holy Spirit’s power so we can be sanctified (cleansed) by His grace. This means that no one can boast before the Lord. No one is righteous by their own ability or works or strength. It is only possible to be sanctified by God’s unmerited favour and mercy, and His enabling power. The power of God helps a repentant sinner to overcome the temptation to keep on sinning.

The Apostle Paul explained the struggle we all experience in these great words in Romans 7 verses 21-25 and 8 verses 1-6: ‘I have discovered this principle in life – that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is! In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.’

From the time we are born again into the Kingdom of God, the Holy Spirit works in our life to sanctify our life for God’s purposes. Every act that we do and experience after salvation draws us closer to God, and makes us more Christlike. It is part of the work of sanctification in our life. For us to experience sanctification, we need to yield to the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives so that through the blood of Jesus Christ we can be purged of every evil work and equipped for the Master’s use, and prepared for every good work of service’ (2 Timothy 2:21; Romans 15:16).