The Cure for Carnality
When I was growing up, our family lived on a farm in Roseburg, Oregon, and on our property, we had what my dad called Canadian Thistles. These thistles were of a different variety than the weeds my brothers and I could easily hoe out by the root and get rid of before they went to seed. The Canadian Thistle is an aggressive perennial with a vigorous, underground root system that can extend unseen for several feet. It spreads relentlessly! Even if my brothers and I dug out the plants below the surface, before long the shoots of a new crop of thistles would emerge, sometimes several feet away from the area where we first spotted them. What a picture of how the carnal nature yields a “crop” of sins even when a determined effort is made to control it!
When the prophet Jeremiah declared, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,” (Jeremiah 17:9), he was speaking of that internal bias toward sin. While we were sinners, the carnal nature manifested itself in the form of rebellion, disobedience, lust, and other thoughts or actions that were displeasing to God. We would have been held accountable for those committed sins on the Day of Judgment had we not repented of them and obtained pardon. When we turned from our sins and sought God’s mercy, His Spirit witnessed to our hearts that we were forgiven. What joy filled our hearts when we became children of God! With that born again experience, a Christian life began.
However, the underlying bias toward sin—the carnal nature—still existed after we were saved.
What is the carnal nature?
We learn in the first chapters of Genesis that though Adam and Eve were created with a pure bias or inclination, they also had a free will. They chose to do wrong, and that choice plunged all humanity into a depraved condition. After the fall of man, every person has been born with a tendency toward sin, referred to as the “carnal nature,” the “Adamic nature,” or the “sin nature.” Protestant religions acknowledge the fall of Adam and refer to our foreparents’ disobedience as the “original sin.” They recognize the presence and power of carnality. One cannot deny that the nature of sin exists, because evidence of it is everywhere in the world around us.
The Bible also makes it clear that as well as being born with a sinful nature, every individual eventually chooses to sin. Selfishness is part of a child’s disposition long before he develops an ability to reason or differentiate between right and wrong. Then, when reason is developed, he ultimately makes the same choice that Adam and Eve made—deliberate disobedience.
It is impossible to conquer the carnal nature in our own strength. Fighting against that internal bias toward sin is like a man struggling to extricate himself from quicksand. He had no intention or desire to become mired in it, but he is trapped, and the more he struggles to free himself, the deeper he sinks. The power of the quicksand is stronger than he is, so his only means of escape must come from outside himself.
The human family is trapped by the nature of sin with which we were born. It takes God to extricate us—He provides the only remedy for carnality. He alone has the power not only to forgive our past wrongdoings at salvation, but also to free us from the very nature of sin residing within. That experience takes place when a justified individual is sanctified.
The remedy for carnality: sanctification
The farmer down the road from our family farm in Roseburg introduced us to a remedy for the Canadian Thistle problem: an herbicide referred to as 2, 4-D. When sprayed on the thistles, that solution permeates the root system and permanently eradicates the weed. However, no herbicide will remove the carnal nature. No amount of human effort will suffice. The remedy is the Blood of Jesus, and it is applied to our hearts when we experience sanctification.
Sanctification completes what justification began. When we pray through to salvation, we receive the assurance that our committed sins have been forgiven and will not be held against us any longer. Justification changes outward behavior; we read in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that old things pass away and all things become new.
What Sanctify Means
The word sanctify, along with the words translated saint, holy, and hallowed, is derived from the Greek word hagios, which means “holy.” For this reason, the experience of sanctification is also sometimes referred to as “holiness.” The verb sanctify has three basic meanings: “to make holy or purify,” “to consecrate or to separate from ungodliness and dedicate to God,” and finally, “to hallow.” A study of these words reveals that the experience of sanctification is the purification of the heart of a person—a dedication to God and an eradication of the sin nature. A holy and sanctified person, then, is one who has been consecrated or set apart to serve God and is cleansed from his old sin nature.
Sanctification is a second, instantaneous, and definite work of grace which brings about a change deep within—a change that deals with the nature of sin from which the acts of sin spring. When we experience sanctification, the carnal nature no longer dominates us because it has been eradicated.
It is not our fault we were born in sin and possess a sin nature; we are not responsible for that. However, we are responsible for taking advantage of the remedy God offers through sanctification.
The Bible is full of admonition exhorting Christians to sanctification. An example is found in John 17:17, where we read Jesus’ prayer for His disciples to be sanctified. After establishing that His followers were not of the world, “even as I am not of the world,” Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”
Often in Scripture the words sanctified and holy are synonymous; they can be exchanged. In the Book of 1 Peter, we find the command: “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). It is God’s will for His followers to be sanctified.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:3, the Apostle Paul told the believers at Thessalonica, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification….” In verse 7, he went on to say, “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” At the close of his epistle, he prayed the Thessalonians would receive that experience, saying, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.”
The meaning of the word wholly in that verse is “entirely,” and that is why the experience of sanctification is sometimes referred to as “entire sanctification.” There is no implication that God would sanctify the Thessalonian believers part way and then more as they went along. The experience of sanctification is entire; it is complete. We do not grow into the experience of entire sanctification. We must experience that purifying flame for the carnal nature to be eradicated.
However, there is still a necessity for spiritual growth after we have been sanctified.
The purpose of sanctification
To understand how and when spiritual growth occurs, it is helpful to know what the experience of sanctification does and does not do in our lives. Sanctification cleanses within and provides us with perfect hearts—we no longer struggle against uprisings of the carnal nature because carnality has been eliminated. As sanctified individuals, we have dedicated ourselves entirely to God, so we have a deep longing for purity in spirit, soul, and body, and gladly turn away from anything that would contaminate. Holiness within also motivates a desire to always do what is right.
However, we are still human. While the nature of sin has been removed, the experience of sanctification does not result in absolute perfection in the same sense that God is absolutely perfect. Neither does sanctification restore us to the state of created innocence that Adam had prior to the Fall even when we have been saved and sanctified. The experience of sanctification does not remove the limitations and frailties that accompany humanity; we are made morally perfect, not mentally, physically, or emotionally perfect.
A lack of proper information or poor judgment may cause sanctified believers to make less than perfect decisions at times. We may occasionally exhibit a degree of impatience, perhaps resulting from a lack of proper rest, accumulated stress, or illness. If sanctification made people perfect in the absolute sense, we would never change our minds, combat secular thoughts during Sunday morning worship services, or need to apologize. We would never feel frustrated when a slow driver makes us late for an appointment. We would never overreact to our teenagers’ illogical excuses or their consistently cluttered rooms.
Sanctification will temper our personalities; however, if we were introverts before we were sanctified, we likely will still be introverts after we experience sanctification. If we were extroverts before, we will still be extroverts afterward. Our old carnal nature is eradicated but our personality is not.
Sanctification withstands temptation, though it does not eliminate the possibility of being tempted. Adam was created in a pure moral state, but he still was subject to temptation. He had the power to turn from what he knew was right; tragically, he did so and chose to do evil. Similarly, as sanctified people, we can still choose to reject what we know is right and go back into sin. Sanctification does not negate the possibility of backsliding, but eradication of the carnal nature eliminates the inward inclination to sin.
How to Receive Sanctification
The way in which a person approaches God for sanctification is quite different from the approach for salvation. When a person comes to God for salvation, he comes knowing that he is a sinner. There are sinful deeds in his life that separate him from God, and he feels deep remorse about them. He comes to God in repentance and asks for mercy and forgiveness. His purpose is to turn away entirely from anything displeasing to God. In response, the Lord forgives his sins, floods his heart with peace, and gives him a completely new life.
When that individual comes to God to be sanctified, he does not come with repentance for committed sins. Instead, he comes with a recognition of needing something more—a deliverance from the inbred sin nature. He hungers for the ability to fully conform to the image and nature of Christ, so he comes consecrating, presenting his life in total submission as a living sacrifice to God. That is his part—to yield or separate himself to God. As he looks to God in simple faith, believing Him for this experience, God will do His part by purifying his heart and making it holy.
A person knows when he has received the experience of sanctification, just as surely as he knew when he was saved, even if he does not know what to call it at the time. The divine love of God floods his heart. The bias or inclination to sin is gone, and a deeper peace, rest, and joy comes into his soul. The Spirit of God witnesses with his spirit that his heart has been cleansed.
Growing spiritually after sanctification
The challenges of daily living will offer many opportunities for Christian growth to occur after we are sanctified. Trials of life come, and we will want to receive instruction from God regarding how to handle them. We will listen and obey when that instruction comes, and as we do, we will continue to develop in spiritual maturity.
Jesus told His hearers, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Our primary desire in life should be for every thought, word, and action to be pleasing to God. That deeply rooted purpose to honor God in every part of our lives describes a perfect heart.
Proof that this state of perfection exists is found in how we respond when we have fallen short of the behavior God desires in our lives: we go to our knees asking Him to help us deal with future similar situations in a manner more acceptable to Him.
This is not to suggest that God allows us to excuse, rationalize, or ignore sinful behavior. Sins are deliberate transgressions of what we know to be God’s will for our lives, and sin requires repentance. However, mistakes of judgment, errors made through ignorance, or lapses through human frailty are not sin, provided they spring from a heart motivated by love. God knows the difference between what is motivated by love and what is motivated by compromise or defiance, and He will make that clear to us as we seek His help.
Justification and sanctification establish a condition where we desire to correct shortcomings. Paul exhorted the believers at Corinth, “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). A victorious life is not proved by an absence of human flaws or weaknesses, but the fact that we have the power and grace to take steps to correct any behavior that falls short of what God desires from us. We have a sensitivity that motivates us, for example, to offer an apology when one is due—or even when there is a remote chance that one is due! The victory is in our willingness to admit fault. In our desire to please God, we will freely confess our deficiencies to Him and to our fellowman as needed. That spirit of sensitivity is Christian perfection at work.
Take this opportunity to examine your relationship with God. Have you experienced salvation from your sins? Have you sought and received the experience of entire sanctification that deals with the carnal nature? Do you have a deep desire to honor God in every aspect of your life? Are you willing to seek His help in any area where you have not fully measured up?
This Gospel way is a way of holiness. We want others to be able to look at our lives and see that where we go, what we say, and how we conduct ourselves is above reproach. By the help and grace of God, that can be our testimony!