Sanctification is a term often used in religion speak, but often we can speak past one another because of how we define it. Not an everyday word, sanctification means different things to different people. Most commonly either we mean to be set apart for special purposes or the improving or purifying of one’s Godliness. Thomas Boston would recommend a synonym that exemplifies both meanings, “washing.” In his sermon series on John 8, Boston teaches that the mystery of sanctification is dependant on being washed by Christ.
If you are a child of God, your promised sanctification is multi-tensed. It has already happened, is happening, and will happen. In fact Boston calls it “the threefold washing of sinners.” No matter your level of understanding or maturity in the Faith, you can relate with the concept of washing. In the narrative of John 8, Christ uses the symbolic foot washing event to help Peter and the others understand their sanctification. Though there will always be a mysterious aspect to our understanding, Boston wanted us to understand that being sanctified is dependent upon being washed by Christ.
The message that Christ was trying to pass on to Peter had all to do with this cleansing by justification and the continued preserving of his soul. Peter had already been cleansed by the washing of regeneration. Paul, in his letter to Titus explains, “He saved us by the washing of rebirth(regeneration).” (Titus 3:5) Peter, not understanding, desired that not only his feet, but also his hands and head be washed. Christ denied him by saying that a man who has had a bath need only wash his feet. We are first washed by the sanctifying power of God when we are adopted as his children.
Progressive sanctification will continue all the days of our earthly life. As symbolized by Christ’s washing of the disciple’s feet, we are to understand that there will be a continuous presence of God the Holy Spirit ever working to keep us clean. The renewing affect of conversion will be at work in us until we are glorified in Heaven. Continued defilement due to our remaining sin must be removed from our soul. A man made clean will still collect filth as he walks along the dusty paths of life. We must understand, as followers of Christ, that in no way may we wash ourselves. Christ made clear to the disciples that only he can cleanse them. We have a tendency to work toward improving our holiness. We try to do better, to live cleaner, less sinful lives. Also we tend to judge our success in this endeavor as a measure of sanctification. More often than not we frustrate ourselves. There is no merit in religious acts that can remove our stains. Quoting Boston, “The doings and sufferings of saints are as free from merit as those of sinners.” Don’t suffer yourself to measure your sanctification on your successes in washing yourself.
Finally, there is the final sanctification. On the Day of Judgement we will be washed permanently. When Christ sets his elect apart from the rest of mankind, the declaration of the Kingdom of Heaven, we shall appear pristine. There will be no more cause for washing of feet nor of soul. Our journey fraught with corruption will be ceased. No longer will the grime of our sin cling to us.
If you are a believer and follower of Christ you must always recollect the mystery of sanctification and its threefold nature. No part should stand out more than the others. If you focus more on one than the others you will be unfit for the feast. Your living out your faith will be unbalanced and your walk will be aimless. The strength of a threefold sanctification will hold you firm in the most violent tempest of your journey.