'That they may receive remission of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith in me
.' -- Acts xxvi.18.
The more we study Scripture in the light of the Holy Spirit, or practise the Christian life in His power, the deeper becomes our conviction of the unique and central place faith has in God's plan of salvation. And we learn, too, to see that it is meet and right that it should be so: the very nature of things demands it. Because God is a Spiritual and Invisible Being, every revelation of Himself, whether in His works, His word, or His Son, calls for faith. Faith is the spiritual sense of the soul, being to it what the senses are to the body; by it alone we enter into communication and contact with God.
Faith is that meekness of soul which waits in stillness to hear, to understand, to accept what God says; to receive, to retain, to possess what God gives or works. By faith we allow, we welcome God Himself, the Living Person, to enter in to make His abode with us, to become our very life. However well we think we know it, we always have to learn the truth afresh, for a deeper and fuller application of it, that in the Christian life faith is the first thing, the one thing that pleases God, and brings blessing to us. And because Holiness is God's highest glory, and the highest blessing He has for us, it is especially in the life of holiness that we need to live by faith alone.
Our Lord speaks here of 'them that are sanctified by faith in me.' He Himself is our Sanctification as He is our Justification: for the one as for the other it is faith that God asks, and both are equally given at once. The participle used here is not the present, denoting a process or work that is being carried on, but the aorist, indicating an act done once for all. When we believe in Christ, we receive the whole Christ, our justification and our sanctification: we are at once accepted by God as righteous in Him, and as holy in Him. God counts and calls us, what we really are, sanctified ones in Christ. It is as we are led to see what God sees, as our faith grasps that the holy life of Christ is ours in actual possession, to be accepted and appropriated for daily use, that we shall really be able to live the life God calls us to, the life of holy ones in Christ Jesus. We shall then be in the right position in which what is called our progressive sanctification can be worked out. It will be, the acceptance and application in daily life of the power of a holy life which has been prepared in Jesus, which has in the union with Him become our present and permanent possession, and which works in us according to the measure of our faith.
From this point of view it is evident that faith has a twofold operation. Faith is the evidence of things not seen, though now actually existing, the substance of things hoped for, but not yet present. It deals with the unseen present, as well as with the unseen future. As the evidence of things not seen, it rejoices in Christ our complete sanctification, as a present possession. Through faith I simply look to what Christ is, as revealed in the Word by the Holy Spirit. Claiming all He is as my own, I know that His Holiness, His holy nature and life, are mine; I am a holy one: by faith in Him I have been sanctified. This is the first aspect of sanctification: it looks to what is a complete and finished thing, an absolute reality. As the substance of things hoped for, this faith reaches out in the assurance of hope to the future, to things I do not yet see or experience, and claims, day by day, out of Christ our sanctification, what it needs for practical holiness, 'to be holy in all manner of living.' This is the second aspect of sanctification: I depend upon Jesus to supply, in personal experience, gradually and unceasingly, for the need of each moment, what has been treasured up in His fulness. 'Of God are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us sanctification.' Under its first aspect faith says, I know I am in Him, and all His Holiness is mine; in its second aspect it speaks, I trust in Him for the grace and the strength I need each moment to live a holy life.
And yet, it need hardly be said, these two are one. It is one Jesus who is our sanctification, whether we look at it in the light of what He is made for us once for all, or what, as the fruit of that, He becomes to our experience day by day. And so it is one faith which, the more it studies and adores and rejoices in Jesus as made of God unto us sanctification, as Him in whom we have been sanctified, becomes the bolder to expect the fulfilment of every promise for daily life, and the stronger to claim the victory over every sin. Faith in Jesus is the secret of a holy life: all holy conduct, all really holy deeds, are the fruit of faith in Jesus as our holiness.
We know how faith acts, and what its great hindrances are, in the matter of justification. It is well that we remind ourselves that there are the same dangers in the exercise of sanctifying as of justifying faith. Faith in God stands opposed to trust in self: specially to its willing and working. Faith is hindered by every effort to do something ourselves. Faith looks to God working, and yields itself to His strength, as revealed in Christ through the Spirit; it allows God to work both to will and to do. Faith must work; without works it is dead, by works alone can it be perfected; in Jesus Christ, as Paul says, nothing avails but 'faith working by love.' But these works, which faith in God's working inspires and performs, are very different from the works in which a believer often puts forth his best efforts, only to find that he fails. The true life of holiness, the life of them who are sanctified in Christ, has its root and its strength in an abiding sense of utter impotence, in the deep restfulness which trusts to the working of a Divine power and life, in the entire personal surrender to the loving Saviour, in that faith which consents to be nothing, that He may be all. It may appear impossible to discern or describe the difference between the working that is of self and the working that is of Christ through faith: if we but know that there is such a difference, if we learn to distrust ourselves, and to count on Christ working, the Holy Spirit will lead us into this secret of the Lord too. Faith's works are Christ's works.
And as by effort, so faith is also hindered by the desire to see and feel. 'If thou believest, thou shalt see;' the Holy Spirit will seal our faith with a Divine experience; we shall see the glory of God. But this is His work: ours is, when all appears dark and cold, in the face of all that nature or experience testifies, still each moment to believe in Jesus as our all-sufficient sanctification, in whom we are perfected before God. Complaints as to want of feeling, as to weakness or deadness, seldom profit: it is the soul that refuses to occupy itself with itself, either with its own weakness or the strength of the enemy, but only looks to what Jesus is, and has promised to do, to whom progress in holiness will be a joyful march from victory to victory. 'The Lord Himself doth fight for you;' this thought, so often repeated in connection with Israel's possession of the promised land, is the food of faith: in conscious weakness, in presence of mighty enemies, it sings the conqueror's song. When God appears to be not doing what we trusted Him for, then is just the time for faith to glory in Him.
There is perhaps nothing that more reveals the true character of faith than joy and praise. You give a child the promise of a present to-morrow: at once it says, Thank you, and is glad. The joyful thanks are the proof of how really your promise has entered the heart. You are told by a friend of a rich legacy he has left you in his will: it may not come true for years, but even now it makes you glad. We have already seen what an element of holiness joy is: it is especially an element of holiness by faith. Each time I really see how beautiful and how perfect God's provision is, by which my holiness is in Jesus, and by which I am to allow Him to work in me, my heart ought to rise up in praise and thanks. Instead of allowing the thought that it is, after all, a life of such difficult attainment and such continual self-denial, this life of holiness through faith, we ought to praise Him exceedingly that He has made it possible and sure for us: we can be holy, because Jesus the Mighty and the Loving One is our holiness. Praise will express our faith; praise will prove it; praise will strengthen it. 'Then believed they His words; they sang His praise.' Praise will commit us to faith: we shall see that we have but one thing to do, to go on in a faith that ever trusts and ever praises. It is in a living, loving attachment to Jesus, that rejoices in Him, and praises Him continually for what He is to us, that faith proves itself, and receives the power of holiness.
'Sanctified by faith in me.' Yes, 'by faith in Me:' it is the personal living Jesus who offers Himself, Himself in all the riches of His Power and Love, as the object, the strength, the life of our faith. He tells us that if we would be holy, always and in everything holy, we must just see to one thing: to be always and altogether full of faith in Him. Faith is the eye of the soul: the power by which we discern the presence of the Unseen One, as He comes to give Himself to us. Faith not only sees, but appropriates and assimilates: let us set our souls very still for the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, to quicken and strengthen that faith, for which He has been given us. Faith is surrender: yielding ourselves to Jesus to allow Him to do His work in us, giving up ourselves to Him to live out His life and work out His will in us, we shall find Him giving Himself entirely to us, and taking complete possession. So faith will be power: the power of obedience to do God's will: 'our most holy faith,' 'the faith delivered to the holy ones.' And we shall understand how simple, to the single-hearted, is the secret of holiness: just Jesus. We are in Him, our Sanctification: He personally is our Holiness; and the life of faith in Him, that receives and possesses Him, must necessarily be a life of holiness. Jesus says, 'Sanctified by faith in me.'
BE YE HOLY, AS I AM HOLY.
Beloved Lord! again have I seen, with adoring wonder, what Thou art willing to be to me. It is in Thyself, and a life of living fellowship with Thyself, that I am to become holy. It is in the simple life of personal attachment, of trust and love, of surrender and consecration, that Thou dost become my all, and make me partaker of Thyself and Thy Holiness.
Blessed Lord Jesus! I do believe in Thee, help Thou mine unbelief. I confess what still remains of unbelief, and count on Thy presence to conquer and cast it out. My soul is opening up continually to see more how Thou Thyself art my Life and my Holiness. Thou art enlarging my heart to rejoice in Thyself as my all, and to be assured that Thou dost Thyself take possession and fill the temple of my being with Thy glory. Thou art teaching me to understand that, however feeble and human and disappointing experiences may be, Thy Holy Spirit is the strength of my faith, leading me on to grow up into a stronger and a larger confidence in Thee in whom I am holy. O my Saviour! I take Thy word this day, 'Sanctified by faith in me,' as a new revelation of Thy love and its purpose with me. In Thee Thyself is the Power of my holiness; in Thee is the Power of my faith. Blessed be Thy name that Thou hast given me too a place among them of whom Thou speakest: 'Sanctified by faith in me.' Amen.
1. Let us remember that it is not only the faith that is dealing specially with Christ for sanctification, but all living faith, that has the power to sanctify. Anything that casts the soul wholly on Jesus, that calls forth intense and simple trust, be it the trial of faith, or the prayer of faith, or the work of faith, helps to make us holy, because it brings us into living contact with the Holy One.
2. It is only through the Holy Spirit that Christ and His Holiness are day by day revealed and made ours in actual possession. And so the faith which receives Him is of the Spirit too. Yield yourself in simplicity and trust to His working. Do not be afraid, as if you cannot believe: you have 'the Spirit of faith' within you: you have the power to believe. And you may ask God to strengthen you mightily by His Spirit in the inner man, for the faith that receives Christ in the indwelling that knows no break.
3. I have only so much of faith as I have of the Spirit. Is not this then what I most need -- to live entirely under the influence of the Spirit?
4. Just as the eye in seeing is receptive, and yields to let the object placed before it make its impression, so faith is the impression God makes on the soul when He draws nigh. Was not the faith of Abraham the fruit of God's drawing near and speaking to him, the impression God made on him? Let us be still to gaze on the Divine mystery of Christ our holiness: His Presence, waited for and worshipped, will work the faith. That is, the Spirit that proceeds from Him into those who cling to Him, will be faith.
5. Holiness by faith in Jesus, not by effort of thine own, Sin's dominion crushed and broken by the power of grace alone, -- God's own holiness within thee, His own beauty on thy brow, -- This shall be thy pilgrim brightness, this thy blessed portion now.
F. R. H.
The best commentators connect the expression, 'by faith in me,' not with the word 'sanctified,' but with the whole clause, 'that by faith in me they may receive.' This will, however, in no way affect the application to the word sanctified. Thus read, the text tells us that the remission of sin, and the inheritance, and the sanctification which qualifies for the inheritance, are all received by faith.
See Note E.