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  • Writer's pictureVicar Matt Doebler

Matins Devotion: January 17, 2023

Luther, in his explanation to the third article of the Creed describes the work of the Holy Spirit in these terms: the Spirit calls us by the gospel, He enlightens us with His gifts, and that He sanctifies and keeps us in the one true faith. And it's that work of sanctification that Paul is mainly describing here in Romans 8.

Now what is sanctification? Well, the word sanctify comes from a Greek word which means to make holy or to set apart. In fact, this idea of being set apart is at the root of what it means to be a saint. Whenever you read the New Testament and you run across the word saint, it’s just a translation of the Greek word for holy. God’s saints are God’s holy ones—those whom God has chosen out of the world and set apart as his own. In the broad sense, sanctification is everything connected to God’s saving and redeeming work through Christ.

But in a narrow sense, we talk of sanctification as the process that describes the Christian’s life in the Spirit. A process that begins at our baptism when God gives us his name when he sets us apart at the font—when God declares us to be righteous and gives us his Spirit—that same Spirit that Paul says now dwells within us. In the narrow sense, sanctification is the process of becoming who God has already declared us to be. The process of reflecting that reality.

Now one of the ways in which the Spirit sanctifies us is by shaping our mind—by bringing us into conformity with the mind of Christ. That's what Paul is getting at here in the middle of this passage:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (8:5-6)

You see, setting your mind on the Spirit is not simply changing your mind. It’s a transformation of worldview and identity. Through the Word of God, the Spirit engages in a process that reshapes the entire way that we think. It’s a bit like the goal of boot camp. So a young man signs his name on the dotted line, joins the army, and heads off to basic training. And what happens there at boot camp? Well, the army begins a process aimed at reshaping his entire identity. When he entered boot camp, this young man was used to thinking of himself as a civilian and as an individual. But the army teaches him that he has a new identity. They train him to think of himself no longer as a civilian but as a soldier—no longer as an individual but as part of a squad.

That's what sanctification is like. The Spirit reshapes our minds and identity so that we are brought into conformity with who we really are. And who are we? We are a new creation—we are God’s own dear child. We are those who are who have inherited life and peace. We've inherited life because Christ has freed us from the law of death and there is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We've inherited peace because we are no longer at enmity with God—the passions and desires that the Spirit gives us are no longer at war with God’s will. The rebellion that began in the garden is over. The Spirit reminds us that God has now called us out of the world to be his own. His holy ones.

Over the entrance of my kids’ school they have this motto painted in big letters: Remember Who[se] you are. I love it. Because every day they are reminded of the work that Christ has done to make them his own. And that’s sanctification. It’s the process by which the Spirit shapes our minds to remember that we are no longer slaves to sin who live in fear of God’s judgment. Instead, we are sons who’ve been adopted into God's family and made heirs with Christ.

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