The War Between the Flesh and the Spirit

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. -1 Thessalonians 5:23.

Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:25-27

These scriptures serve to introduce our text, which is a prayer of the Apostle Paul 
for the Thessalonians, a prayer that they may be completely sanctified; that the 
sanctification may touch the spirit, the soul and the body, and that it be so complete 
as to secure absolute blamelessness and holiness.

You will understand at once, then, that what I wish to talk to you about this morning 
is sanctification. I am led to discuss this theme from various conversations reported 
as held upon the streets of Waco recently, participated in often by young people, 
and sometimes those who are little informed upon the subject of sanctification. It has 
been presented to you on the streets and variously and oftentimes in such a way as, 
in my judgment, to do incalculable harm. And because I so strongly believe this, and 
because I do believe that there is a sanctification which the Scriptures teach, I have 
been led to discuss the subject now.

The first thing always is to know what a word means, and this word, like almost 
every other word, has a variety of meanings, and the particular meaning has to be 
determined always from the context. You take a passage of Scripture in which it 
occurs and you determine from that connection which one of its meanings belongs to 
that particular place. But any one who takes the concordance and groups every 
place in the Bible where that word occurs, without examination of the connection in 
which it occurs, will find himself confounding its various meanings so as to have a 
very unintelligent conception of the word. While it has a great many meanings, I want 
to call your attention now to two of its most prominent meanings. The first is where it 
is applied to inanimate things. In that application it means to set apart….

The next thing to be determined is, when it starts. It is always best to have the 
beginning point clearly established. I shall not elaborate anything today, but shall try 
to speak very plainly and so everybody can understand me.

It begins in regeneration. A principle, or germ of spiritual life, is imparted to us in 
regeneration. Our articles of faith say that regeneration consists in giving a holy 
disposition to the mind. Well, now, in regeneration is implanted this germ of life, and 
sanctification is the unfolding and developing of that principle of life. You may say 
that it is regeneration in its consummation. It is the unfolding and developing of the 
principle of life put in us when we become children of God, when we are born unto 
God. This is so well understood by all who have ever made any sort of a study of the 
Bible that I shall not stop here to present any proofs of a proposition so very plain.

The next thought is that as it is an unfolding, developing, a bringing to a 
consummation of the principle of life that is imparted in regeneration, it is necessarily 
progressive and not instantaneous. Progressive –that is a capital point. When 
people come to you and claim a sanctification received like justification, that is, 
instantaneously, you may know that it is not Bible sanctification, no matter what they 
tell you about it. Justification is instantaneous, because it relates to our legal state. It 
is a declaration of the law that we are acquitted. But sanctification relates to our 
internal and spiritual state.

Now, the regeneration may be instantaneous. It takes place at some particular time. 
But the unfolding and developing of that must be progressive. Therefore, from the 
days of the Lord Jesus Christ until now, our Baptist people have always held, 
without any swerving, even a hair’s breadth, that sanctification commences in 
regeneration and that it is progressive; that it is the unfolding and the developing of 
the principle of spiritual life imparted when we become the children of God.

Now, having made those general statements, I want to call your attention to a state 
of the Christian in this life. That state is represented by two scriptures Galatians 5:17, and 
Romans 7:14. If you will have the patience, and I think you ought to have on such a subject as this, suppose we read those two scriptures very carefully. Galatians 5:17: “For the flesh lusteth against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” That is the first scripture.

From the very moment that this principle of spiritual life is put in us, a war 
commences between the spirit and the flesh. They are contrary to each other and 
they are continually fighting against each other. Now it is the work of sanctification to 
carry on that fight of the spirit against the flesh, so that, as it is expressed in another 
scripture, “By the Spirit ye do mortify (that is, crucify) the sins of the body and put 
them to death.”

The other scripture is in the letter to the Romans, the seventh chapter beginning with 
the fourteenth verse: “For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold 
under sin, for that which I do I allow not; for what I would, that I do not; but what I 
hate, that I do. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is 
good (because I say I do not wish to do that). Now then it is no more I that do it, 
but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no 
good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I 
find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not that I do. 
Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I 
find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in 
the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring 
against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in 
my members. O wretched man that I am!’ who shall deliver me from the body of this 

Now it is utterly impossible for that language to come from the lips of one who is 
sanctified, soul, body and spirit. And it is equally impossible for that language to 
come from the lips of one who is not a Christian at all. Why? Because it says, “I 
consent unto the law that it is good.” No unregenerate sinner could say it. It says, “I 
delight in the law in the inward man.” No unregenerate man can say it. He knows he 
does not delight in it. I would do the Spirit’s commandment, I would obey it. There 
is not that will in the unconverted man.

So, then, these two scriptures represent a state in which sanctification has not yet 
been consummated, but in which regeneration has taken place, in which a war is 
going on of the flesh against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh. As sanctification 
progresses the spirit triumphs more and more over the flesh.

Now, let us look at another point. How is the process of sanctification carried on? It 
is carried on by the growth (mark the expression), by the growth of our spiritual 
graces. I will not speak of all of them, but I will take some of them to illustrate what I 
mean. Faith is one of the Christian graces.

Now, if our faith is weak our progress in sanctification is slow, but if our faith is 
strong, and keeps getting stronger, then our progress in sanctification progresses as 
our faith develops.

In the second letter to the Thessalonians, in the first chapter and third verse, the 
Apostle Paul says, “I thank God that your faith groweth exceedingly.” Notice that ¾ 
“your faith groweth exceedingly.” Now, compare that with the prayer once offered 
to Jesus: “Lord, increase our faith.” Not only by the growth of faith, but by the 
growth of hope, which rests on faith. If our faith is weak our hope will be weak; if 
our faith is strong our hope will be strong.

Now, in the fifteenth chapter of the letter to the Romans, and in the thirteenth verse, 
the Apostle Paul says, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in 
believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit.” Now, 
here is an expansion of our hope. It gets clearer, brighter, broader and stronger as 
our faith gets clearer, and brighter, and broader and stronger. Not only, then, with 
reference to the grace of hope, but with reference to the grace of love.

Take the passage in the third chapter of First Thessalonians, and the twelfth and 
thirteenth verses:

“The Lord make you to increase and abound in love, one toward another,and toward all men, even as we do toward you, to the end that He mayestablish your hearts, unblamable in holiness before God, even our Father(listen at this), at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.”

Now here is an unblamable state of holiness referred to, just like in all the other 
passages I have read, and the apostle declares one of the principles by which you 
continously approximate that state of unblamableness in holiness, and he says that 
that principle is love. That is the process by which they were to reach it, and hence the Apostle Peter at the close of his second letter says, “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ,” showing that it is a growth, that it is a development. Then take what he says, which you have often heard me quote: “Add to or supply with your faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, Godliness, brotherly kindness, charity,” and then he goes on to show that this marvelous development is consummated by an abundant entrance into the kingdom of glory. From these scriptures (for it is not at all my purpose to talk at any great length), I think you see by what process sanctification is carried on.

Now, very plainly, I want to answer a question: Is sanctification consummated here, 
so that a man can say, “I am completely sanctified?” So that a man can say, “I am 
unblamable in my holiness, in spirit, in soul, in body?” That is the question. 
I am exceedingly sorry that anyone should ever have presumed to say “yes” to that 
question. I am sorry because it directly and flatly contradicts the most positive 
declarations of God’s Word….

I take some scriptures to prove it. Isaiah was the saintliest man of his time. If any 
man could claim to be a sinless man Isaiah could have made that claim, but on one 
occasion God permitted him to get close to Him. Listen at the record: “In the year 
that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, 
and His train filled the temple. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am a man of unclean 
lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the 
King, the Lord of hosts.”

Take Job. In the common acceptation of the word, the ordinary worldly acceptation 
of the word, God has said that Job was a perfect man, and he was a better man than 
any that I have ever known who claimed sinless perfection. And yet Job was not 
sinlessly perfect. He contested with pride anything that his friends could say to him, 
but when the Almighty spoke to him out of the whirlwind, and he stood face to face 
with infinite holiness, he said, “I abhor myself and repent in sackcloth and ashes.”

And that is one of the marks that you are becoming sanctified. It is that feeling of 
deep humility, that sense of your unworthiness, that absence of all proud assurance, 
arrogance, boastfulness; that lowliness of mind and heart that would enable Paul, the 
nearer and nearer he got to holiness, to say, “I am the chief of sinners.” He would 
see his own littleness and unworthiness the nearer he got to God….

To recapitulate: First, I answered the question when it started. Then I showed what it 
was an unfolding and developing of the principle of life imparted in regeneration, then 
how it is unfolded, and what principles operated in the unfolding.

Now, in conclusion, I squarely meet the question as to its consummation. When is it 
consummated? For that every one of God’s children will one day be wholly 
sanctified, I haven’t a shadow of doubt, but the question is, when? I will ask Paul to 
answer. He says: “Brethren, I have not yet attained it, neither count I myself yet 
perfect. Not yet. But there is one thing I do. I forget the things which are behind, and 
I press forward to the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. I 
am going after that.” What is that high calling? What is the mark of the prize of the 
high calling of God in Christ Jesus? It is that your spirit is to be made absolutely 
perfect, and that your body is to be made absolutely perfect, and that the united and 
glorified spirit and body, so made perfect, shall be without spot, or blemish or 
wrinkle, or any such thing, in the presence of God.

Now, then, when? In the twelfth chapter of the letter to the Hebrews we find an 
answer to a part of it. Paul says to these Hebrews, “You are coming (you are not 
there yet, but you are coming) to God, the Judge, to an innumerable company of 
angels, to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the spirits of the just 
made perfect.” Where? Yonder. You are not there. Yonder the spirit of the saint is 
made perfect.

I mean to say that when the soul of the Christian is separated from his body, that 
spirit is then perfected and so enters heaven. This side of death you cannot find it. 
The other side of death you see it and you are invited to approach unto it. 
But this is only a part of sanctification. The marriage has not come yet, and the 
marriage will not come until the whole man is without spot, or blemish, or wrinkle, or 
any such thing.

Well, when is the rest of it consummated? Paul says, “Behold, I shew you a mystery. 
We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an 
eye, at the last trump.” Here is the change that takes place in the bodies of those that 
shall be alive when Christ comes. Those who live at that time, the Christians who are 
alive when He comes, instantly experience a change, a marvelous change of body. 
Corruption puts on incorruption, and mortality puts on immortality. Death is 
swallowed up in victory, and the body is glorified and made like unto the glorified 
body of our Lord.

At the same time, the bodies of those spirits made perfect the spirits perfect in 
heaven and their bodies imperfect in the dust-then the omnipotent power of God 
passes upon the realms of death, and wakes the sleeping saints. They rise; they go 
forth; they put on immortality and glory; and there is the sanctified body. Now Christ 
brings with Him, says the Scripture, the. sanctified spirit when He comes, and puts 
the sanctified spirit into the glorified body, and then, and never until then, is 
sanctification completed. Then ring the bells of heaven. The marriage is come and the 
bride is made ready. There is now no blemish in her. There is no spot in her. She is 
unblamable in holiness, then, at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and then 
presented. Christ loved the church and gave himself for it, that He might present it to 
himself as without blemish, or spot or wrinkle or any such thing, unblamable in 

That is the Bible doctrine upon that subject, and it is a glorious and a wonderful 
doctrine. But it is a sad thing that the minds of children should be poisoned with a 
view that would make a sinful man, yea, even while he is lying, claim to be sinlessly 
perfect. It is an awful thing. Brethren, I do think that there ought to be a waking up 
such as has not been in our history, upon the subject of teaching the true doctrines of 
God to our children.

The older I become, the more the importance of the Sunday School rises in my sight. 
You ought not to permit one single child that comes to the Sunday School to be 
ignorant of what is sanctification. He ought not to have to go out without armor to 
meet an adversary on the streets or anywhere else. He ought to be taught what is 
sanctification, when it commences, how it is unfolded, what are the principles by 
which it is accomplished, and when it is consummated in spirit, and when it is 
consummated in body.

What a grand lesson would that be, and yet, how few of our young people know 
anything about it! To me sanctification is one of the sweetest and holiest doctrines of 
the Book of God. Spiritually oftentimes it makes me almost faint with desire. Lord 
Jesus, I want to be perfectly holy. I want to be pure in my heart and in my body. I 
want to get rid of all defilement, all sin. I want the war between my spirit and my 
flesh to come to an end in which victory shall be counted with the saints of God. 

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