Summary: There is a wrong way that seems so right and a right way which at first seems so wrong in regards to sanctification
The Bible Way of Sanctification
Every Christian knows that God has standards, whether they want to acknowledge this or fight to suppress it. In fact, according to Paul in Romans 1, every human being knows God and that God has standards, because God has revealed this truth to everyone.
The Bible clearly teaches us that we are saved by grace through the means of faith, and not by works. But how does grace and God’s standards of conduct work if salvation is a free gift? This has caused much discussion among Christians. Most would agree that justification is indeed by grace through faith. Salvation is a free gift. But there is a division over how one is sanctified to where their lives will become more like God’s standards. Some are afraid that the preaching of grace interferes with the necessity of being restored fully in the image of a holy God. Some of Paul’s opponents in Romans 6 put it this way: “Should we continue to sin in order that grace will abound?” Paul answers this with an emphatic No!
So then, are we saved by grace, and then sanctified by good works? Is it as though God by His grace erased the slate of sins against us and allows us to start over again, this time doing things right. Does this work? John Wesley tried this approach, yet after many years of constant preaching, he could only point to a few who were perfectly sanctified. And he wasn’t one of them! One could question whether any of Wesley’s followers actually achieved total sanctification despite their strenuous efforts to do so. Many, many others gave up in despair trying.
Is there a better way than the way of sanctification which Wesley tried? I think there is, and it is found in the Book of Colossians. Please turn your Bibles to Colossians 2:20 and follow along.
Exposition of the Text
We don’t know whether Paul actually visited the city of Colossae in person or not. No such visit is actually mentioned in the Book of Acts, but Ephesus was nearby. Paul spent three years there, and taking trips to nearby cities is certainly possible.
There were a lot of similarities between Ephesus and Colossae as can be seen in the similarities between the letters. Some would also say that Ephesians was a circular letter sent to all of the churches in the region. We know that Ephesus had a large Jewish population including those who had emigrated from Alexandria, Egypt, such as Apollos. The Judaism of Alexandria was a mixture of both Jewish and Greek ideas. A man named Philo tried to translate the meaning of the historic Jewish faith into Greek meanings by the use of allegory. This resulted in what was a form of Gnosticism, or was at least one of its roots. Allegory in a sense made the history of the events in the Bible of secondary importance. Adam, Eve, Moses, and other figures were reduced to symbols. Whether these people actually existed or not was not important. Scripture was reduced to useful moralistic and carefully crafted “myths”.