The Sanctification Cycle

Several weeks ago I preached a message at Hope Church called The Sanctifying Work of the Holy Spirit (audio is above) as part of our 5 Marks of a Healthy Disciple series. A big chunk of this sermon was taken up by an explanation of what I call the sanctification cycle. I have found that sanctification happens in four general phases. (I use the word phases rather than steps because these do not always go in order, they often overlap, and sometimes happen all at the same time.) These phases represent the cyclical work of the Holy Spirit as he forms believers into the image of Jesus. Just as we are never truly done with phase one, we never truly master phase four in this life.

As you journey with Jesus, perhaps the sanctification cycle can serve as a sort of map for where the Spirit has you. On what is the Spirit focussing his sanctifying efforts in your life? Identifying the work of the Spirit in specific terms will help you cooperate with him to achieve his goals for your good. Is he convicting you of sin? If so, what sin? How can you focus your energies on overcoming that sin? Is he empowering you for mission? If so, has he given you specific direction? Of course, it may not be so easy to identify the work of the Spirit, but having a map could help you hear his voice more clearly.

Phase One: Conviction of Sin

The first phase of the sanctification cycle is the conviction of sin. As he was describing the work of the Spirit, Jesus told his disciples that one of his primary tasks was to convict the world of sin and righteousness. This is true for every believer, too. One of the most important tasks of the Holy Spirit is to name our sin and call us to repentance. Unnamed sins maintain their hold on our lives, but God longs to set us free from the power of sin. He wants us to live in the same freedom, and with the same power over sin, in which Jesus lived.

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Paul’s Friends – 4:7-18


7 Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8 I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. 9 He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) 11 Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

16 After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

17 Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”

18 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

Paul was not alone in ministry. Though different people accompanied him at different times, he always seemed to have a group of men by his side. Paul’s friends were faithful ministers of the Gospel who supported him in every way.

Tychicus is the first person mentioned, most likely because he was the carrier of this letter. It would have been his responsibility to read the letter aloud to the congregation, explaining anything that needed clarification or further comment. He is also mentioned in Ephesians. In fact, he is the only one mentioned there, which stands in stark contrast with the ending to Colossians. Paul’s language regarding Tychicus is similar in Ephesians and Colossians, indicating the possibility that he wrote both letters at the same time, entrusting both to Tychicus. Tychicus is also mentioned in Acts 20, Titus, and 2 Timothy.

Tychicus had a travelling companion, the famous Onesimus. Paul refers to him as “one of you,” indicating that he was the same Onesimus who belonged to Philemon. Could he have been a runaway slave? Possibly. Regardless of his previous situation, he is now a “faithful and dear brother.” Onesimus is a Christian, and a reliable witness to all that is going on with Paul’s ministry.

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Concluding Exhortations – 4:2-6


2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Paul’s concluding exhortations center around two themes: prayer and witness. These exhortations are personal, not general, and Paul includes an appeal that they would pray for him as he witnesses wherever he goes. This section provides a fine complement to the sweeping gospel-vision he proclaimed in 1:6: “The gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world.” And how does it bear fruit? Through the proclamation of Spirit-empowered people like Paul, Timothy, and Epaphras.

His first command is to be devoted to prayer. One of the core values of the Christian & Missionary Alliance, the denomination of which I am a part, is “prayer is the primary work of God’s people.” Prayer is the first course of action for the believer, and nothing of kingdom value is accomplished without it. Our devotion to prayer must be greater than our commitment to plan and strategize, for it is only through prayer that the plans of God’s people succeed. When our first impulse in any situation is to pray, then worry and anxiety will be unable to take root in our hearts.


Prayer requires follow through.
Within prayer, believers are to be both watchful and thankful. The object of our watchfulness is uncertain. Perhaps we are watching for the Lord’s return. Perhaps we are watching out for the works of the evil one. Could it be that we are to be watching for answers to our prayers? Whatever Paul had in mind, all three of these forms of watchfulness are beneficial for the Christian. But his point is well made: prayer requires follow through. Prayer does not exist in isolation from the rest of our lives. Rather, when we pray, we must watch for God’s activity, and be thankful when we see him move.

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Household Code – 3:18-4:1


18 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.

1 Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

In these verses, Paul supplies the Colossian church with a Christian version of a Roman household code. A household code is a set of rules meant to govern the affairs of the home. In Rome, the household codes followed the teaching of Aristotle, who instructed men to rule over their wives and children, particularly noting that the inequality of the sexes is permanent. The man ought to be the pater familias, governing the home with absolute authority. But is this what we find in Christian teaching?

Though not explicitly stated in this epistle, Paul’s words in 3:11 echo what he triumphantly declared in Galatians 3:28: In Christ, there is neither male nor female. This does not mean that there is no gender differentiation in Christianity. Rather, it forces us to examine the ways that we consider ourselves better than others. In Christ, men are not more important than women, just as masters are not more important than slaves or Jews more important than Gentiles. The social revolution of the Gospel is that all are one in Christ, for Christ is all and is in all.


The social revolution of the Gospel is that all are one in Christ, for Christ is all and is in all.
Therefore, when Paul opens his household code by commanding wives to submit to their husbands, he is not operating from a belief that women are of less worth than men. On the contrary, the biblical teaching of the submission of wives assumes the equality of the sexes in the eyes of God. God does not, in Christ, elevate women from their culturally lowly estate to a position just below that of men. In fact, God assumes the equality of the sexes because that is how he created humanity (Genesis 1:27), and it is this equality (and not merely of the sexes, but between all people everywhere) that is a part of the restoration project begun in the resurrection of Jesus. In commanding wives to submit to their husbands, he is inviting women to participate in the faithful obedience and humility of Christ. Biblical submission assumes equality because it is a volitional act of humility in letting another lead. Like love, submission can never be forced upon or demanded of. Submission is a gift freely given to another in humility, not the humiliation extracted by force from a weaker person. (For more on this topic, please see my post on Biblical Submission.)

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The New Self – 3:12-17


12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Now that the old self has been discarded like filthy clothes, it is time to put on the new clothes of God’s kingdom. But before Paul unveils this wardrobe, he reminds the Colossians of three great truths. First, they are God’s chosen people. This is a title given to Israel in the Old Testament. Paul, a Jew through and through, recognizes that, in Christ, the doors of God’s choice have been thrown open. Now all may enter, whether Jew or Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian or Scythian, slave or free. All are welcome through faith in Christ.

Second, they are holy. They have been set apart for God’s purposes. As Paul explains in Galatians, Gentiles have been welcomed into God’s family as the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. Similarly, they are welcomed in so that that promise – that all the nations of the world will be blessed – will continue to be fulfilled in every tribe and tongue throughout all generations.


God’s love is unending, unconditional, and unquenchable.
Third, they are dearly loved. God dearly and deeply loves the world, so much that he would give his only Son to be the atoning sacrifice for everybody’s sins. God’s love is unending, unconditional, and unquenchable. There is nothing, Paul declares in Romans, that can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

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