Skip to comments.Covenant Theology: Sanctification
Posted on 02/16/2004 12:52:27 PM PST by sheltonmac
Covenant Theology: Sanctification
(Part 1 Sermon Number Fifteen)
James E. Bordwine, Th.D.
Our study of the doctrine of salvation as understood within Covenant Theology continues and the subject of this sermon is the fourth element in the ordo salutis, which is sanctification. In redemption, the sinner is called by God and regenerated; he exercises faith in Christ's finished work and is justified; he is then adopted into the family of God and, thereafter, is called to live according to the righteousness of God. The doctrine of sanctification concerns the regenerated sinner's conformity to holiness.
As a means of introducing this topic, I would refer to question 75 of the Westminster Larger Catechism, which explains sanctification in this manner:
Sanctification is a work of God's grace, whereby they whom God has, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life.
I would summarize this definition by saying that sanctification is a gracious work of God in which the elect, who have been regenerated and justified, are purified as the Holy Spirit applies Christ's atonement. The doctrine of sanctification deals with the activity of the Holy Spirit as He brings into existenceor makes demonstrablethe implications of our union with the Savior in His death and resurrection. When we study the doctrine of sanctification, therefore, we are studying what happens to the sinner between his justification and his death.
My outline for this treatment of sanctification is as follows: 1. The Two Aspects of Sanctification; 2. The Inevitability of Sanctification; and 3. The Pattern of Sanctification.
1. The Two Aspects of Sanctification
Often, we find that the doctrine of sanctification is described as a process or transformation. This is a proper description of sanctification, but it is not complete. In the New Testament, we find two aspects to the doctrine of sanctification. Sanctification is spoken of in terms of the ongoing conformity of the believer to God's holy standard, represented supremely in His Son. This is progressive sanctification. But sanctification also is described in terms of a completed act. How do we explain those verses where Christians are described as sanctified (in the past tense)? (cf. 1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11; Heb. 10:10, 14, 29).
Although most of what the New Testament says about sanctification has to do with that procedure by which we are conformed to the image of God's Son, there is an aspect, as I've indicated, that is viewed, not as a process, but as an accomplished fact. This is called definitive sanctification. From this latter perspective, sanctification is viewed as a decisive act of God, not unlike justification and adoption. Under this first point, therefore, I want to cover the two aspects of sanctification as they appear in the New Testament.
The doctrine of definitive sanctification, or sanctification viewed as a completed act, is supported by those passages where our sanctification is described as an achieved state. For example, one of the passages cited above, 1 Cor. 1:1, 2, says:
Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours...
Later, after giving a list of the types of people who will not inherit the kingdom of God, Paul says of the Corinthians: And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God. (6:11) Obviously, in the mind of the apostle Paul, the sanctification of these early believers was an accomplished fact; it was not something that was in doubt or something that was open to question. He refers to them as having been sanctified prior to their reception of his letter. Viewed in connection with calling, regeneration and justification, sanctification is a decided issue. All those who are called, regenerated, justified and adopted, have been sanctified in Christ Jesus from God's perspective. We are called in Him, we are regenerated in Him and we are justified in Him. By virtue of our union with the Savior, we are viewed as holy in the eyes of God.
What I'm describing should not be confused with perfectionism, however, which is the belief that Christians can live a sin-free life; nor should it be confused with some form of Pelagianism, which is the belief that there is no such thing as inherent depravity. Remember that even though Paul makes these comments about the Corinthians, he still has much to say about their ongoing battle with sin. Therefore, it is best to think of definitive sanctification as a decisive deliverance from the dominion of sin which takes place at the time of our regeneration and justification. In Christ, we are freed from sin's control.
This aspect of our sanctification is, in a sense, a judicial act of God whereby the dominion of sin is broken; this is why the Scripture can speak of our sanctification as an accomplished fact. Describing believers as having been sanctified is done within the context of our union with Christ in which we are said to have died with Him, been buried with Him and been raised with Him (cf. Rom. 6:3 ff.I will have more to say about this passage under point number two). Such language depicts what we are in Christ and what is the certain goal of our redemption.
When Paul describes the Corinthians as sanctified, he is reflecting the truth of their calling in Christ Jesus. They were, indeed, called, justified and sanctified in Him for the glory of God. Christ's work is finished; all that He is able to secure for the believer has been secured for the believer. In v. 30 of 1 Cor. 1, we read: ... by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption... This verse teaches that in Christ, the believer possess wisdom, righteousness and sanctification.
Again, when we speak of our sanctification as an accomplished fact, it can be only within the context of our union with Christ. In Him we are holy and this truth is worked out progressively during our earthly lives. So Paul could write that the Corinthians were sanctified and, in the same letter, urge them to flee immorality because it was a genuine threat to their spiritual well-being (cf. 6:18); he could warn them about sinning against a brother and, therefore, sinning against Christ (8:12); and the apostle could boldly declare, Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning... (15:34) Paul's description of the Corinthians as sanctified, in the past tense, as having received sanctification in Christ, did not mean that they were sinless; it meant that they had been delivered from sin's dominion and could, therefore-indeed, must, therefore-conform to the holy image of their Savior.
Knowing that our unalterable union with Christ has finally and fully delivered us from the dominion of sin, we are better able to appreciate the unconditional nature of those many statements in the Bible that urge righteous behavior from the people of God. God's Word can and does call us to holy living precisely because we have been freed from sin's control in regeneration.
The second aspect of our sanctification, known as progressive sanctification, is proven by those passages where the believer is exhorted to battle against the influences of sin that remain in his flesh. We are called to mortify remaining sin and this call is legitimate because sin is our master no longer. Paul's letter to the Colossians contains such a passage. In chapter three, we read:
1 If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. 5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. 6 For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him...
These verses follow the apostle's warning to the Colossians to be on their guard against the false teaching that their union with Christ was somehow insufficient. He cites examples of regulations that some were saying had to be maintained in addition to having union with the Savior. Paul explains that man-made rules and regulations have no place in the life of the believer; in Christ, the believer is completely reconciled to God; he cannot, he need not, add anything to the work of Christ by way of self-denial or harsh treatment of his body. What does matter for the believer, Paul goes on to say in the verses above, is conformity in thought and action to the mind of Christ. And this describes perfectly and completely what is to be our goal as believers-we are to strive to have the mind of Christ.
The apostle instructs the Colossians to pursue unity of mind and purpose with Christ by seeking the things above and setting their minds on the things above instead of on the things that are on earth. (vv. 1, 2) The reason that Paul gives for this exhortation is found in v. 3: For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Paul is describing the Colossians' union with Christ. In redemption, the believer is so identified with Christ that it can be said that he dies to self, or sin, but then lives again in and for Christ. This is Paul's point in these verses. The implication of this union is spelled out in vv. 5 ff.: The Colossians were to consider themselves dead to sin; they were to manifest a progressive denial of those thoughts and actions that characterized their unregenerate state, while manifesting a parallel progressive evidence of Christ-likeness, which would include a desire for and practice of God's righteousness.
Notice the wording of v. 10: The Colossians had put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him. At regeneration, a new disposition had been created in the Colossians; this new disposition, what Paul calls the new self or new man, grows and is strengthened over time. And the goal of this new self is conformity to the image of the God who created it. The phrase, is being renewed comes from a word that means to cause something to grow up, to be new, to be better. It is the tense of this word that makes the case for progressive sanctification. Paul uses a present passive participle, which is correctly translated as is being renewed in the NASB and NIV.
Grammatically, this phrase refers to the new self that God created in the Colossians at regeneration. It is this new disposition, this seed of Godliness, that grows over time making the sinner a new man. The regenerated sinner gives less and less expression to his old nature, because he is dead to that old nature, and an increasing expression to this new nature, which, itself, reflects its Creator, who is God. Paul's teaching in this passage establishes the doctrine of progressive sanctification beyond question. The only path left open to a regenerated and justified sinner is the path of righteousness.
Practically speaking, this process of sanctification is described by Paul as putting aside anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech, while, in contrast, as those who have been chosen of God, showing the marks of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance and forgiveness. (cf. vv. 12, 13) The focal point of sanctification, therefore, is conduct; sanctification is concerned with how we treat others, what we think and how we speak. The sinner who is called, regenerated, justified, adopted and sanctified will give an increasing evidence of his deliverance from the dominion of sin and that evidence will be observed in day-to-day, real-life, circumstances; the nature of this evidence is such that it must be observed if it is genuinely indicative of conversion.
This passage from Col. 3, as I said, establishes the doctrine of progressive sanctification. There are many additional verses, I would add, that could be cited to illustrate how the writers of the New Testament employed this doctrine in their instructions to believers. The writers teach that sanctification, that is, conformity to God's holy standard as represented supremely in His Son, is the unfailing duty of every believer. Using the means that God gives us to establish increasing control over our flesh is, largely speaking, what He commands us to do while we live on this earth. Sanctification is our destiny and if we are characterized by sin, then we are denying that destiny and are contradicting the Word of God and the work He has done for and in us.
In the application, I want us to think about some of the implications of definitive sanctification. You will recall that definitive sanctification refers to that aspect of this doctrine that sees our sanctification as a decisive act of God. All the verses I mentioned when looking at progressive sanctification are, in a sense, implications of definitive sanctification; our duty to pursue holiness stems from the fact that we have been sanctified in Christ Jesus. What, then, are some of the implications of definitive sanctification? I will divide my answer to this question into two parts: the theological implications and the practical implications.
Theologically speaking, the doctrine of definitive sanctification implies at least four truths. First, it implies the completion and perfection of Christ's work of atonement. If the Bible declares that we are sanctified in Christ, then it must be true that Christ's work on our behalf is not only finished, but also faultless. Our pronounced sanctification in Christ is one more proof, as it were, of the sufficiency of the atonement. There is nothing to add to Christ's work; in Him we are called, regenerated, justified, adopted and sanctified. This is why the believer can rest in the Savior; he need not give a thought to enhancing or supplementing the atoning work of Jesus Christ.
Second, the doctrine of definitive sanctification implies that God has accepted the completed work of Christ on our behalf. It's one thing to say that Christ's work of atonement is perfect and finished, it is another thing to say that His perfect and finished work has been accepted on our behalf by our Creator and Judge. But, again, the fact that we are declared sanctified, in the past tense, means that God has, indeed, accepted what His Son accomplished for us. All the demands of God that were upon us as sinners have been satisfied in Christ. This includes God's demand for our perfection. The sinner had no chance of perfecting himself in the sight of God, but God has accepted the sinner, nevertheless, in His Son and has declared the sinner sanctified.
Third, the doctrine of definitive sanctification implies a distinction between believers and unbelievers. Believers have been made holy in Christ; prior to conversion, they were not holy. Unbelievers are still in their sin; there is no compatibility between believers and unbelievers; there is no fellowship. Believers, therefore, cannot entangle their lives with unbelievers. Unbelievers are yet under God's wrath and they have yet to face Him on that great day of judgment. Believers, by virtue of their sanctification, have different interests and different goals. Due to our definitive sanctification, there is an insurmountable obstacle between believers and unbelievers. To live as though this is not true, to live in such a way that we look and act like the world, is to deny this clear implication of our declared sanctification.
Fourth, and finally, the doctrine of definitive sanctification implies the end of sin's dominion in our lives. This is a truth that I have touched upon already, but let's make sure we get it. When the Bible says that we are sanctified, it means that sin is no longer the determining influence in our lives; it means that God has granted us freedom from sin's tyranny and we now are able to live in accordance with His Word by His Spirit. This aspect of the doctrine of sanctification is the key to the Christian life, as far as our thinking and conduct are concerned. This truth is behind all the exhortations to holiness that we find in the Bible.
Practically speaking, the doctrine of definitive sanctification again implies at least four truths. First, it implies that the sinful thinking and conduct of a believer are deliberate and willful sins. This is, without question, the most significant practical implication of the doctrine of definitive sanctification. If I have been delivered from sin's dominion, which is the essence of definitive sanctification, if God has declared me sanctified in Christ, then thinking or behavior on my part that is at odds with God's standard must be purposeful, for it cannot be attributed to sin's control. Therefore, believers should take their sin most seriously; we cannot pretend like it is insignificant or not our fault.
Too often, Christians rely on the baseless argument that since sin still resides in their flesh, they can't hope to control their wicked impulses. This is not what the Bible teaches. The very fact that God disciplines us for our sin proves that it is within our control. Our union with Christ means the end of sin's domination; it does not mean the end of sin's influence, but it does mean the end of sin's mastery of the believer. Therefore, the responsibility for further sinning rests on the shoulders of the believer who has been sanctified in Christ Jesus.
Think about this in light of your own pattern of obedience. Have you allowed yourself to rationalize your sin? Have you allowed yourself to create and then accept some excuse for your sin? Understand that your union with the Savior leaves you responsible before God. Our sanctification in Christ does not mean that we will live free from sin following conversion. But our sanctification in Christ does mean that sin, although present, is not our master; it does not hold sway over us as it did prior to our regeneration. This is the fact that we must face when we examine our lives and see evidences of continuing sin. Why is it there? Why do we see instances of persistent sin? This should not be.
A second practical implication of definitive sanctification is that my testimony of faith in Christ is only as good as my life. My words of profession are groundless unless my conduct proves their validity. How much harm has been done, we must ask, by those believers who have confessed Christ with their lips only to deny him by their behavior? How many wives have lost confidence in their husbands when they noticed that his conduct did not match his words? How many children have lost faith in their parents when they saw how little their parents' lives resembled what their parents were teaching? Keep this truth in mind as you go about your duties. If you are sanctified in Christ, then it will be heard in your speech and seen in your conduct. All the talk in the world cannot replace a life of consistent, humble obedience to God. If you have been declared sanctified in Christ, then your life will show it and your life is the place where you want to focus your attention.
A third practical implication of definitive sanctification is that there should be a growing, measurable conformity to Christ in every believer. This is otherwise known as progressive sanctification. Our progressive conformity to the perfect image of our Savior is mandated by God's definitive pronouncement of our sanctification in Christ. The believer should observe spiritual maturity over a period of time; he should be able to look back a few years and see that he has, indeed, come to know God's Word better and to practice it more consistently. Moreover, the believer should recognize an increasing love for and dependence upon that Word of God. As his life continues, the believer's judgment should reflect the teaching of Scripture more and more.
A forth and final practical implication of definitive sanctification is that the Bible must be standard for life. If we have been delivered from the dominion of sin, as is indicated in God's declaration of our sanctification in Christ, and if the only course open for us thereafter is conformity to the perfect image of Christ, then we must ask, Where do we learn about that perfection that Christ so ably manifested? Christians must have a standard by which they live; they must have objective, eternal truth that can be brought to bear on the multitude of questions they have to answer and the multitude of decisions they have to make. Where do those who have been sanctified find the guidance they need? They find this guidance in the Word of God. There simply is no other answer to the questions of how believers learn what is right, what is wrong, what God requires and what God forbids. And it is the learning of these things to which our lives are dedicated for as long as God allows us to walk this earth.
How familiar are you with the Word of God? Do you know an accurate report of the Bible's teaching when you hear one? Can you discern truth from error? What is the basis for all those decisions you are making for your family? What is the foundation upon which you are building your life? What legacy are you establishing for your children and their children and their children? Don't be misled and don't remain ignorant of this all-important implication of your sanctification in Christ. There is nothing more necessary in your life than the holy Word of God. If you don't know it, if you aren't studying it, then you don't know how to live and you won't mature in Christ as you should.
Conclusion (Preparation for the Lord's Supper)
The sacrament of the Lord's Supper declares to us our standing in the Savior. In Him we are called, regenerated, justified, adopted and sanctified. This sacrament is testimony to the fact that God has delivered you from sin's awful dominion; it is testimony to the fact that sin is your master no longer. There are many reasons to be joyful when we come to this point in our service, but surely this reminder that God has freed us from sin should bring us great joy and relief.
Some of us were converted as adults; we should think back to the life we were living. We were servants of sin with no way of escape. But God saved us and gave us eternal freedom. Some of us have grown up as believers; we should read the Scripture and listen carefully to what it has to say about the power of sin and then give thanks that God delivered us from all those wasted years.
Receive the elements of this sacrament with thanksgiving; receive them with praise to God for what He has done. Our lives can count for His glory only because He has sanctified us in Christ Jesus. As we eat these elements we are reminded of just how intimate is our union with the Savior. We live in and through Him and He lives in and through us. Our souls would surely wither without this regular communion with Christ in the Spirit.
All those who know Christ as Savior and have given a credible profession of their faith to the officers of Christ's Church are invited to participate in this sacrament. This means that the Table is open to those who, regardless of age, are members in good standing of an evangelical church and to those who, although not members, have given testimony of faith to the elders of this church. All others are urged to pray for God's mercy and guidance during the sacrament.