Skip to comments.Covenant Theology: Sanctification (Part 2)
Posted on 02/17/2004 12:00:51 PM PST by sheltonmac
Covenant Theology: Sanctification
(Part 2 Sermon Number Sixteen)
James E. Bordwine, Th.D.
In our study of the doctrine of salvation within Covenant Theology, we are considering the issue of sanctification. By way of review, I will repeat some of what I said in the first sermon.
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.
In the New Testament, I noted that 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. Sanctification also is described in terms of a completed act. There are passages in which Christians are described as sanctified, in the past tense. This is definitive sanctification.
In explaining definitive sanctification, I said that it is best to think of it 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. 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. All those who are called, regenerated, justified and adopted, have been sanctified in Christ Jesus from God's perspective.
Therefore, Paul describes the Corinthians as sanctified, as he does in 1 Cor. 1:2, he is reflecting the truth of their calling in Christ Jesus. They were, indeed, called, justified and sanctified in Him. 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. The progressive aspect of our sanctification is proven by those passages where the believer is exhorted to battle against the influences of sin that remain in his flesh.
This brings us to the second point, which is: The Inevitability of Sanctification.
2. The Inevitability of Sanctification
For the sinner who is called, regenerated, justified and adopted, this transformation I've described is unavoidable; our sanctification is an inevitable part of our redemption. Sanctification, conformity to Christ, must occur due to the nature of our conversion experience. Our justification establishes the nature of that relationship that we henceforth have with God; it is a relationship characterized by righteousness. In justification we are declared righteous based upon the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us; it is that identification with the Savior that also serves as the basis for our sanctification.
One of the clearest and most informative passages in the New Testament in this regard is found at the beginning of Rom. 6. I want to concentrate on the first eleven verses:
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
In the context of these verses, Paul has just explained how the grace of God was manifested abundantly in response to the corruption of the human race that occurred when Adam transgressed God's command in the Garden of Eden. He imagines that someone might suppose, therefore, that God's grace is such that it is somehow responsive to sin; someone might think that sin activates grace, as it were. With this presupposition, a man might conclude that sin is not only acceptable, but even desirable so that he might receive God's grace. This is how Paul introduces this section where he explains the unavoidable connection between justification and sanctification. He answers the question, Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? with a resounding, May it never be! The apostle then uses a rhetorical question to explain why such a suggestion is theologically and practically ridiculous: How shall we who died to sin still live it it?
The foundation for Paul's argument is the idea that believers have died with Christ and in dying with Christ, they have died to the power of sin. He mentions baptism as proof that the believer has been freed from sin: Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? (v. 3) For Paul, the sacrament of baptism was crucially significant because it signaled the subject's identification or union with the Savior in His death. Christ's death was the supreme penalty for sin; if we are one with Him in that death, Paul concludes, then sin no longer functions as the dominant influence in our lives. It is still present in our flesh, but we are able to resist and overcome it.
Notice the role of the sacrament of baptism in Paul's reasoning. To Paul, baptism implied participation in the death of Jesus Christ. Following Paul's lead, we can say that if we are baptized, we are in Christ and possess all the benefits of that union. This is not the same thing as baptismal regeneration. Paul does not say that baptism causes union with Christ; he says baptism indicates union with Christ. This is a covenantal view, as opposed to the view common in Evangelicalism today. A covenant theologian sees baptism as a sign of the subject's status among the redeemed; a covenant theologian attributes great theological and practical meaning to the sacrament of baptism. Modern Evangelicals, however, do not draw the parallel between the sacrament and what it symbolizes as Paul does in this passage. They tend to separate baptism from what it connotes so that baptism in the contemporary Church is not necessarily viewed as a reliable indicator of one's spiritual status and, consequently, is downplayed in importance.
Paul, on the other hand, emphasizes the connection between the sacrament and what it indicates so much so that he was willing to say that if you are baptized, then you have participated in the death of Christ; in fact, as Paul will teach later in this passage, baptism signifies union with Christ in all phases of His work as our Mediator. Baptism means something; baptism is an outward sign and seal of inward spiritual realities; baptism is a badge of covenant membership. The sacrament of baptism, then, is a God-given, objective verification of our standing in Christ; it serves to quite our fears when we doubt our salvation and gives us confidence and hope.
By drawing out the implications of their baptisms, therefore, Paul shows the readers of this epistle why the answer to the question Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? must be an emphatic No! And there is more to be said by the apostle. The readers of his letter had participated in the death of Christ; this truth was pictured in their baptisms; but they also had been raised from the dead, as it were, to walk in newness of life with Christ. (v. 4) If believers are united with Christ in His death, Paul argues, that is, if Christ's death was theirs, then they must, of necessity, be united with Him in His resurrection (v. 5). Union with Christ, as I stated, is identification with Him in all aspects of His work of atonement. The sinner who is united with Christ has inevitably died to sin because Jesus, the sinner's substitute, died in his place; and the sinner who is united with Christ inevitably has been raised to a new life, one that is free of sin's dominion, because Jesus, the sinner's substitute, was raised for him. This is why our sanctification is undeniable.
Paul describes what happens to the sinner upon conversion: the old self is crucified with Christ; that body of sin dies on the cross with Christ. Paul uses a word that is translated done away with in reference to the sinner's unregenerate nature. This word means cause to be idle or useless, to render inactive. Paul says that our identification with Christ in His work of atonement results in the old self being rendered powerless, inactive, useless. Therefore, he declares that the believer is no longer a slave of sin.
This particular implication of the believer's union with Christ is underscored by the apostle in vv. 8-10. Christ died to pay the penalty of our sin; but Christ was raised from the dead whereby His victory over sin and sin's ultimate consequence, death, are demonstrated. Paul states that if the believer dies with Christ, he surely shall live with Christ; if we share in Christ's death, we must share in His resurrection and there is an aspect of sharing in that resurrection that has to do with life here and now. We presently live a new, resurrected existence in Christ. Just as death no longer has mastery over Christ, so sin, the source of death, no longer has mastery over us. Therefore, Paul declares: Consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Can we say that our sanctification is inevitable? According to Paul, we have died to sin's control by virtue of our union with Christ in His death and we have been raised from the dead, as it were, by virtue of our union with Christ in His resurrection. Paul is making a spiritual analogy. Christ's physical death is our death to sin and Christ's resurrection is our walking in newness of life. The life that we now live is one in which God's righteousness has become the dominant influence and goal of our life. Our union with Christ guarantees, necessitates and makes inevitable our conformity to holiness. As Paul teaches, it is knowledge of this fact that enables the believer to deal with sin as he should. Notice that Paul makes this very application in vv. 12, 13: Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
3. The Pattern of Sanctification
When I speak of the Pattern of Sanctification, I have in mind how the process of sanctification is supposed to look as it unfolds in the life of those who belong to God. If we could somehow step back from our lives to observe ourselves, what should we see in terms of our behavior? How does this transformation in which we are dying more and more to sin and living more and more unto righteousness manifest itself? What evidence should exist that we are, in fact, being renewed according to the new disposition created in us by God?
As you know, the epistle of 1 John is incredibly practical in its explanation of Christian doctrine. John takes the profound truth of our justification in Christ and teaches us how it is to be realized or worked out in our day to day lives and relationships. John writes from the perspective of what should be true of one who has undergone conversion; he writes from the perspective of what our union with Christ implies about our view of ourselves and others. Therefore, I am going to use a passage from 1 John to illustrate what the pattern of sanctification is supposed to look like.
In the third chapter of this epistle, beginning with v. 6, we read:
6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.
John has just stated that Christ appeared to take away sins and that in Him, there is no sin (v. 5). Then the apostle draws an implication based upon the doctrine of our union with Christ: No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Don't miss John's uncomplicated, yet extremely significant, reasoning. Christ came to take away sin; this is, in summary, a description of the mission of the Savior. Moreover, John adds, the Savior is, Himself, sinless. Both of these profound statements lead to an unavoidable conclusion: those who are united with this Savior who took away sin and is, Himself, sinless, are not going to be characterized by sin. In fact, if one is characterized by sin, then it is a sure sign that he has not experienced conversion.
There are two important things to notice before we go further. First, John uses the word abide to describe what I have been calling union with Christ. This is a typical Johannine expression for the relationship experienced with Christ by the believer; it is, I would say, nearly identical in meaning with Paul's use of the phrase, united with Christ in Rom. 6. This concept of abiding in Christ comes from the Savior's own teaching as recorded in John's gospel. Jesus described the spiritual union of the believer with Himself as abiding in Him. This particular theme that John picked up from the Savior is found in several places in this epistle (cf. 2:6; 3:24; 4:12, 15, 16).
The second matter to notice is the manner in which I have interpreted John's statement that No one who abides in [Christ] sins. I believe John means that a true Christian will not, due to the nature of his union with Christ, be characterized by sin. A genuine believer will live in such a way as to demonstrate an increasing control of sin's influence. This interpretation is consistent with John's own words in other parts of this epistle. In several passages, he speaks of the Christian life as one of manifesting godliness (cf. 2:3; 2:6; 4:7, 8; 4:20; 5:2, 3). John frequently says that genuine faith results in a marked preference for and a marked manifestation of God's righteousness as revealed in His Word. When John says, once again, that No one who abides in [Christ] sins, he means that true believers, those who have been united with Christ by faith, those who have had their sin pardon and Christ's righteousness imputed to them, those who have been adopted into the family of God, will be distinguished by their holy conduct.
Does John mean that believers do not sin? Does he mean, or am I saying that he means, that, following regeneration, Christians never again transgress God's will? The answer is No. John does not teach that believers will never sin nor does he teach that believers have the potential to reach a point of perfection. In 1:8, he writes: If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves , and the truth is not in us. For a Christian to claim the he is free of sin is a false claim that contradicts the gospel, John declares. What John is teaching is that believers will manifest a noticeable preference for righteousness. This preference grows naturally out of their union with the Savior in which they have been delivered from sin's dominion and given a disposition toward righteousness. The believer has a heart for God and sin cannot be a way of life for him; he may sin, but regeneration necessitates that willful sin is the exception in the life of the Christian.
John continues to expound the implications of abiding in Christ when he says that the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil... (vv. 7, 8) John makes the required connection between the disposition of the soul and behavior. Regeneration and justification will manifest themselves in righteous behavior. Deliverance from sin's dominion is supposed to result in the believer engaging in righteous conduct. Our lives, John teaches, reveal the state of our souls. If we have been regenerated and are abiding in Christ, then our lives will give evidence of these facts. On the other hand, if we are yet unregenerate and outside of Christ, then, once again, our lives will give evidence of these facts. John simply is working from what we can observe on a daily basis to the root of what we observe. Therefore, he can say that it is pure deception to believe that conduct is not an unmistakable indicator of one's spiritual condition.
Christ appeared, John continues, to destroy the works of the devil. (v. 8) It follows, then, that those who are characterized by the works of the devil cannot possibly belong to Christ. And so, the apostle repeats the theme, No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (v. 9) Regeneration, as I've said previously, results in the creation of a new disposition, a God-ward disposition, in the soul of the sinner. This disposition governs the believer just as surely as sin governed him prior to conversion. Since this disposition, or seed, is from God, John teaches, it naturally will direct the believer into paths of righteousness.
So certain are our lives as indicators of our spiritual status that John can say: By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. (v. 10) When he says, By this, he means by one's conduct. Where righteousness is lacking, there is reason to suspect that regeneration has not taken place. Our lives will reveal the state of our hearts.
As I stated earlier, John is not advocating sinlessness, but is showing us what sanctification looks like; he is describing God's will for His redeemed. The pattern of sanctification is a consistent manifestation of that seed of God that abides in us; it is a life that becomes increasingly reflective of God's holy standard. I want to add that, when considering John's straight-forward presentation of what the Christian life is supposed to look like, the believer need not despair when he notices the discrepancies between his life and John's description. He should, in fact, take hope knowing that this is what God intends for him and this is the good work that God has begun in him and which will, by God's grace, be completed in him. The believer should derive considerable confidence from John's description as it informs him so well of the implications of his union with Christ.
In the application, I want first to expand upon the idea that our sanctification is inevitable. This teaching of Scripture means, for example, that there will be observable spiritual growth in your life as you walk with Christ. One of the great joys of the Christian life is this very fact. As the years come and go, our relationship with God in Christ grows more precious and more comforting as we come to know Him better and come to manifest His righteousness more completely. Our inevitable sanctification shows up in the way we look at life and in the way we carry out our responsibilities; over the years, we actually can see improvement and greater consistency. This is a sure sign of the truth of our inevitable sanctification. God's Spirit is at work in us to complete what He has begun.
As I think about this truth, I want to apply it in a variety of ways. I want to apply it to the way we view ourselves, the way we view our children and the way we view others. When we look at ourselves honestly, that is, when we measure ourselves by the standard of Scripture, we are often disappointed in what we see. An unshielded exposure to God's holy Word can be a painful experience, indeed. What we must realize, however, even as we lament our shortcomings and obvious failures, is that our sanctification is inevitable; our sanctification, our conformity to our blessed Savior is certain. We have been united with Him in the gospel and we will persevere. Knowing that our sanctification, our maturity in Christ, is inevitable, is a tremendous encouragement, especially during those times when we find ourselves struggling with some sin. We can be assured that we can overcome the sin that troubles us and causes us so much misery. And we can be assured that growth is taking place in us, if we are using the means God provides for our maturity.
As far as our children are concerned, this is a wonderfully encouraging doctrine. Training them in righteousness can be such an exhausting experience. But let us remember that they are God's covenant children and He has made certain promises to us in His Word. And when we get discouraged, when we think that our efforts are almost useless, let us be refreshed by the inevitability of their sanctification. Signs of their maturing may be long in coming and evidences of their conformity to Christ may be scarce, but the Scripture's teaching about the inevitability of our sanctification covers all of God's covenant people, adults and children. When parents are faithful to do what God requires of them, then they have every reason to look expectantly for their children's conversion and growth in the Savior. We should count on and pray for and work for the sanctification of our children just as eagerly and just as steadfastly as we do our own.
And, of course, this doctrine of inevitable sanctification should be of tremendous aid in our relationships with others. If we will view others within the framework of their inevitable sanctification, then maybe we won't be so quick to criticize, dismiss or ignore those in our Christian family who are in the process of maturity just like us. Think about what a comfortable place the Church would be if Her members kept in mind that they are all in the process of growing in Christ, they are all in the process of making mistakes and learning better how to serve God. The doctrine of our inevitable sanctification should cause us to have patience with one another, it should cause us to want the best for one another, and it should cause us to rejoice in one another's growth in the faith. We all are not at the same place; we struggle with various sins and various requirements of the Christian life, but the same God is at work in us because we all are united with His one Son in His death and resurrection.
I am not advocating that we overlook sin in the Church, nor am I proposing that we ought to have a less strict view of righteousness that we have presently. All that I'm saying is that we need to understand this doctrine of inevitable sanctification as it applies to the whole Church of Christ. We are a body in development; we should not expect perfection from our brothers and sisters in this body, nor should they expect it of us. But, at the same time, we should be glad in the fact that what we see in our brothers and sisters in the Church today is not what we will see tomorrow, for they are growing just like us and they are overcoming sin just like us and God is pleased to work in them for His own glory just like He is pleased to work in us.
I also want to say a few words about that passage from 1 John which we considered when looking at the pattern of sanctification. We've already covered some of the implications of these verses, but I want us to concentrate on what John's words require us to believe and do as Christians. If we are truly regenerate, if we united with Christ, if we are, to use John's terminology, abiding in Christ, then what things must we believe and what things must we do? I'll quickly state three things that John's words require us to believe.
The first thing that John's remarks require us to accept is the idea that deliberate sin is not compatible with the state of the Christian. We must have straight in our minds the simple truth that being in Christ and sinning are mutually exclusive concepts. Christ paid the penalty of sin and thereby rendered it void as a controlling influence in the lives of His people. If we are going to believe what is right, if we are going to hold a truthful conviction, then we must agree with John on this fundamental point: union with Christ and a life characterized by sin are antithetical to one another. The only acceptable application of this belief is striving for holiness in our conversations and in our behavior. The doctrine of abiding in Christ has one chief expression in our lives and that is a studied preference for righteousness. Therefore, we must examine ourselves from time to time to determine if we are walking rightly, to determine if our values are Biblical, to determine if we are executing our duties according to God's commands.
A second thing that we must believe, based upon John's words, is that Scripture ranks our lives as the supreme testimony concerning the state of our souls. This is what John stresses throughout his whole letter. In terms of what can be observed and measured, conduct is the ultimate testimony regarding a person's spiritual status. This is a doctrine that is demanded by John's teaching. If we believe this proposition, then it follows that we should be greatly concerned about what we are conveying to others through our lives. We should be greatly concerned about what message we are sending to our children; we should be greatly concerned about what our behavior is teaching those who look to us for guidance. It may be labeled as an outdated notion in some evangelical circles, but holy living, living according to the teaching of Scripture, always has been and always will be the charge given to the faithful.
A third thing that must be believed by those who accept John's teaching is that a Christian should never reach the point where he is comfortable with sin. A pattern of sin in our lives should cause us significant concern. John says that God's seed abides in the believer and, therefore, the believe cannot sin. Given what I believe is John's meaning, we have to say that a truly regenerated soul will never come to the point where it can accept sin and dwell peacefully with sin. Christians should be on guard against complacency where sin is concerned. We live in a world that constantly challenges our Christian sensibilities; we have to be diligent so that we don't lose our perspective on sin.
Conclusion (Preparation for the Lord's Supper)
The sacrament of the Lord's Table reminds us of our inevitable sanctification because it portrays our union with Christ. Every observance of this sacrament, therefore, is an encouragement to us to remember that God is presently at work in us-in all of us. He is conforming us as a body to the image of His beloved Son. Our taking of the elements together is symbolic of that mutual sanctification that is taking place in us even now.
As you receive these elements, take the time to notice who else is receiving these elements. I'm receiving them, some of your children are receiving them, your wife is receiving them, your husband is receiving them, and everyone else in this congregation is receiving them. We all are being sanctified because of the truth depicted in this sacrament; we are united with Christ and God has begun a work in us that He surely will complete.
Let us give thanks to God as we receive the Lord's Supper and let us pray for our sanctification and the sanctification of others in this church; let us pray that we will mature in Christ and that He will be pleased to use us for His glory.
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