Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
by Doyle D. Dewberry
"To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to
you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 1:7
If one follows the text closely one will notice that those addressed by Paul were not called "to be saints, but were called saints. The translators added the words "to be" because they, no doubt, struggled with the word saint (holy one) as many do today. The word saint, sanctified, and holy all come from the same words. What Paul writes here is klntois agiois (called saints). If one leaves the “to be” out as should be, it refers to the status of the child of God, completely, in the present, rather than what they should or shall be! Paul was not teaching that God's people are "progressively" holy, but stand as holy ones.
From this we can be assured of the following truths:
- The ones referred to were completely holy, and such being the case, they do not become "more holy" as some declare;
- They were not holy of themselves, but were called holy, presently holy, not "to be" holy;
- If holy refers to how sinless we are, we could not be called saints or holy ones, because we certainly are not, by any means, sinless, nor can we be in this life. Listen to John's word:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).
Modern day "perfectionists" deceive themselves when they believe they are so sanctified they become sinless. Yet if one believes the Holy Spirit is the one sanctifying, and sanctification has to do with some work wrought inwardly in us that makes it possible for us to seek, as well as, overcome all sin, how can we stop the Spirit from "completely" sanctifying us? Is He that short of power in His work?
It has been noticed by most who seek to explain sanctification do so by linking many works of man to it, when such works do not belong there. It is true we should seek to avoid sin, to aim for good works that God has ordained that we walk in them (Eph 2:10), but is this to be accomplished by sanctification? A misunderstanding of the true nature of sanctification or holiness is the source of the problem! Does holiness actually refer to our sinlessness? Or to a transformation within that allows to overcome sin? Is not this the work of the Holy Spirit who indwells us, rather than our being fitted to accomplish it ourselves?
To begin, consider the words of Paul to the Corinthians:
“Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Cor. 1:2).
Whatever you consider sanctification to be, you must see that the people of God in the Church at Corinth were completely such by the use of the words are sanctified. They were not becoming so! Here too, as in Romans, the words "to be" were added by the translators - the Christians there were saints! Even called saints! In light of all the transgressions of these people, if sanctification had to do with sin, and they were fitted to overcome it, it was not working too well. If the terms meant to be more sinless, it certainly did not describe those of the Corinthian Church.
The confusion in this practice of seeing that holiness had to do with our being more sinless is in the definition and nature of the term. It is nothing man does, but what he is - that is, it is his status in Christ. Most teachers that we have searched give as a definition of the term that we are "set apart" or a form of "separation", but yet go ahead and add much to it that pertains to other responsibilities of the believer who is aided to do so by the indwelling Spirit in what is called the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). The idea of "set apart" is certainly its first usage in the Old Testament: (See Gen 2:3) where the seventh day was sanctified - that is, "set apart" for God's use. There is a good rule for the first time usage of a Bible word that it should be followed in other usages of it. Consider also how the word is used in Leviticus:
“And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine” (Lev 20:26).
Mark the definition of holy in the above passage. Those who shall be holy are a people taken from other people; and the purpose of being holy is as the Lord says, that ye should be mine. No clearer definition of holy is given than this - God calling His people to be His. We have a responsibility to our God who has sanctified us – to walk pleasing to Him, but santification does not fit for it -regeneration does whereby the Holy Spirit dwells within to produce the good works in us. Such is the one who is a called saint. 0 how we miss these great truths if we make holiness something we do, rather than what our God does for us. It is the blessing of being "set apart" for Him, for His use, which we miss if we add to it all that man must of himself do! We are said to be God's “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus UNTO good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).
The most common (mis)understanding of the saint is that he is completely so, but yet must progressively become so. Robert Haldane is rather typical when he says, "All believers ARE SAINTS, and in one sense all of them ARE EQUALLY SANCTIFIED. They are equally separated or consecrated to God and equally justified, but they are NOT EQUALLY HOLY. The work in them is progressive." (Romans, p.34 - Caps mine). Does the writer not realize the word saint and the word holy are derived from the same Greek word (agios and agiazw)? If one is completely sanctified, then one is completely holy! Is Paul saying a believer is a saint, but not a complete one? The writer above admits the basic meaning is separated unto God, and is the work of the Spirit of God, and the source of it is in our being in union with the lord Jesus Christ, but yet man must add such to it, and yet does not become a complete one until death. We have not found a way in which one can be a complete entity and a partial one at the same time! If we leave the meaning to our status rather than our "sinlessness", the meaning becomes more clear.
A.W. Pink falters here somewhat when he says, "There are degrees of sanctification…" (The Holy Spirit, p.59). And he speaks of our "advancement in holiness" (Ibid, p.143). And again, "...their progressive (practical) sanctification" (Ibid, p.152). Also, "sanctification… will be perfected at our glorification" (Ibid p.156). “For the best of God's people are only sanctified in part in this life.” Yet he says the holy thing unto the Lord of Lev 27:21,28, speaks of God’s people who are "set apart exclusively for His use." (Spiritual Growth, p.118, 120). In a fuller message, he sets forth the enigmatic explanation that the believer is a whole saint, and yet a partial one.
“If by “progressive sanctification” be meant a clearer understanding and fuller apprehension of what God has made Christ to be unto the believer and of his PERFECT STANDING AND STATE IN HIM; if by it be meant the believer living more and more in the enjoyment and power of that, with the corresponding influence and effect it will have upon his character and conduct; if by it be meant a GROWTH OF FAITH and an INCREASE OF ITS FRUITS, manifested in a HOLY WALK, then we have no objection to the term. But if by "progressive sanctification" be intended a rendering of the believer more acceptable unto God, or a making of him more fit for the heavenly Jerusalem, then we have no hesitation in rejecting it as a serious error. Not only can there be no increase in the purity and acceptableness of the believer's sanctity before God, but there CAN BE NO ADDITION TO THAT HOLINESS of which he became the possessor at the new birth, for the new nature he then received is ESSENTIALLY AND IMPECCABLY HOLY.” (Caps mine)
Do you not see that they indicate (as do most Reformed as well) that sanctification is both complete and partial or progressive? If there is no accomplishment, as is said, in making us more acceptable, or there is no increase in the purity of one, then why must it be done? Again, we have no argument against any teaching that we grow in grace, but what we say is that it is a different entity than sanctification - the latter being merely the standing we have in the sight of God for which He has so declared us to be. Thus the only difference between such and the perfectionists who believe they are so "sanctified" that they no longer sin, is the former believe you never arrive at that point until after entering heaven.
Another passage Paul gives concerning the Christians of the Corinthian Church which reveals the manner in which we can be called saints. Listen to these words:
“But OF HIM are ye IN Christ Jesus, who OF GOD IS MADE unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30)
No one would dare claim that he is wise of himself (since we are all fools); or that he is righteous (since there are none righteous); or that he has redeemed himself (since Christ is the Redeemer). We are declared wise; we certainly are declared to be justified (righteous), and He has redeemed us. Why do we not see that sanctification should be the same? We have not "set apart" ourselves in salvation. When Peter tells us that our Lord tells us to be holy, for I am holy, the better copies have "ye shall be holy" even as we are told in Lev. 20:26, of which he, no doubt, is repeating!
We are not saying the saints do not need growing; we are saying such is a different responsibility for which sanctification does not enable. The ministry of the word is for the perfecting of the saints (Eph 4:10-13), till we all come in the unity of the faith. Christian growth is learning more, especially concerning our Savior, the Lord Jesus (2 Pet 3:18). This growth is not by sanctification, but because of it. Paul says further, after admonishing us to put off the old man:
“And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Eph 4:23-24)
Some claim a certain work here because of the words true holiness. However, the word for holiness is not the ordinary word for such, (but oiostnti) which does not carry the meaning of "set apart", but "piety," or "devoutness". The latter portion is best translated; "in devoutness of the truth." The new man is declared to be the righteousness of God in Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:21). Of the four Greek words in the New Testament translated holiness or sanctification, only one of them, (agios, according to Trench's Synonyms has the meaning of "set apart" or "separation", and it is not the one used in the above passage.
Another example of just what the word holy means is found in 1 Corinthians 7. The subject is marriage, and deals with a believing wife and an unbelieving husband, or vise:versa. The question is: What if they have children? Are the children unclean? No, Paul says, they are holy ("set apart") thus legitimate. How does this work? One mate is sanctified ("set apart") by the other. Should they part? Will their children be unclean? Should one mate leave the other? No, each are “set apart” by the other, and the marriage is legitimate, as well as the children! There is nothing “progressive” about it at all.
How can God's people be sanctified? They are sanctified because the one who sanctifies them, with whom they are in union, is sanctified! Puzzling? Hear the words of Hebrews:
“For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.” (Heb 2:10-12)
What a beautiful passage explaining how our Savior became perfect - by the things He suffered! That perfection continues on as we learn from the word for - He sanctifies His people (howbeit, not progressively, but completely, as the passive voice reveals), and they are His brethren. What did this sanctification do? It set them apart as His family, His brethren, and that without conditions. He sanctified them, thus they are called saints:
“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14)
This holiness certainly is not "sinlessness", for if it is, no man shall see the Lord. But if we follow its scriptural usage, "set apart", we can see what the writer intended. For unless a man is set apart unto God, even a called saint, he will in no wise see the Lord. Everything about our God for His use had to be, and is, holy, for He is holy. He is "set apart" from His creation. He is in His world, man is in His. We as God's people are in the world, but not of the world. (John 17). We are His possession- He has purchased us as such. We are bought with a price, and while we are not saints of our selves as the most of the religious world believes, we are called saints. His people are the called according to His purpose.
A word of warning! We are not saying God's people have no responsibility to live to be pleasing to the Lord; to be obedient servants for His use, for that is the end of our sanctification. We are saying that responsibility is a separate entity of itself, and while distantly related, it is not distinctly related to sanctification. We are to grow in grace; we are babes needing the sincere milk of the Word that we might grow thereby (1 Pet 2:2). Since all sin is the transgression of God's law, we seek to keep the spirit of it in our walk (1 John 5). All this we do by means of the indwelling Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, whereby we have become partakers of the Divine nature which enables us to live godly lives (2 Pet 1 :3-4). Growing in grace may be somewhat progressive, but not the sanctification of those who are called saints. We can make our election and calling sure, and know it so if we are growing, that is, adding to our faith (1:5 ff). Such is accomplished in our growing, not through sanctification, but because of it. All God's people are called saints, and seek to live by it.
Most feel as C.H. Spurgeon in describing the sainthood of those addressed in our text, and asking us to compare our lives with that of the Apostle Paul. He said this: “We find that his experience and ours are much the same. He is more faithful, more holy, and more deeply taught than we are, but he has the selfsame trials to endure. Nay, in some respects he is more sorely tried than ourselves.” (Morning - Evening, p 374). This is the kind of understanding many outstanding Bible teachers have. We ask, however, if we are "called saints", (which he gives as "called to be saints"), and all God's people are so, then how can one be "more holy" than another?
No, beloved, those in Christ are all equally saints, that is, they are all called of God to Himself, set apart, for His use, being His possession, those whom He has purchased with a price, the precious blood of Jesus. If you have been born of God, and are continuing to trust Him, confessing Him as Lord, then you are equally a saint as it is so with all His people.
Setting Forth The Doctrines of Grace In Salvation, Doyle D. Dewberry was born in 1927 and is an outstanding student of the Bible and a retired Baptist Pastor and author of The Sovereign Grace Baptist Proclaimer. He is formerly of Alameda, California and he can be reached by email at sovereigngrace at 5star-living.com.