Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
by Dr. M. James Sawyer
Sinclair Ferguson has observed: "Most evangelical theology in the English speaking world can be seen as an exposition of, deviation from, or reaction to Reformed Theology." Hence as we look into the question of Protestant understandings of the Spiritual life one must first grasp the fountainhead of Protestant Spirituality. Reformed theology, it is often charged, emphasizes the intellectual side of the Christian faith at the expense of the personal relationship with God. This is in fact a gross caricature. Even a cursory glance at the writings of Calvin, John Owen, Thomas Hooker, john Cotton, George Whitefield, C.H. Spurgeon, D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield and Francis Schaeffer reveal a profound concern with the subject of sanctification. In fact one of the hallmarks of Reformed theology is its insistence that faith and life are inseparable partners, and that any attempt to divorce the two results in a perversion of Christianity. The title of Francis Schaefferís magnum opus How Should we Then Live? Reflects this joining. The Then refers of course to the biblical teaching, or more specifically in light of Reformed Theology.
A. Definition Hoekema defines sanctification as: "that gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, involving our responsible participation, by which He delivers us as justified sinners from the pollution of sin, renews our entire nature according to the image of God, and enables us to live lives that are pleasing to Him." (61)
B. Westminster Confession; XII They who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created within them, are further sanctified really and personally, through the virtue of Christís death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and then more and more quickened and strengthened, in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.
This sanctification is throughout the whole man, yet imperfect in this life; there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh.
In which war, although the remaining corruption may for a time must prevail, yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
C. Westminster Shorter Catechism; Question 35 "What is Sanctification?" Answer: Sanctification is a work of Godís free grace whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God and are enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness.
D. The Goal of Sanctification Sanctification can be viewed from various perspectives. Viewed from the divine perspective its goal is nothing short of the glory of God. (Eph. 1:6; Phil. 1:9-11) Viewed from the human perspective the goal of sanctification is seen as perfection (teliov- as maturity that for which something is fit or designed). In this life this "perfection is not absolute but rather involves a progressive movement toward the recreation in the image of God."
E. Biblical Concept of Holiness The primary referent of the term holiness is not, as one would first think, moral. Rather it speaks of separation from other things, particularly that which is profane or common. The believer is defined as holy because he has been set apart to the service of God. In the New Testament the same idea is found. Holiness is both positive and negative. Negative in that it is separation from the present sinful world and its practices. Positive, in that it is separation/consecration unto God and his service. Again the emphasis is not morality or activity but dedication to something.
F. The Ground of Sanctification
1. The primacy of Justification Reformed understanding of the Christian life broke with the Augustinian conception of Justification as infused righteousness which encompassed the whole of life and saw, with Luther than the believerís justification before God is related to his legal standing (forensic) rather than his existential holiness/righteousness/maturity. Unlike later understandings which separated justification, involving the believerís legal standing before God, and sanctification which involved the believerís experience on a day-to-day basis, and taught that while the believer was justified/saved, sin in his life would make God turn his presence away. Reformed Theology like Lutheranism insisted that the only starting point for the Christian life was the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. This alone assured him of access and acceptance before God. The forgiveness experienced in justification is comprehensive and eschatological. One is forgiven not just for sins committed before salvation (a la Catholicism) but for all sins comprehensively, past, present and future. This assurance alone forms an adequate basis for a life lived in loving response to God. The recurring theme in reformed expositions of Sanctification is that holiness in the life of the believer springs from the grateful heart.
2. en Cristw: Union with Christ The means of the believerís sanctification is union with Christ. We are united to Christ in his death and resurrection to such a radical extent that his death is viewed as our death and his.resurrection as ours. (see Rom 6:1-11) The identification is so complete that Paul can state that Christ is our life!
3. Christ as our Sanctification: Calvin stated: "As long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. (Institutes 3:1:1)
The Scripture clearly states that Christ is our sanctification. "In him it has first come to its fulfillment and its consummation. He not only died for us to remove the penalty of our sin by taking it himself; he has lived, died, risen again and been exalted in order to sanctify our human nature in himself for our sake. This is the significance of his words shortly before the cross, "Sanctify [the disciples] by the truth. . . .As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified." (Jn. 17:17-19)
Behind this lies a strand of teaching in the New Testament to which evangelicals have sometimes given insufficient emphasisóthe notion that the Son of God took genuine human nature, "in the likeness of sinful man" (Rom. 8:3), so that "Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family" (Heb. 2:11). Having sanctified his human nature from the moment of conception by his Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary (Luke 1:35), Jesus lived his life of perfect holiness in our frail flesh set in a world of sin, temptation, evil and Satan. In our human nature, he grew in wisdom, in stature and in his capacity to obey the will of his Father.
As Jesus grew as a man, his human capacities developed, and with them the pressure of temptation (Luke 2:52). In that context he developed in obedience, not from imperfect to perfect, but from infancy to maturity. When he cried out on the cross "It is finished!" (Jn. 19:30); see also 17:4) and with royal dignity committed his spirit into the hands of his Father, he was the first person to have lived a life of perfect obedience and sanctification. In his resurrection his sanctified human life was divinely transformed into what the New Testament calls "the power of an indestructible life" (Heb. 7:16). Because this has taken place first in Christ our representative, it is possible for it to take place also in us through the spirit. Christ himself is the only adequate resource we have for the development of sanctification in our own lives.
Sanctification is therefore neither self-induced nor created in us by divine fiat. Like justification, it has to be "earthed" in our world (that is, in Christís work for us in history) if it is to be more than a legal fiction. To change the metaphor, we can only draw on resources which have already been deposited in our name in the bank. But the whole of Christís life, death, resurrection and exaltation have, by Godís gracious design, provided the living deposit of his sanctified life, from which all our needs can be supplied. Because of our fellowship (union) with him we come to share his resources. That is why he can "become for us" sanctification, just as he is also our wisdom, righteousness and redemption (I Cor. 1:30).
No one has expressed the riches of this biblical teaching more eloquently than Calvin himself:
"We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ [Acts 4:12]. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is Ďof himí [I Cor. 1:30]. If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth. For by his birth he was made like us in all respects [Heb. 2:17] that he might learn to feel our pain [compare to Heb. 5:2]. If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross [Gal. 3:13]; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment; in the power given to him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from the fountain, and from no other."
If Calvin is right, then the dynamic for sanctification, and also for the whole of our lives as Christians, is to be found in union with Christ.
4. Old Man and New Man The terms "old man and new man" or "old self and new self" are often used in discussions of Sanctification. Such passages as Col. 3:9; 3:10; Rom. 6:6; Eph. 4:22; 24 form the basis of the concept.
"In these passages Paul contrasts the old self associated with the life of sin with the new self that we have put on, now that we are in Christ. On the question of the relation between these two selves, Reformed theologians differ. Most of the, particularly those who taught and wrote some years ago, hold that the old self and the new self are distinguishable aspects of the believer. Before conversion believers had the old self; at the time of conversion, however, they put on the new selfóbut without totally losing the old self. The Christian, in this view, is understood to be partly a new self and partly an old selfósomething like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. At times the old self is in control, but at other times the new self is in the saddle; the struggle of life, according to this view, is the struggle between these two aspects of the believerís being.
By was of example. Consider how one of the ablest proponents of this view describes the fight against sin in believers: The struggle [in the Christian life]. . . is between the inner man of the heart, which has been created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness, and the old man who, though driven out of the center, still wants to maintain his existence, and who fights all the more fiercely the more territory he looses. . . . This is a struggle between two people in the same person. . . .In every deliberation and deed of the believer, therefore, good and evil are as it were mingled together; . . . in all his thoughts and actions something of the old and something of the new man is present.
John Murray, however, who for many years taught systematic theology at Westminster Seminary, takes vigorous exception to this understanding of the old and the new self: The contrast between the old man and the new man has frequently been interpreted as the contrast between that which is new in the believer and that which is old. . . . Hence the antithesis which exists in the believer between holiness and sin. . . is the antithesis between the new man and the old man in him. The believer is both old man and new man; when he does well he is acting in terms of the new man which also still is. This interpretation does not find support in Paulís teaching." Hoekema p. 78-79.
Rather than view Christians first and foremost in the microcosmic context of their own progress, the Reformed doctrine first of all sets them in the macrocosm of Godís activity in redemptive history. It is seeing oneself in this context that enables the individual Christian to grow in true holiness.
This general approach is well illustrated by Paulís key statements: "We know that our old self [anthropos, man] was crucified with [Christ] so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin" (Rom. 6:6).
What is here said to be accomplished already is the central element in sanctification (we are no longer slaves to sin, we are servants of god). It is accomplished by doing away with "the body of sin"óan expression which may refer in context of Romans 6 to the physical body, or more generally, to bodily existence as the sphere in which sinís dominion is expressed. In Christ, sinís status is changed from that of a citizen with full rights to that of an illegal alien (with no rightsóbut for all that, not easily removed!). The foundation of this is what Paul describes as the co-crucifixion with Christ of the old man.
The "old man" (ho palaios anthropos) has often been taken to refer to what was before I became a Christian ("my former self"). That is undoubtedly implied in the expression. But Paul has a larger canvas in mind here. He has been expounding the fact that men and women are "in Adam" or "in Christ." To be "in Adam" is to belong to the world of the "old man," to be "in the flesh," a slave to sin and liable to death and judgment. From this perspective, Paul sees Jesus Christ as the Second man, the Last Adam, the New Man. He is the first of a new race of humans who share in his righteousness and holiness. He is the first of the New Age, the Head of the New Humanity, through his resurrection (compare to I Cor. 15:45-49). By grace and faith we belong to him. We too share in the new humanity. If we are in Christ, we share in the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), we are no longer "in the flesh," but "in the Spirit." The life and power of the resurrection age have already begun to make their presence felt in our life.
What is so significant here is the transformation this brings to the Christianís self-understanding. We d not see ourselves merely within the limited vision of our own biographies: Volume One, the life of slavery to sin; Volume Two, the life of freedom from sin. We see ourselves set in a cosmic context: in Adam by nature, in Christ by grace, in the old humanity by sin, in the new humanity by regeneration. Once we lived under sinís reign; now we have died to its rule and are living to God. Our regeneration is an event of this magnitude! Paul gropes for a parallel to such an exercise of divine power and finds it in two places: the creation of the world (2 Cor. 4:6; 5:17) and the resurrection and ascension of Christ (Eph. 1:19-20).
Against this background Paul urges radical consecration and sanctification (Rom. 6:11-14). In essence his position is that the magnitude of what God has accomplished is itself adequate motivation for the radical holiness which should characterize our lives.
In actual practice, it is the dawning of this perspective which is the foundation for all practical sanctification. Hence Paulís emphasis on "knowing" that this is the case (vv. 3,6,9), and his summons to believers to "count" themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (v.11). "Count" ("reckon," KJV) does not mean to bring this situation into being by a special act of faith. It means to recognize that such a situation exists and to act accordingly.
Sanctification is therefore the consistent practical outworking of what is means to belong to the new creation in Christ." ĖFerguson pp. 58-60
G. Effecting the Union: The Pattern of Sanctification 1. Faith We believe pisteuw eiv Christ. We trust in him and his resources as if they were our own. 2. Regeneration We are "made alive in Christ." This is not just some hypothetical legal jargon. Salvation involves the implantation of the very life of God in the innermost being of the Christian. 3. Baptism by the Spirit All who have believed are said to have been baptized by the Spirit. Spirit baptism is what places us into the body of Christ. Spirit baptism is not an experience per se, but it is that which initiates the believer into the Christian experience.
H. The Work of God in Sanctification
1. Definitive Sanctification This is often referred to as positional sanctification. Often it is said that Justification is an event which occurs once for all, while sanctification is an on-going process. There is a sense in which this is true. However the New Testament also speaks of sanctification as a definitive rather than a linear event. . . . For example in I Cor. 6:11 sanctification is coordinated with justification in a definitive fashion (see also Acts 20:32, 26:18 both verses speak of those who have been sanctifiedóperfect tense). Objectively this happened with Christ on the cross and in his resurrection. Subjectively, this happened in conjunction with the believerís justification and union with Christ. Emphatically, the scriptures know nothing of a "second blessing" of sanctification subsequent to justification.
2. Progressive Sanctification The Bible also speaks of a sense in which sanctification is on-going. Luther recognized that the believer was simul iustus et peccator. While not adopting Lutherís terminology, Reformed Theology too recognizes that while the believer is justified and complete as a result of his union with Christ, he continues to struggle with sin on a day-to-day basis "because sin continues to be present in those who are in Christ, the sanctification of the believers must be a continuing process." (Hoekema, 75)
I. The Third use of the Law. The Reformed as opposed to the Lutheran view does not see the sharp disjuncture between Law and Grace. Reformed theology sees a sue of the Law which is to guide the believer in knowing the will of God for his everyday life.
J. Sinless Perfection? As with the Lutherans, the Reformed emphatically deny this possibility within this life
K. The Means of Sanctification
1. The objective means
a) The Word Scripture is the principal means of sanctification. It is Godís revealed will for us and is given expressly to keep us from sin (Ps. 119:11). Our Lord Jesus Christ himself indicated that it was a/the means of sanctification (Jn. 17:17). In the Reformed understanding this is the third use of the law (1. Convict of sin; 2. To restrain evildoers).
The third and principal use, which pertains more closely to the proper purpose of the law, finds its place among believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already lives and reigns. For even though they have the law written and engraved upon their hearts by the finger of God (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 10:16), that is, have been so moved and quickened through the directing of the Spirit that they long to obey God, they still profit by the law. (Calvin, Institutes, 2:7:12)
In Reformed understanding this is not to be construed as legalism. Legalism involves the attempt to attain salvation (or sanctification) on the ground of obedience to the law or believing that every situation in life is covered by some law. Ultimately the teaching of Scripture is the Law of Love, a law which is not an abrogation of the Old Testament or the specific injunctions of the New, but a fulfillment of the, or the principle which undergirds them all (see Rom. 8:3-4; Rom. 13:8-10). This emphasis upon the Word as a means of Sanctification explains why the Reformed tradition has placed the exposition of Scriptures at the heart of its worship.
(1) Ministry to one another via spiritual gifts
(2) Mutual encouragement
c) Providence When the Reformed speak of Sanctification by Providence, what is normally in view is trials. While good times in life bring gratitude to God for his goodness, it is in the times of trial and distress that God prunes away sinful habits, etc. and causes spiritual growth (John 14-17). This pruning must be viewed as being done when one is in union with the Living Christ. This ministry of God has been termed "severe mercy."
(1) Baptism: baptism is not a salvific ordinance, rather it brings the one baptized within the scope of the covenant community where Godís grace operates in a special way.
(2) Eucharist: Reformed differ as to the nature of the Eucharist. Those on the continent and those in the USA who follow the continental tradition see a true spiritual presence of the Savior at the Lordís Table by which the believer feeds on Christ spiritually and his faith is nourished. Those following the Princetonian tradition would agree with Zwingli in seeing the Supper as a memorial. In either case there is a special sense of grace being proffered, although the first is more dynamic and mystic.
2. The Subjective means: Faith
a) By faith we grasp the nature of our union with Christ.
b) By faith we accept that sinís power has been broken due to our union with Christ.
c) By faith we grasp the power of the Spirit.
d) By faith (as an operative power) spiritual fruit is produced.
Dr. M. James Sawyer, Ph.D. has taught Theology, Church History and Historical Theology for nearly thirty years. He currently serves as Professor of Theology at Pacific Islands Evangelical Seminary, Guam.