Why do I continue to do what I know I shouldn’t? Why don’t I do what I know I should? Does there ever come a point when what I do or haven’t done undoes my salvation?
A better question would be, “Is there a point when what I’ve done or left undone undo what Christ has done?”
The doctrine of sanctification is not only a statement that God expects us to live holy lives, but it also confirms that as of today, you are not glorified. If you are alive, if you are on the grassy side of the grave, the work God began in you is yet unfinished. That both gives us hope and explains why we still fall short.
Sanctification is the life-long process of becoming worthy of your calling. You are not as Christ-like today as you will be at the end of your life, or even tomorrow.
Of sanctification, the Confession begins, “They who are united to Christ, effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, are also farther sanctified, really and personally, through the same virtue, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts of it are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of all true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”
We must affirm that regeneration precedes sanctification. If you are being sanctified, if you are hating your sin and loving the Lord more over time, then your being sanctified is evidence of your regeneration, or your second birth, your being “united to Christ”. We do not only sanctify ourselves, but it is the Word and Spirit in us.
In Acts 20, Paul is saying his tearful goodbyes to the elders/pastors in the church at Ephesus. As he’s leaving, he tells them, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (v.32). Christ saved us, full stop; the mechanism God used to save us was by us hearing and believing the word. From that moment on, the word is God’s mechanism of sanctification. We must stay in the word with regularity if we are to be sanctified. In his high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
That means we are in the word in different ways. We hear the word preached and expounded during Lord’s Day worship. That’s when the church is gathered to see how a particular passage or topic points the sinner to Christ. We also gather for group Bible study, to be lectured by a teacher and participate in discussion. We mediate on a Psalm or a Proverb or any part of Scripture to do the hard work of thinking and applying it. There’s also something to be said about the daily reading of the word, even if on a particular Tuesday morning we didn’t feel like our lives changed because of it. We are still coming in contact with the revealed word of God. It’s like a rain gauge; it may not seem like it holds much, but it only gets filled with regular rain.
Through regular contact and interaction with Scripture, sin loses its power. Sometimes, God does the miraculous and simply destroys a temptation, and you never face it again. Personally, I don’t know a single person to whom that has happened. Why else would the only prayer that Jesus told us to pray verbatim and regularly (or what’s the point of praying for “daily” bread?) teach us to pray to be delivered from evil? Take heart. Most of the time, killing sin is like weight loss. You only notice a difference after a long fight. The fight is good; it means you have recognized the enemy.
And since it is God’s word that does the work, we can say that it is God who sanctifies us. We must avoid evil, but we must also seek the holiness that God provides. Paul says, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-34). Paul does not expect the Thessalonian Christians to do the hard work themselves. They couldn’t save themselves; how can they be expected to become perfect themselves?
But this passage also confirms the purpose of sanctification. Without perfect holiness, we will not see the Lord. That’s why we need Christ’s perfect holiness. At his return, we will be found blameless. “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
So does this mean that we will be perfect before we die? Check back next week to see what the Confession has to say about that.
Families grow through one of two ways: birth or adoption. Of course there are foster situations, but the foster care system is intended to be a short-term solution or lead to adoption. Both are reasons for great joy for a mother and a father.
Scripture uses both metaphors of birth and adoption for how God brings you into his family. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again (John 3:3). But throughout Paul’s epistles, he primarily focuses on the image of adoption. But throughout Scripture, God’s people are often described as his children. Like today, adoption in the Hellenistic world of the first century had several components that made it a perfect image of what God has done for us in Christ.
The Confession says, “All those that are justified, God vouchsafed, in and for the sake of his only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption, by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God, have his name put upon them, receive the spirit of adoption, have access to the throne of grace with boldness, are enabled to cry Abba, Father, are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by him as by a Father, yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises as heirs of everlasting salvation.”
Paul says in Ephesians 1:5-6 that God “predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” An adopted son has all the same rights and privileges as a son by birth.
Why does Scripture always speak of adoption as sons? Because that was the means of passing on the familial estate. Daughters married men from other families and thereby joined themselves to that family. Sons were considered to have stayed in the same family. It is not at all inappropriate to say that female Christians are sons in this sense; in fact, it is a great blessing. Women share equally in the inheritance laid up for us all. Having said that, Paul does say that we “shall be sons and daughters to [God]” in 2 Corinthians 6:18.
How, then, were we adopted? It is “in the Beloved.” Through the work of Jesus Christ, the first Son, we are now free and clear to become sons, as well. His perfect obedience, as God’s one and only begotten Son from all eternity, we are counted worthy to be adopted. In Paul’s day, the most common type of person to be adopted was a former slave. If the time came for a slave to be free, he could do so. If he wanted to stay with his master because of the station in life it afforded him, the patriarch of the family could (though not always) offer to adopt this man at whatever age he was.
After all the pomp and ceremony, this man was now a son who would become an equal heir with any other sons in the family (though usually adoption was reserved for families without any natural-born sons; it ensured the family estate passed on without falling into chaos). The same is true of God’s family. Paul says, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17).
When we are adopted into God’s family as a full son, we become heirs with the only begotten Son. What is it we inherit? We inherit all that Christ already has—a kingdom defined by righteousness. We will conquer the nations with him, and we will receive his own name (Revelation 3:12). We will have the full blessings of being sinless, which is perfect communion with the Father.
Adoption comes with many benefits, of which the primary benefit is a loving father. For all the malodorous feculence on the internet, I have seen a few videos of children being told that they’ve been officially adopted. I’m not crying, you’re crying. The child may have lost a family through some great tragedy, or the child may be being fostered. Regardless, when you’re adopted into a loving family, you have achieved a level of joy that children born into a good family do not usually feel or recognize.
Our “liberties and privileges” of adoption into the heavenly family far surpass the joy of an earthly family. What can an earthly father, with all our faults, offer a child that God the Father cannot offer in spades? The Psalmist tells us, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13). And the proverb says, “In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge” (Proverbs 14:26).
Fear is not unhealthy if it is reverent. Having a healthy fear of a good and loving father does not come from the terror of abuse; it comes from the knowledge that my father will never harm me, but any displeasure I have from his discipline is a natural outpouring of his great love for me. You only have to see the statistics of fatherless homes to desire the good that comes from a reverent fear of an earthly father. How much more should we fear our heavenly Father! And no matter the relationship you have with your earthly father, you are welcomed with loving arms by the heavenly Father.
His children also reap the benefits of the providence of God. He is not only sovereign over this world, but he guides and directs the affairs of this world for his own glory and for our own benefit. We can rest in the truth that whatever comes our way, God has not left us or abandoned us. Whatever tragedy he gives us, it is better if we endure it. Whatever good thing he takes from us, it is better if we suffer its loss. Our finite minds are yet incapable of understanding the secret things of God.
But regardless of what the day brings, a real source of joy and peace is that our adoption, ordained by the Father and purchased by the Son, is sealed by the Spirit. Paul warns us of grieving the Holy Spirit, because it is the Spirit who “sealed [us] for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). Our adoption is foundational. It is unchanging. The adoption papers are stamped with the divine seal.
It is through the providence of God, it is through enduring and enjoying the trials and blessings of our adoption, that we grow into greater Christ-likeness. Next week, we’ll see in greater detail this lifetime process of sanctification.