Fourteen Theses On Sanctification

Lately, I’ve been seeing people on Facebook taking various sides in a current debate about the nature of sanctification and the role of the Law (or commandments) in it, so I thought, why not jump in. My view is that if we define sanctification properly, the Law has no role in it whatsoever. Sanctification is entirely a work of God’s grace in which we human beings only participate by being its subjects. In other words, while sanctified people obey, obedience is not the same thing as sanctification, and sanctification is never the result of obedience. I have written an article presenting my view with biblical support. It’s a little long to post here, so click here if you want to read it. The paper elaborates the following Fourteen Theses:

1. Sanctification is that saving work of God’s grace by which he sets a person or group apart for his exclusive use.

2. Sanctification is a definitive work of God, a change of status imparted by God’s laying claim to his people.

3. Sanctification has an already-not yet aspect.

4. Sanctification is an aspect of salvation and, therefore, should never be described as a work of man.

5. The present work of sanctification, therefore, must always be framed as merely an application of our definitive sanctification, grounded in the gospel, and appropriated by faith.

6. Even “progressive” sanctification is definitive.

7. The obedience of the sanctified life depends on the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

8. Sanctification is progressive only in the sense that Christians progress in their experience and outward demonstration of their definitive sanctification.

Sanctification and the Practice of Discipleship

9. Sanctification cannot be separated from the fellowship of the body of Christ.

10. The proclamation of the gospel is the heart of discipleship.

11. Worship should be framed in terms of presenting ourselves to God as living sacrifices, confessing our sanctification, not making it.

12. The commandments of scripture must be exposited, but should always be empowered by the exaltation of Christ as the object of our faith, hope, and love.

13. Our growth in Christ is not a matter of our own exertion but depends on the power of the Holy Spirit, so we should operate at all times in a posture of prayer.

14. Understanding the definitive nature of sanctification and properly relating it to Christian life and growth has the effect of simplifying our concept of discipleship.


The Unveiling of Christ


Speaking of Jesus, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:20). Speaking through the Apostle John in the book of Revelation, the Lord himself explains in some detail just how he intends to deliver “all the promises of God.” He does so in himself. That is to say that he is all the promises of God.

“The book of Revelation,” wrote John Walvoord, “gathers in its prophetic scheme the major themes of prophecy which thread their way through the whole volume of Scripture.” Revelation ties the whole Bible together in the person and work of Jesus Christ. So while it reveals how God will bring the history of man to righteous conclusion, it is first and foremost the unveiling of Christ personally. It is all about Christ–who he is and what he does.

The following talk, delivered to the Community Bible Church women’s Bible study, is an overview of the book of Revelation from this perspective. What are it’s Christological themes?

To download the audio, Right-click here and select save.
My apologies for the noise at the end. Forgot to turn the recorder off when I was done.

Click here to get the handout.

A New Mind

“…be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”

The key to developing the character of Christ is developing the mind of Christ. The word renewing here indicates a complete overhaul, a whole new way of seeing everything. Jesus says it like this in John 8:31-32: “If you abide in my words, you are my disciples indeed. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

All of the world’s schemes are based on false and incomplete conceptions of reality. But Jesus is omniscient and the perception of reality he imparts is the Truth itself. 2 Corinthians 10:5 puts it this way: “We are destroying speculations and every loft thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”

Now allow me to make a few observations about the transformation produced by renewing of the mind:
First, the goal is not orthodoxy alone, though it certainly includes orthodoxy. The renewing of the mind is not just the development of correct doctrine, it is about a mind occupied with the person of God himself—a personal knowledge of God, not an academic knowledge of God.

Second, the goal is not orthopraxy alone. The renewing of the mind is not just about replacing sinful behavior with righteous behavior, though it certainly includes that. The goal is personal knowledge of God—to see Christ as he is and to be like him.

Third, I make myself available for the renewing of the mind by bathing my mind in Scripture. I cannot possible be familiar enough with my Bible. In this present life, the only infallible revelation of God, the place where I can see him as he is, is the Bible.

Fourth, our life in Christ is a life we live together in the body of Christ, so a mind in renewal is a mind guided by good mentors—people who see Christ better than I do and can show me the lay of the land.

Finally, the renewed mind develops a comprehensively Christian perspective. In other words, it takes every thought captive. Whatever the subject, the renewed mind perceives it with Christian eyes.

Full-fledged Human

“…but be transformed…”

Living sacrifices are subversives in this world. Living sacrifices show that all the schemes of humanity are futile. Living sacrifices demonstrate that the only life worth having—the only life that actually is life—is one of radical availability to God. In fact, radical availability to God is the only path to full-fledged, image-bearing, humanity.

It’s here in our text: “Be transformed.” The word here is metamorphosis, which means become what you were meant to be. Again, this is a present passive imperative, which means we do not transform ourselves, but we allow ourselves—we make ourselves available—to be transformed by another. So who transforms us? And what is it we are meant to become?

Take a look at this passage from 2 Corinthians:

3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit…

4:3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 

So transformed into what? We see in verse 18, that we “are being transformed into the same image” which is the image of the Lord himself. We are to be transformed into Christlikeness, and we see in verse 4 that Christ is himself the image of God. In verses 7-10, we see what that looks like in this present life: “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”

And who is the agent of this transformation? Verses 17-18 tell us that it is none other than God himself in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Romans chapter 8 answers these questions as well. The whole chapter is a description of the Holy Spirit’s work to transform the life of the believer. In verse 29, we read, “For those whom he foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.”

This is God’s plan for humanity from the very beginning. His purpose in creating us was to put himself on display. We see this in the very first chapter of the Bible, where we read, “Let us make man in our own image.” God transforms us from dead, broken-down, sinful, semi-humans into full-fledged righteous humans that glorify him by being like him.

The promise of God’s word is that this transformation will be completed when Jesus returns: “When we see him, we will be like him” (1 John 3:2). Romans 8 tells us that all creation is longing for that day in which God will fully reveal his transforming work in the lives of his people.

But the process has already begun. And how do we get in on it? Well, we don’t do it ourselves. Our text says, be transformed, not transform yourself. Our part is simply to make ourselves available to God, to present our bodies a living sacrifice. Radical Availability to God is the only path to full-fledged, image-bearing humanity.

Foolish Schemes of This Age

“And do not be conformed to this world…”

As we noticed in the last post, we could paraphrase this clause like this: “Do not fall for the foolish schemes of this age.” So I thought I would take a minute to identify some of those foolish schemes.

Sometimes we call this the scientific age. The world teaches itself that the physical universe is all that there is, and that everything we see is just a conglomeration of stuff randomly bouncing off of other stuff, and that humanity is just the product of time and chance. But Christians know that the universe is the purposeful creation of a personal God, and that his personality is reflected in his work, especially in his creation of humanity in his own image. If we buy the worldly scheme of scientism, we have no God to be available to. We make his creation out to be something less than it is, and we make ourselves out to be something less than we are.

Sometimes we call this the modern age, and we adopt the Cartesian proverb, “I think; therefore, I am.” Under this scheme, I am my own and I can do with me as I please. I live by the principle, “To thine own self, be true.” This leads to deep-seated individualism and libertarianism. If I fall for this, then God exists to serve me and my needs. But the Bible calls me to serve God, not the other way around.

Sometimes we call this the democratic age, and we fall for the idea that the great problems of human existence will be solved if we just get everyone the vote. Our own Declaration of Independence asserts that the authority of government flows from the consent of the governed, but Jesus claims that all authority has been given to him (Matthew 28:18), and Romans 13:1 declares that human governors receive their authority from God. When Jesus imposes his kingdom on this world, there won’t be any voting. We have seen repeatedly that when we Christians adopt the worldly scheme of democratic idealism, we end up making ourselves available to clever politicians rather than to God.

Sometimes we call this the information age, and we think that life consists in the compilation of facts and the dissemination of news. But the Bible teaches me that knowledge is more that the compilation of facts, that knowledge is a deep personal engagement with God’s creation and with other people. If we fall for the information scheme, we will find ourselves living in a virtual world of MySpace personalities, and forget about the importance of real in-person relationships. We will know more about the cell phone business in Zimbabwe than we know about our next door neighbors. Our information technologies can be great tools, but living for Christ is something designed to be passed along by face-to-face examples.

This is also the age of free market economies, but if we define human well-being solely in terms of temporal wealth, we become slaves to the marketplace—unavailable to God. As Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

The world has many schemes: hedonism and stoicism, moral relativism and strict religious moralism, religious pluralism and religious fundamentalism, democracy and totalitarianism, capitalism and communism, Freudianism, Jungianism, and behaviorism… The world never runs out of schemes. When old ones die, new ones are thought up.

Paul says, “Don’t fall for this nonsense!” Do not let yourself adopt the schemes of this age. This requires active resistance, because these schemes are always trying to get themselves adopted. But we must remain radically available to God, so we must not be available to the world.

Now I think I need a little disclaimer at the end of this post. One might think by reading this that I’m against science or computer technology or democracy, or even well-grounded reason. Just to be clear, I’m not against any of these things; in fact, I think they’re all great. The problem arises when we try to apply them as worldviews. As such, they all leave out the one thing that is the source and goal of all things, the person of God revealed in Christ. Because they leave Christ out, all of these schemes of our age are reductionistic. Because they leave Christ out, adopting any one of them (conforming to this world) will leave Christ out of one’s life. In this way, adopting any of the world’s schemes is a subtle form of idolatry.

Unavailable to the World

“And do not be conformed to this world…”

For the grammarians among us, this verb–do not be conformed–is a present passive imperative. Imperative means it’s a commandment: You must see to it. Passive means you’re not the one who does it, but it’s something done to you. So the commandment is “Don’t let this be done to you.” Finally, it’s in the present tense, which indicates an ongoing problem: Keep on not letting this be done to you. In other words, if you stop paying attention, this conforming will happen.

The word itself means to adopt some particular scheme of things, some perspective and its corresponding way of life. So the commandment is this: “Be diligent to resist the world’s perspective and way of life.” The world is always going to press you, and you must always refuse. If you stop refusing, you will find yourself thinking and acting like the world around you. I’m sure you’ve noticed this.

It’s interesting that the Greek text here doesn’t use the usual word for world. The usual word is cosmos, which usually refers to the way we human beings arrange our society. Cosmos includes our cultures, politics, institutions, and such—the stuff sociologists would study. But instead of cosmos, the word here is eon, which could also be translated the times, or this age. It’s a way of saying current ways of thinking and acting. In other words, it’s a euphemism for contemporary worldviews, and their corresponding values, ethics, and behaviors.

So the commandment is this: Always be attentive and diligent not to buy whatever scheme of things the world is selling. The world never sells the Gospel or the concept of radical availability to God, so whatever the world is selling is going to distract you from your commitment. Remember, don’t fall for the foolish schemes of this age.

True True Worship

The last phrase Paul uses to describe this sacrifice is this: “your spiritual service of worship.” Again, the word for “service of worship” here is the Septuagint’s word to describe the temple worship of the Old Testament. The word spiritual here is a rich word. It’s the word logikos, which means logical or reasonable. Now Paul is using Greek philosophy against itself. In Greek thought, logic was a spiritual activity, a work of the soul. So this offering of the body is a spiritual activity. Again, notice that Christian thought (the truth) opposes the idea that the body is bad or that it would be good to be a purely spiritual being, i.e. to be “free” from the body.

The use of the word logikos also carries another idea from Greek philosophy. It’s the word you would use to talk about the true nature or essence of a thing. So the idea or essence, or logikos, of, say, a horse was more important than any particular horse. Paul is saying here that the offering of one’s living body is the essence of true worship, and thus the ONLY life that makes any sense as a therefore to the Gospel.

You know, we call a lot of things worship. We call our Sunday morning meeting a worship service. We call singing worship. We call prayer worship. We call the reading of scripture worship. We call the exposition of scripture by a gifted preacher worship. We call daily quiet times in the word, and our day to day obedience, worship.

But if you come to church and sing and pray and read and listen, but don’t present your body to God a sacrifice, you are not worshipping. You are not giving God his due. If you spend time in the word every day and work hard to obey its commandments, but you don’t make yourself available to God to do with as he wishes, you are not worshipping. You are not giving God his due. You are not living a truly Christian life. The essence of the Christian life—the only life that is a reasonable therefore to the Gospel—is a total radical commitment of availability to God.

That is such a high standard that you may find it impossible and be discouraged. But let me say to you that while it is high, it is also simple, and by the Spirit who dwells in you, it is not at all impossible. And no matter what happened yesterday, it is possible today for every Christian to renew this commitment to availability, to present himself or herself again a living sacrifice.

I’m thankful that the Lord said “take up your cross daily,” because it means that if I lost track of my commitment to availability yesterday, I can take it up again today. Howard Hendricks said, “The trouble with living sacrifices is that they are constantly crawling off the altar.” That is, I think, why we have a worship service every week, so that we are constantly reminded that the life we are called to live is a life of radical availability to God.