RPM, Volume 16, Number 17, April 20 to April 26, 2014

Covenant Theology

The Doctrine of Salvation
Part 1
Sermon Number Seventeen

By Jim Bordwine, Th.D.

Westminster Presbyterian Church
411 Chkalov Dr, Vancouver WA 98683


Our study of the doctrine of salvation as understood within Covenant Theology continues and the subject of this sermon is sanctification. In redemption, the sinner is called by God and regenerated; he exercises faith in Christ's finished work and is justified; he is then adopted into the family of God and, thereafter, is obligated to live according to the righteousness of God. The doctrine of sanctification concerns the regenerated sinner's conformity to holiness.

As a means of introducing this topic, I would refer to question 75 of the Westminster Larger Catechism, which explains sanctification in this manner:

Sanctification is a work of God's grace, whereby they whom God has, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life.

That is a wonderfully informative, but lengthy definition. Therefore I will offer a summary: 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 existence — or makes demonstrable — the 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.

My outline for this sermon is as follows:

  1. The Two Aspects of Sanctification;

  2. The Inevitability of Sanctification; and

  3. The Pattern of Sanctification.

1. The Two Aspects of Sanctification

I find that this doctrine is one of the most encouraging teachings in the Bible because it has to do with the manifestation of the atonement in my daily life. This doctrine speaks of sin being overcome and mastered by one or in one who previously was mastered by it.

Typically, we think of sanctification as an ongoing process, a life-long process, as I just described it. This is an accurate view of sanctification, but it is not complete, as far as Biblical teaching is concerned.

In the New Testament, 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. But sanctification also is described in terms of a completed act. How do we explain those verses where Christians are described as sanctified, in the past tense?

For example, Paul writes:

Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours… (1 Cor. 1:1, 2)

Later, after giving a list of the types of people who will not inherit the kingdom of God, Paul says of the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 6:11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Obviously, in the mind of the apostle Paul, the sanctification of these early believers was an accomplished fact; it was not something that was in doubt or something that was open to question.

And the writer of Hebrews, says:

Hebrews 10:10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

Hebrews 10:29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified (hagiasthe), and has insulted the Spirit of grace?

These verses demonstrate that there is an aspect of sanctification that is viewed, not as a process, but as an accomplished fact. This is definitive sanctification. From this perspective, sanctification is viewed as a decisive act of God, not unlike justification and adoption. Under this first point, therefore, I want to cover the two aspects of sanctification as they appear in the New Testament—progressive and definitive.

Here, a word of caution is necessary. What I'm describing should not be confused with perfectionism, which is the belief that Christians can live a sin-free life; nor should it be confused with some form of Pelagianism, which is the belief that there is no such thing as inherent depravity. Remember that even though Paul made those comments about the Corinthians, he still has much to say about their ongoing battle with sin.

Therefore, it is best to think of definitive sanctification as a decisive deliverance from the dominion of sin. This takes place at the time of our regeneration and justification.

Immediately, you should see some of the primary implications of this truth. If we are no longer under the dominion of sin, for example, why do we continue to sin? Why is sin such a prevalent element in our daily lives? We'll get to such questions later.

When Paul describes the Corinthians as sanctified, he is reflecting the truth of their calling in Christ Jesus. They were called, justified, and sanctified in Him for the glory of God. Christ's work is finished; all that He is able to secure for the believer has been secured for the believer.

In verse 30 of 1 Cor. 1, we read: "… by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption…" This verse teaches that in Christ, the believer possesses wisdom, righteousness, and sanctification. Again, 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.

So Paul could write that the Corinthians were sanctified and, in the same letter, urge them to "flee immorality" because it was a genuine threat to their spiritual well-being (cf. 6:18). Paul's description of the Corinthians as sanctified, once again, did not mean that they were sinless; it meant that they had been delivered from sin's dominion and could, therefore, indeed, must, therefore, conform to the holy image of their Savior.

Let's give our attention now to another passage written by the apostle Paul. This section of Scripture explains, in practical terms, the progressive nature of our sanctification. In chapter three of his letter to the Colossian believers, we read:

3:1 If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. 5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. 6 For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him…

These verses follow the apostle's warning to the Colossians to be on their guard against false teaching which said that man-made rules and regulations had to be combined with faith in Christ in order to be completely saved. But Paul counters that notion by saying that the believer is completely reconciled to God in Christ; he cannot, he need not, add anything to the work of Christ by way of self-denial or harsh treatment of his body.

The apostle instructs the Colossians to pursue unity of mind and purpose with Christ by "seeking the things above" and setting their "minds on the things above" instead of on the "things that are on earth." (vv. 1, 2) The reason that Paul gives for this exhortation is found in v. 3: "For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God."

Paul is describing the Colossians' union with Christ. In redemption, the believer is so identified with Christ that it can be said that he dies to self, or sin, but then lives again in and for Christ. The implication of this union is spelled out in vv. 5 ff.: The Colossians were to consider themselves dead to sin; they were to manifest a progressive denial of those thoughts and actions that characterized their unregenerate state, while also manifesting progressive evidence of Christ-likeness.

Notice the wording of v. 10: The Colossians had put on the new self "who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him." At regeneration, a new disposition had been created in the Colossians; this new disposition, what Paul calls the "new self " or "new man," grows and is strengthened over time.

The phrase, "is being renewed" comes from a term that means "to cause something to grow up, to be new, to be better." The implanted seed of Godliness grows over time making the sinner a "new man." The regenerated sinner demonstrates increasing evidence of his new nature. The only path left open to a regenerated and justified sinner is the path of righteousness; he cannot practice or be anything else.

Again, practically speaking, this process of sanctification is described by Paul as putting aside "anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech," while, in contrast, "as those who have been chosen of God," showing the marks of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and forgiveness. (cf. vv. 12, 13) The focal point of sanctification, therefore, is conduct.

There are many additional verses and passages that could be cited to illustrate how the writers of the New Testament employed this doctrine in their instructions to believers. For example, in 2 Cor. 7:1, we read: "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." The context for this statement is Paul's explanation to the Corinthians that they must separate themselves from unbelievers because they are the redeemed people of God; as God's special people, they had nothing in common with those who were yet outside His family.

An obligation belonged to the Corinthians and that obligation stemmed from God's saving activity in their lives. They were obligated to seek holiness; this was the inescapable conclusion of their redemption. The Corinthians were bound to pursue a course dictated by their calling in Christ and that course is described in a two-fold manner by Paul: they were to "cleanse [themselves] from all defilement" and they were to "perfect holiness in the fear of God."

Sanctification is not achieved solely by ceasing to do that which God forbids; it also requires that we actively do that which God commands. This is where so many Christians miss the mark. They think it is enough to not sin; they don't give attention to the other element indicated here by Paul, which is the pursuit of holiness.

A second example of how the writers of the New Testament used the doctrine of sanctification in their teaching is found in Heb. 12:14: "Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord." This verse comes in the midst of a number of closing exhortations. The writer instructs his readers to "pursue sanctification."

Sanctification is the unfailing duty of every believer. Sanctification is our destiny and if we are characterized by sin, then we are denying that destiny and we are contradicting the Word of God and the work done for us by Christ.


In closing, I want to offer some thoughts on this topic of sanctification. In particular, I want to focus on what we defined as "definitive" sanctification, which refers to God's act whereby He pronounces our freedom from sin's dominion.

The doctrine of definitive sanctification implies at least four truths. First, it implies the completion and perfection of Christ's work of atonement. If the Bible declares that we are sanctified in Christ, then it must be true that Christ's work on our behalf is not only finished, but also faultless. Our pronounced sanctification in Christ is one more proof, as it were, of the sufficiency of the atonement.

As indicated earlier, there is nothing to add to Christ's work; in Him we are called, regenerated, justified, adopted, and sanctified. This is why the believer can rest in the Savior; he need not give a thought to enhancing or supplementing the atoning work of Jesus Christ.

Second, the doctrine of definitive sanctification implies that God has accepted the completed work of Christ on our behalf. It's one thing to say that Christ's work of atonement is perfect and finished, it is another thing to say that His perfect and finished work has been accepted on our behalf by God. But, again, the fact that we are declared sanctified, in the past tense, means that God has, indeed, accepted what His Son accomplished for us.

All the demands of God that were upon us as sinners have been satisfied in Christ. This includes God's demand for our perfection. This truth offers great encouragement to the sinner. The sinner had no chance of perfecting himself in the sight of God, but God has accepted the sinner, nevertheless, in His Son and has declared the sinner sanctified. Christ has done for the sinner what the sinner could never have done for himself and that is deliver himself from sin's cruel dominion.

Third, the doctrine of definitive sanctification implies a distinction between believers and unbelievers. This was Paul's point in 2 Cor. 7:1. Believers have been made holy in Christ; prior to conversion, they were not holy. Unbelievers are still in their sin; there is no compatibility between believers and unbelievers; there is no fellowship. Believers, therefore, cannot entangle their lives with unbelievers. Unbelievers are yet under God's wrath and they have yet to face Him on that great day of judgment. Believers, by virtue of their sanctification, have different interests and different goals.

Fourth, and finally, the doctrine of definitive sanctification implies the end of sin's dominion in our lives. This is a truth that I have stated several times already, but let's make sure we understand precisely what it means. When the Bible says that we are sanctified, it means that sin is no longer the determining influence in our lives; it means that God has granted us freedom from sin's tyranny and we now are able to live in accordance with His Word as His Spirit enables.

This aspect of the doctrine of sanctification is the key to the Christian life, as far as our thinking and conduct are concerned. This truth is behind all the exhortations to holiness that we find in the Bible.

The four points just made are theological truths. But how should these truths affect our day-to-day living? Assuming those points are accurate, what difference should the make in our behavior. We are talking about the practical side of this doctrine, of course. Every doctrine has a practical aspect in which we see what influence a teaching should have on our daily routines.

In terms of the practical implications of this doctrine of definitive sanctification, I would again offer four points. First, it implies that the sinful conduct of a believer is deliberate and willful. This is, without question, the most significant practical implication of the doctrine of definitive sanctification. If I have been delivered from sin's dominion, which is the essence of definitive sanctification, if God has declared me sanctified in Christ, then thinking or behavior on my part that is at odds with God's standard must be purposeful; it cannot be attributed to sin's control.

Therefore, believers should take their sin most seriously; we cannot pretend like it is insignificant or "not our fault." Too often, Christians rely on the baseless argument that since sin still resides in their flesh, they can't hope to control their wicked impulses. This is not what the Bible teaches. The very fact that God disciplines us for our sin proves that it is within our control.

Our union with Christ means the end of sin's domination; it does not mean the end of sin's influence. Therefore, the responsibility for further sinning rests on the shoulders of the believer who has been sanctified in Christ Jesus. This is not to say that living without sin should be an easy road for us; on the contrary. The sin that remains in us is a very powerful foe and it mightily opposes all expressions of righteousness.

Let's think for a minute about your pattern of conduct. And let me pose a couple of questions as you consider how sin shows up in your life. First, do you allow yourself to rationalize your sin? Second, do you allow yourself to create and then accept some excuse for your sin? Understand that your union with the Savior leaves you responsible before God. Our sanctification in Christ does not mean that we will live free from sin following conversion. But our sanctification in Christ does mean that sin, although present, is not our master; it does not hold sway over us as it did prior to our regeneration.

This is the fact that we must face when we examine our lives and see evidences of continuing sin. Why is it there? Why do we see instances of persistent sin? This should not be the case for any genuinely born-again person. We should not accept the rationalization of our sin—there is no acceptable explanation for it. And we should not accept any excuse our flesh might suggest in order to minimize our sin.

A second practical implication of definitive sanctification is that my testimony of faith in Christ is only as good as my life. My words of profession are groundless unless my conduct proves their validity. How much harm has been done by those who have confessed Christ with their lips only to deny him by their behavior? How many wives have lost confidence in their husbands when they noticed that his conduct did not match his words? How many children have lost faith in their parents when they saw how little their parents' lives resembled what their parents were teaching?

Keep this truth in mind as you go about your duties. If you are sanctified in Christ, then it will be heard in your speech and seen in your conduct. All the talk in the world cannot replace a life of consistent, humble obedience to God. If you have been declared sanctified in Christ, then your life will show it and your life is the place where you want to focus your attention.

A third practical implication of definitive sanctification is that there should be a growing, measurable conformity to Christ in every believer. This is otherwise known as progressive sanctification. The believer should observe spiritual maturity over a given period of time; he should be able to look back a few years and see that he has, indeed, come to know God's Word better and to practice it more consistently.

Moreover, the believer should recognize an increasing love for and dependence upon that Word of God. As his life continues, the believer's judgment should reflect the teaching of Scripture more and more. What are we to say, therefore, about the believer who cannot make such observations in his life? We must say that either his profession is false or he is failing to make use of those means that God has appointed for his maturity, things like God's Word, the worship of the Church, the sacraments, and the fellowship of other Christians.

In this light, you might want to consider your own use of these spiritual benefits. You aren't saved because you attend church and receive the sacraments, you attend church and receive the sacraments because you are saved. You don't seek fellowship with other believers in order to gain redemption, you seek fellowship because you are redeemed and the company of like-minded people is the natural course for your life.

A fourth and final practical implication of definitive sanctification is that the Bible must be standard for life. If we have been delivered from the dominion of sin, and if the only course open for us thereafter is conformity to the perfect image of Christ, then we must ask: Where do we learn about that perfection that Christ so ably manifested? Christians must have a standard by which they live; they must have objective, eternal truth that can be brought to bear on the multitude of questions they have to answer and the multitude of decisions they have to make.

Where do those who have been sanctified find the guidance they need? They find this guidance in the Word of God. There simply is no other answer to the questions of how believers learn what is right, what is wrong, what God requires, and what God forbids. And it is the learning of these things to which our lives are dedicated for as long as God allows us to walk this earth.

Consider, then: How familiar are you with the Word of God? Do you know an accurate report of the Bible's teaching when you hear one? Can you discern truth from error? What is the basis for all those decisions you are making for your family? What is the foundation upon which you are building your life? What legacy are you establishing for your children and their children and their children?

Don't be misled and don't remain ignorant of this all-important implication of your sanctification in Christ. There is nothing more precious, more valuable, more necessary in your life than the holy Word of God. If you don't know it, if you aren't studying it, then you don't know how to live and you won't mature in Christ as you should.

Today, I call on you to honor your Savior by dedicating yourself to living out the implications of what He has done for you. Renounce the sin that is still in your life, do away with that secret sin that keeps spoiling your joy in the Lord, and be willing to have your whole existence scrutinized in light of the Word of God.


Hymn for communion


The sacrament of the Lord's Supper declares to us our standing in the Savior. In Him we are called, regenerated, justified, adopted, and sanctified. This sacrament is testimony to the fact that God has delivered you from sin's awful dominion; it is testimony to the fact that sin is no longer your master. There are many reasons to be joyful when we come to this point in our service, but surely this reminder that God has freed us from sin should bring us great joy and relief.

Some of us were converted as adults; we should think back to the life we were living. We were servants of sin with no way of escape. But God saved us and gave us eternal freedom. Some of us have grown up as believers; we should read the Scriptures and listen carefully to what God has to say about the power of sin and then give thanks that God delivered us from all those wasted years.

Receive the elements of this sacrament with thanksgiving; receive them with praise to God for what He has done. Our lives can count for His glory only because He has sanctified us in Christ Jesus. As we eat these elements we are reminded of just how intimate is our union with the Savior. We live in and through Him and He lives in and through us. Our souls would surely wither without this regular communion with Christ in the Spirit.

Matthew says:

And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins" and then Jesus added those closing words that call our attention to the future, to that day of consummation on which we will be united with Him forever: 29 "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom.

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