RPM, Volume 16, Number 18, April 27 to May 3, 2014

Covenant Theology

The Doctrine of Salvation
Part 2
Sermon Number Seventeen

By Jim Bordwine, Th.D.

Westminster Presbyterian Church
411 Chkalov Dr, Vancouver WA 98683


In our study of the doctrine of salvation within Covenant Theology, we are considering the issue of sanctification. By way of review, I will repeat some of what I said in the previous sermon.

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 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.

Often, as I pointed out, we find that the doctrine of sanctification is described as a process or transformation. This is a proper description of sanctification, but it is not complete. 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. There are passages in which Christians are described as sanctified, in the past tense (cf. 1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11; Heb. 10:10, 14, 29). This is definitive sanctification.

From this latter perspective, sanctification is viewed as a decisive act of God, not unlike justification and adoption. The doctrine of definitive sanctification, or sanctification viewed as a completed act, is supported by those passages where our sanctification is described as an achieved state. Viewed in connection with calling, regeneration and justification, sanctification is a decided issue. All those who are called, regenerated, justified and adopted, have been sanctified in Christ Jesus from God's perspective.

In explaining definitive sanctification, I said that it is best to think of it as a decisive deliverance from the dominion of sin, which takes place at the time of our regeneration and justification. In Christ, we are freed from sin's control. Describing believers as having been sanctified is done within the context of our union with Christ in which we are said to have died with Him, been buried with Him, and to have been raised with Him. We are called in Him, we are regenerated in Him, and we are justified in Him. By virtue of our union with the Savior, we are viewed as holy in the eyes of God.

So, 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. The progressive aspect of our sanctification is proven by those passages where the believer is exhorted to battle against the influences of sin that remain in his flesh. We are called to mortify remaining sin and this call is legitimate because sin is our master no longer. The regenerated sinner gives less and less expression to his old nature, because he is dead to that old nature, and an increasing expression to this new nature, which, itself, reflects its Creator, who is God.

I called attention to 2 Cor. 7:1 where Paul teaches that the Corinthians had an obligation that stemmed from God's saving activity in their lives. They were obligated to seek holiness; this was the inescapable conclusion of their redemption. Paul described it in a two-fold manner: they were to "cleanse [themselves] from all defilement" and they were to "perfect holiness in the fear of God." Paul teaches that sanctification involves the setting aside of that which is wicked and the aggressive pursuit of that which is righteous. Sanctification is not achieved solely by ceasing to do that which God forbids; it also requires that we actively and purposefully do that which God commands.

This brings us to the second point, which is: The Inevitability of Sanctification.

2. The Inevitability of Sanctification

To repeat, sanctification is conformity to God's standard of holiness. For the sinner who is called, regenerated, justified, and adopted, this transformation is unavoidable; that is, our sanctification is an inevitable part of our redemption. Sanctification, conformity to Christ, must occur due to the nature of our conversion experience. Our justification establishes the nature of that relationship that we henceforth have with God; it is a relationship characterized by righteousness.

In justification we are declared righteous based upon the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us; it is that identification with the Savior that also serves as the basis for our sanctification. In sanctification we are shown to be righteous as the reality of our justification is manifested. The connection between justification and sanctification is such that it makes our sanctification inevitable.

One of the clearest and most informative passages in the New Testament in this regard is Rom. 6. I want to concentrate on the first eleven verses:

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Paul has just explained how the grace of God was manifested abundantly in response to the corruption of the human race that occurred when Adam transgressed God's command in the Garden of Eden. He imagines that someone might suppose, therefore, that God's grace is such that it is somehow "responsive" to sin; that is, sin "activates" grace, as it were. With this presupposition, a man might conclude that sin is not only acceptable, but even desirable so that he might receive God's grace.

This is how Paul introduces this section where he explains the unavoidable connection between justification and sanctification. He answers the question, "Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?" with a resounding, "May it never be!" The apostle then uses a rhetorical question to explain why such a suggestion is theologically outrageous: "How shall we who died to sin still live in it?"

The foundation for Paul's argument is the idea that believers have died with Christ and in dying with Christ, they have died to the power of sin. He mentions baptism as proof that the believer has been freed from sin: "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?" (v. 3) For Paul, the sacrament of baptism was crucially significant because it signaled the subject's identification or union with the Savior in His death. Christ's death was the supreme penalty for sin; if we are one with Him in that death, Paul concludes, then sin no longer functions as the dominant influence in our lives. It is still present in our flesh, to be sure, but we are able to resist and overcome it.

Notice the role of the sacrament of baptism in Paul's reasoning. To Paul, baptism was more than some rite lacking in substance; to him, baptism implied participation in the death of Jesus Christ. Following Paul's lead, we can say that if we are baptized, we are in Christ and possess all the benefits of that union. This is not the same thing as baptismal regeneration. Paul does not say that baptism causes union with Christ; he says baptism indicates union with Christ. Baptism follows regeneration; it does not cause regeneration.

This is a covenantal view, as opposed to the view common in Evangelicalism today. A covenant theologian sees baptism as a sign (not the cause) of the subject's status among the redeemed; a covenant theologian attributes great theological and practical meaning to the sacrament of baptism. Modern Evangelicals, however, do not draw the parallel between the sacrament and what it symbolizes as Paul does in this passage. They tend to separate baptism from what it symbolizes so that baptism in the contemporary Church is not necessarily viewed as Paul does in this text. Consequently, this sacrament is downplayed in importance.

Let me stress that this view is also not compatible with what is being called "Federal Vision" theology. In covenant theology, we attach no efficacy to the sacraments. They are, as our Standards teach, signs and seals of spiritual truth; they are not the cause of those spiritual realities. Nevertheless, the sacraments are important and they do play an essential role in our Christian experience. When the sacraments are administered rightly, they are reliable indicators of our spiritual standing. They provide a testimony to an existing relationship.

Paul will teach later in this passage that baptism signifies union with Christ in all phases of His work as our Mediator. Baptism, as Larger Catechism, question 167, points out, is a source of assurance for the Christian. Baptism means something; baptism is an outward sign and seal of inward spiritual realities; baptism is a badge of covenant membership. The sacrament of baptism, then, is a God-given, objective verification of our standing in Christ; it serves to quite our fears when we doubt our salvation and gives us confidence and hope.

Baptism, rightly administered, declares that we have been born again through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we are dead to the controlling power of sin. That is why, once again, we can receive encouragement from our baptisms. Baptism, to repeat, means something. There was a time when, instead of asking someone if they are saved, you would ask them: "Have you been baptized?" The expectation was that, if you were baptized, it was after the examination of elders who would have verified your profession of faith. It is no longer sufficient to ask that question alone. In the evangelical world, as I indicated, baptism is not seen as having a vital connection with regeneration.

By drawing out the implications of their baptisms, Paul shows the readers of this epistle why the answer to the question, "Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?", must be an emphatic "No!" And there is more to be said by the apostle. The readers of his letter had participated in the death of Christ; this truth was pictured in their baptisms; but they also had been raised from the dead, as it were, to "walk in newness of life" with Christ. (v. 4)

If believers are united with Christ in His death, Paul argues, then they must, of necessity, be united with Him in His resurrection (v. 5). Union with Christ, as I stated, is identification with Him in all aspects of His work of atonement. The sinner who is united with Christ has inevitably died to sin; and the sinner who is united with Christ inevitably has been raised to a new life, one that is free of sin's dominion. This is why our sanctification is undeniable.

Paul describes what happens to the sinner upon conversion: the "old self " is crucified with Christ; that "body of sin" dies on the cross with Christ. Paul uses a word that is translated "done away with" in reference to the sinner's unregenerate nature. You will recall that when I talked about definitive sanctification, I said it could be thought of as a decisive act of God whereby sin's control is broken. This is the idea here in vv. 6, 7. Paul says that our identification with Christ in His work of atonement results in the old self being rendered powerless. Therefore, he declares that the believer is no longer a slave of sin.

This particular implication of the believer's union with Christ is underscored by the apostle in vv. 8-10. Christ died to pay the penalty of our sin; but Christ was raised from the dead whereby His victory over sin and sin's ultimate consequence, death, are demonstrated. Paul states, if the believer dies with Christ, he surely shall live with Christ; if we share in Christ's death, we must share in His resurrection and there is an aspect of sharing in that resurrection that has to do with life here and now.

We presently live a new, resurrected existence in Christ. Just as death no longer has mastery over Christ, so sin, the source of death, no longer has mastery over us. Therefore, Paul declares: "Consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus."

Why would I say that our sanctification is inevitable? I say this because, according to Paul, we have died to sin's control by virtue of our union with Christ in His death and we have been raised from the dead, as it were, by virtue of our union with Christ in His resurrection. Paul is making a spiritual analogy; Christ's physical death is our death to sin and Christ's resurrection is our walking in newness of life. The life that we now live is one in which God's righteousness has become the dominant influence and goal of our life.

Our union with Christ guarantees, it necessitates, it makes inevitable our conformity to holiness. As Paul teaches, it is knowledge of this fact, it is meditation upon this fact that enables the believer to deal with sin as he should. Notice that Paul makes this very application in vv. 12, 13: "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God."

The apostle Peter echoes Paul's teaching in his first epistle. While describing the atoning work of Christ, Peter writes: "... and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed." (2:24) And, in 4:1, 2, we read similar words: "... since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God." Although Peter's statements are not identical to Paul's, he does teach the same thing, in essence.

He says that one consequence of Christ's substitutionary death was "that we might die to sin and live to righteousness." Peter says that our identification with Christ in His atonement means that we share in that atonement; we are dead to sin and alive to righteousness. This is Paul's doctrine of our union with Christ. Like Paul, Peter teaches that the believer's union with Christ involves a spiritual participation in the Savior's death and resurrection.

The implications of this spiritual participation are to be observed in our post-conversion status and abilities. Sin no longer masters us and we are able to live in an acceptable manner before God. And, like Paul, Peter could exhort his readers to lay aside sin and live for the will of God because of their union with the Savior.


In the application, I want to expand upon this idea that our sanctification is inevitable. This teaching of Scripture means, for example, that there will be observable spiritual growth in your life as you walk with Christ. One of the great joys of the Christian life is this very fact. As the years come and go, our relationship with God in Christ grows more precious and more comforting as we come to know Him better and come to manifest His righteousness more consistently.

Our inevitable sanctification shows up in the way we look at life and in the way we carry out our responsibilities; over the years, we actually can see improvement and greater stability This is a sure sign of the truth of our inevitable sanctification. God's Spirit is at work in us to complete what He has begun.

As I think about this truth, I want to apply it in a variety of ways. I want to apply it to the way we view ourselves, the way we view our children, and the way we view others. When we look at ourselves honestly, that is, when we measure ourselves by the standard of Scripture, we are often disappointed in what we see. An unshielded exposure to God's holy Word can be a painful experience, indeed. What we must realize, however, even as we lament our shortcomings and obvious failures, is that our sanctification is inevitable; our sanctification, our conformity to our blessed Savior is certain. We have been united with Him in the gospel and we will persevere.

Knowing that our sanctification is inevitable is a tremendous encouragement, especially during those times when we find ourselves struggling with some sin. We can be assured that we can overcome the sin that troubles us and causes us so much misery. And we can be assured that growth is taking place in us, if we are using the means God provides for our maturity. If we are reading the Bible and being faithful in our participation in the worship of God, we will be maturing in Christ and we will see evidences of this process in our lives.

Christians need not mope around all the time due to their imperfection. I'm not saying, of course, that we should not regret our sin; I'm saying that we should be thankful for and expectant of our inevitable sanctification. God is at work in us, Paul writes, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (cf. Phil 2:13)

Remember these things the next time you are overcome with a sense of your imperfection; regret your sin, yes, and repent of your sin, yes, but don't discount the inevitability of your sanctification. Know that "our old self was crucified with Christ, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin." (Rom. 6:6) Understand that your union with Christ means your death to sin; it means your freedom from sin's dominance so that you can pursue God's righteousness. This pursuit of God's righteousness is what is going on in your life right now. God is sanctifying you; God is using various means to lead you along and cause you to grow up in Christ.

What a wonderful doctrine to apply to our children! Training them in righteousness can be such an exhausting experience. But let us remember that they are God's covenant children and He has made certain promises to us in His Word. And when we get discouraged, when we think that our efforts are almost useless, let us be refreshed by the inevitability of their sanctification.

Signs of their maturing may be long in coming and evidences of their conformity to Christ may appear scarce, but the Scripture's teaching about the inevitability of our sanctification covers all of God's covenant people, adults and children. When parents are faithful to do what God requires of them, then they have every reason to look for God's activity in their children. We should count on and pray for and work for the sanctification of our children just as eagerly and just as steadfastly as we do our own.

Moreover, perhaps this idea of inevitable sanctification can help us train children as we explain to them that their union with Christ implies death to sin and a life of service to God. And perhaps the assurance that we can gain as parents from this doctrine of inevitable sanctification will help us maintain a reasonable view of our children's occasional misbehavior; perhaps we won't think that the end of the world has come when our little ones don't live up to all of our expectations.

I'm not saying that this doctrine of inevitable sanctification is an excuse to be slack in discipline and I'm not saying that it means we don't have to put forth much effort as parents in the raising of children as though they will "automatically" come to faith and live a wholesome life. What I'm saying is that this doctrine ought to help us keep things in perspective; it ought to help us take a long-range view of our children's development; it ought to give us hope and confidence as those who believe in covenant theology.

And, of course, this doctrine of inevitable sanctification should be of tremendous aid in our relationships with others. If we will view others within the framework of their inevitable sanctification, then maybe we won't be so quick to criticize, dismiss, or ignore those in our Christian family who are in the process of maturity just like us. Think about what a comfortable place the Church would be if Her members kept in mind that they are all in the process of growing in Christ, and that they are all in the process of making mistakes and learning better how to serve God.

The doctrine of our inevitable sanctification should cause us to have patience with one another, it should cause us to want the best for one another, and it should cause us to rejoice in one another's growth in the faith. God is causing all of His children, who are alive at this moment, to mature in Christ. We all are not at the same place; we struggle with various sins and various requirements of the Christian life, but we all do have the same God at work in us because we all are united with His one Son in His death and resurrection.

Before I'm misunderstood, let me say that I am not advocating that we overlook sin in the Church, nor am I proposing that we ought to have a less strict view of righteousness that we have presently. All that I'm saying is that we need to understand this doctrine of inevitable sanctification as it applies to the whole Church of Christ.

We are a body in development; we should no more expect perfection from our brothers and sisters in this body than we expect it of ourselves. But, at the same time, we should be glad in the fact that what we see in our brothers and sisters in the Church today is not what we will see tomorrow, for they are growing just like us and they are overcoming sin just like us and God is pleased to work in them for His own glory just like He is pleased to work in us.

In that light, we should be busy praying for one another. We should be eager to assist one another in our mutual struggles. We should be demonstrating all the mercy and forgiveness we want demonstrated to us.

All that I've just said is connected to one marvelous and indispensable truth, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our hope of heaven and our hope of joy here on this earth, our ability to live free from the mastery of sin so that we might live for God's glory—all this is grounded in the gospel. Unless something is done about our sin, we cannot experience sanctification or any other benefit God provides for His people.

Therefore, if the description of life you've heard from me today is appealing to you, then understand that you must first be born again. It is that experience that allows your growth in righteousness to begin; it is that experience that allows you to have a true hope of reaching heaven some day. What God offers to His people is simply astounding, but what is offered rests on our relationship with Jesus Christ.

If you don't know Him, call on Him as we pray. Confess your sins and ask for His mercy. If you do know Him, be thankful.




The sacrament of the Lord's Table reminds us of our inevitable sanctification because it portrays our union with Christ. Every observance of this sacrament, therefore, is an encouragement to us to remember that God is presently at work in us, in all of us. He is conforming us as a body to the image of His beloved Son. Our taking of the elements together is symbolic of that mutual sanctification that is taking place in us even now.

As you receive these elements, take the time to notice who else is receiving these elements. I'm receiving them, some of your children are receiving them, your wife is receiving them, your husband is receiving them, and everyone else in this congregation is receiving them. We all are being sanctified because of the truth depicted in this sacrament; we are united with Christ and God has begun a work in us that He surely will complete.

Let us give thanks to God as we receive the Lord's Supper and let us pray for our sanctification and the sanctification of others in this church; let us pray that we will mature in Christ and that He will be pleased to use us for His glory.

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."
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