RPM, Volume 16, Number 19, May 4 to May 10, 2014

Covenant Theology

The Doctrine of Salvation
Part 3
Sermon Number Nineteen

By Jim Bordwine, Th.D.


This sermon is part three of my treatment of the doctrine of sanctification. By way of review, let me repeat that 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. Under point number one, I noted that 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; this is definitive sanctification. From this latter perspective, sanctification is viewed as a decisive act of God.

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. 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. 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 no longer our master.

Under point number two, I stated that sanctification is unavoidable. The sinner who is called, regenerated, justified, and adopted will be transformed into the image of Christ, morally speaking. Our sanctification is an inevitable part of our redemption. Sanctification must occur due to the nature of our conversion experience. In justification we are declared righteous based upon the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us; in sanctification we are shown to be righteous as the reality of our justification is manifested.

The believer will grow in Christ during his time on earth; he will still have the influence of sin to deal with, but he will, over time, see increasing maturity. Ultimately, the believer's inevitable sanctification is completed when he joins his Savior in heaven.

This brings me to the third and final point in this study of sanctification within Covenant Theology.

3. The Pattern of Sanctification

When I speak of the Pattern of Sanctification, I have in mind how the process of sanctification is supposed to look as it unfolds in the life of those who belong to God. If we could somehow step back from our lives to observe ourselves, what should we see in terms of our behavior? How does this transformation in which we are dying more and more to sin and living more and more unto righteousness manifest itself? What evidence should exist that we are, in fact, being renewed according to the new disposition created in us by God? How should a Christian life be distinguished?

As you know, the epistle of 1 John is incredibly practical in its explanation of Christian doctrine. John takes the profound truth of our justification in Christ and teaches us how it is to be realized or worked out in our day to day lives and relationships. John writes from the perspective of what should be true of one who has undergone conversion; he writes from the perspective of what our union with Christ implies about our view of ourselves and others. Therefore, I am going to use a passage from 1 John to illustrate what the pattern of sanctification is supposed to look like.

In the third chapter of this epistle, beginning with v. 6, we read:

6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

John has just stated that Christ appeared to take away sins and that in Him, there is no sin (v. 5). Then the apostle draws an implication based upon the doctrine of our union with Christ: "No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him." Don't miss John's uncomplicated, yet extremely significant reasoning. Christ came to take away sin; this is, in summary, a description of the mission of the Savior. He came into the world to redeem His people from sin.

Moreover, John adds, the Savior is, Himself, sinless. Both of these profound statements lead to an unavoidable conclusion: those who are united with this Savior who took away sin and is, Himself, sinless, are not going to be characterized by sin. In fact, if one is characterized by sin, then it is a sure sign that he has not experienced conversion.

There are two important things to notice before we go further. First, John uses the word "abide" to describe what I have been calling "union" with Christ. This is a typical Johannine expression for the relationship experienced with Christ by the believer; it is, I would say, nearly identical in meaning with Paul's use of the phrase, "united with Christ" in Rom. 6. Therefore, to "abide" in Christ is basically the same thing as "union with Christ." This concept of "abiding in Christ" comes from the Savior's own teaching as recorded in John's gospel.

In John 15:4, Jesus says, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me." Here, Jesus describes the spiritual union of the believer with Himself as "abiding" in Him. This particular theme that John picked up from the Savior is present elsewhere in his first epistle (cf. 2:6; 3:24; 4:12, 15, 16).

The second matter to notice is the manner in which I have interpreted John's statement that "No one who abides in [Christ] sins." I believe John means that a true Christian will not, due to the nature of his union with Christ, be characterized by sin; that is, a genuine believer will live in such a way as to demonstrate an increasing control of sin's influence. This interpretation is, I believe, consistent with John's own words in other parts of this epistle.

For example, John says: "And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments." (2:3); "…the one who says he abides in [Christ] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked." (2:6); "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love." (4:7, 8); "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen." (4:20); "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments…" (5:2, 3)

All of these verses teach that genuine faith results in a marked preference for and a marked manifestation of God's righteousness as revealed in His Word. When John says, once again, that "No one who abides in [Christ] sins," he means that true believers, those who have been united with Christ by faith, those who have had their sin pardon and Christ's righteousness imputed to them, those who have been adopted into the family of God, will be distinguished by their holy conduct.

Does John mean that believers do not sin? Does he mean that, following regeneration, Christians never again transgress God's will? Does John teach that believers have the potential to reach perfection in this life? The answer is "No" to all three questions. John does not teach that believers will never sin nor does he teach that believers have the potential to reach a point of perfection. In 1:8, he writes: "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us."

For a Christian to claim that he is free of sin is a contradiction of the gospel, John declares. And, in 2:1, 2, he says: "My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world." What John is teaching is that believers will manifest a noticeable preference for righteousness.

This preference grows naturally out of their union with the Savior in which they have been delivered from sin's dominion and given a disposition toward righteousness. The believer has a heart for God and sin cannot be a way of life for him; he may and will sin (as John acknowledges), but regeneration necessitates that willful sin is the exception in the life of the Christian.

John continues to expound the implications of abiding in Christ when he says that "the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil…" (vv. 7, 8) John makes the required connection between the disposition of the soul and behavior. Regeneration and justification will manifest themselves in righteous behavior; they cannot do otherwise. Deliverance from sin's dominion and the accompanying imputation of Christ's righteousness can show up in the life of the Christian in only one manner and that is as habitually righteous conduct.

Our lives, John teaches, reveal the state of our souls. If we have been regenerated and are abiding in Christ, then our lives will give evidence of these facts. On the other hand, if we are yet unregenerate and outside of Christ, then, once again, our lives will give evidence of these facts. John simply is working from what we can observe on a daily basis to the cause of what we observe. He is working from the "fruit" backward to the "root," so to speak. Therefore, he can say that it is pure deception to believe that conduct is not an unmistakable indicator of one's spiritual condition.

Christ appeared, John continues, to destroy the "works of the devil." (v. 8) It follows, then, that those who are characterized by the works of the devil cannot possibly belong to Christ. And so, the apostle repeats the theme, "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." (v. 9) Regeneration, as I've said previously, results in the creation of a new disposition, a God-ward disposition, in the soul of the sinner. This disposition governs the believer just as surely as sin governed him prior to conversion.

Since this disposition, or "seed," is from God, John teaches, it naturally will direct the believer into paths of righteousness. Again, keeping in mind what I said earlier about the perspective from which John is writing, we understand that once again he is saying that Christians will not be characterized by sin since this would be contradictory to the "seed" of God, or that divine principle of life, that is in them.

Because our lives are certain indicators of our spiritual status, John can say: "By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious; anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother." This frank statement is based on John's belief that regeneration and justification show up in our conduct. When he says, "By this," he means "by one's conduct." Where righteousness is lacking, there is reason to suspect that regeneration has yet to take place. There is no way for us to deny John's teaching; our lives will reveal the state of our hearts.

Let us keep in mind, of course, that John is not advocating sinlessness; he is, as I stated before, describing the ideal Christian character. He, himself, as I illustrated with a few references earlier, acknowledges the reality of continuing sin in the believer. What John is doing is showing us what sanctification looks like; he is describing God's will for His redeemed. The pattern of sanctification is a consistent manifestation of that seed of God that abides in us; it is a life that becomes increasingly reflective of God's holy standard.

I want to add that, when considering John's straight-forward presentation of what the Christian life is supposed to look like, the believer need not despair when he notices the discrepancies between his life and John's description. He should, in fact, take hope knowing that holiness is what God intends for him and this is the good work that God has begun in him and which will, by God's grace, be completed in him. The believer should derive considerable confidence from John's description as it informs him concerning the implications of his union with Christ.

Before concluding this study on the doctrine of sanctification, I want to say a few words about the role of the Holy Spirit in the pattern of sanctification. In the definition of sanctification that I have referred to repeatedly in these three sermons, I have stated that sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit. Generally speaking, the Holy Spirit is concerned with two tasks: the regeneration of sinners and the edification of the people of God. Sanctification is incorporated within the second of these two tasks and is, therefore, the special work of the Holy Spirit.

Not long before His crucifixion, Jesus promised to send the Spirit to indwell His redeemed and "guide [them] into all the truth." (John 16:13) According to Jesus' teaching in this passage, the Holy Spirit would fill the role of Sanctifier; He would be responsible for bringing about spiritual growth and discernment in those for whom Christ died. In the New Testament, therefore, we find numerous references to the Holy Spirit in connection with His role as Sanctifier. I will take the time to look at one passage only.

Paul gives us an explanation of this particular responsibility of the Holy Spirit in Gal. 5:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

Just before these verses appear in Galatians, we find Paul talking about our freedom in Christ. He means freedom from requirements that supposedly enhance our standing in Christ. The apostle teaches that our union with Christ is all-sufficient, gracious, and final; the believer need not be concerned with keeping the law or any other rule or regulation as a means of justification. This emphasis of our freedom in Christ leads naturally to what Paul says in the verses just read.

We must not mistake the doctrine of our freedom in Christ to mean that we can engage in sin as we please. Therefore, Paul introduces the concept of the Holy Spirit's presence in the life of the believer. The believer lives by the Spirit; that is, he is made alive by the Spirit's regenerating activity. Thereafter, the Spirit remains in the sinner to bring to reality the implications of that redemption.

Paul sets the remaining influence of sin that is found in our flesh against the Holy Spirit who indwells us following regeneration (vv. 16, 17). The Spirit, he says, "leads" the Christian; that is, He serves as a Divine influence and guide as the believer's understanding and practice of righteousness develop. The Spirit's activity is in direct opposition to the notions and desires produced by the sinful flesh. The flesh manifests itself in "immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these," Paul writes. These characteristics are foreign to righteousness and those who practice such things are not bound for heaven, the apostle declares (vv. 19-21).

In contrast, Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit does His work of conforming us to God's perfect standard and His work is just as easily identified as the works of the flesh. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us as He produces in us "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (vv. 22, 23) These are the characteristics of righteousness and these are the marks of the Spirit's activity in the believer. Our union with Christ means that we are dead to those awful works of the flesh (v. 24).

The Spirit has made us alive, He has regenerated us and begun His work in us and, therefore, our duty is to "walk by the Spirit"; we are to cooperate with the Spirit, as it were, as He creates and nourishes that Godly disposition in our hearts. (v. 25)

While the believer is presented with the ideal Christian character in John's epistle, he also is taught that the production of that ideal Christian character is possible only because the Holy Spirit indwells him and has assumed the responsibility of sanctification. This is what Paul teaches in Gal. 5. This means that the Spirit of Christ is at work in us to establish the pattern of sanctification described by John and perfectly demonstrated by Christ; it means that our part is to yield ourselves to the influence of the Spirit by knowing and obeying the Word of God; we are to make use of all the means God has provided for our spiritual good.

When we neglect the Scriptures, the sacraments, or the Church, we are opposing the work of the Spirit within us; but when we study the Word, when we make right use of the sacraments, and when we joyfully participate in the life of Christ's body on earth, we are "working out" our salvation in proper and beneficial ways.


In the application, I want to return to the passage from 1 John. I've already covered some of the implications of these verses in my previous remarks, but I want us to concentrate on what John's words require us to believe and do as Christians. If we are truly regenerate, if we are united with Christ, if we are, to use John's terminology, abiding in Christ, then what things must we believe and what things must we do according to 1 John 3:6-10? I'll state three things that John's words require us to believe and after each one, state briefly how that belief should be manifested in our lives.

The first thing that John's remarks require us to accept and believe is the idea that deliberate sin is not compatible with the state of being a Christian. We must have straight in our minds the simple truth that being in Christ and sinning are mutually exclusive concepts. Christ paid the penalty of sin and thereby rendered it void as a controlling influence in your life. If we are going to believe what is right, if we are going to hold a truthful conviction, then we must agree with John on this fundamental point: union with Christ and a life characterized by sin are antithetical to one another.

If we believe this proposition, then, of course, our lives are going to be characterized by righteousness. If we really believe that our union with Christ means that we are no longer under the controlling power of sin, if we really believe that abiding in Christ means that we will not and cannot be marked by consistent, deliberate sin, then the only acceptable application of this belief is striving for holiness in our conversations and in our behavior.

This doctrine of abiding in Christ has one chief expression in our lives and that is a studied preference for righteousness. We simply cannot claim to believe that our union with Christ implies what John says it implies and then live in a way that denies what he says. Habitual sin is a denial of John's teaching. Therefore, we must examine ourselves from time to time to determine if we are walking rightly, to determine if our values are Biblical, and to determine if we are executing our duties according to God's commands.

A second thing that we must believe, based upon John's words, is that Scripture ranks our lives as the supreme testimony concerning the state of our souls. This is what John stresses throughout his whole letter; in terms of what can be observed and measured, conduct is the ultimate testimony regarding your spiritual status. This is a doctrine that is demanded by John's teaching.

If we believe this proposition, then it follows that we should be greatly concerned about what we are conveying to others through our lives. We should be greatly concerned about what message we are sending to our children; we should be greatly concerned about what our behavior is teaching those who look to us for guidance.

If it is true that the supreme testimony regarding the state of our souls is the life that we lead, then we should be exceedingly mindful of our reputations. We might be quick to say that it really doesn't matter what others think of us, but this would be a denial of what John teaches. It is true, of course, that what others think of us is of no consequence eternally speaking, but what others think of us, what others are gleaning about our faith from our lives, is important in terms of the good name of Christ and the integrity of the gospel.

Unless we are "of the devil," as John says, then we should not appear to be of the devil. Habitual, deliberate sin is the mark of those who belong not to Christ, but to Satan; therefore, the children of God should want to distinguish themselves as much as possible from that crowd. It may be labeled as an outdated notion in some circles, but holy living, living according to the teaching of Scripture, always has been and always will be the charge given to the faithful. What truly matters is not what you claim, but how you live.

A third thing that must be believed by those who accept John's teaching is that a Christian should never reach the point where he is comfortable with sin. A pattern of sin in our lives should cause us great concern. John says that God's seed abides in the believer and, therefore, the believer "cannot sin." Given what I believe is John's meaning, we have to say that a truly regenerated soul will never come to the point where it can accept sin and dwell peacefully with sin.

John is not the only writer who makes this point. Paul, in Rom. 8 and in the passage from Gal. 5 that we examined, portrays a warfare between the flesh and its sinful tendencies, on the one hand, and the regenerated soul of the believer under the care of the Holy Spirit, on the other. The sinful flesh and the Spirit do not dwell together in harmony!

If we accept this notion, then we have to be concerned when we fall into some sinful pattern of thinking, speech, or behavior and notice that, little by little, our disgust with the sin and our desire to end the sin is growing less intense. That is a blaring alarm in your soul. If you find yourself becoming more comfortable with sin, then you are on a path that leads to misery. Such a state indicates that you are opposing the work of God's Spirit and have placed yourself in danger.

Christians should be on guard against complacency where sin is concerned. We live in a world that constantly bombards and challenges our Christian sensibilities; we have to be diligent so that we don't lose our perspective on sin. There are many things that we can control that will aid us in maintaining a right perspective. To a large extent, we can control what appears before our eyes and what enters our ears.

We need to be dedicated to doing everything we can to protect ourselves from temptations. And, of course, we can strengthen our regenerated souls by filling our minds with righteous material. We can read God's Word, we can pray, we can have edifying conversations, we can sing the praises of God, and we can choose to spend time in the company of the saints. You ignore these opportunities at great risk.

If you belong to Christ, you have been delivered from the dominion of sin. You can and you must live in accordance to your redeemed status. It is not an option, it is mandatory. It is not just for some, it is for all.

There may be some here who are born again, but who have been overcome by some temptation. There is only one option for you: repentance. Do it now. Do it while you still have the opportunity. Repent before your sin brings even more turmoil into your life and your home. God will receive genuine repentance and He will restore you.

And there may be some here who know sin very well, but who do not know Christ at all. For you, I offer the gospel of Jesus Christ. Like everyone else, you are condemned before God. You know that you have no ability to stand in His holy presence. And I will add to that the fact that you cannot do anything about your condition. You need help. You need someone who can pay your sin debt and enable you to live in a way that pleases God for the rest of your days. That someone is Jesus Christ. Just as God will receive a genuine expression of repentance from His children, so He will receive a genuine plea for mercy from you. Do it now. Do it while you still have the opportunity.


Hymn for Communion


The Lord's Supper is one means whereby God ministers to our souls. This sacrament provides us with a time of spiritual communion with our Savior who has been exalted above every name and every power. As you receive the bread and the wine, understand that they are food for your soul; they are medicine for your wounds.

We can say this about these elements because they represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ. He gave Himself in our place as payment for our sin; His life was surrendered and His blood was shed—for us. We call this sharing in the bread and wine "communion." That's because we believe that the living Savior nourishes our souls during these moments. He strengthens us, binds up our wounds, and encourages us with His presence. We are commemorating what He did, yes, but we are also, for these few minutes, enjoying the company of the living Christ.

Pray for the ministry of the Holy Spirit who even now will further your sanctification as you commune with Christ. Confess your sins and rid your soul of all that is not Christ-like. Seek God's grace that you might walk in righteousness this coming week.

Matthew's account of the Lord's Supper 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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