“Sanctification is not achieved by a process, nor by our striving, or working to that end. It is achieved once for all by union with Christ” (John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p 143). John Murray, however, also sees it as a “deflection from the pervasive New Testament witness to speak of sanctification as merely positional” . Murray sees the positional position as necessary but not as sufficient and teaches that sanctification is also “progressive”. Murray argues that if the believer has the Holy Spirit and is given commands to obey God after conversion, then the believer must still be obligated to live out the commandments of God.
But “progressive sanctification” does not logically result from a change of disposition in the believer. And “progressive sanctification” does not logically result from the imperatives given to those indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Justified sinners remain sinners even after justification, and also after “sanctification”. Even our best deeds continue to be sins. Sanctification does not create in us a holy disposition, and does not gradually purify us. “Sanctification” does not put us in possession of any personal holiness. “Sanctification” makes us saints, not better people who don’t sin so much.
When it comes to the word “sanctification”, first we need to define the word, because biblically it has more to do with binary status than it does with process or progress. I would recommend Peterson’s Possessed by God on this, but in brief we need to always remember the teaching of Hebrews 10;10-14 that those individuals being sanctified in time are individuals at different times being set apart by the blood of Christ. It is election that first sets us apart. Christ died only for the elect, and it is Christ’s death which sets the elect apart when God imputes the death of Christ to them.
So we need to define sanctification. Even when we say “definitive sanctification”, we need to make it clear if we are talking about the work of the Holy Spirit in initially causing us to understand and believe the gospel (II Thess 2:13) or if we are talking about a claim that Christians cannot sin as much or in the same ways as we did before conversion (John Murray)
Those who speak of “definitive sanctification” as our new inability to not sin so much often assume that their own definition of sanctification is what we find taught in Romans 6. But a careful reading of Romans 6 shows that being united to Christ’s death sets the elect apart by means of legal identification with Christ. The reason sin shall not reign is not “we will not practice sin (so much) anymore”. The reason sin shall not reign over those sanctified by Christ’s death is that they are now no longer under the law.
Romans 6 is about Christ the public representative of the elect first being under condemnation, being under sin and death. Romans 6:7 “For one who has died has been justified from sin. 8 Now since we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death NO LONGER has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died HE DIED TO SIN once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.
Christ was never under grace and is still not under grace. Christ was under the law because of the imputed sins of the elect. Romans 6 is about Christ’s condemnation by the law and His death as satisfaction of that law. Christ after His resurrection is no longer under law. Christ’s elect, after their legal identification with Christ’s death, are no longer under law.
The death of the justified elect is the SAME legal death that Christ died. The “definitive resurrection” of the elect in Romans 6 is the result of being set apart with Christ (and His death) from being under law.
Christ was never under the power of sin in the sense of being unable not to sin. Christ was always unable to sin. The only way Christ was ever under the power of sin is by being under the guilt of sin. The guilt of the elect’s sin was legally transferred by God to Christ. Christ’s death to sin was death to the guilt of sin, and since the elect are united with His death, the death of the elect is also a death to the guilt of sin. Romans 6:7: “For one who has died has been justified from sin.”
Yet many commentators tell us that “set free from sin” must mean the elect’s definitive transformation by the Holy Spirit so that the justified cannot habitually sin (or that their new nature cannot sin) They tell us that justification was in Romans chapter five and that chapter six must be about something more if it’s to be a real answer to the question “why not sin?”. But Romans 6 does not talk about Christ or His people not habitually sinning. Romans 6 locates the cause of “sin not reigning” in “not being under the law”
Christ was never under the power of habitual sin , and the definitive death of the justified elect is His death.
Romans 6:14 does not say, For sin shall not be your master, because the Holy Spirit has changed you so that you cannot habitually sin, but only occasionally and always with repentance. Romans 6:14 says, “For sin shall not by your master, because you are not under law but under grace.”
Christ also died to purchase every blessing, including the giving of the Holy Spirit and our believing the gospel. But it is not believing which frees the elect from the guilt of sin. What’s definitive is being legally joined to Christ’s death.