Define “Sanctification”

“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.

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13 Comments on “Define “Sanctification””

  1. markmcculley Says:

    John Murray assumes that by “the dominion of sin” Paul has an ontological change in mind. However, when Paul wrote “so you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11) the verb he chose to use was logi,zomai means to “consider”, to “count”, to “credit” or to “reckon”.

    Logos =word. logi,zomai=worded.

    The freedom from the dominion of sin is not ontological change in holiness, as Murray would suggest. Rather, it is the freedom from the condemnation of sin and from the guilt of falling short of the law’s demands. Whereas Murray would seem to suggest that sanctification is conforming to the law (by the Holy Spirit’s help), Paul’s claim is that “we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit” (Rom. 7:6). Paul’s claim is that believers are released from the condemnation of the law’s demand. It is freedom from this captivity that Paul has in mind when he says that Christians are free from the dominion of sin.

    Paul anticipates the objection that “doesn’t such a view suggest that the law is sin?” However, the view that the freedom from the dominion of sin means that the Spirit causes us to obey the law would never draw one to raise the objection that the law is sin . If one were in line with Pauline theology, one would have to answer to similar objections to those Paul faced. The fact that John Murray does not seems to attract such objections only suggests that he is not reading the Apostle Paul correctly.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    If responsibility does not entail ability in the pre-converted state, then it is the burden of proof for John Murray to demonstrate that responsibility entails ability in the post-converted state. One cannot simply assume that God gave the believer commandments and thus man is able – or guaranteed – to keep them.
    Murray would probably indicate that the difference between post-conversion and pre-conversion is the presence of the Spirit in the regenerate man (which is clearly absent in the unregenerate man). Murray would then state that the Spirit then “enables” the believer to perform the requirements of the Law.

    Murray needs to demonstrate how regeneration or the presence of the Holy Spirit grants the believer an ability which the unbeliever does not have. One cannot assume, as Murray does, that the Holy Spirit’s presence grants this ability. Murray mightobject by asking me for an explanation on what purpose God gives someone a commandment if one isn’t able to keep it. To this objection, the Apostle Paul responds, “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Rom.7:7).

    “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come…so then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:19, 24,). Paul tells us that the law was given so that it would demonstrate that we can’t keep it and, thereby, lead us to Christ as our righteousness. . Like the Old Testament Law Paul’s exhortations provide context for what it means to be perfect, thereby providing a measuring stick for perfection and drive us to our only hope, Jesus Christ. There is no question that Paul wishes his exhortations and commandments to be obeyed. We also know about Moses’ heart over the nation Israel. However, in no way do the commandments of Paul demonstrate ability to God’s covenantal people in the New Testament any more than the commandments of Moses demonstrated ability to God’s covenantal people in the Old Testament

  3. markmcculley Says:

    “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17-18).
    Someone might read that and think that Jesus is asking his hearers to obey more, to sin less, to become more sanctified. However, that would only be relaxing God’s command of perfection and thereby be guilty of what Jesus is warning against.

    “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19,). Jesus is not asking his hearers to put in more effort, to try harder, to sin less, or to be more sanctified – inasmuch as He is setting up the perfect standard of God and thereby demonstrating that they need a greater righteousness than His hearers could ever perform. When Jesus says, “For unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20),

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Galatians 3:21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. https://markmcculley.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/if-we-remove-the-ceremonies-and-we-are-united-to-christ-then-the-law-is-our-friend/

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Viewing sanctification as positional does not lead to antinomianism. Someone might wish to ask, “if the law’s condemnation is removed, then what reason is there to obey God? What, then, keeps believers from moral laxity?” Such an objector presupposes that the only reason to obey God is fear of the law’s condemnation. But obedience is not only done for one’s own sake but “in relation to God, for God’s sake, and with a view to the service of God” (Berkhof, 532), Paul writes, “Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (Rom. 7:13-14, ESV). The law’s purpose is to expose human sinfulness. The failure human obedience does not result in an antinomian position. It is not the case that the law is done away with.

  6. markmcculley Says:

    “if we are not keenly sensitive to our own helplessness, then we can make the use of the means of sanctification the minister of self-righteousness and pride and thus defeat the end of sanctification” (John Murray, 147).
    One professing Christian often confronts another professing believer—“the Bible says you are to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” while thinking that the morally-lax brother is worse for a lack of spiritual effort. Often this sounds like, “you’ve got to try!” To think another is worse for not trying implies that oneself is better for trying. Self-righteousness fails to f realize that one’s effort or trying comes from God . Shall we boast then of what God has enabled us to do?

    What relevance does the imperative have in proving the progressiveness of “sanctification”. If it’s the Holy Spirit alone who does the work? Unless we understand\d the command to be directed to somebody who has the ability to perform the command in some sense , then the command is irrelevant to teaching us anything about the ability of the regenerate.

    “God’s working in us is not suspended because we work, nor our working suspended because God works. Neither is the relation strictly one of co-operation as if God did his part and we did ours so that the conjunction or co-ordination of both produced the required result” (John Murray, 149). Murray would see both full divine participation and full human participation in the sanctification process. This is by definition synergism

  7. markmcculley Says:

    If conforming into the image of Christ is truly the work of the Holy Spirit alone, then it is difficult to claim a new faculty in the regenerate person. The regenerate Christian is not given an improved ability from the Holy Spirit to obey God. I am not denying that Christians bear fruit. Nor do I deny that the Ho

    Romans 7 tells us that although the Holy Spirit imparts a desire to do good, He does not always grant the ability. Paul testifies of himself: “I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Rom. 7:14-18)

    2 Corinthians 3:17, 18, The context in which Paul speaks that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” is not about the regenerate eprson progressing from one state of glory to another but is rather comparing the fading glory of the old covenant, the glory of Moses, with the unfading glory of the new covenant, the glory of the Lord

  8. markmcculley Says:

    http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2014/08/18/christians-are-holy-and-wholly-possessed-by-god/ The strength of Peterson’s work is his ability to engage various biblical texts without ever losing sight of their wider context. In fact, it is an appeal to context that leads him to disagree with J. C. Ryle’s interpretation of Hebrews 12:14 (a verse that says “without holiness, no one will see the Lord”). Peterson and Ryle are not far from each other, but Peterson’s approach sees holiness as an expression of our “once-for-all” sanctification and Ryle sees holiness more as “proof” of our salvation.

    At the risk of oversimplification, we might put it this way: Peterson believes stressing the positional aspect will lead to the expression of the progressive aspect, whereas Ryle believes stressing the progressive aspect will lead to evidence of the positional.

    Or to look at it from the other side: wrongly emphasizing the progressive will lead to an obscurity of the positional and to doubts of salvation (according to Peterson), whereas wrongly emphasizing the positional will lead to apathy and lack of incentive to faithfully pursue a holy life (according to Ryle).

    In pitting Ryle and Peterson against each other, I do not want to give the impression that their differences are quite as stark as presented here; neither is it true that Peterson uses Ryle as his primary foil (he engages with a number of scholars, both living and dead). But I find it helpful to simplify the discussion as a way of facilitating further conversation among pastors and counselors who genuinely want to see people growing in holiness and yet disagree as to the best way to biblically motivate them to obedience.

  9. markmcculley Says:

    rom Horton’s Covenant and Salvation

    p 201–“John Murray’s notion of regeneration (as a new habit infused or implanted) before effectual calling (through the gospel’s forensic announcement) is what keeps justification (for John Murray) from being constitutive across the entire order of application….I share McCormack’s concern to see justification as that declarative Word that simultaneously creates the new status and the new being of those who are in Christ. Justification is not to be confused with regeneration or sanctification, but is to be regarded as their Word-constituting source.

    p 202, McCormack—Regeneration, which flows from justification as its consequence, is the initiation of a work that is completed only in the eschaton, only in the glorification of the saints.

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Positional Sanctification and dealing with Objections from Berkhof and Murray
    **
    The church has for long been debating over the true nature of sanctification. The proponents for the views to be discussed are: Karl Barth, Louis Berkhof, and John Murray. Karl Barth has viewed sanctification as positional. Sanctification, for Barth, is where God declares a sinner as holy; the believer already stands in a “holy position” before God, since Christ is the believer’s sanctification. Barth, thus emphasizes the definiteness of sanctification: the believer has been sanctified. Louis Berkhof, in contrast to Barth, has viewed sanctification as progressive. Sanctification, according to Berkhof, is a continual process in which the believer is being transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ – until the believer finally becomes glorified at Christ’s return. Berkhof, thus, emphasizes the ongoing process of sanctification: the believer is becoming sanctified. John Murray, who in some sense acts as a mediator between Barth from Berkhof, has argued that sanctification is both positional and progressive. In this paper I will first present the differing views and then critique John Murray’s view that sanctification is can be both positional and progressive. I will then argue against Murray and Berkhof’s progressive view of sanctification, and thereby conclude that the positional view of sanctification is the Biblical one.
    Karl Barth viewed sanctification as positional, or declartive, rather than as progressive. Barth, as Louis Berkhof critiques him, fails to see sanctification as the removal of actual sin and the transformation into greater personal holiness. Berkhof, in analyzing Barth’s position, writes, “And just as man remains a sinner even after justification, so he also remains a sinner in sanctification, even his best deeds continue to be sins. Sanctification does not engender a holy disposition, and does not gradually purify man. It does not put him in possession of any personal holiness, does not make him a saint, but leaves him a sinner” (Berkhof, 537). Hence, Berkhof criticizes Barth: “Justification and sanctification are, therefore, to Barth, two sides of one act of God upon men. Justification is the pardon of the sinner (justification impii), by which God declares the sinner righteous. Sanctification is the sanctification of the sinner (sanctification impii), by which God declares the sinner ‘holy’” (Berkhof, 537). Berkhof criticizes Barth for the reason that this view only seems to blur justification and sanctification, and thereby “rules out the possibility of confident assurance” (Berkhof, 537).
    Berkhof, on the other hand, rejects Barth’s positional view of sanctification and falls back on a progressive view. Berkhof sees sanctification as two parts: (i) “the mortification of the old man, the body of sin”, and (ii) “the quickening of the new man, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Berkhof, 533). Berkhof defines sanctification as “that gracious and continuous operation of the Holy Spirit, by which He delivers the justified sinner from the pollution of sin, renews his whole nature in the image of God, and enables him to perform good works” (Berkhof, 532). Hence, according to Berkhof, the Christian progressively becomes more Christ-like. Berkhof is aware that this view of progression may lead to a view that is mere moralism, since he says that in both the New and the Old Testaments: “ethical holiness is not mere moral rectitude, and sanctification is never mere moral improvement” (Berkhof, 532). The difference, Berkhof says, is that the Biblical view of sanctification is “in relation to God, for God’s sake, and with a view to the service of God” (Berkhof, 532). So, Berkhof reasons, a progressive view of sanctification cannot be attributed merely as moralism, since moralism is not concerned with the mentioned attributes of sanctification.
    John Murray, in his Redemption Accomplished and Applied, argues that sanctification is both positional and progressive. He acknowledges Barth’s view that Scripture teaches a definiteness of sanctification, since he says that “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” (Murray, 143).
    Murray and Barth would both agree that Scripture is clear on the positional aspect of sanctification. For example, Paul says that it is in Christ Jesus that “God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30, ESV, emphasis mine). It is for this reason that Paul regards the Corinthian church as “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:2, ESV, emphasis mine). In 1 Cor. 1:2 the Greek word ‘sanctified’, h`giasme,noij [perfect passive participle of a`gia,zw] denotes a completed action in the past, with ongoing continuing results. He uses the verb in the same manner in Acts 20:32 and 26:18. The children of God have been sanctified in Christ. There is no questioning the finished work of sanctification; just as justification is a done deal, so is sanctification. Christians are thus able to live in the present reality that they are sanctified, or “holy” before God. Paul tells the Corinthians, “but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11b, ESV, emphasis mine). Just as Christ is the one who has already accomplished our justification, He is also the one who hasalready accomplished our sanctification. To deny a positional, or definite, sense of sanctification would go contrary to Scripture.
    While he acknowledges the definiteness of sanctification (in agreement with Barth), John Murray, however, sees it as a “deflection from the pervasive New Testament witness to speak of it as merely… positional” (Murray, 142, emphasis mine). Murray sees the positional position as necessary but not as sufficient. Thus, Murray also agrees with Berkhof in that sanctification is progressive. Murray reasons 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. The positional aspect of sanctification, thus for Murray, is not enough. For Murray, it is impossible for the Christian to be complacent with his ontological holiness.
    Murray’s argument, however, is not sufficient to prove the progressive aspect of sanctification. First, it will be shown that the progressive nature of sanctification does not follow from a change of disposition in the believer. Second, it will be shown that a progressive nature does not follow from the imperatives given to those indwelt by the Holy Spirit. By rejecting these two premises Murray’s argument for progressive sanctification will be demonstrated as unsuccessful.

    CHALLENGING MURRAY’S TWO PREMISES

    Here it will be shown that the progressive nature of sanctification does not follow from a change of disposition in the believer. This will be done by first challenging Murray’s grasp of how Christians are no longer under the dominion of sin, and then by offering a more accurate understanding of the freedom in which Paul spoke.
    Murray argues that those who crucified their old self with Christ are no longer under the dominion of sin (Romans 6). He says that “it is wrong to use these texts to support any other view of the victory entailed than that which the Scripture teaches it to be, namely, the radical breach with the power and love of sin which is necessarily the possession of every one who has been united to Christ. Union with Christ is union with him in the efficacy of his death and in virtue of his resurrection – he who thus died and rose again with Christ is freed from sin, and sin will not exercise the dominion” (Murray, 143). Murray further writes, “[the Christian] must reckon himself to be dead indeed unto sin but alive unto God through Jesus Christ his Lord. It is the faith of this fact that provides the basis for, and the incentive to the fulfillment of, the exhortation, ‘Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body…’” (Murray, 146).
    Murray’s usage of Scripture, however, has failed to prove that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit necessarily sanctifies a man in a progressive and ontological sense. His usage of Romans, for instance, is unwarranted for the reason that he assumes that by “the dominion of sin” Paul has an ontological change in mind. However, when Paul wrote “so you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11) the verb he chose to use was logi,zesqe. This verb [logi,zomai] means to “consider”, to “count”, to “credit” or to “reckon”. Such a verb is not used in an ontological sense, but in a positional sense. Paul also uses this very verb to describe the manner in which Abraham was counted righteous by God – by faith (Rom. 4:6, 8-11, 22-24). God accounted, or declared, Abraham righteous even though Abraham ontologically wasn’t. Hence, by his usage of this passage all Murray has done is undermine his own assumptions by reaffirming the positional aspect of God’s blessings.
    The freedom from the dominion of sin, which Paul speaks of, is not the ontological change in holiness, as Murray would suggest. Rather, it is the freedom from the condemnation of sin and from the guilt of falling short of the law’s demands. Whereas Murray would seem to suggest that sanctification is conforming to the law (by the Spirit’s help), Paul’s claim is that “we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit” (Rom. 7:6, ESV, emphasis mine). Paul’s claim is that believers are released from the condemnation of the law’s demand. It is freedom from this captivity that Paul has in mind when he says that Christians are free from the dominion of sin. Whereas Murray would suggest that being freed from the dominion of sin means that the believer has newly attained ability to keep the law, Paul, on the contrary, suggests that such freedom means Christians are absolved from the law’s demands. All the law could do is condemn, kill, and destroy. And it is for this very reason that in Rom. 7:7 Paul anticipates the objection that “doesn’t such a view suggest that the law is sin?” However, the view that the freedom from the dominion of sin only means that the Spirit aids us in obeying the law would never draw one to raise the objection that the law is sin (in fact, quite the contrary). If one were in line with Pauline theology, one would have to expect answer to similar objections in which Paul faced. The fact that Murray does not seems to attract such objections only suggests that he is not reading the Apostle Paul correctly.
    Having shown that the progressive nature of sanctification does not follow from a change of disposition in the believer. It will now be shown that it s not the case that progressive sanctification follows from the imperatives given to those indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It will first be demonstrated that the burden of proof is on Murray to prove that the imperatives given to the believer entail the believer’s ability to obey them. A potential set of counter objections from Murray will then be introduced and be responded to.
    Murray writes: “the sanctified are not passive or quiescent in this process. Nothing shows this more clearly than the exhortation of the apostle: ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12, 13) (Murray, 148). Murray wishes to acknowledge that the commands in Scripture demand human responsibility – not least Paul’s exhortation to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). However, one must ask what relevance the imperatives have in proving the progressive nature of sanctification? Unless one is ready to make the Pelagian presupposition that God would not give us a command unless we were able to keep it, one cannot assume that just because believers are given a command that the believer has the ability to keep them. Murray would agree with Berkhof that uncoverted man is commanded to be perfect, to do good, to not sin, to believe and be saved, but simultaneously “cannot do any act, however insignificant, whichfundamentally meets with God’s approval and answers to the demands of God’s holy law…In a word, he is unable to do any spiritual good” (Berkhof, 247, emphasis mine). If responsibility does not entail ability in the pre-converted state, then it is the burden of proof of Murray to demonstrate that responsibility entails ability in the post-converted state. Murray clearly fails to demonstrate this by his exegesis of Romans 6. One cannot simply assume that God gave the believer commandments and thus man is able – or guaranteed – to keep them.
    Murray would probably indicate that the difference between post-conversion and pre-conversion is the presence of the Spirit in the regenerate man (which is clearly absent in the unregenerate man). Murray would then state that the Spirit then “enables” the believer to perform the requirements of the Law. However, he must demonstrate how regeneration or the presence of the Holy Spirit grants the believer an ability which the unbeliever does not have. One cannot assume, as Murray does, that the Holy Spirit’s presence grants this ability.
    If one cannot assume that the Holy Spirit grants the believer the ability to keep God’s commandments, then Murray might then object by asking me for an explanation on what purpose God gives someone a commandment if one isn’t able to keep it. To this objection, the Apostle Paul responds, “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Rom.7:7, ESV). Again, Paul says elsewhere, “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come…so then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:19, 24, ESV). Paul tells us that the law was given so that it would demonstrate that we can’t keep it and, thereby, lead us to Christ as our righteousness. Nowhere does Paul say that commandments are given so that we could keep them. Like the Old Testament Law Paul’s exhortations provide context for what it means to be perfect, thereby providing a measuring stick for perfection (since perfection is always God’s standard) and drive all men to our only hope, Jesus Christ. Paul contextualizes God’s commands, to demonstrate what the perfect man would look like in their contexts of church conflict (1 Cor. 3, 12-14), in church conduct (1 Ti. 5), in marriage (Eph. 5), in mature character (Rom. 12, 1 Thess 5), in generous giving (2 Cor. 8), in relation to the state (Rom. 13), and so forth. There is no question that Paul wishes his exhortations and commandments to be obeyed. But this demonstrates the pastoral heart of Paul, much like it demonstrated Moses’ heart over the nation Israel. However, in no way do the commandments of Paul demonstrate ability to God’s covenantal people in the New Testament any more than the commandments of Moses demonstrated ability to God’s covenantal people in the Old Testament. And neither Berkhof nor Murray would be willing to move in the direction of the dispensationalist.
    If the law’s only intent was to lead us to Christ, then, Murray may wonder, whether such a view of sanctification leads to antinomianism. After all, the denial of progressive sanctification only seems to point to the road of self-complacency and moral laxity. John Murray wrote, “truly biblical sanctification has no affinity with the self-complacency which ignores or fails to take into account the sinfulness of every lack of conformity to the image of him who was holy, harmless, and undefiled” (Murray, 145) He quotes “spiritual” men in the Bible to prove that true sanctification is never satisfied with self-complacency. He quotes the Apostle Paul: “O wretched man that I am” (Rom. 7:24), the prophet Isaiah: “Woe is me…” (Is. 6:5), the blameless and upright Job: “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job. 42:5, 6). To further the point he could even have quoted Paul’s confession that he was the worst of sinners (1 Ti. 1:15) or Peter’s cry, “depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk. 5:8, ESV). Murray finally quotes Jesus to drive home the point that true sanctification cannot be self-complacent: “Ye shall be perfect therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48)
    It is interesting to see how Murray can quote so much Scripture and yet miss the essential point of what the passages he quotes actually demonstrate. Jesus’ words in Matthew, for instance, “ye shall be perfect therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48) demonstrates that God requiresperfection and nothing short of it. He is not satisfied with someone’s best work (with or without the Holy Spirit). Jesus’ point in the Sermon on the Mount is that anyone’s best work still falls short of what God requires. He says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17-18, ESV).
    Someone might read that and think that Jesus is asking his hearers to obey more, to sin less, to become more sanctified. However, that would only be relaxing God’s command of perfection and thereby be guilty of what Jesus is warning against: “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19, ESV). Jesus is not asking his hearers to put in more effort, to try harder, to sin less, or to be more sanctified – inasmuch as He is setting up the perfect standard of God and thereby demonstrating that they need a greater righteousness than His hearers could ever perform. When Jesus says, “For unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20, ESV), He is trying to expose the inability of fallen man and thereby lead His hearers to find righteousness that does not come from the law, “but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:9, ESV). Thus, His aim is not to show that they can keep the law (even the scribes and Pharisees have failed!), but that they can’t. Thus He continues to make the law harsher with the repeated formula: “You’ve heard it said…but I say unto You…, even if You…You have still failed” (Matt. 5:21-47). And it is in this context that Jesus says “Ye shall be perfect therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). While it is true that believers are not to be self-complacent, the response Jesus is looking for is not “O wretched man that I am…let me try harder (with or without the Holy Spirit)”, but rather, “O wretched man that I am, I am required to be perfect…who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24, ESV). It is this context which provides an understanding to which the Biblical men above state “woe is me”, and “I abhor myself”. It is in this context that they recognize their inability to perform righteousness, thus they are only left with cursing themselves.
    Again, Murray only undermines his position by the manner in which
    Murray’s usage of Scripture, therefore, in no way supports his position but only seems to emphasize the fallenness of man and his utter inability to amount to anything worthy. To argue for ability from this passage seems contrary to Jesus’ antithetical position of relaxing a commandment. Furthermore, by Murray’s understanding of complacency, it would seem as though the non-complacent man that is able to perform the law (to greater degrees) is not lead to cursing oneself, but rather to the encouraging of oneself in order to perform tasks better and more frequently (after all, the man who is so able wouldn’t want be discouraged by cursing himself). Simply said, Murray does not disprove the positional view of sanctification by claiming that the regenerate man should not be morally-lax.
    Viewing sanctification as positional does not lead to antinomianism just because it seems to have removed the law’s condemnation. Someone might wish to ask, “if the law’s condemnation is removed, then what reason is there to obey God? What, then, keeps believers from moral laxity?” However, such an objector fails to realize his question presupposes that the only reason to obey God is fear of the law’s condemnation. But if the only reason to obey God is fear of condemnation, obedience is only done for one’s own sake and thus fails to be “in relation to God, for God’s sake, and with a view to the service of God” (Berkhof, 532), which Berkhof says Biblical sanctification requires.
    It is clearly acknowledged that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12, ESV). Paul explains that the good law’s intendment was to expose the sinfulness of man by contrasting man’s sinfulness with God’s perfect standard of holiness. He writes, “Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (Rom. 7:13-14, ESV). The law’s purpose, therefore, is to expose human sinfulness, but just because it cannot be achieved by human obedience does not entail an antinomian position. It is not the case that the law is done away with or that it is evil; it is simply fulfilled on behalf of the believer.
    Let me create a scenario in order to demonstrate this position. Suppose an average income man, named Joe, and a billionaire, named Bob, live in the United States. The United States’ tax law requires Joe to pay his taxes. If the billionaire, Bob, however, decides to pay Joe’s taxes, this does not in any way abolish the tax law, nor does it demonstrate that the tax law is evil. Since taxes provide roads, schools, infrastructure, etc., it is a good thing for Joe to give money to the State. Joe, however, is now no longer obligated to pay his taxes – even though the tax law is a good thing. Joe neither needs to feel guilty about not paying his taxes, nor be concerned that the authorities will punish him for not paying his taxes.
    If the Holy Spirit does not impart the ability to keep the law, then Murray might then wish to know what benefit the Holy Spirit imparts to the believer. The answer is that the Holy Spirit provides tremendous benefit to the believer: the Holy Spirit gives the regenerate man a new desire and love for God. The Holy Spirit enables him to see and continue to see Christ as his only hope. This Spirit becomes his deposit that guarantees his heavenly inheritance and seals his salvation (Eph. 1:14; 4:30). The Spirit illumines his mind to see the truth in Christ, reminding him of who Christ is, of what Christ has done for him, reassuring him that he belongs in the family (Rom. 8:15-17), and making him hopeful for the fulfillment of the eternal kingdom. The Holy Spirit, besides implanting a new desire, can enable the believer to look more like Christ, to obey Christ, to follow Christ, to love Christ, to turn away from sin – and this grace is given at the Spirit’s disposal, as He so chooses.
    The Holy Spirit, however, does not implant into the believer a new ability to do good works, as if this ability is the faculty that belongs within the regenerate man. The consequence of the contrary leads to what I will call “post-conversion-semi-Pelagianism”. Although Murray would not consider himself a “post-conversion-semi-Pelagian”, he is in danger of functioning like one.
    Murray would counter Pelagians and semi-Pelagians in matters of the pre-converted man. However, it seems as though not all the semi-Pelagian-residue has left Murray in the discussion of post-converted man. Semi-Pelagians believe “God imparts His common grace to all men, which enables them to turn to God and believe” (Berkhof, 247). After all, for the semi-Pelagian, if God gives man a command, then He will provide man the grace and ability to keep it. Murray goes unwarranted in thinking that the converted man is given a new faculty/ability – granted it’s with the Holy Spirit – to do good works. After all, for Murray, “nothing shows this more clearly than the exhortation of the apostle: ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12, 13) (Murray, 148).
    Murray would dodge this brand of post-conversion-semi-Pelagianism by denying that this progressive sanctification is synergistic (“cooperation” with the Spirit) in any way. He will do all he can to maintain a monergistic (Spirit being only agent at work) stance in sanctification. He says, “in the last analysis we do not sanctify ourselves. It is God who sanctifies (1 Thess. 5:23). Specifically it is the Holy Spirit who is the agent of sanctification” (Murray, 146). He continues, “it is imperative that we realize our complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit” (Murray, 147). He understands that “if we are not keenly sensitive to our own helplessness, then we can make the use of the means of sanctification the minister of self-righteousness and pride and thus defeat the end of sanctification” (Murray, 147).
    Many evangelical Christians, however, are guilty of functioning like post-conversion-semi-Pelagians. One Christian often confronts another brother “see, brother, the Bible says you are to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” while thinking that the morally-lax brother is worse for a lack of spiritual effort. Often this sounds like, “you’ve got to try!” While this is true, one must not for a split-second think that another brother is worse for not trying, since to think another is worse for not trying implies that oneself is better for trying. However, this puts credit to the flesh and is thus diagnostic of a functional synergistic and post-conversion-semi-Pelagianism, since it fails to functionally realize that one’s effort of even trying comes from God and over which one cannot boast. The verse that follows the imperative to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” is the acknowledgment that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12, 13, ESV, emphasis mine). Murray notes, “God works in us and we also work. But the relation is that because God works we work” (Murray,149). A truly monergistic understanding of progressive sanctification entails that man cannot claim anything good in and of himself.
    While Murray articulates a monergistic view of sanctification, it seems as though Murray functionally holds to a synergistic view of sanctification. His argument for progressive sanctification results from the imperatives given to the believer. The problem Murray must face is: what relevance does the imperative have in proving the progressiveness of sanctification, if it’s the Holy Spirit alone who does the work? Murray writes, “what the apostle is urging is the necessity of working out our own salvation, and the encouragement he supplies is the assurance that it is God himself who works in us” (Murray, 149). However, the means of the imperative would not be used to prove the progressiveness of sanctification, unless Murray was functionally holding a synergistic view of sanctification. That is to say that unless Murray understood the command to be upon someone who had the ability to perform the command in some sense (synergistically), then the command is irrelevant in respect to the ability of the regenerate.
    Murray would respond by saying that “sanctification is the sanctification of persons, and persons are not machines” (Murray, 150). First, this line of argumentation is nonsensical, since it is also evident that God sanctifies non-sentient entities (e.g., the ark of the covenant, the tabernacle, the temple, etc.). Perhaps, Murray would like to differentiate God’s “process” of sanctification of people from God’s sanctification of two stone tablets which Moses carved out of Mount Sinai. Murray wishes to emphasize that although it is all God’s work in the believers’ sanctification, believers are still completely active in the process: “God’s working in us is not suspended because we work, nor our working suspended because God works. Neither is the relation strictly one of co-operation as if God did his part and we did ours so that the conjunction or co-ordination of both produced the required result” (Murray, 148, 149). Murray would see both full divine participation and full human participation in the sanctification process. This view, however, is the definition of synergism, and thus Murray cannot also consistently hold to a monergistic view of sanctification.
    Alternatively to Murray, if conforming into the image of Christ is truly the work of the Holy Spirit alone, then it is difficult to claim a new faculty, or a new ability, in the regenerate man. In other words, the regenerate man is not given an improved ability from the Holy Spirit to obey God. This position does not deny that the regenerate man bears fruit. Nor does it deny that the Holy Spirit sometimes enables the believer to overcome sin. However, it not the case that this is an ability found within man.
    Paul tells us that although the Holy Spirit imparts a desire to do good, He does not always grant the ability. Paul testifies of himself: “I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Rom. 7:14-18, ESV, emphasis mine) Paul is very clear that he says that the Holy Spirit has given him the desire for good, but not the ability.
    In an attempt to reconcile Paul’s inability for good works with their presupposition that the Holy Spirit’s indwelling entails progressive sanctification, theologians claim that Paul’s words in this passage are descriptive of his pre-converted lifestyle. However, Paul quenches this theory by using the word “now” [nuni.] in Rom. 7:17 to indicate that it is indeed his present and converted state. This is coherent with Paul’s usage of the present tense and with the impossibility for the unconverted man to even desire the good (Eph. 2:1ff). We thus come to the conclusion that the regenerate man is granted thedesire to do good (the desire is immediately available to him), but unless the Holy Spirit grants the regenerate man the ability to do good – in any particular moment – he is absolutely helpless in sin. If the Holy Spirit did not grant the grace to perform the good, even the regenerate man can only sin. This is what it ought to mean for all men – regenerate or not – to “realize our complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit” (Murray, 147)

    THE BIBLE DOES NOT DEMONSTRATE PROGRESSIVE SANCTIFICATION

    The honest theologian must evaluate the progressiveness of sanctification upon Paul’s testimony of “hav[ing] the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Rom. 7:18, ESV). A progressive view of sanctification does not hold in light of Scripture, since Scriptures never seems toguarantee the progressive nature in the regenerate man. And if the Scriptures never seem to guarantee it, then one cannot ask their parishioners to put their hope in it The final task to be undertaken will be to examine five Scriptural passages that are most often quoted to argue in favor of progressive sanctification and to demonstrate how each fails in its attempt.
    Murray offers what he believes to be the “most significant passage” in favor of progressive sanctification to be 2 Corinthians 3:17, 18, “where Paul says that the Lord is the Spirit and then indicates that the transforming process by which we are transformed into the Lord’s image is by “the Spirit of the Lord” (Murray, 148). However, the context in which Paul speaks that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:17, 18) speaks not of regenerate man progressing from one state of glory to another but is rather comparing the fading glory of the old covenant, the glory of Moses, with the unfading glory of the new covenant, the glory of the Lord (2 Cor.3:6-17). The exegesis of 2 Cor. 3:17, 18 to justify progressive sanctification of the believer is hermeneutically unwarranted and so must be rejected.
    Another passage often quoted to argue in favor of progressive sanctification is found where Paul says “now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23, ESV, emphasis mine) However, Paul is not urging his readers to be holy inasmuch as he is reminding them that although God’s standards seem overwhelming (1 Thess. 5:12-22) their confidence of sanctification is grounded in the work of Christ: “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24, ESV, emphasis mine). The other problem is that the passage is clear on God sanctifying the believer rather than the believer working with God to sanctify himself. This passage also does not prove any progression, but seems to ground Christ as our sanctification, and God as the sole actor in our sanctification.
    The third passage is “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17, ESV). This frequently memorized Scripture is too often misunderstood to mean that man, at conversion, becomes a morally better person (at least more capable), since he is a new creation via the Holy Spirit. However, this reading does injustice to its immediate context, since the verse immediately prior to it says, “from now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer” (2 Cor. 5:16, ESV, emphasis mine). Paul tells us that we are not to know the regenerate man as a sinner. Paul does not speak of the regenerate man as a ontologically more capable person but rather tells us where our sanctification is found: “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Christ] we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21, ESV). Therefore, just as Christ was made a sinner not in an ontological sense but in the positional sense, so also sinners become the righteousness of God not in an ontological sense but in a positional sense. This is what Paul clearly demonstrates here, so this passage must also be rejected as supporting a progressive nature of sanctification.
    The fourth passage to examine is Jesus’ teaching to Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I sad to you, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:5-7, ESV). However, this passage does not demonstrate that the regenerate man progresses in his sanctification but merely tells us how one is made right with God: “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:13-15, ESV). Like the other passages above, this verse must be deemed as unsuccessful in proving progression.
    The fifth passage is one offered by John Murray. He claims that the regenerate, or “spiritual”, man is the one whom John speaks of “as not doing sin and as unable to sin” (1 Jn. 3:9, 5:18). However, the same John who says that “everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning” (1 Jn. 5:18) immediately provides the reason: “the one begotten of God” [avllV o` gennhqei.j evk tou/ qeou/] protects him, and the evil one does not touch him” (1 Jn. 5:18). The reason John says that those born of God do not keep sinning is for the reason that the One born of God [o` gennhqei.j evk tou/ qeou] protects them so that the evil one cannot touch them. But one must ask in what manner does Christ protect Christians from the evil one’s touch? Considering that the devil continues to tempt Christians and given the fact that John tells us in the same epistle that the regenerate continue to sin (1 Jn. 1:8, 10), it must be concluded that Christ seems to be less concerned about the believer’s progression inasmuch the devil’s accusations. The devil cannot harm the regenerate man because Christ is his sanctification. And it is in this sense that John refers the regenerate man as one who does not “continue to sin”. The regenerate man can live as though he’s perfectly sanctified, perfectly freed from sin and perfectly safe and protected from the evil one, since “the one begotten of God protects him”. This passage, like the other four that are often used, simply cannot prove a progressive nature of sanctification.
    Murray has been unsuccessful in proving the progressive nature of sanctification from the basis of a change of desire in the believer, and from the imperatives given to those indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The major arguments for progressive sanctification from Scripture have also been debunked. In doing so it will have been demonstrated that Murray errs when he affirmed Berkhof’s position. Berkhof had criticized Barth for confusing sanctification with justification, and thereby “rul[ing] out the possibility of confident assurance”. However, there is no confusion in Barth – even perhaps while acknowledging them as inseparable, since he believed that the Bible both declared sinners “righteous” and also declared sinners “holy”. Barth understood sinners’ best deeds to continue to be sins. Thus, he could do nothing but find confidence – by faith alone – in Christ, His Justification and His Sanctification. However, for Berkhof, who understood the rejection of progressive sanctification as the “rul[ing] out the possibility of confident assurance” seems to dictate that a believer functionally finds his confident assurance of salvation in faith plus works, namely in his progression of a greater holy disposition. However, for those like Martin Luther, who was never confident that his obedience was done “in relation to God, for God’s sake, and with a view to the service of God”, the doctrine of progressive sanctification seems like “no gospel at all” (Gal. 1:7). And for those alcoholics, smoke-addicts, sex-addicts, homosexuals, heterosexuals, anorexics, bulimics, gossipers, coveters, kleptomaniacs, or maniacs who never – ever – seem to progress, looking to one’s own “progression” makes one inevitably think that one will never inherit the kingdom of God Wally Tarr Steve Yang

  11. markmcculley Says:

    Romans 6: 19 For just as you offered the parts of yourselves as slaves to moral impurity, and to greater and greater lawlessness, so now offer them as slaves to righteousness, which results in sanctification. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free from allegiance to righteousness. 21 So what fruit was produced then from the things you are now ashamed of? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now, since you have been liberated from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification

    I Corinthians 7:1 Therefore, dear friends, since we have such promises, let us cleanse ourselves from every impurity of the flesh and spirit, completing our sanctification in the fear of God.

    John 17: 9 I sanctify Myself for them,
    in order that they be sanctified by the truth

    Hebrews 10: 14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. What does “perfected” mean in this verse, and does it mean anything different from “sanctified

    II Thessalonians 2: 13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth

  12. markmcculley Says:

    if we say that “sanctification” is not the basis for “justification”, but then say that “sanctification” is the evidence of justification, what is the practical difference? Does the time sequence “save the difference”? if we say that faith is not works, but then say that works prove faith, what is the real daily difference?


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