Sanctification Is Good News Too!

Evangelical Christians understand that the Gospel is of first importance in how we frame our views of the world, both the world to come as well as the world we live in now. Yet we seem to have the tendency at times to emphasize how the gospel affects living in one world at the expense of living in the other. While it is essential to understand that Gospel is ultimately good news because it brings us Divine justification, freeing us from the eternal penalty of sin and promising us eternal bliss in the world to come enjoying the visible presence of God; it is equally good news that the Gospel actually and literally changes our lives now while we yet live in this world, freeing us from the power that sin wielded over us prior to our conversion. The Gospel is not just good new because it promises us heaven, but it is good news because it changes our lives now.

It is strange, but some Christians tend to think that how one views justification (being forgiven from sin) is essential to having a correct view of the Gospel, but how one views sanctification is not essential to a correct view of the Gospel. I was recently in an online discussion with an individual who was lamenting the fact that Christians are (in his view) wasting their time arguing over “non-essential” doctrines like our sanctification. And he concluded that we should unite around the Gospel only.  I was blown away by this statement. No, not all Christians will agree on all the finer points of how God sanctifies a redeemed sinner, but by no means should we consider sanctification as not an essential part of  “the Gospel.” It is indeed good news that when we are regenerated we are not only justified and delivered from sin someday, it is good news that God actually produces a literal transformation in the hearts, minds, and spirit of the penitent Christian. Expressing this thought negatively: The Gospel would be bad news if believing in it meant things only change in the world to come, but nothing effectual or profound changes in this world now.

However, we understand it, first let us agree that one’s view of sanctification is an essential part of the Gospel revealed by the Holy Spirit in God’s revelation. In fact, the issue of sanctification (how justified people should live now) occupies the greatest territory in the words of the New Testament. The Bible is a book not written for the world to come, but a book written for the world now. How God makes his church righteous (sanctification) is as important as the truth that God has declared his church to be righteous (justification), and we must never exalt aspect of the Gospel over the other. In truth, justification would have no real importance of if sanctification did not naturally follow; and sanctification is impossible unless God first justifies the sinner.

I found that the progression of Doctrine by which God reveals the blessing of the Gospel’s work penned in Ephesians 1 to be instructive. In Ephesians 1:4-6, the Apostle relates the great truth that the Christian has been chosen by God through the means of Divine adoption predestined from before the creation of the World. This adoption is the basis upon which the justification of the sinner rests, and thus Christians can rejoice in God because they are “accepted in the beloved”. Yet very quickly after expressing God’s love in adopting sinners to be saints, God expresses that the blessing of adoption is fulfilled in that he not only chose sinner to salvation, but paid for their acceptance through redemption, by the sacrificial shedding of his own blood (Eph. 1:7-10). Inasmuch as the Christian has been graciously redeemed by Christ Jesus’s sacrifice, they rejoice in God’s rich grace because they are forgiven. This is when we are justified because in the plan of redemption Christ imputed our sinfulness upon himself, and his righteousness upon us. Thus in Redemption we are forgiven having been declared righteous (justification). But Paul’s expression of the Gospel blessing does not end with justification. In verses 11-12 we read that redemption secures for the Christian an inheritance. This, of course, corresponds to the glory that our being declared righteous promises us to be realized when we die.

But verse 14 continues to identify the Christian as not only adopted and redeemed, but also “sealed” with the Holy Spirit who was promised by Jesus. The sealing of the Holy Spirit is in essence God placing his mark upon the Christian. That mark is the Holy Spirit who imprints the now justified sinner with the imprint of God. In other words, God imprints upon the Christian who has been justified, the public and obvious mark of God who is the Holy Spirit, the one responsible to sanctify us, thus preserving us until the day of our glory appears. The Holy Spirit is God’s signet to stamp his character and desire with obvious evidence upon the lives of those whom he has justified. God will never redeem anyone he has no intention of sanctifying. Therefore, just as adoption is incomplete without redemption, redemption is not complete unless God marks the Christian with himself for both the Christian himself and others to experience. And the good news is that God will never remove that mark of the Holy Spirit, but as He is the first installment of the world to come, His work will continue to transform the saint until that which God purchased with his blood (the Christian) is taken from this world.

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6 Comments

  1. Don Johnson said:

    How God makes his church righteous (sanctification) is as important as the truth that God has declared his church to be righteous (justification), and we must never exalt aspect of the Gospel over the other.

    Matthew, I would suggest that sanctification is “how God makes us holy” not “righteous.” We are made righteous by justification. A small quibble, perhaps, but it is also part of the root meanings of the term: sanctification is connected to holiness, justification to righteousness. I think the difference is significant.

    Later, you equate sanctification with the ‘sealing’ by the Holy Spirit, at least that is what I think you said. But is that correct? Isn’t the sealing part of the justification?

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    June 27, 2014
  2. Matthew Johnson said:

    Don,
    I agree that holiness is the root of sanctification, however, I believe that being made holy is increasing in righteousness by God’s grace. Therefore I do believe they are thoroughly connected. Holiness is being more like Christ, that is practicing righteousness.

    It was not my intent to equate sealing with sanctification, but rather to point that sealing which comes at justification, is God beginning the sanctification work. In other words. The sealing of the HS is not just a guarantee but God I dwelling and thus enabling the redeemed toward sanctification as we know sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit.

    Thanks for your comments.

    June 27, 2014
  3. Don Johnson said:

    Well, not debating, just wondering. I think you are using the terms in ways that I haven’t usually seen them. There is a difference between the righteousness of justification and the righteous deeds that are produced by sanctification.

    On the second point, I am not sure you are looking at the passage quite right, but… here is Charles Hodge:

    The Apostle refers to two distinct sources of evidence of our adoption. The one is that we can call God Father; the other, the testimony of the Spirit. The latter is joined with the former. The word is ????????????, unites in testifying. Hence we are said to be sealed, not only marked and secured, but assured by the V 3, p 104 Spirit, and the Spirit is a pledge, an assurance, that we are, and ever shall be, the objects of God’s saving love. (Eph. 1:13, 14; 4:30. 2 Cor. 1:22.)

    Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 103–104.

    So it seems that Hodge is taking sealing as the mark of justification, not the beginning of sanctification (although of course sanctification begins then).

    Anyway, just puzzled by your terminology because that is the usual way I have thought of it. Might stimulate me to to more reading on the topic, which is always good.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    June 27, 2014
  4. Don Johnson said:

    oops, that word from Logos is summarturei, font doesn’t transfer into html

    June 27, 2014
  5. Matthew Johnson said:

    I confess that I am applying Ephesians 1 through the grid of the sanctification debate. However, I do not disagree one bit with what you have written nor with Charles Hodge. I must not be very clear. But I did notice that Hodge says, “not only marked and assured. . .” indicating that indeed the “sealing” is more than pledge, but also a pledge (vs. 14). Maybe I am taking the word picture too far, but a seal in Roman times (and other historical times as well) had two components to it (I am preparing a sermon from this passage and go into more detail than this article on this point). One component was the assurance, the “closing up” of the document not to be opened until by the authority of the one who sealed it decided it to be so. The other component was the marking with the signet of the king (in this illustration) placing clear ownership upon that which was sealed. While not denying the former purpose of the seal, I am applying the latter purpose of the seal to the issue of sanctification. Not that sealing equals sanctification, but sanctification is guaranteed because the Mark (seal) of God (the Holy Spirit) is imprinted upon the Christian when he is justified by God’s grace. I am taking the seal to be a guarantee of ownership and thus a guarantee that God will not only glorify those whom he has justified, but will also sanctify those whom he has justified. One another note, I believe the portion from Hodge is derived from Romans, not Ephesians. Not that it is invalid, but I agree that the emphasis in that Romans 8 is not the sanctifying work of the Spirit, but rather the testimony of the Spirit. But then again, how does the Spirit testify of adoption, would it not be by (in one way) the evidence of grace that the work of sanctification produces?

    Thanks for your interaction, I love being spurred on to think about God’s Holy Word more clearly. Concerning Holiness and righteousness, I have always seen them as close cousins, but you have caused me to think about that more carefully and see if they need to be split more finely.

    God Bless,
    matt J.

    June 28, 2014
  6. Don Johnson said:

    I’ve been a bit busy and haven’t come back to look at this till now… and I should really be hitting the sack, big day tomorrow, Canada Day, huge picnic and all that…

    You are right, in the quote from Hodge he is referring to the Romans passage as his primary, but he cites the Ephesians passage. He appears to be thinking of the two as parallel, although the wording is different.

    On the difference between holiness and righteousness, can we say this: you can’t be holy without being righteous, but you can be righteous without being holy?

    I agree that the sealing is a guarantee of sanctification, but I am sure that you and I would also both say that will not be complete until we leave the flesh behind (either death or translation). There is a sense where we are holy now, because justified, but there is another sense where we are not yet holy, although justified. Positional vs. progressive sanctification. Part of the problem in understanding all this is we don’t have enough specific terms for each part of the process. And that’s because the Bible uses these same terms in differing ways. We just need to be clear what part we are talking about.

    Anyway, I better quit… head starting to hurt!

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    July 1, 2014

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