Sanctification: The Reformed View

One of the main distinctives of this view concerns the relationship between justification and sanctification. Martin Luther taught that by faith in Christ and Christ’s work (i.e., his life, death, and resurrection), the saint is declared righteousness, and is united with Christ by virtue of faith. Calvin taught that because the believer is united with Christ in his death and resurrection, the believer will be progressively sanctified by faith as a necessary effect of their being justified by faith.

Another feature that divides this view from the others is that of the belief that the Christian life is a daily “struggle,” or “fight.” The believer will never reach complete holiness or perfection in this life. In this view, since there will always be indwelling sin in the believer until the Lord returns, he must continually be putting to death the deeds of the body (often called “mortification”) that he may live (“vivication”) (Rom. 8.13). Indeed, unless mortification takes place in some degree or another, he will eventually show himself to not have been one of God’s own. This striving for holiness is itself a fruit of being called to be holy by God, and being helped by the Holy Spirit in the very pursuit of holiness. The deeds of the body can only be put to death by means of the Spirit. Christians in the reformed camp believe that though the believer can make true and real progress in the growth of holiness and godliness, there will always be a deep remnant of indwelling sin.

[Note: This is the way I see sanctification playing out in the life of the follower of Jesus.]


Sanctification: The Augustinian-Dispensational View

This view holds ties with the Keswick as well as the Reformed traditions. The strand related to the Keswick tradition emphasizes “victorious Christian living” by means of “the filling of the Spirit as the empowerment for the Christian life” (LN, 8.7.2). In regards to the question of who does the work of sanctification, God or man, Walvoord says, “People are responsible for responding to the truth of God and to the work of the Holy Spirit, which permits God to work out His program of sanctification. Though sanctification is the work of God in the heart of an individual, it is accomplished only in harmony with the human response” (Walvoord, 225). He realizes the difficulty of precision in choosing right language for describing God’s and man’s work in sanctification.

As well, Walvoord shows awareness of the difficulty in describing the nature of man before and after conversion. He says that believers have both a sin nature and a divine nature. He builds the possibility of such a concept by comparing the two natures within man, with Christ who had two natures. “In Christ the human nature must include all that is genuinely human apart from sin and that the divine nature must include all that is divine” (Walvoord, 204). He finds the discussion of the nature of man (or, two natures of man) after conversion terribly important for thinking through sanctification issues. After all, if one is aware of the struggle in the Christian life, it would be highly advantageous to find out what the struggle is against. For Walvoord, “the believer still has an old nature—a complex of attributes with an inclination and disposition to sin; and the new nature, received (along with eternal life) at the time of the new birth, also has a complex of attributes, but these attributes incline and dispose the Christian to a new manner of life, one that is holy in the sight of God” (Walvoord, 209). And although he believes “Christians can have relative perfection in this life, and often manifest godliness in a significant way, the degree of their perfection is limited until they stand in God’s presence in heaven” (225).

Sanctification: The Keswick View

This view maintains the belief that the ‘normal Christian life’ is one of consistent victory over sin. Those believers who struggle day after day with sin are not normal. There is something wrong with them. The Keswicks seemingly founded this movement with a genuine concern for the spiritual well-being of the church. As they looked around at the spiritual state of those around them, they surmised that things are what they ought not to be. They were “profoundly concerned that most Christians have little zeal for personal holiness. They have settled for a life of compromise with the world, of lukewarm passion for the Lord, of halfhearted love for God. They have determined that holiness is impossible and thus have given up on its pursuit” (Lecture Notes, 8.6.3). Much like John Wesley’s contention, they believed that God commands his children to do what is possible. So, they are relentless in their pursuit of being holy as God is holy. Instead of holding to a sort of degree of perfection in this life, they believed that indwelling sin in the believer would never be done away with in this life. Yet, they believe that victory over sin in this life is possible. So, a definite nuance of the Wesleyan view has been created. Even though the Keswicks say that the believer still has indwelling sin, it can still be conquered in the believer’s life that it will not be manifested in his or her own behavior.

[Note: For a more extensive study on this view, check this out.]

Sanctification: The Pentecostal View

Even though this view is derived in some ways from the Wesleyan Holiness movement, it is the namesake of a particular day in the early church recorded in Acts 2.1-13. On the Day of Pentecost, all those from Jerusalem, and “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2.5) were gathered together in one place in Jerusalem, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them all. The result of this outpouring was that “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Each one was hearing them speak in his own language” (Acts 2.4,6b).

The present-day Pentecostals interpret this historical event to be the normative spiritual experience for everyday Christians. They believe that every person who experienced the historical Pentecost outpouring was a believer before the event itself occurred. In light of this, they see the Pentecost experience as a “‘third distinct experience for Christians—following conversion and sanctification—the baptism in the Holy Spirit, accompanied by speaking in tongues” (as quoted in Lecture Notes, 8.8.2). The Holy Spirit’s purpose of this third experience, is to “bring cleansing and empowerment for a life of service” (LN, 8.8.2). And so, a natural and consequential emphasis seems to be on the individual’s personal experience of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sanctification: The Wesleyan View

This view is so named after its founder, John Wesley. Proponents of this view are often accused of being anti-Calvinists, thinking that John Wesley himself was in deep disagreement with John Calvin. In reality, Calvin and Wesley actually held more doctrine in common than often supposed. Both believed that all mankind inherited their sinful depravity from Adam. One distinction though that divided them, was Wesley’s belief in ‘prevenient grace,’ which is ‘the universal work of the Holy Spirit in the heart before conversion’ (Lecture Notes, 8.5.2). Calvin indeed believed that the Holy Spirit works in the unbeliever’s heart as well, to prepare them for conversion. Wesley said that every person has a measure of prevenient grace. Whereas Calvin said only the elect person has that measure of grace working in their heart unto conversion. Wesley also taught what he called ‘perfect love,’ a term he got from 1 John 4.18. To him this meant the believer experiences a deep and authentic trust in Christ that is unwavering. Though some take this term in the sense of wooden literalness, Wesley did not believe there could be an absolute perfect and sinless sort of love this side of heaven. The sort of perfection he did teach though, was ‘a perfection of motives and desires’ (LN, 8.5.5). This particular perfection he believed could be attained by a second work of grace after conversion. Wesley thought that since God commands his people to be ‘perfect’ and ‘holy’ as he himself is ‘perfect’ and ‘holy,’ then certainly some degree of perfection and holiness can be attained in this life.

Conversion: And There Was Light!

Q: What is your understanding of conversion?

A: Conversion is something that happens to a person, as originating from the living God. That “something” that God does, enables the spiritually blind and affectionately apathetic person to see and know and love God and his ways. Conversion is a moment of change as well as a two-step process of action and reaction. The blink-of-an-eye moment of change can be so subtle and surprising that it is often difficult to describe. When God said “Let there be light,” on the first day of his creation-spree, light just happened and things became visible to the natural eye. So also, when God shines his light of the message of the gospel of his only Son into the heart of the unbeliever, the Holy Spirit causes once-blind eyes to open and see and know and love God and his gospel. That immediately-turned unbeliever to believer sees his or her own need for God and the gospel. The gracious action of God in the heart of the unbeliever causes a profound and immediate reaction: wholehearted belief in the one true God and wholehearted turning away from his or her own rebellious ways. The once-unbeliever has been deeply changed by a Person (the Triune God) from one kind of person (enemy) to another (adopted child), who now has a progressively new set of affections within his or her new set of lenses.

Sin & Its Effects on Creation

When Adam partook of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “the created order suffered a primal catastrophe of cosmic proportions,”[1] due to his sin committed against the Creator. This created order includes both the personal creation and non-personal creation—that is, human beings and the world in which they are being human.

To understand the depth and breadth of sin’s effects on creation, one must first know exactly what sin is. According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, “sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, any law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature.”[2] Wayne Grudem defines sin in a similar vein, “Sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature.”[3] So, generally speaking, Adam sinned against God when he failed to conform his ways (in act, attitude, or nature) to God’s law, which stated, “You shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”[4]

As stated above, because of Adam’s sin against the Creator of all things, the effect on all creation is of “cosmic proportions.” Since the non-personal creation was created first, the effects of sin it suffers under will briefly be explained first. After Adam’s fall, the LORD God responds to him this way: “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.”[5] While Adam and Eve’s primary vocation entailed exercising dominion over all creation; after the Fall, such vocation proved as a lifelong struggle. At the event of Adam’s sin, Paul says, “The creation was subjected to futility…its bondage to decay.”[6] Both personal and non-personal creation wait with eager longing and groaning for their final redemption and renewal.[7]

Personal creation, that is humanity, both male and female, “was originally created in the image and after the likeness of God.”[8] However, as a result of Adam’s sin, the immediate consequences are many: 1) spiritual death; 2) physical death; 3) becoming subject to the second death—the lake of fire;[9] 4) becoming dead in transgressions and sins; 5) subjected to the power of the devil and his entourage; 6) total depravity has been imputed to the entire human race (Jesus alone being excepted).[10]

Speaking of the extent or totality of depravity, which was passed down from Adam to his entire progeny throughout the ages, Holsteen says, “Our depravity affects every part of our being. Intellectually, volitionally, morally, physically, affectively, each one of us, in whole and in part, each one of us is spiritually dead and we live in opposition to God. We are rebels by nature; we are rebels in our thoughts, in our attitudes, in our deeds, in our morality, in our will. We are rebels, and we are the sons and daughters of rebels.”[11]

Nevertheless, even though the image and likeness of God in man has been defaced, it has not been erased. The image has been “tarnished but not destroyed, as humanity has exchanged the glory of God for idolatry.”[12] Pyne goes on to explain, “Because of the Fall, all human existence is today only a shadow of what it was supposed to be.”[13]

“No one is clothed with God’s glory the way Adam was.”[14] That is, no one since the Fall of the first Adam “is clothed with God’s glory the way Adam was,” except the last Adam, Christ Jesus, who is the righteous man from heaven. Jesus is the unblemished image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.[15] Even though we do not presently see all things as reconciled and subjected to him,[16] he is renewing all things[17]–both personal and non-personal creation.[18] And, through the imminently final consummation of all things, the triune Creator will bring about a primal eucatastrophe of cosmic proportions.[19]

[1] Gunton, Colin E. The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 172.

[2] The Westminster Confession of Faith. (Atlanta: Committee for Christian Education & Publications, 1990), 14.

[3] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 490.

[4] Gen 2.16-17

[5] Gen 3.17, 18

[6] Rom 8.20, 21

[7] Rom 8.18-23

[8] DTS Doctrinal Statement, Article IV—Man, Created and Fallen; also, Gen 1.26, 27.

[9] Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic Theology, Vol. II. (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947), 215.

[10] DTS Doctrinal Statement, Article IV—Man, Created and Fallen; also, Gen 2.17; 6.5; Ps 14.1-3; 51.5; Jer 17.9; Rom 3.10-19; 8.6-7.

[11] Holsteen, Nathan. “The Extent of Depravity.” Spring, 2010, ST103 – Angelology, Anthropology, and Harmartiology, Unit 10, Video 3, Unpublished Lecture Transcript.

[12] Pyne, Robert A. Humanity and Sin. (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1999), 169.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 170.

[15] Col 1.19

[16] Heb 2.8

[17] Rev 21.5

[18] Rom 8.18-23; Heb 12.26-27; Rom 12.2; Eph 4.23-24; Col 4.10.

[19] Eucatastrophe – term coined by J.R.R. Tolkien, referring to “the sudden turn of events at the end of a story which result in the protagonist’s well-being.”