When then, is the concern of sanctification?
Sanctification has a two-fold concern in the life of the believer. The Puritans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would speak of this two-fold concern as mortification, i.e., the putting to death of old sinful ways and tendencies remaining in the believer, and vivification, i.e., the cultivation of the fruit, gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit in the new life we have in Christ....Jay Adams, the father of nouthetic counseling,165 speaks of this two-fold concern of sanctification as dehabituation, i.e., stopping and changing sinful habits, and rehabituation, i.e., practicing and establishing holy habits of life from the heart...In sanctification, God’s Spirit works to accomplish two goals in us: (1) the restraint and elimination of indwelling sin (Rom. 6:4–7; 7:4; 8:13), and (2) the restoration of the image of God (Rom. 8:29); enabling us to die more and more to sin and to live more and more to righteousness (1 Pet. 2:24; Rom. 8:1–4; Gal. 5:22–24; Rom. 6:12–14; John 15:1–4). (110-111)
The inner warfare between the Spirit and indwelling sin continues in the believer, but he is supported in this conflict by the blessed assurance that complete deliverance will come, decisively, gradually and totally, through the presence
and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. (112)
Instead of always being defeated by the sinful habits and impulses of “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like” (Gal. 5:19–21), the Christian gets the victory over them in the
power of the Spirit and by obedience to the Word of God. He lives a victorious life, although not a sinless one. His life is marked by “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (5:22, 23), which qualities are called “the fruit of the Spirit” because only the Spirit of God can produce them in our lives. (114)
The purpose of the suffering and death of Christ was that His people might be “utterly alienated” (απογενομενοί) from their sins which had alienated them from God. (115)
It is “to have the power of sin, in our nature, so far destroyed as not to obey it, but to hate it in heart, and abstain from it in life.”168. James Fisher, The Westminster Shorter Catechism Explained (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work  1911), 191. (116)
1) The believer will involve himself in this continual work because indwelling sin in him remains active. It is always seducing, conceiving, deceiving, tempting. There is not a day but sin ruins or is ruined, prevails or is prevailed upon. As John Owen warned, "Cease not a day from this work, be killing sin, or it will be killing you!" ...
Indwelling sin is ambitious and persistent. If it is left alone in our lives, it will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous and soul-destroying sins. (117)
2) The putting to death of sin is not the duty of unbelievers....However, it is the duty of EVERY Christian, without exception, the carrying out of which is a sure evidence of our new birth and possession of salvation, for “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts” (Gal. 5:24). (117-118)
3) Therefore, Paul can say, “If we mortify the deeds of the body we shall live.” The meaning is obvious. If we have real, saving faith, we WILL mortify sin in our
lives. If we do not mortify sin in ourselves, it is clear evidence that we are not regenerate (Rom. 6:14–16). (118)
4) The putting to death of sin is an intense, continual, daily, habitual work of fighting against, resisting and overcoming sin in our lives as believers, for Jesus’ sake and with the help of His Spirit....To mortify sin is not simply to divert it or to fight against it spasmodically, but constantly, unmercifully and ruthlessly to reject
all practices, thoughts, words, actions, feelings, etc., that are sinful. (118-119)
Putting sin to death is a making room in our hearts for the fruit of righteousness and love to grow and flourish, by continually plowing up the hard ground and pulling up the weeds of indwelling sin that would sap our strength. (119)
5) Only the omnipotent Holy Spirit of God can sanctify us and mortify sin within us. That is why it is declared that we, believers, can mortify sin, only by the help and power of the Spirit of Christ who indwells us and who exerts within us Christ’s resurrection power to deal with and to kill our sin. (120)
6) First, keep your heart well supplied with gospel motives and principles, which are rooted in the grace of God, the perfection of Christ’s work and the glory of His Person. Permeate your mind with meditations of the glory and majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ. And set your affections on Him, as the One from whom you receive your highest joys and greatest pleasures. ...
Second, keep your conscience sensitive to the guilt and danger of your particular besetting sins. ...
Third, avoid all known occasions of sin, such as the indiscriminate watching of television that can encourage lust for sin or doubt regarding God’s word and providence, or irregular sleeping patterns which irregularity causes a foul temper, or being left alone with a person of the opposite sex, if you are particularly weak in this area. ...
Fourth, strike at the first rising of sin in your mind. Nip the sinful thought in the bud. ...
Fifth, look constantly to Christ for the killing of your sin, and expect Him to come to your rescue....This constant looking to Christ for relief engages the heart to attend diligently to all the ways and means whereby Christ gives Himself and His love to the hearts of His people, e.g., Bible reading, listening to Bible preaching, observing the sacraments, praying, worship.
Sixth, be content with and agree with the chastening purpose of God in the day of your afflictions (Isa. 27:9). “[C]onnect every affliction with prayer that God would follow it with his blessing. God kills thy comforts from no other design but to kill thy corruptions.”176 Flavel, The Method of Grace, 462. (121-122)
It is to be made alive in Christ and liberated from the tyranny of sin by the power of the Holy Spirit so as to love and obey the commands of God found in the Bible. (122)
We are no longer slaves of sin, therefore we no longer live as if we were still slaves. This means three things.
First, by grace we are not to let physical instincts, needs, passions, emotions, and moods, dominated by sin, control us, or be top priority in our lives.
Second, by grace we are not to place the members of our bodies, i.e., any part of ourselves—our brain, eyes, tongues, ears, sexual parts, etc.—at the disposal of or in the service of the enemy, so that he can use them as his weapons in the war he is waging against God and against us. ...
Third, by grace we are to keep on placing ourselves at God’s service, putting ourselves as His disposal....In the war with the enemy we must give all we have and are to God’s side. We must enlist in God’s army. We must allow all our powers
and energies to be used as God’s weapons of righteousness to destroy sin and unrighteousness in ourselves, in our societies and in our world, so as to bring in the kingdom of light, glory and truth....A Christian is a crusader, a conqueror, a victor, because he is a weapon in God’s hand, by which God “will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations” (Isa. 61:11). (123)
“Under grace” is the guarantee that sin will not have dominion and victory over the servant of Christ. (123)
First, it must be recognized that although being under grace delivers believers from the Law of God as something that condemns them, it in no way releases them from their obligation to obey that Law, rather, it strengthens that glad obligation (6:15). ...
Second, a person under grace hands himself over to be God’s slave of righteousness. ...
Third, having been freed from sin’s bondage and dominion, the believer is enslaved to righteousness. This does not mean that he simply admires righteousness, or that he merely desires righteousness, or that he is merely trying to be righteous. It means that we have come under the power, control, dominance and powerful influence of righteousness, i.e., conformity of heart and life to Biblical Law for Jesus’ sake....Although we are not free from sin absolutely and perfectly holy in our behavior, nevertheless righteousness dominates our thoughts, plans, responses, desires, activities, conversations, relations, and everything else about us. (124-125)
Put all your abilities and energies at the service of your “Commander-in-Chief.” The word, “presented,” is a military word, literally meaning “presenting arms.” And, it is in the present tense, denoting continual, daily presenting of yourself to God to be his “weapon of righteousness,” which is the literal translation of the Greek word for “instrument.” (125)
Sanctification takes place throughout the whole person, in his mind, personality, spirit, heart and body: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23)....It affects our understanding, memory, conscience, imagination, will, and emotions....Even our “bodies are members of Christ” (1 Cor. 6:15), and, therefore, will be affected by sanctification
(Rom. 8:11). (126)
Sanctification is a gradual, progressive, life-long process, which concludes with the soul at death and with the body at resurrection (Rom. 8:23; Prov. 20:9; Eccl. 7:20; 1 John 1:8–10). It is never complete in this life, although it does make significant advances toward maturity (Phil. 3:12–14; Rom. 7:18, 23). Once it is begun in us, it is never stopped, lost or reversed: “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). (126-127)
That sanctification is progressive, that is, it gradually advances the believer to more consistent holiness throughout his life, is taught in the Catechism....the Shorter Catechism Question 35 says that by sanctification we are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness. (127)
The Bible’s argument is two-fold: (1) It teaches that sanctification is progressive; and (2) It commands believers to progress in holiness. (129)
First, the Bible teaches that sanctification is progressive, enabling believers to die more and more unto sin, and to live more and more unto righteousness. It pictures this growth in terms of the branches of a vine bearing fruit increasingly....This increasing fruit-bearing includes abiding in Christ and His Word [John] (vs. 7), answered prayer (vs. 7), the glorification of God by our lives (vs. 8), abiding in Christ’s love (vs. 9), keeping God’s commandments (vs. 10), full joy (vs. 11), loving one another (vs. 12). (129)
In his first epistle, the apostle John brings out the different levels and phases of spiritual growth and development in the Christian life by speaking of those who are in their progress toward Christian maturity as “little children” (2:12), “fathers” (2:13), and “young men” (2:13). It is obvious from the emphasis of the entire paragraph (2:12–17) that these are not physical categories, but spiritual classes
of those at different stages of sanctification, from spiritual infancy to some measure of spiritual maturity. (130)
[2 Corinthians 3:18] Notice in this text these truths: (1) In those who are seeing by faith the glory of the Lord in the face of Christ, God is carrying on a work of spiritual and moral transformation....(2) This transformation of the believer is a gradual, on-going process throughout his life on earth....(3) The goal of this transformation is the full restoration of the image of Christ in the life of the believer, which will be finished in glorification at the return of Christ. (4) The agent
of this transformation in the believer is Christ by His Holy Spirit, who indwells the believer. (5) This gradual transformation is also a progressive transformation. It advances “from glory to glory.” (131)
Second, the Bible not only teaches that progressive growth toward spiritual maturity is the experience of all Christians, it also commands us to grow in grace, knowledge and holiness. (133)
First, the very idea of spiritual growth implies spiritual life. There can be no growth without birth and life. Therefore, this exhortation presupposes the new birth, and addresses only those who have received the new birth.
Second, life leads to growth, which is always a characteristic of life....
Third, growth is a vital and mysterious process. It is not something that can be observed directly, although a person can be aware that it is taking place....
Fourth, the process of growth is progressive and gradual; growth is never sudden and instantaneous... (133-134)
It means that because we as Christians have been brought into that realm where grace reigns through righteousness in Christ (Rom. 5:20–21) we are now to grow and develop in that life into which we have been brought by the death and resurrection of Christ, and by His grace to mature, flourish and go forward. (134)
We are to grow in our understanding of the truth revealed in the Bible. Most especially should we grow in our knowledge of Christ, who He is, what He has done, what He promises yet to do, what my relationship to Him should be. In addition to this, growth in knowledge is more that an increase in our knowledge about Christ; therefore, we must grow in our knowledge of Christ as a living
Person in a personal relationship with Him and in intimate communion with Him in daily worship. (134)
We start by admitting that we cannot make ourselves grow, we cannot produce growth....However, we must realize that there are certain conditions that lead to spiritual growth. First and foremost is the Bible, which is the nutritional food of
the heart, which like a baby the Christian craves. Second, the means of grace—the reading and preaching of the Word of God, the sacraments, prayer and worship—are also nutritional food for the heart. Third, we must avoid everything that is harmful to our spiritual life and growth. Fourth, we must apply to our lives and put into practice what we learned from the Word of God. Fifth, we must rest in the
Lord with calmness of soul that comes from entrusting ourselves and our affairs to His keeping. Sixth, we must practice self-discipline. (135)
We can gauge our spiritual growth by self-examination in the light of the Word of God with faith in Christ and prayer for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit....The only way to measure spiritual growth is by the standard of the written Word of God, and seek to discover what it has to say about the Christian person. (135)
If we do not begin with faith in Christ, self-examination will drive us to despair. (136)
What are some of the characteristics of stunted growth? (1) The person is more interested in the personality, method, abilities, and relationship to the one teaching him than he is to the content of the truth taught....(2) He is more interested in experiences than in relationships....(3) He is more interested in gifts than the Giver....(4) He is more interested in gifts from God than graces, such as faith, hope and love. (136)
The characteristics of growth include: (1) An increasing sense of my own sinfulness and my own unworthiness....(2) An increasing distaste for the seductions of this evil world. (3) An increasing grief for the evil state of this world. (4) An intensifying of love for God, of the desire to glorify and honor Him, to please Him, and to obey Him. (136)
Believers in Jesus are commanded by God: “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16)....as we gradually, continually, persistently and zealously pursue holiness of life, we will in some measure though not perfectly before death, find it, because
without it “no one will see the Lord.” (138)
This is the lifelong task and privilege of the believer, empowered by the Spirit of holiness who lives within him—the perfecting of holiness, the completing of holiness, in the fear of God. This on-going, life-long work implies that we are faithful at perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord, we can expect to see some measure of improvement in our holiness of life and of our fear of the Lord. (138)
We are to work out in our daily lives what God’s Spirit works into our hearts everyday: the will and the ability to live for the pleasure of God. The more God works in us the will and ability to please God, the more faithfully we desire to please Him and are successful in our efforts to please Him. (138)
The Heidelberg Catechism, which is an older catechism than those of Westminster, in Questions 113–115, is helpful in understanding the nature and extent of the spiritual growth in sanctification experienced in the believer in Jesus.
"What does the tenth Commandment require? A. That not even the least inclination or thought against any commandment of God ever enter our heart, but that with our whole heart we continually hate all sin and take pleasure in all righteousness
(Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 113)."
"Can those who are converted to God keep these Commandments perfectly? A. No, but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience; yet so, that with earnest purpose they begin to live not only according
to some, but according to all the Commandments of God (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 114)."
"Why, then, does God so strictly enjoin the ten Commandments upon us, since in this life no one can keep them? A. First, that as long as we live we may learn more and
more to know our sinful nature, and so the more earnestly seek forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ; secondly, that without ceasing we diligently ask God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we be renewed more and more after the image of God, until we attain the goal of perfection after this life (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 115)."
In regeneration, the sinner is passive, being dead in his sin and Spiritually raised from the dead; but in sanctification, the believer is regenerate, i.e., alive in Christ, and therefore capable of response and activity. In sanctification the believer works “in cooperation” with the Holy Spirit, although this sovereign Spirit is in no way dependent upon or limited by the believer. The believer, once justified, does not passively sit by while the Spirit controls him, he is not quiescent in this process, because sanctification involves more than subconscious changes in the person. (141-142)
Here is true cooperation and coordination, with the work of God being primary
and most basic; but with the Christian’s work also being essential and indispensable. "Paul’s assertion is the more striking because, rather than
contrasting God’s work with man’s work, he cites the work of God as an incentive for the work of man. God’s work in salvation, in Paul’s view, never absorbs or invalidates man’s work, but arouses and stimulates it and gives it meaning." 199. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: Faith and Sanctification, 122. (143)