The final section in Chapter 18 of the Authentic Christianity series is the "Imperfections of Sanctification in Believers"--or why there is no such thing as total perfection for a believer in this life. The springboard catechism question is #78: Whence ariseth the imperfection of sanctification in believers?
A.: The imperfection of sanctification in believers ariseth from the remnants of sin abiding in every part of them, and the perpetual lustings of the flesh against
the spirit; whereby they are often foiled with temptations, and fall into many sins, are hindered in all their spiritual services, and their best works are imperfect and defiled in the sight of God.
This Catechism answer presents us with three Biblical and practical truths that must be kept in mind when living the Christian life. (1) Sanctification is imperfect in the believer in this life, because of indwelling sin remaining throughout him and because of the sovereign determination of God for good reasons known to
Him. (2) This imperfection shows itself in the constant warfare in the Christian between the remaining sinful passions against the activity of the indwelling Spirit of God. (3) The consequences of the indwelling sin and its outbreaks are that the believer is often frustrated by temptations, falling into many sins, and sometimes
hindered in his worship of and service to God. (174)
Although the perfection of holiness and Christlikeness will not be attained in this life, nevertheless the believer is to be at work “perfecting holiness,” for He knows that when Christ appears, he will see Him as He is, and at last be made completely like Him by that power of His that makes Him the Master of everything that is (1 John 3:2, 3). (175)
Thomas Ridgeley gives us three good effects of the Divinelyordained
imperfection of sanctification in this life until death.
1. If the work of sanctification were to be immediately brought to perfection, perfect holiness would here be as much attended with perfect happiness as it is in heaven, and consequently godly sorrow would be no more exercised on earth than it is
2. Believers, from their own experience of the breakings forth of corruption, together with the guilt they contract thereby, and the advantage they receive in gaining any victory over it, may be qualified to administer suitable advice and warning to those who are in a state of unregeneracy, that they may be persuaded
to see the evil of sin, which at present they do not.
3. God farther orders this, that he may give occasion to his people to exercise a daily conflict with indwelling sin. He suffers it to give them great disturbance and uneasiness, that they may be induced to endeavour to mortify it, and be found in the exercise of such graces as are adapted to an imperfect state. (176)
The unbeliever is “dead” in his sin (Eph. 2:1, 5), a “slave” to his sin (Rom. 6:17), at war with God, unwilling and unable to stop his rebellion against God or to subject himself from the heart to God: “and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:6–8). In direct contrast, the believer is no longer dead in sin, having been
“made alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:5)....He was DEAD IN SIN, and now, he has “died to sin” (Rom. 6:2), and is “dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11), so that he might “walk in newness of life” (6:4), and “not let sin reign in [his]
mortal body that [he] should obey its lusts” (6:12). (177)
He will be a sinner to his last breath, although he is a regenerate sinner in process of sanctification, which process will be complete at glorification with the return of Christ and the resurrection of the body on the last day (Phil. 1:6). (178)
Indwelling sin is to be found throughout the intellect, memory, imagination, affections, character, being and personality of the believer in Jesus. (178)
“Flesh” does not mean physical body. The contrast Paul is making is not between
body and soul....Flesh” includes the operations of the mind as well as those of the
body (7:23). It refers to our fallenness and sinfulness, which we inherited
from Adam (Rom. 5:12–21). (179)
The point is that indwelling sin is in every part of the believer, therefore, sanctification must purify and renew the entirety of the believer’s life... (180)
The point is: in the believer indwelling sin is in every part therefore the war rages in every part, because the Holy Spirit indwells and sanctifies in every part. (181)
In this verse [Gal. 5:17] Paul is describing the inner struggle of the Christian between the “flesh,” i.e., his remaining fallenness and sinfulness, and the “Spirit,” i.e., the Holy Spirit of God who indwells him as a believer. These are two antithetical operating principles within all believers: the dictates of sin and the dictates of God. (182)
Paul’s prevailing desire was to do good, to do what God says is good, to be conformed to Divine Law, so much so, that he says he hates the sin he commits: “I am doing the very thing I hate” (7:15). Only people with new hearts hate sin and consent to God’s Law. (188)
Although our struggle with indwelling sin is a fierce, continual and life-long one, it is a war in which victory over the dominion of sin in the Christian life is experienced because of the living Jesus Christ, His Word and His indwelling Holy Spirit. (191)
Here we see the way to victory in our struggle with sin and Satan is by: (1) Standing firm in the strength the Lord provides us in Christ; (2) Putting on the whole armor of God...(3) Recognizing the nature of the struggle as primarily spiritual, against sin and the forces of darkness; and (4) Using the shield of faith in Christ and His Word to “extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one.” (192)
Because of the imperfection of sanctification in believers [which] ariseth from the remnants of sin abiding in every part of them, which indwelling sin manifests itself in the perpetual [i.e., life-long] lustings of the flesh against the Spirit, true believers are: (1) Often foiled [frustrated and embarrassed] with temptations; (2) Fall into
many sins; (3) Are hindered in all their spiritual services; and (4) Their best works are imperfect and defiled in the sight of God. These are the consequences of indwelling sin. (198)
That true Christians are often frustrated with temptations and fall into many sins is proven in the life of the apostle Peter. (198)
When we are lax in our struggle against the sin that remains in us, and when we are no longer “fixing our eyes on Jesus,” that sin becomes an “encumbrance” that “so easily entangles us,” making it extremely difficult to “run…the race that is set before us.” (198)
Insofar as our works of worship and service to God originate from the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, they are good and pleasing to God; but because they arise from a sinner, regenerate though he be, our best works of worship and service to God are imperfect and defiled with our sin in the sight of God, so that God accepts them, when done in sincerity, not because of our sincerity, but solely because of the merit of Jesus Christ. (199)
First, Christ, the great Mediator between God and man, pardons whatever is faulty and unrighteous in our service to God. ...
Second, through Christ, our sincere service to God, imperfect and faulty though it is, is accepted by God. (200)
How may sanctification progress in your life? First, absorb yourself in the Word of God, in the reading of it and, especially, in hearing the faithful preaching of it; because it is a mirror and a laver: it reveals and cleanses. It renews the mind (Rom. 12:1–2), as well as guides and engages the heart. Second, rest in Christ alone for continual salvation from the tyranny and consequences of sin (Acts 15:9; Heb. 9:12).
Third, long for and pray for more of the Holy Spirit’s powerful influences in your life (2 Thess. 2:13)....Fourth, associate with and develop close friendships with other sanctified people (Psalm 1:1) because association begets assimilation: “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov. 13:20). Fifth, pray for increased sanctification as you repent more consistently of sin and conform your life more diligently to God’s Word....Sixth, if you are not baptized, get baptized. Join a Bible-believing church. And take the Lord’s Supper in faith as often as possible (1 Cor. 10:16, 17). Seventh, obey God’s Law for Jesus’ sake, regardless of your mood or emotional state (1 Cor. 7:19). (201-202)
How can you tell that you are being sanctified? You will experience the following things: a growing awareness of and hatred for sin in your life (Ps. 119:104); a growing desire to obey God’s law (Isa. 58:13); a growing love for and gratitude to Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:14; Eph. 3:17–21); advancement in living a well-ordered life (1 Pet. 1:15); a firm resolution never to be satisfied with anything other than holiness
of life before God (2 Sam. 6:22; Acts 20:24). (202)