Course: Understanding Theology
We move now to this marvelous doctrine of God’s work in the lives of individuals to bring them to saving faith in Christ and all that is involved in that. It really involves the election of God from before the foundation of the world, the work of the Spirit in drawing people to him and then all the affects that come after a person savingly believes in Christ and we will look at a range of these.
Just to note that the doctrine of salvation sometimes in some theology texts and some lectures on salvation will include also what might be called salvation accomplished and that is the atoning work of Christ on the cross. We have covered that in this lecture series in the work of Christ, his atoning death. Now we turn our attention to the accomplishment of that salvation being applied in the lives of people. So here we are dealing with salvation applied.
The term salvation, by the way, in both Old and New Testaments, the Old Testament term yasha and the New Testament verb sozo and the noun soteria really refer to the same reality and that is taking something that is constrained or bound and freeing it. It really is a term of liberation, making wide, setting free, and delivering from bondage. This really is what salvation is. Of course it can refer to physical kinds of constraint where a person is freed, but in a spiritual sense we are freed from the bondage of sin and this is done by the marvelous saving work of God through Jesus Christ.
We turn now to the order of salvation as it is sometimes called. This is a general order that begins, obviously, with what happened in eternity past in God’s electing people to be saved and it goes all the way through to what will be true in eternity future, God’s glorification, final salvation work that he accomplishes in the lives of individual saved people. It is a marvelous series of steps, as it were, that are involved in our salvation. Many of them are involved all at the same time. When we come to the point of effectual calling and regeneration and conversion, that involves faith and repentance, and justification and adoption and positional sanctification; all these aspects all happen basically simultaneously at the moment that the Holy Spirit works in the life of a person to bring them to saving faith. At that point they are justified and adopted and set apart, positional sanctification. So there is a broad sense in which this is chronological but another sense in which many of these elements take place simultaneously in the life of a believer.
Given that, let’s start then with the first element of our salvation. Salvation being applied to us begins in eternity past with election.
A. Scriptural Teaching
Election refers to the determination of God before his creation of the world of those who would be saved from their sins through faith in him. In the New Testament this is faith in God through Christ. A number of passages speak about election and this goes back into the Old Testament. Israel herself was an elect people. They did not choose God to be their God; rather, God chose them.
A very telling passage is Deuteronomy 7 and we read there where God says in verse 7, “The Lord did not set his love on you or choose you because you were more in number than all the peoples, for in fact you were the fewest of all the peoples. But because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which he swore with your forefathers he brought you by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from Pharaoh’s house in the house of Egypt.”
It is very clear that God’s election of people includes the election of Israel in the very first place. This plays a very prominent place in Israel’s own identity. They are to think of themselves as the chosen people, as those who are elected by God to be his own. Let me just give you one example in Isaiah 44:1-2. Listen how God reminds them of their identity as his own chosen ones. Isaiah 44:1, “But now listen, O Jacob, my servant, and Israel, whom I have chosen. Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb, who will help you, ‘Do not fear, O Jacob my servant; and you Jeshurun whom I have chosen.’” It is very clear God wants them to know, wants Israel to know, that they are his chosen people.
This concept of choosing is carried forward into the New Testament and there are a number of passages. I will only focus on a couple but I will give you some other references. If you would like to look, for example, at Acts 13:48, “As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” Romans 8:29-30, “Whom God foreknew he predestined to become conformed to the image of his Son and whom he predestined then he called and justified and glorified.” Romans 8:33, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” Romans 9:11, “That the purposes of God according to his choice might stand not because of works but because of him who calls.” Romans 11:5-7 speaks of a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. Ephesians 1:4-5, “We are to give praise to God, bless God for he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to himself.” Ephesians 1:11 then focuses on our predestination and what that brings us, “Having been predestined according to his purpose who works all things after the counsel of his will.” Colossians 3:12, “As those who have been chosen by God, holy and beloved.” 1 Thessalonians 1:4, “Knowing brethren beloved of God his choice of you.” 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “We should always give thanks to God for you because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation.” 2 Timothy 2:10, “I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen.” 1 Peter 1:1-2, Peter writes to those who reside as aliens who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.
This is not a complete list but it gives you a number of passages and one thing I think that is clear from this is that the biblical viewpoint is that Christian people, Israel the people of God in the Old Testament and Christian people in the New Testament who are united by faith in Christ, ought to think of themselves as the chosen ones; as those who have been elected by God. This is a very prominent concept. It is not something in the backdrop in the New Testament or in the Old, but something that is prominent and something that God wants us to embrace.
I think, for example, probably the most striking example is in Ephesians 1 where in verse 3 Paul has labored to show that we should give all praise and honor to God for all the blessings that he has given to us. The blessings that come to his mind that begin in verse 4 begin with election. I have often thought if you ask a group of Christian people, just a typical group of Christian people, to make a list of the reasons for which God should be praised how many of them would put election on the list. Paul has it on the list; in fact, he has it twice with really in verse 4, “he chose us in Christ” and then verse 5, “he predestined us to adoption.” But not only is it on the list, they top the list. Election and predestination are the first things off the lips of Paul when he says, “Let God be praised.” Why? Verse 4, “He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.”
It is very clear that for Paul apart from this choosing there would be no salvation of sinners so we owe everything to the fact that God has planned and devised the salvation of sinners and chose sinners to be saved. If we think little of the doctrine of election, we are not thinking biblically is the main point I am trying to make.
Now having said that, there are two main positions or ways of understanding election that are prominent in the Evangelical church today and they are historical positions as well. They are called the conditional election position and unconditional election position. We just have time for a very brief discussion of each of these.
B. Conditional Election
The conditional election position is held in the Arminian tradition. Jacob Arminius who lived after the first Reformers and died in 1609 made a tremendous impact upon the church by proposing that the election of God in Scripture is not God’s choice of those whom he will save as if God is the initiator of this, but rather God looks ahead of time. God has comprehensive foreknowledge of the future and he can see ahead of time who among the mass of humanity when hearing the gospel will respond positively to that gospel and be saved. On the basis of foreseen faith or, if you will, conditioned upon foreseen faith, God elects people and hence it is a conditional election; conditioned upon the faith of those individuals. So John or Susie or Bill are elected to be saved because God looks ahead of time and sees that those individuals, in fact, will believe in him when the gospel is preached to them.
Main support given for this position would involve, it is very involved but I will give you just a few items, would involve the following things. The Arminians believed that only this view can account really for genuine human freedom. That if it is not the case that we ultimately are the ones who choose whether we are saved or not then we can’t truly be free, they argue.
Secondly, they argue that the universal love of God for all people requires that he not be the one who pick which ones are saved or not; that whether we are saved or not must ultimately have to do with our choice, not God’s. If God had his choice, honestly everybody would be saved because he wants all saved. The only reason that some are not saved is because they reject the revelation that God has given to them.
Finally, they hold that it would not be just for God to condemn people if they could never have believed in Christ. If he chose only some and the rest could not believe then how can it be fair for God to judge them. Really the freedom of men, the love of God, and the justice of God are compelling reasons for Arminians for holding the view that they do.
C. Unconditional Election
The unconditional election position is a view that was argued actually by Saint Augustine in the early church and then was picked up again and argued forcefully by the Reformers, by both Luther and Calvin and has been part and parcel of the Reformed tradition. According to this view God elects people from the foundation of the world unconditionally, that is, he does not take into consideration anything about individuals who will exist. He does not take into any account any qualities they may have, how good or bad they are. He does not take into account any choices that they make including any supposed choice for or against Christ.
Rather, he chooses just those whom he wills to save and those people then when they come into existence and when they are exposed to the gospel God will work in the hearts of the elect, of the chosen ones, to believe in Christ and others will not believe in Christ when presented the gospel. So the election of people is unconditional, that is, it is not conditioned upon anything about us. It does not mean it is arbitrary, it does not mean that it is capricious; it means that reasons that God has for election are within his own purposes and design and have nothing to do with qualities or actions or choices of human beings.
What reasons are given for the unconditional election position? A number, again, let me just summarize a few of these. One is it fits with the overall biblical teaching of the sovereignty of God, that God is in fact in control of everything. Even Ephesians 1:11 that I mentioned a moment ago indicates that our predestination is part of a bigger picture and that is in verse 11, “We have been predestined according to his purpose who works all things after the counsel of his will.” It is just not the case, says the unconditional election advocate, that God’s will can be hampered or harmed or thwarted. Rather, it is the case that he works everything after the counsel of his will and that includes those whom he chooses to save which means as well that he chooses not to save all; this is God’s prerogative.
That is supported, for example, by Romans 9 where Paul brings up the incident of Jacob and Esau and he says in verse 11 concerning these two twin sons of Rebecca, “For though the twins were not yet born, though neither had done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to his choice would stand, not because of works but because of him who calls, it was said to her ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written, ‘Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated.’” The point that the advocate of this view would want to make is that the verse makes clear that before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, before they made any choices, it is God’s choice that accounts for Jacob being favored, not Esau. It is only on the basis of that that the question, the accusation, of verse 14 even makes sense, namely, “Is there injustice with God?” Paul responds to that, “May it never be.” Because God rightfully and justly does everything that he does. We may not be able to fully comprehend it but God is a sovereign God and accomplishes his will perfectly and that includes the selection or election of just those persons whom he wills to save.
Another argument that is used for this position is the closeness of the unconditional election position to also another doctrine we will come to in a moment and that is the effectual call of God upon people. In 1 Corinthians 1 it is very interesting how closely connected election and calling are. He says in 1 Corinthians 1:26, “Consider your calling brethren. That there were not many wise according to the flesh; not many mighty … but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.” If it is true that the doctrine of effectual calling is true; that God works in the heart of certain individuals so that they necessarily come to faith in Christ; the call of God effects their belief; it effects their saving faith so that they are saved. If that is true then obviously that call of God is given just to some and not all. If a call that necessarily effects salvation is given to all we would have universalism. We do not have that. If it is given to some then who are the some? That is the elect that God has chosen from the foundations of the world.
One more point, with this we will end, and that is that the unconditional election advocate will argue that the justice of God and the love of God are both complex in Scripture rather than simple. Yes, while it is true that God loves, for example, all people. It is also true that he loves his own with a special saving love. I may remind you of a passage we looked at in a previous lecture of Isaiah 43 where God says, “Because I loved you and favored you, therefore, I gave other nations in your place.” That is a very striking statement of God’s love that indicates a special preference for this people over others and clearly that is true in Romans 9:13, “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.” Look at Malachi 1 from which that text is taken and it is very clear this is by God’s own initiative and prerogative. It has nothing to do with Esau. Remember, before the two were born, before either had done anything good or bad, this was God’s choice to favor one over the other.
And likewise the justice of God is not compromised because the fact is none of us deserve salvation; God is not obligated to save anybody. The fact that he saves any at all is grace, pure and simple. Consider the fact that the fallen angels, none of them are saved. God has no saving plan for fallen angels. Even Hebrews 2 indicates this, if you want to look at that. But God has designed to show mercy where he does not have to do it. And he has chosen to show mercy to some and not all and by this demonstrate the fact, “I will have compassion on whom I have compassion, I am God,” says the Lord.
These are the two main positions of it. I hold the unconditional election position; you should know that just because it effects other things we will be looking at in the material that follows but I have great respect for those who hold the conditional election, Arminian position, on this as well and trust that we will continue our dialog on these matters as Christian brothers and sisters.
Calling is the work of God through his Spirit to bring the message of salvation to people. This calling in Scripture does involve two broad arenas. The Arminians will acknowledge the first one gladly, but they have a very difficult time acknowledging the second one. So for that reason it is primarily articulated by Calvinists; although, Calvinists believe it is clearly taught in Scripture.
A. General Call
The first kind of this presentation of the gospel message, the message of salvation, is the general call. The general call is simply God’s call through a gospel witness, through a preacher, through an evangelistic message, through a gospel tract, through a radio program where the gospel is proclaimed. It is God’s proclamation of the gospel through a gospel message to any and all individuals out there.
In Matthew 28 Jesus said to go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations. In Acts 1:8 he said to “wait in Jerusalem where you will receive power, the Holy Spirit will come upon you; you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, to the uttermost parts of the world.” Clearly, this is the general call; go out there and spread the good news of Jesus to all.
Some passages that highlight the general call of God, just consider these with me: Isaiah 45:22 where God says, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 55:1, “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.” Matthew 11:28, “Come unto me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” John 7:37, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to me.” At the very end of the Bible, Revelation 22:17 says, “Let the one who is thirsty come.” So there is a general call, a gospel call, a call of the good news of God’s grace to all who will believe that is extended throughout the world.
B. Special or Effectual Call
But the Scriptures also speak of the call of God in a way that effects salvation and hence it is called a special call or the effectual call. It also is comparable, within a Calvinists understanding, to the doctrine of irresistible grace, which is the “I” of TULIP, if you happen to know that particular acrostic. Irresistible grace, grace that ultimately will not be resisted but people will come to faith in Christ or a call that is ultimately effectual in bringing people to saving faith in Christ.
Where is this taught in the Bible? One of the clearest places, I think, is Romans 8:29-30 where Paul has this unbroken chain of a logical sequence involved in the salvation of individuals. It begins with God’s foreknowledge in the past of whom he has chosen to save, “those whom he foreknew he also predestined to become conformed to the image of his Son,” and then, in verse 30, “those whom he predestined he called.” It seems to me there that the calling, as you think about this, must be the effectual call, a special call, rather than the general call because he does not say he calls everyone, rather, it is “whom he predestined he called.” That is a hard thing to do when you are preaching the gospel to say, “All the elect out there you can listen to this; the rest of you don’t.” It does not work that way. Rather, you preach the gospel to all people. This call is not that, this is not the general call, it is the call given to the predestined.
Then even clearer than that is what follows it. “And those whom he called he justified.” That is where you can see that this calling is effectual, it effects their salvation, it effects their justification. “Whom he called,” that is, all of those whom he called, which clearly would not be the case in an evangelistic crusade. All of those whom he called, he justified. This is clearly a call that effects the salvation of people and, therefore, it is really a complimentary doctrine to unconditional election. The two hang together. God elects those whom he will save and he calls in an effectual way the elect so they come to faith in Christ.
Regeneration refers to a rebirth or a being born again and this occurs when a new life principle (the Bible speaks of this as a new heart or the new man) is given as the new governing disposition of the person orienting the person toward God in Christ. Think of regeneration as the giving of life toward God by the work of Christ and his renewing work within us by the Spirit.
Some clear teaching on regeneration: John 1:13 speaks of those who are, “born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God,” so reborn, as it were, or even clearer John 3:3, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Look at those verses from verses 3-8. Titus 3:5, “He saved us according to his mercy by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit." 1 Peter 1:23, “For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable.” Notice, if you will, how often this is stated in the letter of 1 John, let me give the references, 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1; 5:4; and 5:18 are all references to us being born of God and the implications of that, what flows out of our regeneration in changed lives in a lifestyle that matches our new identity that we are now born of God.
Regeneration in my understanding, holding a fundamentally Calvinist view, precedes conversion, that is, it is only because life is given to the inner person that this person can respond in faith and repentance. You should know that the Arminian position would reverse what you have as III and IV. They understand conversion to give rise to regeneration. So it is the calling of God in the Arminian view that gives rise to faith, repentance and faith, that then produces regeneration in the life of the person.
But in a Calvinist understanding we see that regeneration is necessary for a person to believe. What is our condition apart from God’s revitalizing, rebirthing work within us? What is our condition? We are told in Ephesians 2 we are dead in our trespasses and sins and, therefore, it is impossible for us to do anything. We are told in Romans 8 that the mindset of the flesh is hostile toward God. It does not subject itself to the law of God; it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. It is clear, then, that apart from the work of the Spirit to enable faith that we will not believe. There is a sense in which Arminians believe this. They believe in a kind of grace, sometimes called prevenient grace that overcomes sin’s effect upon us sufficiently to enable belief, but it does not make belief happen necessarily.
Whereas a Calvinist will understand that regeneration is actually the enlivening of the person or to use another biblical metaphor the opening of blind eyes. That is a beautiful metaphor, isn’t it? Paul was told by Jesus on the road to Damascus when Jesus appeared to him and Paul was blinded (the imagery is interesting because of Paul’s own eyes being blinded in that incident)and told him to go to the Gentiles to open blind eyes that they may turn from their sin to the living God and this is really what regeneration is. It is the miracle of God to open blind eyes so they can see Christ and when they see him, then they believe in him. So faith and repentance flow out of that.
Conversion is a two-fold turning. It is a turning toward Christ in faith and it is a turning away from sin in repentance. These two things go together. I think they go in this order also in so far as it is not because we first see how bad our sin is that we are inclined to come to Christ, but rather, at least the Bible indicates to us, that the primary thing is we see the beauty and the glory of Christ and seeing him we flee to him and in seeing him we understand our sin for what it is and turn from it.
Think of 2 Corinthians 4:4-6 where Paul describes the condition of people outside of Christ. He says “Concerning all those who are perishing,” so this is all unregenerate people, “in whose case the God of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, so that they may not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but we preach Christ Jesus is Lord, and ourselves as your bondservants for Christ’s sake. For God has said ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’” that is obviously an illusion to Genesis 1, “Let there be light." "The God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ is the one who is shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."
What happens is God shows us the glory of Jesus that we could not see before. Do you remember verse 4? We were blinded to the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. Yes, we could see facts about Jesus. The Pharisees even witnessed his miracles and rejected him. What we cannot see in our sin is the glory of Christ, the beauty, the splendor, the wonder of Christ. But God opens blind eyes and we see Christ and put our faith in him; come to him in faith. In seeing him we turn from our sin and repent realizing that now in Christ is where we find our joy and satisfaction, in Christ is our new life not in anything that we were attracted to previously.
Let me give you just a few passages in relation to both faith and repentance. In Romans 4 I think we have one of the best places in Scripture to see the nature of saving faith in the example that Paul gives of Abraham who believed the promise of God even despite enormous empirical data, as it were, to the contrary. You remember God had promised Abraham and Sarah that through them they would have this son and though they became old and were unable to parent children, as we are told in Romans 4, yet with respect to the promise of God, we are told they did not waiver in unbelief but grew strong in faith giving glory to God believing that what God had promised that he was able also to do, therefore, it was reckoned to them as righteousness.
Clearly faith, then, is a focus upon the promise of God, the surety of his word. A belief intellectually? Of course. Knowing what the promise is, the promise of the gospel, the promise that by faith in Christ we may be saved of our sins, knowing that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and was buried, that Christ was raised according to the Scriptures and appeared. To know the facts of the gospel is essential, but it is not only that, it is an embrace. It is a convicted belief, a passionate embrace of that truth that we hold onto. It involves our affections not just our minds and it puts our wills into action. We trust Christ, not other things. We look to Christ, not other things. We believe God’s ways are right, not the ways that we have been living previously. Faith involves the mind, the emotions or affections, and the will in a holistic way.
Repentance then too involves all of this. A passage here that I think would be helpful to look at is 2 Corinthians 7 where Paul talks about different kinds of repentance, a true repentance and a false repentance. The true repentance is the one that really does turn from the sin because of sorrow for the sin, not just because of consequences or certain difficulties that have come because of it, but the sin itself is seen to be objectionable.
Listen to these words at verse 8 in 2 Corinthians 7 Paul says, “Even though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I don’t regret it. Though I do regret it in one sense,” he says, “because that letter caused you sorrow though only for a while, but I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret leading to salvation. But the sorrow of the world produces death.”
Here we have this beautiful statement of repentance for sin being marked by when you turn from it you know you have turned from something that is fundamentally wrong and evil and you do not regret leaving it. You are glad to have left it because now you have found true joy, the true riches that are found in Christ and so you come to him. Faith and repentance involve both what we know to be true, what we believe and feel in our hearts to be true, and our action that flows from that all involved in this.
We believe justification comes by faith. This is why justification follows after conversion. One of the leading hallmarks of the Reformation is the affirmation of justification by faith alone and certainly this was a recovery of what the gospel message is in Scripture. Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace we have been saved through faith and not of ourselves, it is not a result of works that anyone should boast.” It is by God’s gift, by faith, and not by works that we are saved.
Justification can be understood as the declaration of God that a sinner who has believed in Christ is now declared righteous. It involves the element of forgiveness, it involves the element of pardon, as it were, from sin, but it also involves the element of restoration or renewal of the relationship of the person to God. Justification declares us right before God so we have a right standing with him; forgiven of our sins and before him we are viewed through Christ and his righteousness as righteous.
A. Method of Justification
Clearly the method is faith in Christ is the only thing that is required for being justified. It is interesting when you look in Scripture this faith that causes us to be justified, if you will, think of Romans 5:1, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This faith, then, which elicits our justification, is not a one-time event; it is an ongoing reality.
I think this is why, you can look at this yourself at some point, Abraham’s life, in the New Testament is very interesting, how it is described. Because we find various points in Abraham’s life, in Romans 4 and as it is described also in Hebrews 11, and in James 2, at various points in Abraham’s life Genesis 15:6 is quoted, “Abraham believed and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” which, of course, is justification. He was declared righteous. That is stated of him at various points in his life and so I believe that we should think of justification as an initial declaration of God at the first instance of saving faith but then all through one’s life it is though that justification is re-declared, re-announced, reenacted, as it were, as ongoing faith flows out of initial saving faith.
Or you may think of it this way, that to enter the Christian life is more like diving into a swimming pool than simply going through a door. When you go through a door you are through it and it is over, you have passed the doorway and that is it. It is sort of a finished reality. But the Christian life is more like diving into a pool where you enter the water and then there is a point where you enter, there is no question about it, before you were dry and now you are wet, before you were dead in your sins and now you are alive, so you enter the water, but you swim in the water. This is the way the Christian life is. You enter faith and you enter justification and this justification remains with you, you might think of it this way, because your faith remains with you through all of life. There is even a final justification of people at the final judgment.
Some key passages, if you would like to make note of these: Romans 4, of course, is a very critical passage. Look at verses 3, 5, 6, 9, and 22. These all have so much to do with justification. Look also besides that at Romans 3:23-24, Romans 5:18, Acts 13:19, Galatians 2:16, just a few of the passages, which speak of justification, this declaration that obviously begins at the very point of saving faith.
B. Results of Justification
The status of our justification does not increase, it is just the reality of it extends through all of life and into eternity. We can never be more justified tomorrow than we are today, no more today than yesterday. Justification is a pardon. It cannot be more complete than it was the very instant that we believed in Christ. But it, nonetheless, is an ongoing reality for us. So the results of justification are a peace with God and right standing before him so that we are accepted before him. It is not just you are not guilty any longer, you can go your own way. No. You are not guilty and now you stand before me as one favored and accepted by God.
Adoption is a wonderful doctrine that accompanies or parallels our justification. It is also a legal act, just as adoption is for us at the human level, whereby believers are made legally adopted children of their creator God. As children, believers have the privileges that go with this position, but of course they also bear the responsibilities that go with this position. We bear the name of God. An adopted child takes on the name of the adopting parents and bears that name and enters into that home and all of the blessings and perhaps the inheritance and all the rest that goes with that. So the privileges and responsibilities are both attaching to our adoption. But it is another legal action by which God declares us to be his own children.
Consider with me Romans 8:15-16 where we read that "the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God and if children, heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ." Here we are made his children and because of that the very heirs of the riches of Christ. It is astonishing when we think about it. I have often thought if we had a better idea of how much we have received in Christ, we would shed our attachments to things in this world so readily, because of what has been given to us in him.
Most of which, by the way, is yet to be seen in the life to come. I am reminded of Ephesians 2 where Paul when talking about our salvation almost, basically, skips over life now to talk about the life to come. In verses 6 and 7 he says, “We have been raised up with Christ, seated with him in the heavenly places so that in the ages to come he might show the riches of his grace and kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” So much awaiting us because we share in the inheritance of Christ.
Consider a few other passages. Ephesians 1:5, how is it that we were adopted? Because we were predestined for this. He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to himself. Galatians 3:26 says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Then Galatians 4:6 says, “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba Father.’” Clearly among the privileges that we have as being the adopted children of God are that we are heirs of God, fellow heirs with Christ. We have been given the gift of the Spirit by which we are able to cry out, “Abba Father.” We recognize that God is our Father; we are truly his children and the Spirit enables us to embrace that and express it.
Of course we have a hope. There is a sense in which we are awaiting the completion of our adoption. Romans 8:23 speaks of waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons. That does not mean that we have not been adopted yet, but it is just like salvation generally, that is, we have been saved, we are being saved, but we await our final, complete salvation. And in a similar way we have been adopted, but we await the fullness of that adoptive standing and experience when we are with God away from sin forever.
There are two aspects of sanctification, but both have the same fundamental notion and that is that sanctification is the setting apart of a person to righteousness. In justification we are declared righteous before God, but in sanctification we are made righteous. This is confused in Roman Catholic theology where justification is a progressive notion. I have already argued earlier that justification is an ongoing reality through all of life, because faith that begins with saving faith initially extends through all of life so justification extends through all of life. But that is different from saying that justification somehow grows or is progressive in nature. This is not the case. Justification is a final, complete reality at the very moment of initial saving faith only to be confirmed through the rest of life and vindicated in the final judgment.
Sanctification is the work of God to make us progressively righteous. We actually have in sanctification an imparted righteousness not merely the imputed righteousness of justification, justification declaring us, imputing to us righteousness, but in sanctification making us or imparting to us righteousness. How does this happen? It really involves two kinds of sanctification that take place, both of which are crucial for understanding the nature of the Christian life.
A. Positional Sanctification
This refers to our present status once we have put our faith in Christ of being separated from sin and Satan and the world unto God in Christ. Think, for example, of Colossians 1:13 where we are told we have been delivered from and transferred from the dominion of Satan into the kingdom of his beloved Son. This is positional sanctification. We have been separated this way unto this new reality. We are in the kingdom of Christ, not in the dominion of Satan. Positional sanctification happens for all believers the instant that they believe.
I think one of the most helpful indicators of this is that in the book of 1 Corinthians, the letter to the Corinthians, Paul’s first letter to this church with all of its problems as we know from reading the book, yet, he begins it by affirming that these people are holy or sanctified people. Look with me at 1 Corinthians 1:2, “To the church, which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified.” This is a perfect passive participle indicating a past reality that continues on. And again he affirms the same thing in 6:11, “Such were some of you but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus.” In this case it is an aorist passive indicative indicating this past reality that has occurred.
Positional sanctification has to do with this setting us apart that takes place definitively, decisively at the very moment of our saving faith. We no longer are in bondage to sin. We no longer are under the dominion of Satan. We no longer belong to this world. We are citizens of a kingdom. We have been set apart to Christ. We are owned by him. We are not our own, we have been bought with a price and our positional sanctification announces that.
Consider also Ephesians 5:26 where we are told that Christ gave himself for the church that he might sanctify her having cleansed her. So even though he is at work purifying the church there is another sense in which his initial saving act, their faith in him in that saving act, cleanses her and forgives her and sets her apart altogether.
It is on the basis of the fact that we have been set apart unto God that we can make progress in the Christian faith. I think that Romans 6 is so instructive in this, one of the most helpful chapters in the Bible for living the Christian life because in Romans 6 it is very clear that Paul establishes two points. One is we have died and been raised with Christ; this is a fact; it is an accomplished reality. “Do you not know that you have died with Christ, you have been raised with him?” Paul asked at the beginning of that chapter. And then the second thing that he establishes is because this is true, because you have died, because you have been raised with Christ, “Therefore do not go on presenting the members of your bodies as instruments of unrighteousness,” that is, work out in factuality, in reality now, the truthfulness of your present real separation from sin or separation unto Christ; make this a progressive reality now.
B. Progressive Sanctification
Progressive sanctification is the Spirit’s work in our hearts and lives to strengthen our newly imparted disposition toward holiness freeing increasingly from the ongoing power of sin and renewing us increasingly into the image of Christ. In short, progressive sanctification is growth in holiness. It is making us more like Christ where we are transformed in mind, in affections, in will, in all of who we are increasingly to be like Christ.
A few passages just to make note of on this, 1 Thessalonians 4:3 indicates, “This is the will of God, your sanctification.” Clearly he has in mind there moving forward from this point. This is not referring to the past positional sanctification we received, but the ongoing progressive sanctification that is needed for us. 2 Timothy 2:21 indicates, “If a man cleanses himself from these things he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master.” Cleansing of ourselves, subjecting our minds to thinking God’s thoughts from his Word, subjecting our wills to choose to do the will of God, subjecting our affections so that we love the truth and hate unrighteousness increasingly, this will bring about increasing transformation in us so that we become increasingly like Christ.
Again this is a point at which there is difference of opinion among evangelicals. Arminians, at least many of them, hold the view that while it is true we must persevere to be saved, that is, we must continue in faith until the end to be saved in the end, nevertheless, it is possible that we might lose our salvation or, perhaps better put, forfeit or relinquish or reject the salvation that we had previously accepted.
Calvinists hold the view that, yes, while it is true that we must persevere to be saved, that perseverance to be saved will in fact be the reality for all true believers in Christ. Why is that? Because perseverance is fundamentally the work of God. God is the one who sustains us in faith. God is the one who will preserve us to the end and that preservation of us will be marked by our, that is believers’, ongoing faithfulness to Christ. I believe the Bible does teach that true believers will be saved in the end.
Consider these passages: John 6:37-40 where Jesus promises, “All who come to me I will not lose any of them, but I will raise them up on the last day.” Jesus has put his word, as it were, on the line here indicating these people will be saved. John 10:26-29, “No one shall snatch them out of my hand.” Romans 8:28-30, “Whom he justified, he glorified.” In other words this cannot be broken, he says. 1 Corinthians 1:8-9, Ephesians 1:13-14, Philippians 1:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, and 1 Peter 1:3-5 all indicate what might be called the eternal security of believers, that is, the reality that those who truly believe in Christ will be saved.
But it is also true that those who are truly saved must persevere in the faith. So we find passages like Romans 11, “Behold the kindness and the severity of God, to those who fell severity, but kindness, to you kindness if you continue it is kindness.” Or Colossians 1:23, “He has reconciled you to present you holy and blameless if, indeed, you continue in the faith firmly established.” The warnings in the book of Hebrews are clear reminders that people must believe to be saved. I agree with my colleague here at Southern, Tom Schreiner, and Ardel Caneday in their book, The Race Set Before Us, that the warnings are in fact given by God as part of the means by which people embrace their faith in God and resist turning into sin and so are faithful to the end and are saved.
Our Glorification is the complete and final perfection in holiness of the whole person, that is, body, soul, spirit, every aspect of us, mind, heart, will; every aspect conformed to the image of Christ.
Some biblical teaching on our ultimate glorification, consider Romans 8:23, 29-30; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; particularly of the resurrection of the body and our new bodies that will be given to us when Christ comes again, 1 Corinthians 15:35-58; and I love 1 John 3:2, “When we see him we will be like him for we will see him as he is.” Our glorification is the final consummation of God’s saving purposes with his elect started from eternity past and it will be completed just as he designed at some day in the future. May God be praised.
©2004 Bruce Ware