Course: A Guide to Christian Theology
This is the 28th lecture in the online series of lectures on a Guide to Christian Theology by Dr Breshears. Recommended Reading includes: Biblical References from the Course and Study Guides 1 – 39.
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After returning from a teaching position at Faith Academy in the Philippians, I pondered about what to do with the sin in my life. And this is a huge question in theology. There are different answers to this question based on different discipleship models, but in this lecture I want to put forward some points of agreement and some points of disagreement. There is nothing more foundational than this area of dealing with sin in one’s life. We will first look at some points of agreement and look at some of the different approaches of sanctification. And I will give you my perspective which is held by a lot of different people, but there are many who disagree.
II. Provisional and Conditional Aspects of Sanctification
So the basic idea of sanctification comes out of the holiness of God which in turn becomes the holiness of his people. 1st Peter quotes the Old Testament in saying, ‘be holy as I am holy.’ When we think about sanctification, we are including two aspects with that: first it is provisional. It is a definitive dedication to God to move away from sin. We can sum that up as being dedicated to God. The second part is the conditional, the progressive cleansing from sin. So being sanctified is committing oneself to holiness. Another aspect includes the purity or cleanliness. In 1st Corinthians 1:2, Paul addresses his letter to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus. He is not saying that all the people in Corinth are morally pure, but instead they are dedicated to Christ Jesus. So we are sanctified in that we are committed to God so we are called his holy people. We are holy because of our calling and therefore called saints. This is a powerful idea; we are dedicated to Christ Jesus because of our conversion. The conditional and ongoing is concerned with the idea of being cleansed from sin, becoming more of a disciple of Jesus Christ.
III. The Indicative and Imperative Aspects of Sanctification
In considering some terminology related to sanctification, we have the word, indicative, which is something that is true and we have the imperative. The indicative is always the basis for the imperative. So the indicative, that I am regenerated and justified and have the indwelling Holy Spirit and a new heart and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. This is the indicative. The imperative are the commands for a Christ like life. In Ephesians 5:1 Paul says to be imitators of God, as beloved children and to walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. From verse 8, we have the foundation, ‘for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.’ So you were darkness but now you are light, therefore live as children of light. Philippians 2 tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to do. You have the imperative, the commands, but they are always based on the indicative of what has already happened to you. Leaving off the indicative and you end up with a try harder, work harder attitude and life for Jesus and thus ends up doing your own thing and failing and at the end become discouraged. On the other hand and because we don’t want to be moralists and religionists, we have the indicative without the imperative. It is not true that we don’t need to do the imperative thinking that we live only with the indicative.
IV. We are Justified by Grace through Faith Alone
We are all in agreement that we are justified by grace through faith alone. The increasingly Christ like life is normal for all believers. There is a difference between position and condition where position is the indicative and the position is the setting apart and dedicated to where the condition is the moral purity of the growth in Christ likeness. All believers are regenerate and indwelt by the Holy Spirit though this one gets lost a lot. For too many people, it is justification, sanctification, glorification and regeneration gets left out and when this happens you always end up with some kind of legalism or moralism because I am obeying some kind of external standard. We also agree that absolute perfection is not available in this world; even those who come from a holiness context believe that we can obtain sinless-ness but not perfectness in this world. There is a growth in wisdom.
V. Models of Sanctification
A. Victorious Model and the Progressive Model
Two basic models to sanctification include the victorious Christian life model. We come to a point where we experience this in our lives. There seems to be a time of struggle and then we begin to experience this victorious life in Jesus. So, somewhere after conversion, there is a second experience of some sort: a second blessing or baptism of the Holy Spirit. There are different terms used for this where we overcome sin in our lives and I can live a Christ like victorious life. Another model which is much more common is called progressive sanctification. There is a beginning and we get better and better yet we have ups and downs, but overall we are increasing becoming Christ likeness but there is always conflict. But for some, there comes a time of being victorious over all sin. These are two different models of dealing with our spiritual lives. One model is the Wesleyan model; the holiness model where eventually the sinful desires of your life is done away with. Another victorious Christian life model is the Keswick model where the basic idea has to do with an exchange between you and Jesus and Jesus takes over the sin in your life. It is an attitude of not you but Christ in your life. It is not your desire by Christ’s alone. This model is very popular. With the Wesleyan model, sin is eradicated but with the Keswick model sin isn’t eradicated but what changes is the perfect life becomes Christ life and so I live the Christ life by submitting to him, ‘not my will but thine will be done.’
B. The Obedience Model
There is also a moralist view that says that I am justified. I am a sinner saved by grace and I just obey and do it. There is an emphasis on God’s law and we need to submit to that law. Now, my security is based completely on the finished work of Christ, but the practical Christian life is to just stop sinning. Think right thoughts and live them out, pray etc. This is called the obedience model. That model says that you are a sinner, not fundamentally changed; in fact in some cases they don’t talk about regeneration at all, only justification. This is a gift of righteousness; something that is given to me as an external alien righteousness. It is a Christ righteousness imputed to you and you just do the best you can. I can do a whole lot but nevertheless, I work hard at it.
C. The New Covenant Model
Here is what I would call the New Covenant Model which is fairly widely held among evangelicals. I have a new heart and a new kingdom, forgiveness of sin which is regeneration and then justification and I live my life in response to the Holy Spirit but out of deep desires of my own heart. What I do is what I most deeply want to do and it is what the Bible, Spirit and spiritual community say as well. I keep in step with the Spirit through that process of moving ahead. So what does this look like? If as a Christian I do what I want to do, will I do sin or will I do Jesus. For those who answer sin, we say that it is not my will but thy will be done. They will quote passages like Jeremiah 17:9 where it says, ‘the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?’ So the argument is if I do my desires I will commit sin and thus I need to get myself off the throne and put Christ on the throne and it will be good. There is no realistic way to put Christ on the Throne, but I have to do the best I can and obey God’s law. In Romans 7:14 it says that we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, under sin. We see that Paul is justified and he is regenerate and then in chapter 7 as a justified and regenerate person, how do you deal with sin in your life? He says that the law will not deal with the sin but in the second half of the chapter he goes on to say that he serves the law of God with his mind, but with his flesh he serves the law of sin, yet Paul wants to serve God spiritually on his own and not of the flesh. Paul seems to personify sin that is within him. So in summary, Paul’s desire is to do Jesus only in his life, yet he admits that there is a sin desire in him also.
VI. The Sufficiency of Christ
A. The Spirit Gives Life
So when our deepest desire meets the power of the Holy Spirit, expressed in the Word of God and through the community of Christ, then I do what I really want to do and that connects with what Jesus is doing. A passage in 2nd Corinthians 3:6 he is comparing the New Covenant with the Mosaic code and he talks about the New Covenant and our sufficiency is God who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a New Covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirt. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. And then in verse 18 we, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord is the Spirit. In chapter 7, he goes on to say, since we have these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. We just not obey but we purify ourselves. In 2nd Peter 1:3 says that his divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence. This is divine power to live a Godly life. In verse 5, it says for this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection and brotherly affection with love.
B. A Practical Aspect
So remember that we are children of the most high God and you have a new heart and the Holy Spirit. Remember the indicative aspect of our salvation and then realize that we have the imperative of purifying ourselves, making every effort to add goodness to our faith. So when faced with sin: stop and think about who you are in Christ and what is it that is happening to you. Then pray and connect with community but not everybody, only someone who understands grace and a person you trust; do what would make you the happiest and you will do the right thing. Therefore, stop, think, pray, connect and do what will make you the happiest. I really think this practical point works.
There is a sense we need to allow and trust the power of the Holy Spirit to work transformation in our lives. There is not condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus. The Spirit has set us free in Jesus from the law of sin and death. Jesus condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirt. This is us keeping in step with the Holy Spirit. This practical side is opposed to just resting in Christ, it is opposed to waiting and expecting God to do something miraculous and then when God doesn’t, we blame God. We are to purify ourselves. We already have the deepest desires to live according to the Spirit.