The Missing Strings of Sanctification

Leave off one or two elements of the biblical teaching about sanctification and it won't function properly.

There is never a time when we do not need to be reminded of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. We will never reach a point in our Christian life when we do not need to return to the truth that we have been united to Christ, in whom God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3). There is never a time when we will outgrow our need to hear the precious truths about our justification and adoption. It is impossible to meditate too often or too long on the truth that God has imputed our sins to Christ and his righteousness to us. 

 

When I was fourteen, I picked up a guitar and taught myself to play. I functionally sacrificed my high school education on the altar of seeking to impress girls with my supposed singing/songwriting abilities. I took a guitar to just about every party or gathering to which I went. I could tune it by ear, so that I could perform on the spot. For Christmas in 1995, My dad bought me a beautiful new Martin. Nothing sounded so sweet as that guitar when it was tuned up and fitted with new string; and, nothing sounded so off as when I sought to play it with only four or five strings–instead of all six–whenever they broke. Somehow, it always seemed to be the same two strings that broke and without which I would try to play it. I have long thought that a six string guitar serves as a helpful illustration of the doctrine of sanctification. The doctrine of sanctification is a multi-variegated doctrine. Leave off one or two elements of the biblical teaching about sanctification and it won’t function properly. From much of what is written about it in our day, it seems as if the same two strings are missing–namely, the consequences of and the chastisement for our sin.

There is never a time when we do not need to be reminded of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. We will never reach a point in our Christian life when we do not need to return to the truth that we have been united to Christ, in whom God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3). There is never a time when we will outgrow our need to hear the precious truths about our justification and adoption. It is impossible to meditate too often or too long on the truth that God has imputed our sins to Christ and his righteousness to us. We are counted righteous in Christ! We will never be any more justified before God than we are at present, if we are in union with Christ by faith. Additionally, we always have need to meditate on the precious truth that we have been adopted into the very family of God–made heirs of the everlasting inheritance and partakers of all of the benefits of the children of God. Additionally, we cannot make too much of the doctrine of the definitive sanctification. The power of sin has been broken in the death of Jesus. We have definitively died to its dominion on account of our union with Christ in his death and resurrection. These are a few of the major benefits that we have in union with Christ by faith. Remembering Christ and these benefits of the redemption that we have in him plays the largest role in animating our Christian life. If we are missing any one of these, we are playing a string or two short of the fully tuned guitar.

Then, we come to the matter of progressive sanctification. God has purchased our holiness for us by virtue of Christ’s death on the cross. However, unlike definitive sanctification, we quickly learn that our conformity to the image of Christ takes time. It doesn’t happen all at once. As John Newton famously put it, “I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be in another world. But still, I am not what I once used to be! By the grace of God, I am what I am!” We readily sense that there is a battle going on within us–a continual warfare between the flesh and the spirit. We fight, we war, we seek to mortify the lusts of the flesh. Yet, we feel the reality of indwelling sin, ever manifesting itself and seeking to reign in us. Sometimes we get the upper hand in the battle and sometimes we are wounded and fall. We cry out for grace to overcome sin and to put it to death. We get back up and press forward again, remembering that Jesus is the source of our sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). We go to him as to the one who said, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We go back to the cross for pardon and power so that we can again go forward in the Christian life.

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