December 14, 2017

The Certainty of Sanctification

by Don Johnson

An occasional series on sanctification — Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here.

We’ve covered two topics in this series so far, the Strategy of Sanctification (Rm 6) and the Struggle for Sanctification (Rm 7). God offers us the former and we generally experience the latter. When you get to the end of the struggle, you hear this despairing cry:

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Rm 7.24)

Subjectively, that is how the believer often feels because he does many things that in his born-again heart he wishes he did not to. The apostle immediately assures us with these words:

I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rm 7.25a)

The victory we seek is through Jesus Christ, we are told. ‘How does that work?’ we might ask. I’m glad we asked that, because the apostle expends another chapter teaching us the Certainty of sanctification, Romans chapter eight.

So to sum up our headings, we have the Strategy, the Struggle, and the Certainty of sanctification.[1] Paul rejoiced that deliverance from the body of this death is through Jesus Christ. He will reveal something else to us in chapter 8:

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus… (Rm 8.1a)

Our relationship with Christ is described here as being in Christ. This description is repeated twice in the chapter (Rm 8.2, Rm 8.10), and a similar relationship is mentioned several other times in the chapter. We are said to be in the Spirit (Rm 8.9) and the Spirit is said to be in us (Rm 8.11, twice). It is by this indwelling Spirit that we cry, ‘Abba, Father’ (Rm 8.15). Having the indwelling Spirit causes us to groan for the adoption, that is, the redemption of our body (Rm 8.23).

This relationship with Christ and His Spirit is entirely different from the spiritual life of those who are ‘in the flesh’, as is seen in several contrasting statements made in Rm 8.5-9. “You,” Paul says, “are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit” (Rm 8.9). A conditional statement follows, but it is one that assumes this to be the case. “If so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you…” Well, who is this person with the indwelling Spirit of God? Is he not the one who abhors sin and would do right if he could, as we said last time?

Some teach that the struggle seen in Rm 7.14-25 is not the struggle of a born again man. The major problem for that view is Paul’s testimony of doing things he hates (Rm 7.15), agreeing with the law (Rm 7.16), willing to do good (Rm 7.18), desiring the good (Rm 7.19), doing what he does not want (Rm 7.20). What unregenerate man has these kinds of desires in his spirit?

The regenerate man evidences the indwelling Spirit of God by having a renewed inner man who hates the deeds of the flesh, who agrees with the Law, that it is good, is willing to do good and desiring to do it, who doesn’t want to do evil. It is evident that no believer is perfectly free from the ravages of the flesh, is ashamed when he realizes he is caught yet again in his sin, and yearns for victory. This speaks to the presence of the Spirit of God in the inner man.

But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. (Rm 8.9a).

The Spiritual Realities Produced by the Spirit of God

The man who has the indwelling Spirit of God has at least four spiritual realities that are true of him, as taught by the apostle in Romans 8.

First, he is alive to righteousness (Rm 8.10, an echo of chapter 7).

Second, he is under obligation – not to the flesh, not a spirit of slavery, but a spirit of adoption (Rm 8.12-15). The adoption puts him under an obligation, but it is not the slavish obligation whereby he relates to God by fulfilling the law, but that obligation where he relates to God as a son in his house (Rm 8.15).

Third, he is not only adopted as a son, but he is considered a child of God, and thus an heir, even a joint-heir with Christ (Rm 8.16-17). That means we have been regenerated by the Spirit of God so that we have a new principle of life in our spiritual being which is of the same stuff as our elder brother, the Lord Jesus Christ. The new man has been generated by the Last Man, the Second Adam, who imparts to those born again in him the new nature of a child of God. Because of this, we will be glorified with him when he comes into his inheritance (Rm 8.17).

Finally, and best of all, he has the hope of the redemption of his body, when every aspect of broken creation is to be redeemed and everything is to be made new (Rm 8.18-25). There will be no sin nature in the new creation. Ultimate victory is secure, as the apostle continues to teach us in the following verses (Rm 8.26-30).

The Absolute Certainty of the Sons of God

Much could be said of the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the man who is in Christ, who is in the Spirit, and who has the Spirit in him. But the apostle says it best:

If God be for us, who can be against us? (Rm 8. 31b)

There’s a lot more. I absolutely love the triumphant ending of Romans 8. It is one of those passages of Scripture that just sings to the weary heart. Are you discouraged because of the struggle? Listen to the certainty:

He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?

Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.

Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rm 8.32-39)

The entire sanctification of the Christian is certain. There is no doubt. When God brings creation to its consummation, you will never sin again. That is a day every believer longs for.

In the meantime, there is something for you to do. Continue the struggle by walking in the Spirit. My term for walking in the Spirit is the Strategy of Sanctification. Know. Reckon. Yield. Obey … from the heart.

If you will daily make the application of the word to your heart, humble yourself before God in prayer, offer your members to God for his service, you will obey from the heart as you grow in grace and progress in your sanctification.

There are some clouds on the horizon of sanctification, but we will leave them until next time when we discuss Distortions of Sanctification. In the meantime, lets revel in the assurance of victory that belongs to every believer.

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rm 8.32-39)

Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria and serves on the FBFI board as chair of the Communications Committee which is responsible for this blog.

  1. One of my professors might comment, “Alliteration with sibilants this time, very nice.” []

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