Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sanctification by Grace Alone

Sola Gratia & Sanctification by Rich Gilbert

©1990 Modern Reformation/Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals
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Sola Gratia, Grace Alone. This Biblical concept was one of the central themes of the Reformation. Simply stated, it is the teaching that men are justified, apart from anything they can do to cooperate, solely by the grace of God.

But what does this have to do with sanctification? Everything; for it is precisely this teaching which is the basis for the sanctified life.

Over the centuries (from the first century A.D. in fact! See Romans 6:1) this doctrine has been charged with being injurious to good moral behavior i.e., if it is true that we do not have to do good works in order to be saved, and indeed that we cannot do any, no one will ever try to live a holy life.

Not true. In fact, it is only when we have despaired of our own efforts to save ourselves, that good works even become possible. How so? The first and greatest commandment is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." (Matthew 22:37). Anything done apart from this pure motive is therefore impure (since its origin is impure "a bad tree cannot produce good fruit." (Matthew 7:18). None of us is able to love God perfectly as He requires, and without this pure motive even our "good" works are like "filthy rags." (Isaiah 64:6).

So, despairing of his own efforts to save himself, man turns to Christ and learns that for the sake of His (Christ's) work the sinner is graciously accounted righteous through faith in Christ's work. Now he no longer feels the weight of the law pressing down with its threats to any who don't perfectly keep its demands (see Galatians 3:10 & James 2:10). Now he is free to obey and does good works spontaneously out of love and gratitude.

There is also a sense in which we can say that sanctification (like justification) is "Sola Gratia."

Everything relating to sanctification, every aspect of it is the work of God in us and on our behalf. Our sanctification owes its beginning to God's recreative act in us. Ezekiel 11:19,20 tells us that it is God who removes our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh and that it is this that enables us to keep His commandments (This teaching is so important that it is repeated in Ezekiel 36:25-27 - Boms).

1 Peter 1:3 says that God has caused us to be born again.  (This teaching is so important that Peter repeats it in 1 Peter 1:23 and is echoed in passages such as John 1:13John 3:6, John 6:65, John 17:2Romans 9:16Ephesians 1:4-6, Ephesians 2:4-5James 1:18, 2 Timothy 1:8-9 just to mention a short few. Heaven help us if we ever dare contradict or water down such a fundamental Biblical Gospel truth - Boms) 

The beginning of sanctification, its origin, is the work of God.

The righteousness that becomes ours in sanctification is the obedience Christ rendered to the law. Romans 5:10 refers to this when it speaks of being saved by His life. Christ lived the life of perfect obedience that we were incapable of living and our sanctification is the imparting of that righteousness to us.

Although our will is active and cooperates in sanctification, it is the Holy Spirit that spurs us on to do good works. This is what Paul means in Philippians 2:13 where he says "it is God at work in you, both to will and work for His good pleasure." If the Holy Spirit were to withdraw His assistance, we would no longer continue and progress in sanctification.

Scripture often speaks of sanctification in two ways, as an already accomplished fact and as a continuing process. In 1 Corinthians 1:2 we are said to have been sanctified in Christ Jesus. In chapter 6 vs. 11 it again says we were sanctified. God looks at us through Christ's perfect life and for the sake of His life and death on our behalf, and in light of this, He graciously accepts our works, deficient and impure as they are, as holy on account of faith in Christ. 

We are sanctified already in that God has called and separated us out of the world for His purposes to be His people. 

In fact, it is because we are already sanctified that we are called to live accordingly and to grow in sanctification. In all of Paul's letters where he has an exhortation to live holy lives, it is always based on the preceding section which explains what we already are in Christ. Then he says "therefore" we ought live accordingly. 

The clearest passage showing this is Ephesians 2:10. Here we are told, 1) that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works, 2) the good works were prepared beforehand by God, and 3) that we have merely to walk in them (just as the Sovereign Gracious LORD causes us to! Please see Paul's encouragement to the less than perfect church in Corinth: 1 Corinthians 12:5-6 and 11 - Boms).

Finally, no treatment of sanctification would be complete without discussing a Christian's failings. It is an unfortunate reality that Christians do still sin (please see 1 John 1:8-10 and notice how John writes "we" - Boms)

There will always be a remnant of the Old Adam in us warring against the New. This is what Romans 7 is all about. (Paul writing in the present tense in Romans 7:14-25 - Boms.) 

Here Paul speaks of the conflict still within him (not before he was a Christian, for the desires of the New Man are not active in the non-Christian) as he wrote his letter to the Romans. He says that the good he would do is what he does not do, but rather, winds up doing the evil that he doesn't want to do. This is perhaps where grace has its most significant relationship to sanctification. 

It sometimes seems that there is plenty of grace for you if you are not a Christian, but when you become a Christian then there are all sorts of laws you must obey and you feel like you were better off before you were converted. But the good news for Christians is that the death of Christ was a death for your sins, too. Christ died for the sins Christians commit, even after they become Christians. He is still your mediator and His sacrifice is bigger than your transgression. In Him is your justification. In Him is your sanctification. In Him is your peace. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Rich Gilbert is a freelance Lutheran writer for Modern Reformation
Please see the original article here. Many thanks & God bless!

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