Friday, September 16, 2016

What is a Reformed Church: Sanctification (Part 1)

Sanctification: The necessity of sanctification

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Heb. 12:12-14)

Q35: What is sanctification?
A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness. (Westminster Shorter Catechism 35)

Justification is an act, a single event, whereby God declares the sinner who believes as righteous. Sanctification is a process whereby a person grows towards holiness and to manifest the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 6:22-23). A person is not saved by how holy they are, or how much of the fruit of sanctification they display. Justification is God's gift to the ungodly while they are ungodly (Rom. 4:5). Sanctification however is God's will for us after we have been justified (Eph. 2:10, 1 Thess. 4:3). The reason why we should strive to be holy is because we have already been declared righteous before God. Since we are righteous, we should strive to live according to our new status. We do not become holy so as to be right before God, but we try to be holy because we are already right before God. We do not try to please an angry God, but rather we live so as to please God who is our Father who loves us (Gal. 4:6, Heb. 12:7-12)

While sanctification does not save us, it is necessary for the Christian life, for that is what God calls us to. Someone who is truly saved will want to please God. As the Scriptures say, "Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (Rom. 6:1-2). When God regenerated and justified us, we are given a new life and are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Believers who are truly saved will want to grow in holiness and obedience towards God. We should not be under any illusion that we can be perfect in this life, since believers will always struggle with sin (Rom. 7:8-25), but yet we are to strive to be holy, as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-6).

What is sanctification?

Sanctification is "to become holy." "Holiness" is to live as if set apart from the world. It is to live a life not according to the principles of what the world thinks or does, but according to what God desires. It is to reject the three main temptations in this life: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:16). But what does God desire and demand? We know what God desires through God's Word, in God's preceptive will, or the moral law. Whatever God tells us to do, we should obey. The main summary of God's law for us is the Ten Commandments, which are found in passages like Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. This moral law is summed up in the greatest command Jesus gave us, which is "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Mt. 22:37-9).

The moral law of God is what God commands us to do as what is morally good. The Law of God in the Scriptures can be divided into the ceremonial, the national and the moral law. Although such a division is not clearly stated neither is it clearly demarcated in Scripture, yet it is implied within the passages of Scripture, as passages such as Isaiah 58 show us. For in Isaiah 58, the moral demand of repentance is clearly placed on a higher level than the ceremonial demands of fasting and sacrifice. But if we interpret Isaiah 58 without those categories, then it seems that God is pitting one of His law against another, thus contradicting Himself.

This moral law of God is the standard upon which we can discern God's will and desire for us to live. Here, we have to understand the three uses of the law. First, this moral law is used to convict us of sin so that we will turn always to God. It is not just for the moment of conversion, but we are to remind ourselves of the law regularly because we sin regularly. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 Jn. 1:9). Since we sin daily, we always are to remember the law and use it to drive us towards confession of our sins to God.

The second use of the law is the civil use, which is to remind and restrain society of sin. As the moral law is published, it informs and reminds society of what wickedness and what righteousness is. Even if many people in society are unbelievers, the publishing of this moral law would act as a restraint against greater lawlessness and wickedness in society. If society obeys the law at least externally, it would result in blessings upon the people who reap the benefits of living in a lawful society.

The third use of the law is the normative use, which is for believers. In it, the believer attempts to live a life that is in conformity to what the law requires. The moral law becomes our standard of what is right and what is wrong. We can judge rightly and live accordingly to what God desires, for the moral law is our pure standard.

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