Archives For sanctification

The death of Charles Caldwell Ryrie (1925-2016) was recently reported. With his death, his person, ministry and published works are remembered. It is encouraging to hear of his godly character, of how he lived faithfully the truth he taught to others.

I never knew Ryrie personally, but only from a distance through his writings. Two of his more influential works are Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody, 1969), an articulation and defense of the Dispensational view, which I read in the 1980s, and which has been reprinted through the years, and his much-used The Ryrie Study Bible (Chicago: Moody, 1978), including 10,000 footnotes/commentary espousing the Dispensational view, which has sold 2.6 million copies. This study Bible influenced many, and continued the earlier influence of the Scofield Reference Bible, compiled by Cyrus I. Scofield and published in 1909 (revised in 1917), though to a lesser degree.

Ryrie was also involved in what was referred to as the Lordship salvation debate of the late 1980s. One of the articles mentioned as one reflected on Ryrie was one written by S. Lewis Johnson (1915-2004), a former colleague of Ryrie’s at Dallas Theological Seminary, for CT in 1989: How Faith Works. It was in the midst of the Lordship Salvation controversy, the debate among Dispensationalists regarding the role of faith and works, although its reach went far beyond Dispensationalists and Dispensationalism.

The public face was primarily seen in two individuals: Zane Hodges (1932-2008), The Gospel Under Siege (Redencion Viva, 1981) and Absolutely Free: A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), and John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988).

Although Ryrie was in Hodges’ camp, he was a slightly softer version of it, which can be seen in these books: Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago: Moody, 1969), and So Great Salvation: What It Means to Believe in Jesus Christ (SP Publications, 1989). In the earlier work he distinguishes between Jesus as Savior and Lord in the lives of some, but Johnson thinks he was misunderstood, attempting to address not a sharp theological bifurcation between the two, but rather that some inconsistently live in this way.

In addition to the wise word written by Johnson, two other helpful works responding in the midst of the debate were by J. I. Packer, a non-Dispensationalist, “Understanding the Lordship Controversy,” and Darrell Bock, a Progressive Dispensationalist, in a review of MacArthur’s book, “A Review of The Gospel according to Jesus

The Lordship salvation controversy gave impetus to the free grace ministries in the stream of Hodges, i.e., Grace Evangelical Society (1986) and the Free Grace Alliance (2004), both grounded in Dispensationalism. Although this specific Lordship salvation debate is dated, the major issues it addresses, that of justification and sanctification, of faith and works, continues. Think for example of the discussion and debate between Tullian Tchividjian and Kevin DeYoung. And lest we think this is a contemporary problem, it goes back to the early church as recorded in the New Testament, e.g. Paul and James or Paul vs. James?, with various iterations surfacing throughout the history of the church.

In the EFCA, we address this issue in Article 8, Christian Living, in our Statement of Faith: “We believe that God’s justifying grace must not be separated from His sanctifying power and purpose.” Although justification and sanctification are not one and the same and must be treated separately as doctrinal truths, they are organically related and “must not be separated” as one considers the broader doctrine of salvation and experientially.

As you think about this, here are a few questions of application and implication for you:

  • How do you understand this issue?
  • What impact does your understanding have on your own personal life?
  • How does the way you view this affect your ministry and how you approach others in discipleship and counseling settings?

The indicative and imperative are at the heart of the Christian faith. Understanding these truths, both their content and order, are critical because the gospel and spiritual life are at stake.

John Webster has applied the indicative and imperative to sanctification and holiness. Holiness is both indicative and imperative, and sanctification is both the holiness the gospel declares and commands. The fruit of this in the lives of believers is action. Because this truth is rooted in “double grace,” it is not only a grace that justifies, it is a grace that sanctifies, it is “election to activity.”

Webster writes, Holiness (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 87:

Evangelical sanctification is not only the holiness the gospel declares but also the holiness that the gospel commands, to which the creaturely counterpart is action. Holiness is indicative; but it is also imperative; indeed, it is imperative because it is the indicative holiness of the triune God whose work of sanctification is directed towards the renewal of the creature’s active life of fellowship with him.

Indicative holiness is no mere inert state in which we find ourselves placed and which requires nothing of us beyond passive acquiescence. Indicative holiness is the revelation of the inescapable conclusion under which our lives have been set—namely, that as those elected, justified, and sanctified by the mercy of God, we are equally those who are determined for the active life of holiness. Because grace is ‘double grace’, it is election to activity.

Double grace is always, of course, wholly grace; the active life of holiness is never apart from faith’s assent to God’s sheer creativity. But in a Christian theology of the holy life, grace is duplex, extending into the generation, evocation and preservation of action. ‘Grace’—which is, of course, nothing other than a shorthand term for the great history of God’s mercy, at whose centre is the passion and resurrection of Christ and his sending of the Spirit—is the gift of life, and life is active holiness in company with the holy God.

A few questions to ponder:

  • When considering justification and sanctification, the declaration and command, how do you understand these truths?
  • How are they different?
  • How are they related?
  • What are the problems when these two doctrines are separated from one another too far?
  • What are the problems when they are treated as synonyms?
  • With what do you agree, and what do you find helpful from Webster’s explanation?
  • Finally, practically and pastorally, why does it appear that holiness is not something addressed or pursued by many Evangelicals?

Sanctification and Transformation

Greg Strand – February 22, 2013 2 Comments

David Peterson has written many helpful books. Recently Sandy Grant interviewed Peterson about “using biblical words in biblical ways” focusing on two of his books addressing sanctification and transformation.

In the first book discussed, Possessed by God: A New Testament theology of sanctification and holiness, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1995), the following paragraph sums up Peterson’s key thesis (p. 27):

Sanctification is commonly regarded as a process of moral and spiritual transformation following conversion. In the New Testament, however, it primarily refers to God’s way of taking possession of us in Christ, setting us apart to belong to him and to fulfil his purpose for us. Sanctification certainly has present and ongoing effects, but when the verb ‘to sanctify’ (Gk. hagiazein) and the noun ‘sanctification’ (Gk. hagiasmos) are used, the emphasis is regularly on the saving work of God in Christ, applied to believers through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Peterson’s concern is that there was a problem created by the interface between systematic theology and biblical theology.

With regard to sanctification, we have a problem regarding the interface between systematic theology and biblical theology, as well as a complex history of debate between different schools of thought about how we make progress in the Christian life. The use of ‘sanctification’ as a cover-all term for everything that happens between justification and glorification is misleading. Consistent with OT teaching about consecration and holiness, the verb ‘to sanctify’ is used in the NT to describe the beginning of the Christian life, not its progression and development. There are different ways in which related terms are used to challenge us about living out or expressing that sanctified status as the ‘saints’ of God under the New Covenant.

The second book they discussed built on the former book and spelled out further what Christian growth and maturity means by focusing on the term transformation: Transformed by God: New Covenant Life and Ministry (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2012). Peterson claims that the term “transformation” is a better term to describe/explain the process of moral and spiritual growth, even though it is a word that is rarely used in the New Testament (cf. Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21). But, states Peterson, there are good reasons to use the term.

Although ‘transformation’ vocabulary is fairly rare in the NT, it puts the focus emphatically on God’s work in changing us into the likeness of Christ. That theme is more widely expressed in other contexts where related terminology is used (e.g. Rom 8:29; Gal 4:19; Eph 4:13; 1 John 3:2-3). The call is for us to expose our minds and hearts to God’s word and the influence of his Spirit and to respond with faith and obedience, looking for God to change us in his own time, according to his own will.

These are two excellent books to read!

Another important book written by Peterson is Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992). This is one of the best books on a biblical theology of worship I have read; it had a profound impact on my understanding and practice of biblical worship.

His most recent commentary written in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series edited by D. A. Carson is also, as with everything else he writes, very good: The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009).

David Mathis interviews Don Carson about sanctification, and in particular the flip side to sanctification, mortification: “steps to overcome temptation” (3 ½ minutes):

Carson helpfully applies this to a specific example of pornography. One of the essential things Carson mentions is the necessity of a growing love for God and for the character of Christ and an increased delight in Christ that ought to make these sins to which we become chained seem shoddy and cheap. One has stated that we worship our way into the chain of sin; we must worship our way out of the sin. The chains of sin are broken through a deepening relationship with the living God through Jesus Christ. The old chains have no attraction and become ugly. The gospel frees us from guilt and as the old hymn writer said it “breaks the power of cancelled sin.”

What is gospel sanctification?

Greg Strand – March 19, 2012 Leave a comment

A well-stated answer to the question from the below referenced resource:

“The gospel transforms us in heart, mind, will, and actions precisely because it is not itself a message about our transformation. Nothing that I am or that I feel, choose, or do qualifies as Good News. On my best days, my experience of transformation is weak, but the gospel is an announcement of a certain state of affairs that exists because of something in God, not something in me; something that God has done, not something that I have done; the love in God’s heart which he has shown in his Son, not the love in my heart that I exhibit in my relationships. Precisely as the Good News of a completed, sufficient, and perfect work of God in Christ accomplished for me and outside of me in history, the gospel is ‘the power of God unto salvation’ not only at the beginning but throughout the Christian life. In fact, our sanctification is simply a lifelong process of letting that Good News sink in and responding appropriately; becoming the people whom God says that we already are in Christ.”

Michael Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Baker Books, 2009), p. 77