THE DOCTRINE OF SANCTIFICATION
I. THE MEANING OF TERMS
The noun "sanctification" is the translation of the Greek "hagiasmos." The Greek, verb is "hagiazo." The corresponding Hebrew verb is "qadash." The Greek noun is used ten times in the New Testament. Five times it is translated "sanctification," and five times it is translated "holiness." The Greek verb is used twenty-nine times in the New Testament. Twenty-six times it is translated "sanctify." Twice it is translated "hallow." Once it occurs in the passive voice, and is translated "be holy." "Hagios" is another Greek word derived from "hagiazo," and is used both as an adjective and as a noun. As an adjective it occurs ninety-three times with "pneuma" (Spirit) to designate the Holy Spirit. In sixty-eight other cases it is used as an adjective, and is translated "holy." As a noun, it is translated "holiest" twice; "holiest of all" once; "Holy One" four times; "holy place" three times; "holy thing" once; "sanctuary" three times; and "saint" or "saints" sixty-two times.
Thayer's Lexicon defines "hagiazo" as meaning "to render or acknowledge to be venerable, to hallow, to separate from things profane and dedicate to God, to consecrate; to purify," either externally-whether ceremonially (1 Tim. 4:5; Heb. 9:13) or by expiation (Heb. 10:10; 13:12), or internally. The meaning of "hagiasmos" and "hagios" follow from the meaning of "hagiazo," according to their proper use.
II. THE BELIEVERS PAST SANCTIFICATION
1. SCRIPTURE REFERENCES TO IT
Acts 20:32; 26:18; 1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11; Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2; 2 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 9:14.
2. THE NATURE OF IT
The past sanctification of the believer is a three-fold sanctification:
The believer has been consecrated or dedicated to the service of God. We have the type of this in the sanctification of the tabernacle and temple with their furnishings and equipment. See Ex. 29:37; 30:25-29; 40:8-11; Lev. 8:10,11; Lev. 21:23; 1 Kings 7:51; 2 Chron. 2:4; 5:1; 29:19. Sanctification similar to that which is now under consideration may be seen in Gen. 3:2; Joel 1:14; Jer. 1:5; John 10:36.
Sanctification in this sense is a formal and external setting apart for or separation unto God. There is no thought of inward holiness.
(2) Legal Cleansing.
This is the kind of sanctification referred to in 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 5:26; Neb. 10:10; 13:12. In the eyes of the Old Testament law, the believer is holy; because Christ, by His death, has paid the penalty of the law, and, by His blood, has washed away all guilt (1 Cor. 6:11; Gal. 3:13; Rev. 1:5; 7:14).
(3) Moral Cleansing of the Soul.
We have already, in another chapter, pointed out that regeneration removes all depravity from the soul, or spiritual nature of man; so that the only sin that remains in man is the sin of the fleshly nature, which is often referred to as the body. We believe this kind of sanctification is referred to in 2 Thess. 2:13 and 1 Pet. 1:2; also 1 Cor. 6:11.
So far as the removal of the presence of sin from the soul is concerned, the believer has a perfect moral sanctification, as well as a perfect formal and legal sanctification. There remains in the believer, as we shall see, the need of further sanctification; but this further sanctification does not have to do with the removal of sin from the soul. The soul is made sinless in regeneration; and in this sense is perfectly sanctified.
3. HOW IT IS ACCOMPLISHED
(1) God, of course, is the Author of it.
(2) The Holy Spirit is the Agent of God in the Accomplishment of it.
(4) Faith is the Means. Acts 26:18. Faith is the means by which the soul is cleansed (Acts 15:9; 1 Pet. 1:22).
This is true because "belief cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).
There is a sense in which the believer is being sanctified.
1. SCRIPTURE REFERENCES TO IT
John 17:17,19; Rom. 6:19-22; 15:16; 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 2:11; 10: 14; 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:15. We have listed here only passages where "hagiasmos," "hagiazo," or "hagios" appear in the original. There are many other passages which indirectly refer to the believer's present sanctification.
2. HOW IT IS ACCOMPLISHED
(1) God is the Author of It.
(2) The Holy Spirit is the Agent.
(3) The Death of Christ is the Basis.
(4) The Word of God is the Instrument of the Spirit.
John 17:17. This is proved by all passages which teach that the truth promotes obedience, prevents and cleanses from sin, makes us hate sin, and causes us to grow in grace. See Psa. 119:9, 11, 34, 43, 44, 50, 93, 104; Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Pet. 2:2.
(5) Faith is the Chief Means.
(6) Our Own Works Are Also A Means In Our Present Sanctification
Rom. 6:19. As physical exercise is necessary to physical growth, so spiritual exercise is necessary to spiritual growth. Physical exercise develops an appetite for food, from which we receive nourishment that produces growth. Spiritual exercise develops an appetite for the Word of God, from which we receive spiritual nourishment that produces growth in grace.
(7) Other Less Direct Means. Among other less direct means in our present sanctification may be named prayer, God's ordained ministry (Eph. 4:11,12), church attendance and association with believers in church capacity, observance of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper, the keeping of the Lord's day, and the chastening and providences of God.
All of these things help toward our present sanctification, not because of any intrinsic virtue of their own, but only as, in one way or another, they bring us in contact with divine truth, enlighten our minds with regard to it, and bring us to a higher appreciation of it and fuller obedience to it. It is only in this way that baptism and the Lord's Supper contribute to our present sanctification. They are not grace-giving sacraments. The grace received through the ordinances is not received ex opere operato--from the mere act of observance.
3. THE NATURE OF IT
It is "that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit, by which the holy disposition imparted in regeneration is maintained and strengthened" (Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 483). In spite of the quibbling arguments of Mr. Finney, the immanent preference of the will established in regeneration can be strengthened.
A. It is not an improvement of the flesh.
Our present sanctification includes the body (1 Thess. 5:23), but not so as to essentially alter the sinfulness of the flesh. The flesh always lusts against the Spirit (Gal. 5:17). Even in an aged and seasoned soldier of the cross, such as the Apostle Paul was, we see that the flesh was still unaltered (Rom. 7:14-24). The body is included in that the soul is, by means of sanctification, given greater control over it; and thus it is kept back to some extent, from overt acts of sin. But its essential sinfulness is undiminished.
B. It is not a gradual elimination of sin from the soul.
As we have already noted, the soul is made sinless in regeneration and is united with the Holy Spirit. No sin remains in the soul therefore, to be eliminated by our present sanctification.
(2) What Is It.
A. It is a progressive maintenance and strengthening of the soul in holiness.
By means of our present sanctification the holy bent given to our faculties in the new birth is strengthened. The mind is taught. By beholding more fully the beauty of the Lord, we are constrained to love Him more fervently. Thus the will is strengthened (we get will power) and enabled to put forth more effective executive volition in the interest of its immanent preference. If this were not possible, then there is no conceivable way in which we could grow in grace.
In regeneration, the faculties of the soul are all set upon God in the fullness of the strength possessed at that time. But that strength can be increased. This is all beautifully set forth in Eph. 3:16-19, which the student is urged to read at this point.
B. It is wholly subjective.
Our past sanctification is partly objective, but our present sanctification is wholly subjective.
Although it is inward, yet it manifests itself outwardly in practical Christian living.
D. It is experimental.
Our past sanctification may be only very dimly experiential at the time it occurs, but our present sanctification is definitely experiential. The believer feels and knows the working of the Spirit in his heart, strengthening him, transforming him from grace to grace (2 Cor. 3:18), moving him to prayer, Bible study, and other Christian exercises and activities. And this work of the Spirit in the believer is the source of his assurance. It is in this way that the Spirit witnesses with our spirits that we are the children of God. Rom. 8:16.
E. It is always in the life.
IV. THE DOCTRINE OF SINLESS PERFECTION REFUTED
1. OBJECTIONS TO THIS DOCTRINE.
(1) The Apostle Paul, whom God set forth as a human example for believers (1 Tim. 1:16), and in whose life we are not sure that any fault may be seen, had not, even in his old age, attained sinless perfection.
This is evident from Rom. 7:14-24. It is absurd to refer this to Paul before regeneration. With the fourteenth verse there is a significant change from the past tense to the present. To make the verses beyond verse fourteen refer to Paul's life before regeneration is to make of them a grammatical monstrosity. The latter part of verse twenty-five shows that the victory over sin through Jesus Christ does not come in this life. This is shown also in Rom. 8:23-25. The victory comes only with the redemption of the body, which will take place in the resurrection.
Again, the language of Rom. 7:14-24 shows that it refers to a saved man. "No unregenerate man can truly say, 'I consent unto the law that it is good'; 'To will is present with me; 'For I delight in the law of God after the inward man;' 'So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God'" (Pendleton, Christian Doctrines, P. 301).
The idea that in Rom. 7 we have the experience of Paul after having been saved but before he was sanctified, while in Rom. 8 we have his experience after having been sanctified, is also absurd. As we have pointed out, the eighth chapter of Romans no more teaches sinless perfection than the seventh chapter. In the eighth chapter Paul teaches that believers still groan under the sinfulness of the body and are waiting for its redemption (Vs. 23), being saved by hope (Vs. 24,25). All talk about the believer, in his experience, getting out of the seventh chapter of Romans into the eighth is senseless. Every believer lives all his life in both chapters, for both chapters are but parts of one connected discourse. The "therefore" of verse 1, chapter 8, directs us back to the latter part of the seventh chapter for the basis of what is said in the eighth.
The epistle to the Romans was written before Paul's trip to Rome. After having been taken to Rome, and while a prisoner there, he wrote some epistles. One of them is the epistle to the Philippians. In this epistle Paul still disclaims absolute perfection. He said that he did not consider himself as having been made perfect already. Phil. 3:12.
(2) The model prayer given by Christ to His disciples implies continued sinfulness on the part of saved people.
As is well known, Christ taught His disciples, in the model prayer, to confess their sins. Nor did He at any time or in any way insinuate or imply that there would ever be a time when they could properly dispense with this confession of sin and petition for forgiveness.
(3) The fact that all of God's children are chastened of him shows that all of them sin (Heb. 12:5-8).
"If ye are without chastening, whereof all are made partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons" (Heb. 12:8). There can be no chastening without sin. God might deal with us in a providential way if we were perfect, but His dealings could not be called chastisement.
"In many things we all stumble" (Jas. 3:2). This cannot be confined to teachers; but if it could, the principle would be the same.
"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). "We" certainly refers to believers. And the present tense shows that the passage refers, not to a denial of former sin, but to a denial of present sin. And this passage tells us that professors of sinless perfection are self-deceived. They are self-deceived as to at least four things; viz.,
A. The nature of God's law (the law of Christ-1 Cor. 9:21) for believers.
Instead of viewing God's law for believers as a transcript of His holiness, a perfect standard of righteousness, they view it as a sliding scale that accommodates itself to our ability. "This view reduces the debt to the debtors ability to pay, -a short and easy method of discharging obligations. I can leap over a church steeple, if I am only permitted to make a church steeple low enough; and I can touch the stars, if the stars will only come down to my hand" (Strong).
They would have us believe that "involuntary" transgressions are not sins. John Wesley, one of the most prominent advocates of the doctrine of sinless perfection in this life, said: "I believe a person filled with the love of God is still liable to involuntary transgressions. Such transgressions you may call sins, if you please; I do not."
Involuntary means: 1. Contrary to one's will or wish. 2. Not under the control of will. As applied to moral acts, the word must have the first meaning. The second meaning applies only to such things as digestion, the beating of the heart, and other natural functions of the body. And the meaning of will or wish in the first definition must be understood in the narrow sense of the normal tenor of the will. In the broad sense one never acts contrary to his will or wish, except when overcome by physical force. No saved person normally wills to get angry and speak cutting words. But, under serious provocation, one loses his temper and says things he should not have said. These are involuntary acts, according to the only sense in which involuntary can be applied to moral acts. Therefore, according to John Wesley and other perfectionists, these acts are not sins. The same things may be applied to David's murder of Uriah, and his adultery with Bathsheba.
C. The power of the human will.
To affirm that the human will, even normally, can put forth, at every moment, executive volitions fully conformed to its immanent preference (ultimate end) and the perfect will of God is to deny the conflict that exists always between the two natures of believers, as set forth in Gal. 5:17. Charles G. Finney does this. In his view, indwelling sin is merely a sinful choice. Now in regeneration, this sinful choice is reversed. Thus there is no indwelling sin left. See pp. 254,294. Then he says: "When an end is chosen, that choice confines all volition to securing its accomplishment, and for the time being, and until another end is chosen ... it is impossible for the will to put forth any volition inconsistent with the present choice" (p. 235). This is glaringly false, both psychologically and scripturally, as is about nine-tenths of all that is found in Mr. Finney's book. It represents a miserable effort to effect a compromise between Calvinism and Arminianism. As said before, special attention is being given to Mr. Finney's theology because his book has been urgently and widely recommended to young Baptist preachers, especially those who are Calvinists.
When John says, "the truth is not in us," he refers not to abstract truth, but to the "truth of the gospel, bringing the light of God into the soul, and so revealing sins as the sunlight does the dust" (Sawtelle). "The truth is to be taken objectively as the divine truth in Christ, the absolute principle of life from God received into the heart" (Lange). This meaning is confirmed by verse 10, which says: "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him (God) a liar, and His word is not in us." This passage reveals the truth of verse "The persons supposed to say this are viewed at the point when they should be offering their confessions confession of sins beginning in the past and reaching down to the present; hence, the perfect tense" (Sawtelle).
And the expressions, "the truth is not in us" and "his word is not in us," deny the Christian character of every professor of sinless perfection. According to these passages, all of them are lost.
2. SCRIPTURES EXPLAINED
We take up the following Scripture passages which are advanced by sinless perfectionists to prove their theory.
(1) The passages that speak of the believer as being "perfect."
We refer here to such passages as Luke 6:40; 1 Cor. 2:6; 2 Cor. 13:11; Eph. 4:11; Phil. 3:15; Col. 4-.12; 2 Tim. 3:17.
The perfection of these passages is not absolute. It is only relative perfection. Sometimes the word "perfect" refers only to Christian maturity in contrast with the weakness of babes in Christ. Sometimes it means only that those whom it describes are free from any grievous fault. Thus we are told that "Noah was a righteous man and perfect" (Gen. 6:9), even though he got drunk (Gen. 9:21). And thus it is said that job "was perfect and upright" (Job 1:1).
The use of the word "perfect" in Philippians 3:15 throws interesting and instructive light on its usual meaning m Scripture. In verse 12, as we have already noted, Paul disclaims perfection. Then in verse 15 he addresses an exhortation to "as many as are perfect." It is quite evident, then, that in verse 12 he has reference to absolute perfection, while in verse 15 he alludes to those who are relatively perfect or mature. And he exhorts these to be "thus minded." By this he means that they are to disclaim absolute perfection, as he did, and press forward to higher things. Thus we see that "perfect," in the light of the usual meaning of the term in Scripture, when applied to believers, requires that believers disclaim absolute perfection and yet press on to higher things. The individual that professes sinless perfection and he who is not pressing on are not "perfect."
(2) Matt. 5:48— "Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
In this passage Jesus set for His disciples the ideal of absolute perfection. He could have set nothing less than this without condoning and encouraging sin. But there is nothing here or elsewhere to imply that the followers of Christ win ever reach this ideal in the flesh. In fact, it is impious to affirm that they do reach this ideal; for the perfection held out is the perfection of God Himself.
(3) 1 Thess. 5:23-"And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
This passage must be understood in the light of Paul's own experience, and in the light of Scripture as a whole. If Paul prayed for the complete sanctification of the Thessalonians in this life, then he prayed for something for them that he himself had not experienced, or else he later lost his complete sanctification; for when he wrote to the Romans much later, as we have noted, he did not profess sinlessness.
The sanctification that Paul prayed for God to work in the Thessalonians was indeed complete sanctification, as evidenced by the Greek "hototeles"; but he does not indicate that it was to be fulfilled in this life. Scripture very definitely condemns the notion that he expected it to be fulfilled in this life. And the mention of the coming of Christ suggests that he looked forward to this time as the time when His prayer was to have a full answer. Paul prayed for the carrying on of progressive sanctification, just as Christ prayed for the same for His disciples (John 17:17), which progressive sanctification would, at the second coming of Christ, issue in complete sanctification.
Along with this passage we may class other similar passages such as John 14:23; Rom. 8:12; 1 John 1:6.
These passages have reference to the normal tenor of the Christian life. They cannot be held to teach that one who is saved keeps the commandments of God perfectly at every moment, because other passages deny this.
The Mississippi River affords an excellent illustration of the Christian life. If one is asked which way the Mississippi River flows, he will answer that it flows southward. But the fact of the matter is, this river sometimes flows in a northerly direction. But, despite this fact, we go on saying that it flows southward. We speak thus because we view the river as a whole. We see the main trend of the river. Thus it is with the Christian life. When it is viewed as a whole, or as to its main trend, it is seen to be a life of righteousness. But the current as to its main trend is not as swift near the edges as it is in the center. And it will not always keep its usual direction. It will strike obstructions that will turn it aside temporarily, but always it will again assume its normal course by and by.
(5) 1 John 1:7-"The blood of Jesus Christ his Son, cleanseth us from all sin."
Some have the idea that this passage means that the blood of Jesus Christ renders us sinless as to state. But not so. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us only as to our standing before God. This passage has reference to justification and legal sanctification, but not to progressive, practical sanctification.
The need for the constant cleansing of recurring defilement was taught by Jesus when He washed the disciples' feet. He said: "He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit" (John 13: 10). The remainder of this passage, "and ye are clean, but not all," which is explained in the next verse as meaning "Ye are not all clean," and as referring to Judas, shows that Jesus was drawing an analogy between physical cleansing and spiritual cleansing. Just as one who had bathed the body would not need to bathe it again, but would need to wash away the dust from the feet; so one who has been bathed in Christ's blood will not need that bath again, but, nevertheless, he will be in daily need of the cleansing away of the defilement that attaches itself to him in his contact with the world. He "is clean every whit" as to his standing before God, but in need of daily confession and forgiveness that he may maintain fellowship with God.
(6) 1 John 3:9-"Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his (God's) seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God."
Concerning this passage we have the following to say:
A. It refers to the actual standard of Christian living, and not to a mere ideal standard.
The passage speaks of what the Christian really is in conduct, and not merely of what he ought to be. This is evident from the next verse, which says. "In this (that is, in this inability to sin) the children of God are manifest, and the children of the Devil."
B. It refers to the whole man, and not merely to the new nature.
It is evident that the "seed" in this passage refers to the new nature. The Greek here is "sperma." It is used forty-four times in the New Testament. In forty-one of the forty-four instances it means, not seed for planting, but progeny, offsprings. When the Word of God is called "seed" the Greek has not "sperma," but "spora" or "sporos." See Luke 8.11; 1 Pet. 1:23.
Another weighty objection to the view that "seed" here represents the Word of God and the "whosoever" the new nature, is that it is not the Word of God that makes it impossible for the new nature to sin. It is the quality of the new nature that makes this impossible. If the new nature were sinful, then the Word of God would no more prevent its sinning than the Word of God prevents the flesh from sinning.
Thayer makes "seed" in this passage refer to the divine energy of the Holy Spirit operating in the soul, by which we are regenerated. But this is a purely arbitrary interpretation. We have no reason to believe that either the Holy Spirit or His energy is ever referred to as "sperma."
Therefore, taking the "seed" to refer to the new nature, we necessarily interpret "whosoever" as referring to the whole man; for it is "he," the whole man, in whom the "seed," the new nature, abides, that cannot sin.
C. It affirms, not that a regenerated person cannot commit a single sin, but that he cannot follow a continuous course of sin; he cannot live in sin.
We adopt this interpretation of this passage for the following reasons:
(a) It is the only view that is in harmony with the context. It is manifest from the context, as already remarked, that John was speaking of that which is outward and actual, something that makes a manifest difference in and of itself. Then, too, this passage evidently means the same as verses six and eight, and, if possible, they are less favorable to the other interpretations.
(b) While it is true that the whole man is not born of God, yet in such general passages as the one under consideration the Scripture makes no distinction between the two natures of the believer; but loosely refers to the man as a whole. The Scripture says: "Except ONE be born anew," and not "except one have a new life born within him," "if any man is in Christ, HE is a new creature," not "he has a new creature in him;" "hath quickened US with Christ" not 'hath quickened a new life within us," "he brought us forth by the word of truth," not "he brought forth something within us by the word of truth."
(c) It is the only view that takes account of the present infinitive "sin" (Greek-"hamartanein") in the latter part of the passage. The present infinitive always signifies durative, linear, progressive action-action in its continuance. Because of this meaning of the Greek infinitive, Weymouth translates the passage: "No one who is a child of God is habitually guilty of sin. A God-given germ of life remains in him and he cannot habitually sin." And Sawtelle explains "doeth no sin" and "cannot sin" as meaning; "Does not do it as the law of his life, as the ideal tendency of his being; does not belong to the sin sphere."
D. Let sinless perfectionists note the following facts about this passage:
(a) Its affirmation applies to all saved people; not just to some that have reached a supposed high plane of living. Thus this passage kills the "second-blessing" theory. This passage is talking about what the believer is by virtue of regeneration; not what he is by virtue of a supposed "second work of grace."
(b) The passage affirms that the character referred to cannot sin. Thus, according to their own theory, they would have to interpret the passage as teaching that one who has attained sinlessness can never lapse back into sin. This they will not admit. Thus they show that their only interest in this passage is to bolster up their ignorant, senseless heresy.
We think it well here to list four things which J. M. Pendleton, in "Christian Doctrines," gives as evidences or fruits of the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit in our progressive sanctification.
"I. A DEEP SENSE OF UNWORTHINESS"
No person in whom the Holy Spirit has done any considerable work has any disposition to boast of his goodness. For examples of the sense of unworthiness on the part of God's saints see Job 38:1,2; 40.4; 42:5,6; Eph. 3:8; Isa. 6. Also Phil. 3:12-15.
"2. AN INCREASING HATRED OF SIN"
No saved person loves sin; that is, love of sin is not the dominant affection of his life. The sins he commits are not the result of a normally dominating love of sin, but of an occasional rising up of the flesh or of the constant friction between the flesh and the spirit.
"3. A GROWING INTEREST IN THE MEANS OF GRACE"
"4. AN INCREASING LOVE OF HEAVENLY THINGS"
All of these fruits of the sanctifying process prevent the fact that one cannot attain sinlessness in this life from encouraging sin. The presence of sin in the life of the Christian affords him no consolation. Instead it affords him grief. He would fain be free of his earthly weight and soar upward that his soul might bask itself in the sunlight of righteousness. Every saved person can say with Paul: "Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?" (Rom. 7.24). He wishes that he might be sinless; but is unwilling to wrest the Scripture and practice self-deception in order to fancy that he is sinless. His very desire for sinlessness prevents his practicing hypocrisy and perpetrating a sham, as all sinless perfectionists do.