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How Sanctification Works

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Sanctification, the way the redeemed in Christ reflect his glory after his image, is both positional and progressive. Positional Sanctification is something the Christian has by grace presently in his union with Christ. As the apostle says, And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11) Progressive Sanctification is a work of God’s grace at work in the Christian’s life in becoming more like Christ in the whole of their person through the mortification of sin and the vivification of the new life by the Spirit.

Sometimes people refer to sanctification as holiness putting all the responsibility on the Christian to attain it. However, holiness is from God in the life of the Christian. As one theologian writes,“Holiness in Paul (hagiasmos, hagiotēs, hagiōsynē) is not first of all in regard to moral content. It refers to a people in position by God's grace. A people chosen by God out of all people, and placed on his side." (Ridderbos, Paul, An Outline of His Theology, 261). Being placed on God’s side is his work of grace to make his own holy. This is positional sanctification and invaluable to the progress of the Christian in holiness.

Dr. Sinclair Ferguson defines positional sanctification, “This, then, is the foundation of sanctification in Reformed theology. It is rooted, not in humanity and their achievement of holiness or sanctification, but in what God has done in Christ, and for us in union with him. Rather than view Christian's first and foremost in the microcosmic context of their own progress, the Reformed doctrine first of all sets them in the macrocosm of God's activity in redemptive history. It is seeing oneself in this context that enables the individual Christian to grow in true holiness..” - Sinclair Ferguson, Five Views of Sanctification, 58-59 

Notice that he says this act of God’s grace in positional sanctification is the foundation of the work of God’s grace for a progressive sanctification. Remembering who you are in Christ, seeing your position in him, is vital to understanding of and participation in the work of sanctification. Sanctification is more than "realizing your justification". It is the activity of "gospel grammar". As Paul writes,“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” - Colossians 3:1-5

Take notice that the indicative, what God has done, precedes the imperative, what God calls his children to by faith. Dr. Ferguson says again, "The determining factor of my existence is no longer my past. It is Christ’s past”...Everywhere the Scriptures provide both the declaration of who we are in Christ (indicative) and the command to respond to that particular declaration in a certain way (imperative). For instance, Paul does not simply issue an imperative like, “Stop living with your boyfriend.” He says, “How should we who have died to sin live any longer in it?” (Sinclair Ferguson, Christian Spirituality: Five Views, p.57).

Positional sanctification always leads to the progress of God’s children becoming more like his Son. Question 35 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism explains progressive sanctification, “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.” Sanctification, positional or progressive, is by grace, and that grace is at work in the redeemed for effort toward holiness, righteousness, and the knowledge of God in Christ.

Dr. J.I. Packer defines progressive sanctification as a grace motivated effort in the life of the believer. "Sanctification... is in one sense synergistic – it is an ongoing cooperative process in which regenerate persons, alive to God and freed from sin’s dominion (Rom. 6:11, 14-18), are required to exert themselves in sustained obedience. God’s method of sanctification is neither activism (self-reliant activity) nor apathy (God-reliant passivity), but God-dependent effort (2 Cor. 7:1; Phil. 3:10-14; Heb. 12:14). Knowing that without Christ’s enabling we can do nothing, morally speaking, as we should, and that he is ready to strengthen us for all that we have to do (Phil. 4:13), we “stay put” (remain, abide) in Christ, asking for his help constantly - and we receive it (Col. 1:11; 1 Tim. 1:12; 2 Tim. 1:7; 2:1).” -J. I. Packer, Concise Theology (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1993), 170-171.

In our study, “How Sanctification Works”, we will be looking at both the positional and progressive nature of God’s grace for our sanctification. This study will enable you to better understand God’s grace toward you, but also how you can help others understand how God is working toward them for growth in grace. Join us July 10-13 from 6:30-8:00 for our study. Dinner will begin being served at 5:15.

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