Sanctification

Sanctification, Faith and Works: An Index of Recent Web Debate

Updated 6/13/14

Debates about various aspects of the doctrine of sanctification have been around for a long time. In the summer of 2011, a fresh round of debate on sanctification, works, faith, depravity, justification and union with Christ broke out on the Web and has continued, in one form or another up to the present.

Because the exchange has featured skilled and articulate participants, it has also been insightful. The following is offered as a tool for the benefit of anyone interested in studying the matter from the perspective of recent interactions among theologically conservative, mostly (but not entirely) Reformed leaders.

A few notes appear below, randomly. I hope to eventually annotate most of these entries more fully and fairly.

Despite the length of this list of links, it is not comprehensive. Feel free to post other links of importance in the comments.

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From the Archives: A Resolution on Resolutions

This year my New Year’s Resolution is to celebrate New Year’s at a time more conducive to change and renewal—oh say, spring instead of the dark, dead of winter when I’m just coming off the sugar high of the holidays. Somehow I think we Gregorian calendar devotees have got this one all wrong.

Historically, New Year’s Day hasn’t always fallen on January first because our calendar hasn’t been a consistent entity. Factor in a few mythological gods, Roman emperors, and a pope or two. Add a dash of Protestant Reformation and you’ll find that in the past, the New Year occurred anywhere from January 1 to March 25. (Surprisingly, it wasn’t until 1752 that England and the American colonies began celebrating New Year’s on January 1st.) That’s nothing to say of the multiple cultures that celebrate it in recognition of their own calendars.  And if you really want your head to spin, don’t forget all our dear southern hemisphere friends who experience the seasons opposite to us and whose Christmas and New Year’s celebrations include BBQs on the beach.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, in my experience, making resolutions on January 1 is a bad idea.

Because there’s nothing particularly organic about celebrating the New Year this way. For most of us, it’s simply a function of the calendar and happens primarily because we’ve reached the end of the month and need to turn the page (or in my case, glue magnets on the back of my 2012 office-sized calendar from Target and stick it to the side of the refrigerator.) Think about it—there is no seasonal change or religious celebration that would motivate us to make resolutions; it’s simply a cultural obligation. Or, in my experience, the result of the guilt from eating too much, exercising too little and overspending in the last six weeks since Thanksgiving.

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From the Archives: 1 John 3:9 – Those “Born of God” Do Not Sin?

Reprinted with permission from Faith Pulpit, November/December ‘05

Four views that appeal to this verse

1. The works-righteousness view

This view teaches that one earns or keeps salvation by good works, and thus that the person who chooses to sin has forfeited any right to heaven. This view contradicts the Bible’s clear teaching on salvation as God’s gift through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), purchased for us not by our works but by the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross (Romans 3:24-25, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:24).

2. The instantaneous sanctification/Wesleyan view

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Why "Preach the Gospel to Yourself" Is Not Enough

A battle has been raging for some years now regarding how believers progress in sanctification. It has probably been raging in one form or another for centuries. For those who have not been following it, a few words on why the question is important.

First, by definition, genuine believers want their character and conduct to please the One they call Lord. Second, they also discover quickly by experience (if not by reading the NT) that they do not immediately please Him completely and consistently. Third, they want to know what they should do to improve. In short, “What must I do to be sanctified?” is a question every true disciple is interested in answering correctly.

One school of thought that has made major inroads in the last few years generally reacts negatively to calls to Christian duty and obedience—especially when those calls focus on our nonconformity to the world we live in. Warnings against “legalism” and appeals to “get the gospel right” or to be truly “gospel centered” are typical. To the extent that this perspective offers a clear view of sanctification at all, it often boils down to “just preach the gospel to yourself; that’s all you need to do; God will do the rest.”

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Carnal Christians: A Pastoral Perspective

From In the Nick of Time, Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Read the series.

I have read with interest the recent exchange in this newsletter on the validity of two-category Christianity. Dr. Hauser argues that Paul’s letter to the Corinthians supports the recognition of two different classes of Christians: the spiritual and the carnal. Dr. Pratt contends that Christians must bear fruit, and that while all Christians sin, there is no biblical reason to think that a Christian can exist in a perpetual state of carnality.

In this essay, I will use the term Keswick as shorthand for the two-category view of sanctification, and Reformed to refer to the position that all Christians are essentially of one type, despite differing in spiritual maturity. Each of these terms normally suggests further theological commitments, but these are not implied in my restricted usage here. And just to play with an open hand, my allegiance lies with the Reformed position.

What I want to consider here are the pastoral implications of this debate. Ideas have consequences, and theological ideas have particularly sharp pastoral consequences. While it is invalid to determine the truth of a theological claim based solely on its practical implications, I actually think there is some common ground in practice between the Reformed and Keswick positions that might help clarify where the debate between them really lies.

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Carnal Christians? Part 2

From In the Nick of Time, Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Read the series.

Believers struggle with sin. But disagreement arises over how this ongoing conflict ought to be engaged. Some have suggested that classifying Christians into “spiritual” and “carnal” categories helps to explain the battle so that steps can be taken to secure victory over sin. Responding to a two-part essay on the “carnal Christian” by Charles Hauser, I proposed an alternative position. I first sought to provide some historical context as a foundation for the theological and exegetical issues that will be addressed in this essay.

John Wesley was the first to teach the concept of two categories of Christians: the saved and the sanctified. Once this second blessing theology took root in many evangelical circles, the revivalist preachers and holiness teachers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries embraced and trumpeted it. Out of this ferment arose the need to provide biblical support for the carnal Christian teaching. The one passage used by all who accept the two-categories-of-Christians view is 1 Corinthians 2:14–3:3 (Ernest Reisinger, What Should We Think of The Carnal Christian?, 8). For this reason, I offer an interpretation of this passage followed by a survey of several other references which argue against the two categories doctrine and which support the assertion that all believers will bear spiritual fruit.

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Carnal Christians? Part 1

From In the Nick of Time, Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Read the series.

One of my former professors, Charles Hauser, has recently written in support of the “carnal Christian” view as a way of describing the reality of sin in the believer’s life (Part 1 and Part 2). In response, I offer this essay in respectful dissent and in support of the more historically grounded position that there is only a single category or class of Christians: the regenerate (or sanctified or spiritual or justified or any number of adjectives used to distinguish believers in Christ from non-believers).

Though not intended as a point-by-point response to Dr. Hauser’s essays, this two-part article will provide some historical context to the sanctification discussion before furnishing an interpretation of 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:3, the favorite text of “carnal Christian” advocates. In regard to historical issues, it will first help the reader to learn the context out of which the “carnal Christian” doctrine has arisen. Second, I will address the historical connection between dispensationalism and particular models of sanctification, an issue raised by Dr. Hauser.

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