Sanctification is Progressive and Gradual

How may sanctification be designated progressive?

The 1689 London Baptist Confession, chapter 13 says: “By God’s Word and Spirit dwelling in Christians; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several  lusts of it are more and more weakened and mortified.” This mortification, or killing of personal sin, is a progressive, gradual process that takes a lifetime of self-denial and pursuit of holiness. Romans 6:6: “Our old self was crucified with Christ, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” This is accomplished by faith in God’s Word, being not only hearers of it, but practicing it, and doing it as well (Jas. 1:22); as Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth” (John 17:17); Christians have to “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; and abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21). Paul exhorts us Christians to “cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). If we don’t, we cannot reasonably hope to enter Heaven: “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14, NASB). But before this holiness or sanctification begins to be thought of erroneously in perfectionistic terms, or as a kind of angelic sinlessness, the Baptist Confession continues: “This sanctification is throughout the whole man, yet imperfect  in this life; there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every  part, whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war; the flesh  lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.” Romans 7:22-23: “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.” Galatians 5:17: “The flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” Therefore, believers are called to a lifelong “Christian warfare” with the world, the flesh, and the devil, as is so eloquently illustrated in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. 1 Peter 2:11: “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” But the Holy Spirit of Christ living in the Christian does not leave us helpless in our war against sin. He that claims to be without sin is a liar and the truth is not in him (1 John 1:8). But there is still a level of victory over sin, that through the moral power of the Holy Spirit (regeneration)–can be experienced in this life. The Baptist Confession concludes: “In which war, although the remaining corruption for a time  may much prevail, yet through the continual supply of strength from  the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part overcomes;  and so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of  God, pressing after a heavenly life, in evangelical obedience to  all the commands which Christ as Head and King, in His Word has  prescribed for them.” It is through lifelong growth in obedience to the commandments of Jesus, laid down in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and expounded on in the apostolic New Testament letters, that the saints learn how to perfect their holiness by living in the fear of the Lord and the judgment to come.

What are the evidences of a sanctified life?

The evidences of a sanctified Christian life, or a holy life, are not necessarily the perfect execution, but a sincere and heartfelt intention of living according to the moral commands of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament. Especially Matthew 5-7 being lived out or seriously being attempted, to grow in, and practice conscientiously. If this is happening then truly the Holy Spirit will be bearing the fruit or evidences of the Spirit in his life: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). And Jesus said it was by this fruit that you can know a true prophet; or conversely a false prophet, if the fruit or evidence to this list is opposite: “by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:20). If all Christians have the Holy Spirit residing in them, and are in a sense “prophets,” then it is by their fruit that we will recognize true Christians, and the evidences of a sanctified life.

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