Chapter 22: Sanctification and Perseverance

The doctrine of justification naturally leads on to that of sanctification. The state of justification calls for a life of sanctification, consecrated to the service of God.

1. Nature and Characteristics of Sanctification. Sanctification may be defined as that gracious and continuous operation of the Holy Spirit by which, He purifies the sinner, renews his whole nature in the image of God, and enables him to perform good works. It differs from justification in that it takes place in the inner life of man, is not a legal but a recreative act, is usually a lengthy process, and never reaches perfection in this life. While it is very decidedly a supernatural work of God, the believer can and should co-operate in it by a diligent use of the means which God has placed at his disposal. (2 Corinthians 7:1; Colossians 3:5-14; 1 Peter 1:22)  Sanctification does not consist in a mere drawing out of what is already given in regeneration, but serves to strengthen, to increase, and to fortify the new life. It consists of two parts: the gradual removal of the pollution and corruption of human nature (Romans 6:6; Galatians 5:24), and the gradual development of the new life in consecration to God. (Romans 6:4, 5; Colossians 2:12; 3:1, 2; Galatians 2:19)  While it takes place in the heart of man, it naturally affects the whole life, (Romans 6:12; 1 Corinthians 6:15 20; 1 Thessalonians 6:23)  The change in the inner man is bound to carry with it a change in the outer life. That man must co-operate in the work of sanctification follows from the repeated warnings against evils and temptations (Romans 12:9, 16, 17; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; Galatians 5:16-23), and from the constant exhortations to holy living. (Micah 6:8; John 15:4- 7; Romans 8:12, 13; 12:1, 2; Galatians 6:7, 8, 15).

2. The Imperfect Character of Sanctification in This Life. While sanctification affects every part of man, yet the spiritual development of believers remains imperfect in this life. They must contend with sin as long as they live. (1 Kings 8:46; Proverbs. 20:9; James 3:2; 1 John 1:8)  Their lives are characterized by a constant warfare between the flesh and the spirit, and even the best of them are still confessing sin (Job 9:3, 20; Psalm 32:5; 130:3; Proverbs. 20:9; Isaiah 64:6; Daniel 9:7; Romans 7:14; 1 John 1:9), praying for forgiveness (Psalm 51:1, 2; Daniel 9:16; Matthew 6:12, 13; James 5:15), and striving for greater perfection. (Romans 7:7-26; Galatians 5:17; Philippians 3:12-14)  This truth is denied by the so-called Perfectionists, who maintain that man can reach perfection in this life. They appeal to the fact that the Bible commands believers to be perfect (Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:16; James 1:4), speaks of some as perfect (Genesis 6:9; Job 1:8; 1 Kings 15:14; Philippians 3:15), and declares that they who are born of God sin not. (1 John 3:6, 8, 9; 5:18)  But the fact that we must strive for perfection does not prove that some are already perfect. Moreover, the word ‘perfect’ does not always mean free from sin. Noah, Job, and Asa are called perfect, but history clearly proves that they were not without sin. And John evidently means either that the new man does not sin, or that believers do not live in sin. He himself says that, if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)

3. Sanctification and Good Works. Sanctification naturally leads to a life of good works. These may be called the fruits of sanctification. Good works are not perfect works, but works that spring from the principle of love to God or faith in Him (Matthew 7:17, 18; 12:33, 35; Hebrews 11:6), that are done in conscious conformity to the revealed will of God (Deuteronomy 6:2; 1 Samuel 15:22; James 2:8), and have as their final aim the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17, 23)  Only they who are regenerated by the Spirit of God can perform such good works. This does not mean, however, that the unregenerate cannot do good in any sense of the word. (cf. 2 Kings 10:29, 30; 12:2; 14:3; Luke 6:33; Romans 2:14)  In virtue of the common grace of God, they can perform works that are in external conformity to the law and serve a laudable purpose; but their works are always radically defective, because they are divorced from the spiritual root of love to God, represent no real inner obedience to the law of God, and do not aim at the glory of God. In opposition to the Roman Catholics it should be maintained that the good works of believers are not meritorious (Luke 17:9, 10; Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 3:5), though God promises to reward them with a reward of free grace (1 Corinthians 3:14; Hebrews 11:26); and in opposition to the Antinomians the necessity of good works must be asserted. (Colossians 1:10; 2 Timothy 2:21; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 10:24)

4. Perseverance of the Saints. The expression ‘perseverance of the saints’ naturally suggests a continuous activity of believers whereby they persevere in the way of salvation. As a matter of fact, however, the perseverance referred to is less an activity of believers than a work of God, in which believers must participate. Strictly speaking, the assurance of man’s salvation lies in the fact that God perseveres. Perseverance may be defined as that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer, by which the work of divine grace that is begun in the heart, is continued and brought to completion. This doctrine is clearly taught in Scripture. (John 10:28, 29; Romans 11:29; Philippians 1:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 2 Timothy 1:12; 4:18)  And it is only when we believe in this perseverance of God that we can in this life attain to the assurance of salvation. (Hebrews 3:14; 6:11; 10:22; 2 Peter 1:10)  Outside of Reformed circles this doctrine finds no favor. It is said to be contradicted by Scripture, which warns against apostasy (Hebrews 2:1; 10:26), exhorts believers to continue in the way of salvation (Matthew 24:13; Colossians 1:23; Hebrews 3:14), and even records cases of apostasy. (1 Timothy 1:19, 20; 2 Timothy 2:17, 18; 4:10) Such warnings and exhortations would seem to assume the possibility of falling away, and such cases would seem to prove it completely. But as a matter of fact the warnings and exhortations prove only that God works mediately and wants man to co-operate in the work of perseverance: and there is no proof that the apostates mentioned were real believers. (cf. Romans 9:6; 1 John 2:19; Revelation 3:1)


To memorize:

Passages to prove:

a. Sanctification as a work of God:

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, (Hebrews 2:11)


b. Man’s co-operation in sanctification:

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1)

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)


c. The mortification of the old man:

…knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; (Romans 6:6)

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)


d. The quickening of the new man:

…and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:24)

…and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him (Colossians 3:10)


e. Sanctification incomplete in this life:

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. (Romans 7:18)

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12)


f. The nature of good works:

Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22)

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)


g. Perseverance of the saints:

…and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.  “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:28-29)

For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. (2 Timothy 1:12 )

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:18)


For Further Study:

a. Can you infer anything from the following passages as to the time of complete sanctification? Philippians 3:21; Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 14:5; 21:27?

…who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:21)

…to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, (Hebrews 12:23)

And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless. (Revelation 14:5)

and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27)


b. What parts of man does sanctification affect according to Jeremiah 31:34; Philippians 2:13; Galatians 5:24; Hebrews 9:14?

“They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)

…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:14)


c. What does the word ‘perfect’ (see the KJV) mean in the following passages: 1 Corinthians 2:6; 3:1, 2; Hebrews 5:14; 2 Timothy 3:16?

Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; (1 Corinthians 2:6)

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.  I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, (1 Corinthians 3:1-2)

But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:14)

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; (2 Timothy 3:16)


Questions for Review

1. What is sanctification, and how does it differ from justification?
2. Is it a work of God or of man?
3. Of what two parts does sanctification consists?
4. What proof is there that it is incomplete in this life?
5. Who deny this and on what ground? How can you answer them?
6. What are good works in the strict sense of the word?
7. In how far can the unregenerate perform good works?
8. Are good works meritorious or not? Are we not taught that they are rewarded?
9. 1n what sense are good works necessary?
10. What is meant by the perseverance of the saints?
11. How can this doctrine be proved?

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