Imperfect Sanctification

Oil and water do not mix.  We often use that phrase to describe a condition of contrary principles.  Within the life of a regenerate man their are the contrary natures of the old and new man, the flesh and the spirit.  There exists a mortal combat between good and evil, where a victor has already been determined but the battle must still wage for a time.  In the previously discussed work by Thomas Boston, we saw the fourfold state of man’s nature explained in detail.  Here we will look briefly at the period of the regenerated man that is commonly referred to as sanctification.  According to Boston, this is an imperfect sanctification.

In his letter to the Church in Galatia, Paul addresses the problem directly.  “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” (Gal. 5:17)  As we are being renewed by the Holy Spirit into the new man, the old man is being destroyed.  However, while we live in this world neither is complete.

This being said, how do we deal with this imperfect condition.  Paul actually answered this question before he presented the quandary.  “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Gal. 5:16)  Well, I’m sure even the Galatians response was much like ours.  Easier said than done, Paul!

To help us better digest what Paul was saying I will provide some commentary from the Reformation Study Bible on verse 16.  First, the Holy Spirit dwelling in a believer is a sign of the inheritance to the covenant promises given to Abraham.  Secondly, the Spirit’s presence is a sign that in the final day, God will declare the believer to be righteous.

As we discussed in an earlier post, a common mistake we make when considering our sanctification, is putting too much emphasis on works.  We must not discount works, for Peter makes clear that they are evidences of our faith.  We also must not overweight works as evidence.  The mortification of the old man and the increase of the new produces greater belief in the promises of God.  Belief is evidence of sanctification being made perfect.  I once heard a great teacher say, “The greatest sin of all is not believing what God says.”  Conversely, the greatest good would be believing.

What Paul was telling the Galatians is that you combat the problem of sin by believing the promises represented by the Holy Spirit in you.  Just test yourself.  When you sin, were you aware of the Spirits presence and witness to your sin?  We could go on indefinitely with tips and exercises to help with this matter of awareness, but rather let us look at some facts Boston gives to help sure up our faith.

Christ tells us that the very fact that we are aware of our sin and that we want not to sin is a start to our faith.  Evidence of our being renewed is a hatred of sin.  Counting this struggle as joy is way to embolden us for the fight.  Our desire to struggle against our old nature is proof of the promises.

The unregenerate are not without struggles of their own.  The unbeliever has a perfect lack of sanctification.  Their struggle is between desires of the flesh and the fear of punishment or retribution.  They perfectly desire what is sinful and if they desire what is good they only wish to avoid the consequences of the evil.

Boston calls the old man a “troublesome guest.”  The fleshly desires of the sin nature are unwanted by the believer.  They are like a chronic affliction that, though it may wane, it will wax again.  The promise is that the affliction of sin no longer has dominion.  This pathogen that has raged now is being conquered by the Holy Spirit’s antigen.

This miraculous healer is unknown to the world.  Though there are many imposters, the fact that you know this One is proof of his reality.  There are many religions, some even called Christian, that profess to have the answers to perfecting your sanctification through rational and pragmatic practices.  They cannot accept the simplicity of the work of God because they cannot know him.  In John 14:17, speaking about the Spirit, Christ says, “The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him, nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”  Therefor, living in the Spirit is about knowing of him.

If you are in a period of doubt, or have a dim view of your sanctification, take heart.  The Spirit conveys fresh supplies of grace.  The promise of the perfecting of our sanctification makes even our imperfection a blessing.  Your struggle is proof of the promise.


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