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Wednesday, July 2, 2014 | Comments (47)

by John MacArthur

How do you overcome sin and live the Christian life?  Is defeating sin something God does in you, or do you defeat it by obeying the commands of Scripture? In other words, is the Christian life an exercise in passive trust or active obedience? Is it all God’s doing, all the believer’s doing, or a combination of both? Those questions are as old as the church, and the varied answers have spawned movements and denominations.  

This is not an unusual issue when dealing with spiritual truth. Many doctrines involve seeming paradoxes. For example, Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man; and while Scripture was written by human authors, God wrote every word. The gospel is offered to the whole world, yet applied only to the elect. God eternally secures believers’ salvation, yet they are commanded to persevere.

Christians who try to reconcile every doctrine in a humanly rational way are inevitably drawn to extremes. Seeking to remove all mystery and paradox, they emphasize one truth or aspect of God’s Word at the expense of another which seems to contradict it. This is precisely how many Christians have handled the doctrine of sanctification. One view of sanctification emphasizes God’s role to the virtual exclusion of the believer’s effort. This is often referred to as quietism. The opposite extreme is called pietism.

The quietist sees believers as passive in sanctification. A common maxim is, “Let go and let God.” Another is, “I can’t; God can.” Quietism tends to be mystical and subjective, focusing on personal feelings and experiences. A person who is utterly submitted to and dependent on God, they say, will be divinely protected from sin and led into faithful living. Trying to strive against sin or discipline oneself to produce good works is considered not only futile but unspiritual and counterproductive.

One champion of this view was the devout Quaker Hannah Whitall Smith, whose book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life has been read by millions. In it she writes,

What can be said about man’s part in this great work but that he must continually surrender himself and continually trust? But when we come to God’s side of the question, what is there that may not be said as to the manifold ways, in which He accomplishes the work entrusted to Him? It is here that the growing comes in. The lump of clay could never grow into a beautiful vessel if it stayed in the clay pit for thousands of years; but when it is put into the hands of a skilful potter it grows rapidly, under his fashioning, into the vessel he intends it to be. And in the same way the soul, abandoned to the working of the Heavenly Potter, is made into a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use. (Westwood, N.J.: Revell, 1952, 32. Italics in original.)

How a Christian can fall into sin is a difficult question for the quietist to answer. They are forced to argue that such a person obviously misunderstands the matter of complete surrender, and has taken himself out of the hands of the heavenly Potter. But that flawed answer brings God’s sovereignty into question—if the Lord is completely in control, how can a believer take himself out of God’s hands?

Pietists, on the other hand, are typically aggressive in their pursuit of doctrinal and moral purity. Historically, this movement originated in seventeenth-century Germany as a reaction to the dead orthodoxy of many Protestant churches. To their credit, most pietists place strong emphasis on Bible study, holy living, self-discipline, and practical Christianity. They emphasize such passages as “Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1) and “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:17).

Unfortunately, this unbalanced view often leads to an overemphasis on self-effort to the virtual exclusion of dependence on divine power. As you might expect, pietism frequently leads to legalism, moralism, self-righteousness, a judgmental spirit, pride, and hypocrisy.

The quietist says, “Do nothing.”

The pietist says, “Do everything.”

In Philippians 2:12–13, Paul presents the appropriate resolution between the two. He makes no effort to rationally harmonize the believer’s part and God’s part in sanctification. He is content with the paradox and simply states both truths, saying on the one hand, sanctification is of believers (Philippians 2:12), and on the other hand, it is of God (Philippians 2:13).

The truth is that sanctification is God’s work, but He performs it through the diligent self-discipline and righteous pursuits of His people, not in spite of them. God’s sovereign work does not absolve believers from the need for obedience; it means their obedience is itself a Spirit-empowered work of God.

Today there is an intense debate within the church about this vital issue. The stakes are high—your view of sanctification informs and directs how you understand your new nature in Christ, how you evangelize others, pursue godliness, govern your heart and mind, how you raise and discipline your children, and how you understand and follow God’s commands in Scripture. For pastors and church leaders, your position on this issue will determine how you preach and teach, how you give counsel to troubled hearts, and how you engage in church discipline.

Neither quietism nor pietism represents the biblical path of sanctification. Both are spiritual ditches to steer clear of—they will impede your spiritual progress, and potentially obstruct it altogether.

In the days ahead, we’re going to examine the model of sanctification Paul presents in Philippians 2, and explore the dual realities of God’s sovereign work and man’s responsibility.

(Adapted from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians.)


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#1  Posted by M A  |  Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 7:45 AM

I have been taught that I should not rely on my own free will because what happens is always God's will. The issues that I face in my life to turn over to him because in trying to figure them out myself, I am utilizing my own free will. I realize that it does take action on my part to live God's will as in living as the Bible teaches me to do. Am I on the right path? I am becoming confused as I am making this comment.

#6  Posted by Gabriel Powell (GTY Admin)  |  Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 12:12 PM

Hello Missy,

Honestly, I would have a lot of questions for those who told you to "not rely on your own free will." I'm not sure what that means (should I not rely on my desire to eat toast over Cheerios?).

The reality is none of us has a "free" will. Our will is either captive to sin or it is captive to God (Romans 6:6-14). It is true that what happens is always God's will in that He has planned the end from the beginning and decreed all things. But His plan is worked out in our lives according to our decisions for which we will be held accountable.

Prior to salvation (the new birth) we are dead in sin and can do nothing but sin (i.e. we cannot please God, Romans 8:8). But once we've been made alive (Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13), we have the God-given capacity to choose to reject sinful desires and act on righteous, God-pleasing desires.

That is what Paul means when he writes to Christians, "Do not present your members [mind/body] to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness" (Romans 6:14)

As believers we are empowered by the Spirit to obey God's commands. When we do obey, we know that God is working in us, as this post reminds us from Philippians 2.

Does that help?

#11  Posted by Randy Johnson  |  Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 8:06 AM

Yes. The Psalmist says, "I will meditate on your precepts and focus on your (God's) behavior" (Ps 119:15). Paul says we "have the mind of Christ". Will I submit my reason to the Spirit's reason as revealed in the Word of God? Will I not only submit my reason to His, but will I act on it? Paul says, ".., be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God" (Rom 12:2). Peter says, ".., get your minds ready for action" (1 Pet 1:13). James says, ".., if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God" (James 1:5). John says, ".., live according to the truth" (2 John 4).

#2  Posted by Tom Moore  |  Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 8:01 AM

Brother John,

A timely discussion as we are doing the same where I currently attend. Not to be too simplistic, but the way I see it is that God is in control, we have a job to do, so let's roll up our sleeves and get it done. Thanks!

Tom Moore

#3  Posted by Michael Allen  |  Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 8:08 AM

Leviticus 20: 7,8

“You shall consecrate yourselves therefore and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. You shall keep My statutes and practice them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you.”

#4  Posted by Timothy Yakich  |  Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 11:30 AM

Salvation: Nothing but the blood of Jesus! He is the Way, the Truth, the Life!! No one comes to the Father except through Jesus!! Hallelujah and Amen!!

Sanctification : Now is it possible that, yes, that there is a paradox... yet for some, they may need to be strictly quietists, and for others they made need to be strictly pietists, and still for others it's a little of each, depending on where they are in their walk with Christ ? I am reminded in John 21: 20-23, that every believer will be guided by, or will follow Christ, as He deems necessary. We who are saved will each have our own personal experiences and the last thing we should be worried about (we shouldn' t worry at all actually) is how another child of God is growing in his/her faith. All of His children will know that they have grown over the weeks, months, years...and will still thirst for His Word and all that entails. I want to be thankful and full of joy, while reflecting His love for this lost world.

#5  Posted by Gabriel Powell (GTY Admin)  |  Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 12:01 PM


While I agree that we shouldn't be busybodies about each other's sanctification, I don't see how you can conclude that we should be unconcerned. It seems to me that passages such as Galatians 6:1 and James 5:19-20, among many others, indicate that we should be both concerned and active in each other's growth. Is that not the intention behind Ephesians 4:11-16?

#7  Posted by Timothy Yakich  |  Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 1:08 PM

Gabriel, I still refer back to John 21 to what our Lord said to Peter; however, I would like to comment on the Scripture verses that you referred to. (1) Galatians 6:1 is speaking to each individual follower as Paul finishes with, "each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted."; (2) James 5 and Ephesians 4 are concerned with those who are falling away or are succumbing to temptations, where sanctification is the process of our growing in Christ through the power and help of the Holy Spirit...I never mentioned that we shouldn't be concerned with those who are ''back-sliding'', I stated that our concern should not be how other believers are serving/following Christ. I hope that clears things up. Blessings.

#13  Posted by Gabriel Powell (GTY Admin)  |  Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 10:45 AM


I feel like I'm walking a tight line because I don't want to advocate that we meddle into the lives of others in ways that are inappropriate (e.g. confronting every Christian we see do something we disagree with). However when the Scripture uses the "body" metaphor to speak about the church, it does so to convey that we each have a role in one another's growth.

Ephesians 4 is not, as you say, concerned with those are falling away. The text is speaking of preventative measures ("so that you will not be tossed..."). The fundamental purpose of the church is for the mutual encouragement, instruction, and growth of believers. Second Timothy 3:16 speaks of the multiple uses of the Scripture, but primarily in the context of mutual ministry.

Of course we should be more concerned with our own sanctification than that of others, but that doesn't mean we "live and let live." No, we take the plank out of our eye, and then take the speck out of our brother's eye.

What is preaching if not being concerned with the sanctification of others? What is a home Bible study with other believers is not concern for the sanctification of others? What is sharing prayer requests if not concern for the sanctification of others?

Lastly, what is sanctification if not dealing with sin in our lives? Galatians 6 and James 5 aren't necessarily dealing with "big" sins. They are dealing with sin in general, which we all have. Paul wrote in Romans 15:14, "I myself am satisfied about you... that you are filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another." The word "instruct" also means "admonish". It refers to spurring one another toward overcoming sin and becoming more like Christ. That reminds me of Hebrews 10:24-25, which also commands believers to be involved in each other's life for growth and encouragement.

All that to say we should be concerned for one another's growth in the faith. We can certainly go too far into meddling and trying to control others, but there is an appropriate relational context of loving each other enough to point out each other's specks and help each other draw closer to Christ—even as we do so ourselves.

#8  Posted by Guymon Hall  |  Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 5:32 PM

The idea has been broached to me recently that when the Bible uses the term "sanctification", it always does so in the context of an already accomplished fact. In other words, the term "sanctification" is only appropriately used to indicated our spiritual standing before God as Christians who have been "sanctified" in Christ's blood. This is not to deny that there is a process that occurs in which Christians are made more like Christ, as Dr. MacArthur has pointed out here, but simply that the term "sanctification" doesn't properly "fit" to describe that process.

Okay, so two questions:

1--Then what term would fit more properly?

2--How best to answer this assertion?

BTW, I don't agree with this view, and I think it is a nuanced "thing", but for some reason I had a hard time articulating why. The three passages I would point to as a counter-example of where I think the Bible does use the word "sanctify" in the sense of an ongoing, conforming process to become more Christ-like are John 17:17-18, 1 Thess. 4:3-10 and 1 Thess. 5:23.


#12  Posted by Cameron Buettel  |  Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 10:37 AM

Guymon, I am not privy to the information you received regarding sanctification always being in the context of an already completed action. But I think it is likely that the person who broached the idea may not have considered when "sanctification" appears in Scripture as a noun. For example in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 the context of the noun is as something desired by God for us (i.e. something we are meant to be working on in the present).

But even if you look at the verb forms it is simply not true that they always appear as an "already accomplished fact." For example, the verb appears twice in Hebrews 2:11 in the present tense.

It also needs to be understood that the biblical writers sometimes wrote about future actions as if they occurred in the past to convey their certainty. I don't know of anyone who would argue that our glorification has already been accomplished and yet that is exactly how Paul wrote about it in Romans 8:29. Adding to that, the fact that our glorification is not yet accomplished reminds us that the sanctification process is still ongoing in the life of a believer awaiting its conclusion when he will one day be glorified.

I hope this is helpful.

#15  Posted by Guymon Hall  |  Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 2:51 PM

Thanks Cameron, it helps a little. Allow me to clarify by quoting a portion of your closing sentence:

"...the sanctification process is still ongoing in the life of a believer awaiting its conclusion when he will one day be glorified."

The idea I referenced arose out of a simple conversation after church a couple months ago. This person would agree and affirm everything you laid out, except they would re-word your sentence as follows:

"...the process is still ongoing in the life of a believer..."

They would totally agree that the process involves growing in Christ, becoming more Christ-like, getting rid of sin in our lives, etc. All the things that you and I would normally wrap up in using the term "sanctification", except they wouldn't use that term to describe what is going on.

You addressed noun vs. verb form of the word "sanctify". While this is above my meager skill level, I don't think that's quite what the person had in mind. An example: when you referenced Heb. 2:11, they would say the fact that the writer used "sanctify" (I'm guessing it's actually "hagiazo" in the Greek, or a derivative thereof?) in the present tense indicates that the believer is held by God to be already "sanctified", as in the first meaning cited by Dr. MacArthur.

This might seem to be merely semantics, and has been attributed to such, but I'm less than confident in that. For some reason, I get the impression that there may be more going on beneath the surface and comments such as these:

"We *are* sanctified. There is no debate if one reads the Word without bias. The past tense used consistently to refer to our standing in Christ is irrefutable. However, the Church has devolved to a behavior management mentality to try (emphasis on try) to deal with sin. When in fact the Word is also very clear that the antidote to sin is grace." - David N.

and your example,

"It has become apparent in recent times that the idea of grace being the only valid motivation (for our pursuit of holiness) has gained a lot of traction."

might be in play. Anyway, it has caused me to delve more deeply, at least a little, into how the Bible actually does speak in terms of using the word "hagiazo", so thank you for your remarks.

#17  Posted by Guymon Hall  |  Friday, July 4, 2014 at 10:10 AM

After reflecting on this the past day, I think I have a little more clarity. I happened across the GraceLife Pulpit Series, in which Phil Johnson has posted a message he recently delivered on Rom. 6:11-14, entitled "Live Like You Were Dead".

In it, Phil articulates the distinction between "justification" as the already realized fact, and "sanctification" as the ongoing process of being conformed to Christ's image.

The key point he highlights is the dangers of confusing the two. Now, he focuses mainly on the Roman Catholic church, and he points out that they have confused "justification" with "sanctification", thereby stipulating that our justification is not finally complete until our sanctification is also complete, thus leading to a works system of righteousness.

The flip side of the coin, which he doesn't deal with, but necessarily follows also, is the danger of doing the opposite: confusing "sanctification" with "justification", and stipulating that our sanctification is complete just as our justification is complete. And the danger in this line of thought is exactly what Paul spelled out in Rom. 6.

I think that's the root of my angst on this particular issue I initially posited:

1--We would hold that sanctification is both the "already realized spiritual standing before God" AND "the process of becoming like Christ"

2--The rebuttal would be that the second part of that statement is not properly termed "sanctification"

3--I think I would now be able to better articulate my discomfort with this, and point out that the problem is not with applying the term "sanctification" to the second part of that statement, but the problem is with applying the term to the FIRST part of that statement. And the Bible gives us a better word to apply, and that word is "justification", and is excellently articulated by Phil in the aforementioned message.

Am I off-base?

#20  Posted by James Read  |  Saturday, July 5, 2014 at 9:54 AM


Nicely said. A true believer will produce fruits of the spirit which is the evidence and manifestations of the "sanctification" process.

#24  Posted by Cameron Buettel  |  Monday, July 7, 2014 at 11:24 AM

Guymon, that sounds on-base to me.

#9  Posted by Mary Elizabeth Palshan  |  Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 5:34 PM

I posted this article, and the entire series, on Facebook about a month ago. Thank you so much for your commitment to God's Word, John MacArthur.

#10  Posted by David N  |  Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 5:22 AM

We *are* sanctified. There is no debate if one reads the Word without bias. The past tense used consistently to refer to our standing in Christ is irrefutable. However, the Church has devolved to a behavior management mentality to try (emphasis on try) to deal with sin. When in fact the Word is also very clear that the antidote to sin is grace. The Law failed. Human effort failed. Christ did not fail. And for those who confess and believe in Him an incredible miracle occurs that nothing can alter. We can't have union with an infinitely holy God if we are in any way still attached to sin. Our status and the belief in that status, through God's grace, is what changes how we act. Nothing else is pleasing to God. Without faith it impossible to please Him and we certainly can further deduce that faith in our own efforts and sleeves rolled up mentality is not pleasing to Him either.

1 "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure." 1 John 3:1-3

The power of how we "see" God and ourselves seems to have been largely lost in the Church. Further enlightenment of the fact that we will change completely when God appears is not a reckless coincidence in the verbiage of this passage. The metacognitive processes that are required for pleasing God, i.e. faith, are what determine our behavior. Everything else is useless. Why else would God have made it clear that faith is the only mechanism by which to please Him? Additionally, we are told to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. There are so many instances in the Word and our own lives that are perceived contradictions to His promises to us. We are told He will care for us, protect us, provide for us and promote us. Yet we have all had circumstantial evidence to the contrary. We are promised everything we need for life and godliness but have all faced lack in physical needs and godly behavior. So is that passage still true? Of course it is but the subconscious process that occurs in most is one of doubt based on circumstantial evidence. Our only imperative leading to what God desires is to believe in the face of contradictory circumstances.

#14  Posted by Cameron Buettel  |  Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 11:27 AM

David, your first assertion is simply not true. As I stated to Guymon, have you considered when "sanctification" appears in Scripture as a noun. For example in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 the context of the noun is as something desired by God for us (i.e. something we are meant to be working on in the present).

But even if you look at the verb forms it is simply not true that they always appear as an "already accomplished fact." For example, the verb appears twice in Hebrews 2:11 in the present tense.

It also needs to be understood that the biblical writers sometimes wrote about future actions as if they occurred in the past to convey their certainty. I don't know of anyone who would argue that our glorification has already been accomplished and yet that is exactly how Paul wrote about it in Romans 8:29. Adding to that, the fact that our glorification is not yet accomplished reminds us that the sanctification process is still ongoing in the life of a believer awaiting its conclusion when he will one day be glorified.

It has become apparent in recent times that the idea of grace being the only valid motivation (for our pursuit of holiness) has gained a lot of traction. It is often argued as an either/or alternative which tends to cloud the debate because it is not about choosing the one correct motivation.

While we cannot please God without faith that does not mean that our faith should remain unaccompanied by our actions. A faithful person, with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is resourced to obey the many commands we find in the New Testament. That is primarily the structure of Ephesians where the first three chapters focus on the realities of the riches and position the believer has in Christ, and the last three chapters give believers imperatives that we are expected to carry out.

Paul disciplined his body motivated by his desire not to be "disqualified" from preaching. He warned the Corinthian church not to be deceived regarding their inheritance of eternal life if they lived immoral lives - in other words he was motivating them with the threat of not inheriting the kingdom of God if they participated in the sinful practices of their surrounding pagan culture.

Scripture gives more than one legitimate motivation for our sanctification - it is both dangerous and foolish to use one at the expense of all others. It is a pulpit crime to dismiss them altogether.

#16  Posted by David N  |  Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 11:24 PM

You are unfortunately misunderstanding the power of our identity and the contradiction that has with the reality of our physical world. Explain Hebrews 10:10. It is abundantly clear that we "have been sanctified." Because our actions are sometimes in contradiction to that truth does not negate the truth. Or that we are enjoined to engage in a process of sanctification doesn't either. This is the danger of "comparing ourselves with ourselves." Also, explain how "the old is gone and all things are made new" if we still have old habits, behaviors or actions that persist. Which is it? Which is true? Are ALL things new or not? The reality of the miracle at the moment of our salvation is largely lost in the modern construct of Christianity.

Sanctification, i.e. being made holy, had to happen in order for us to be in union with God. How can an infinitely holy God dwell in anything that is not also that holy? How can we be seated with Christ in heavenly places if we aren't made holy enough to abide in God's presence? It cannot be. Understanding our position with God, in Christ, is so vitally important. Otherwise, there is all this religious confusion that ensues. And it is also important to understand how faith works in the real physical world, that is: our brains.

The Stanford Virtual Interaction Lab is unknowingly helping us all to understand how faith works to change behavior. They are showing that virtual (digital) representations of altered behavior one desires (you see yourself how you want to be instead of how you currently are behaving) effects the desired behavior change. Why else would God spend such large segments of His word explaining to us what He did for us and who we are as a result? And how else could it possibly make sense that our efforts result in anything He desires? Except what happens as a result of our faith in His truth about us? Our righteousness is filthy rags (soiled menstrual material).

When we have a clearer understanding of the absolutely amazing and undeserved grace that brought us to be a child of God it changes everything about the way we act/behave. It is as John declared, when we see Him as He is then we will be like Him. Isn't that the goal?

#19  Posted by Gabriel Powell (GTY Admin)  |  Saturday, July 5, 2014 at 9:50 AM

David, I find your comment very confusing and logically contradictory.

You say: "We are sanctified" ("we have been sanctified")

And then you say: "We are no sanctified" ("our actions are sometimes in contradiction to that truth").

It sounds to me like you're forcing a logical contradiction (we are sanctified and not sanctified at the same time and in the same way) rather than realizing that the Bible teaches that we are sanctified in one sense, and not sanctified in another sense.

In other words, the word "sanctified" has more than one meaning. The Greek verb is used 28 times in the NT, and it is variously translated "sanctify", "holy", "sacred", "hallow", "consecrate", "set apart". It seems to me that your understanding is borne out of forcing the same narrow meaning in every case it is applied to believers.

Hebrews 10:10 is in the context of purification and forgiveness. The blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin (i.e. actually satisfy the penalty for sin, thus wash it away). But Christ's blood did. So believers are sanctified in the sense that the penalty for their sin is paid, and they are no longer guilty in the eyes of God. In that sense, we are holy. That is what allows us to be seated in the heavenly places, and to have the indwelling Holy Spirit, and unity with God.

But we are not holy in the sense that we no longer sin. The progress of decreasing sin in our lives is the progressive sanctification referred to in Hebrews 10:14 ("sanctified" is a present tense verb). When the Lord returns, or when we die, we will experience complete sanctification, also referred to as glorification. Even as you quoted, "Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). John is very clear; we are not what we will be.

Otherwise why would the Holy Spirit command us to "be holy" (1 Peter 1:15)? In other words, why would God command us to be sanctified if we are already sanctified?

Lastly, The Stanford Virtual Interaction Lab may be finding some interesting information, but they are not providing anything helpful for this discussion. The Bible does not tell us to visualize good behavior as a means to sanctification. It tells us to remember and understand what God has done (His nature and past actions), who we were (our past nature and actions), our new nature, God's plans for the future (judgment and glory), and live in light of all those things.

We obey because God is great and greatly to be praised.

We obey because God has done wonderful things for us.

We obey because we are slaves of God, and must do what He says.

We obey because He is Judge and we will be held accountable.

We obey because we love our heavenly Father.

We obey because we need to be His witnesses on the earth.

We obey because His way ultimately brings joy and sin leads to death.

. . . and on and on.

#18  Posted by Randy Johnson  |  Saturday, July 5, 2014 at 5:36 AM

When a person by faith submits his reason to the Spirit's reason as revealed in the Word of God and acts on it, this is the place where God proves Himself to that person and that person proves God to himself (2 Kings 5:1-19). Thus, it is also extremely foolish for a Christian leader to castigate other Christians for submitting their reason to the Spirit's reason in the first chapters of the book of Genesis.

#21  Posted by James Read  |  Saturday, July 5, 2014 at 10:50 AM


I believe you did a nice work in answering Guymon's question. In Luke's gospel Jesus says, deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me but, only in Luke gospel does Luke add Daily or as you say (ongoing). Truly, Sanctification is daily in the life of a believer awaiting its conclusion when he will one day be glorified. Guymon is right in saying "We *are* sanctified. There is no debate if one reads the Word without bias. The past tense used consistently to refer to our standing in Christ is irrefutable. yes but, it doesn't stop there. It actually begins. Phil. 2:12 – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling that is a good example of the sanctification process.

#22  Posted by Jesse Kienel  |  Sunday, July 6, 2014 at 1:31 AM

Galatians 5:24-Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Luke 6:40-The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.

#23  Posted by David N  |  Sunday, July 6, 2014 at 3:57 PM

To Gabriel #19

You are likely not going to understand the importance of knowing who we are in Christ and the direct impact of that knowledge on our behavior if you are unwilling to realize how our brains actually work. You used the word "visualize" to describe your understanding of the science I suggest informs this discussion. And you seem quite dismissive of that science (be careful though, history is littered with Christians who did not accept the science of their days because it didn't fit within their theology). But in fact this is exactly how John describes the process to us in 1 John 3 (and how you describe it as well). When we see God clearly we become like Him. John doesn't give us a time frame or circumstances within which that happens. He just asserts that it will happen. Now we know, by recent scientific discovery, this is legitimate science, i.e. it can be replicated and verified. And it is also very clear throughout the word that God is very concerned with our understanding of Him and ourselves, as you pointed out very well. We just know a little more clearly why God has given us our "avatar" (if you will) from Genesis to Revelation.

However, never does our behavior negate the inerrant truth declared in multiple passage in a variety of ways that we are fully and completely God's children, which includes the attribute of sanctification. Because we act un-sanctified at times doesn't change our stated sanctification. If our behavior altered the declared truth we read then we are in real trouble. All things are new. That we act contrary to that statement doesn't temper or alter it in any way.

Effectively, all Christians are suffering from PTSD in the sense that we are still, to some degree or another, mentally "stuck" in the flesh or the old man. Individuals with PTSD *behave* as though they are still in the circumstances of some past time. The more we understand about the marvelous gift God gave us and the totality of what He did for us by sanctifying us, washing us, cleansing us, making us holy, etc. the more we will be like all of those attributes. This is His clear call to us. We are required to please Him via one mechanism - faith! Faith in the truths stated and enjoining the battle in our minds is clearly stated.

Without vision people perish. That is a well known bit of wisdom to us. Acts 26:18 refers to the eyes of unbelievers being opened. Is that a literal eye opening or in the metaphorical (metaphysical or metacognitive) sense of the mind's eye? In John 15:7 we are urged to "remain" in Christ and for His words to remain in us. What does "remain" mean? Does it mean behave well enough for Christ to keep living inside us or does it mean to realize where He is at all times and at all circumstances in order that the reality of His presence inside of us changes how we behave?

#25  Posted by Ben Enders  |  Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 7:12 PM


You said, “You are likely not going to understand the importance of knowing who we are in Christ and the direct impact of that knowledge on our behavior if you are unwilling to realize how our brains actually work”.

So if we don’t realize how our brains work then we won’t understand how important our salvation is and why we worship and glorify God?

I can visualize you saying that to Peter and him slapping you in the face with a fish.

Gabriel 1 David 0

#26  Posted by David N  |  Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 7:19 AM

Ben - thanks for reiterating my point!

Nice job illuminating God's contribution (100%) versus ours (0%). Because in Him we live and move and have our being, right? Although I'm not sure what Peter and a fish has to do with anything though!? Haha

What determines out behavior is what we believe. It is God's design.

#27  Posted by David N  |  Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 7:49 AM









Have confidence

Such confidence

With unveiled face beholding


Think on

Forget not

And we know

Mind set on the spirit

...and so on

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace." (‭Romans‬ ‭8‬:‭1-6‬ ESV)

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (‭Romans‬ ‭12‬:‭1-2‬ ESV)

All kidding aside Ben, this is not a competition except for the hearts (subconscious mind) and minds (cortical, volitional mind) of men.

God: 1

Satan: 0

#28  Posted by Patty Duke  |  Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 9:07 AM


This is a difficult issue, and MacArthur certainly correctly identifies it as a paradox. It sound like you are trying very hard to wrap your mind around sanctification, and it also seems that you are trying to join together some New Age, contemporary beliefs with biblical truth. May I recommend the book, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS by MacArthur if you would take the time and effort to read it. It changed my life. Because I think until you also see, like I needed to see, that our behavior proves the truth that we are saved, then there will be confusion on everything that occurs in believer's lives after salvation. Including sanctification. May I quote to you from the book? "Faith obeys. Unbelief rebels. The direction of one's life should reveal whether that person is a believer or an unbeliever. There is no middle ground." From page 193. So your statement that our behaviour does not negate the inerrant truth that we are completely God's children is not actually true, in the biblical sense. If a person continues in the sinful behaviour. At any rate, MacArthur has some wonderful chapters on Faith, Justification, The Way of Salvation, along with many others. Please allow God to teach you through His Word, with the wonderful help of MacArthur and his godly books and commentaries. MacArthur backs up everything he teaches with the Word of God.

#29  Posted by David N  |  Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 12:36 PM

Thanks for your concern and recommendation for reading. But to set the record straight, I am not trying to inject anything "new age" into this. Someone else here chose to impune verifiable science with pejorative words like "visualize" which most Christians recoil at since it sounds new age. And all science is doing is informing our understanding of God's word by explaining mechanistic neurobehavioral constructs through verifiable research. As a scientist, I have long contended, rightly so, that as time marches on science simply helps us understand God and His nature more clearly. Knowing His design is important because it helps us know more about Him.

I agree that faith equates to action. This is not the argument. However, just as Jesus warned, we need to be very careful to not let the truth be leavened. The only determinate of behavior, action or any other metric you would like to name, is belief. Is it unusual that the God who requires faith to be pleased would design us to behave our best when we believe His truth?

The only paradox is our sometimes incongruous behavior in light of the clear declarations of our standing in Christ. That we miss the mark at all is emblematic of Satan's only tool against us - lies. Being confused over whether or not God is trust worthy when His word declares us sanctified creates an enormous foothold for Satan in our thinking. The list of verbs and passages in my last post clearly point to the place where this battle rages, that is - our minds. Satan misrepresented God's truth in the first place, which ushered sin into the world. The misrepresentation was not true but it changed the thinking (beliefs) of Adam and Eve and then they acted.

The "father" in the parable of the Prodigal son corrected the older son's sinful (self righteous) behavior by correcting the misperception of himself thusly, "The father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours." (‭Luke‬ ‭15‬:‭31‬ NCV). The son cited a slavish devotion to the father which was apparently not "sanctified" behavior yet the son was always a son (younger son too). His standing with the Father was not based on flawless performance. If flawless performance was required for the sons in the parable, or us, we are then required for our performance to exceed that of the Pharisees. I hope you realize the progression of this leavened thinking.

Understanding the Father and what He has done for us changes how we think and, by causality, how we act. The concern over your self proclaimed "paradox" of sanctification should center on knowing God without distortion, which will be a life long pursuit.

Lastly, you have implied that I am not using the inerrant truth of God's word to guide my thinking. You are making an enormous leap to a dangerous place there.

#30  Posted by Cameron Buettel  |  Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 2:16 PM

David, aside from the confusing nature of your responses, what is most disappointing is your refusal to interact with the biblical substance of my initial response. Until you do that this conversation will be very unproductive. Furthermore, you have laid a charge at the feet of Christians throughout history "who did not accept the science of their days because it didn't fit within their theology." I am interested to know how biblical theology informs your understanding of science and if your science has any impact on your understanding of theology. For example, do you believe that the first two chapters of Genesis are a literal account of God creating the world between 6,000 - 10,000 years ago over six literal days?

#31  Posted by David N  |  Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 3:49 PM

I will interact with the Biblical substance of any response. I will not take your bait to switch this to an argument about my credibility or yours based on a canned response to questions of creation or any other litmus test you want to throw out.

I did not assert that all Christians, past or present, have rejected all science. So can we dispense with hyperbole of that sort. That Christians have been guilty of that is well known though. And it resulted in some atrocious behavior on the parts of some Christians. That is a historical fact.

The Bible is God's inerrant word. The accurate understanding of the truth contained in that Word to us in all of its many facets and brilliance is the sole determinate of how we behave. Science helps us understand how and why. If you would care to learn more about the topic from a scientific perspective I am happy to provide you some resources.

I have never disagreed or contended with the notion that there are behaviors that God esteems that we need to engage with our actions while we live on Earth. But our paradoxical behavior does not negate God's Word and the truth it contains. God's truth may seem to us paradoxical but it is our understanding that is limited (I john 3:1f)

It is a paradox to us that Jesus was at the same time fully God and fully man. It is not a paradox to God and neither status negated the other. We don't have any way of understanding that concept in our physical world though.

I am not arguing with your Biblical assertions about work that should occur as a natural outflow of God's grace in our lives. I am challenging the assertion that there is not clear, convincing scriptural evidence stating we ARE sanctified. How can Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Father dwell inside a vessel that is not holy and sanctified to Him? We are the new temple where God dwells. If you are a Believer this is true of you but how can God dwell inside us if we are not sanctified?

The work of aligning our behavior with the truth is the process that Satan loves to derail. And thanks to God's grace (Col. 2:3) we are learning more about how the process works.

Jesus said that He is the bread of life and that anyone who comes to Him would never hunger or whoever believes in Him would never thirst again. We can all certainly agree that we have been hungry and/or thirsty, both physically and spiritually. So is what Jesus said untrue? Is it paradoxical? Or is it simply that we are devoid of understanding, seeing, the truth in its fullness? God's truth is not impacted by our behavior, belief in it or any other thing. Our lives and the functioning of the body of Christ IS impacted by our belief in the truth.

Understanding the science of our minds helps us to see how God intended for His truth to become a reality in our lives.

#32  Posted by Cameron Buettel  |  Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 4:14 PM

David, I am still waiting for you to interact with my initial response. But before you do that, my previous question is also important because of your appeals to science as indisputable proof of your arguments. It matters because not all that gets passed off as “science” these days is true empirical science. So once again I will ask the question, and a simple yes or no will suffice, do you read the first two chapters of the Bible as a true historical account of God creating the world in six literal days around 6,000 to 10,000 years ago?

#33  Posted by Gabriel Powell (GTY Admin)  |  Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 4:25 PM


There's so much to respond to, so I want to be careful to pick what will hopefully be helpful to the discussion. As of yet, you've not interacted with the biblical arguments made by Cameron (#14) and me (#19). You've charged me of dismissing science, but I can't help but sense that you're dismissing Scripture.

I can't make sense of your arguments because I can't figure out what you mean by "sanctification." On the one hand you say that we are sanctified, on the other hand you say that we're not because we still sin. A person fully sanctified (another term for glorified) will not sin, and yet you acknowledge that we do sin.

So can you please define sanctification as you understand it? It seems you have a vary narrow definition in mind.

No one here is arguing that we are not sanctified in the eyes of God, having been cleansed by the blood of Christ. I think we all agree that we are positionally sanctified at the moment of conversion. What we are saying, along with Scripture, is that there is a progressive aspect to sanctification whereby it is working itself out in our lives (Phil 1:6), and will be completed when we see Christ face-to-face (glorification).

Do please help me out by defining sanctification, and then responding to whether you have a category for a progressive sanctification which concludes in glorification.


#35  Posted by David N  |  Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 8:36 PM


First, let me just thank you all for engaging this dialogue. It is really important and I appreciate the discourse.

My comments about you, or others, being dismissive of science may have been a bit stern but to distill a great body of scientific discovery with words that conjure up negative connotations seems dismissive to me. But I relent for the sake of peace here. I would encourage you all to jump into the scientific fray for the good of the Body. It is quite honestly some of the most exciting discovery I have seen in my life and it has enormous implications when paired with an accurate view of God and truth.

In comment #14 Cameron rebutted my assertion that we *are* sanctified by saying that was not true. Now you comment that we are "positionally" sanctified. So which side is confused? It is precisely our "positionally" conferred status and the enormous implication of that truth for which I am challenging you all. We are being blessed by the discovery of how and why that works to alter our behavior. It helps us to know why Jesus, John, Peter, Paul and others tell us to "see" or other imperatives for our minds.

3 "Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust." 2 Peter 1:3-4 (NASB)

Seeing (in our subconscious and conscious mind) His power, the access it grants to "everything" for life and godliness through "true knowledge", etc. We are called to believe these things and that belief, in the face of contradictory feelings, circumstances or our behaviors please the God who gave us these things even if it is only "positionally" at first. And, "by" the promises (perhaps faith in them), not our efforts, we become partakers of the His divine nature.

I agree with your summation of our "positionally" conferred status in Christ. I am not addressing the Biblical premises you have laid out because I am not taking issue with them. I am simply saying that we have misunderstood and underestimated the power of our position with God in Christ. This is what science is speaking to and informs some areas where we have had some significant gaps in understanding.

I don't think I am narrowly defining sanctification either. In fact, sanctification is only one of the many "positionally" conferred attributes we have been given by a good Father. But in my thinking sanctification is distilled to the notion of holiness or being conformed into the image of God, which has wide and sweeping implications for the standard I am held to for my personal behavior. Just so you can know where I am coming from.

#36  Posted by Gabriel Powell (GTY Admin)  |  Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 11:42 AM


Tell you what… when I’ve mastered the Bible, I’ll jump into the scientific fray. Today I read yet another article about science realizing that it was wrong about what it thought. For every article about a “discovery”, there is an article where scientists realize they’ve been wrong, and they really don’t know what they’re talking about. And that’s all by secular scientists!

When Cameron refuted your claim that we are sanctified, he was affirming that we are not yet glorified. This entire series is exclusively about progressive sanctification, not positional sanctification. Perhaps we should have made that explicitly clear, so let me do it here: we affirm that when the Holy Spirit grants saving faith and regenerates a sinner, they are positionally sanctified in that God no longer counts their sin against them. Their sin—past, present, and future—is completely forgiven; their scarlet is made white as snow. They no longer are under condemnation, but are fully justified and set apart to the Lord. When God looks at a redeemed sinner, He sees the righteousness of Christ who paid for their guilt on the cross. They are not merely innocent, but righteous in Christ.

Positional sanctification refers to the spiritual reality of the sinner in Christ as God sees them. It does not mean that believers are actually sinless and holy as they continue to live on the earth. Progressive sanctification refers to their growth in holiness as they progressively become in practice what they are in Christ.

So we are sanctified positionally in Christ, but we are not fully sanctified in practice. This blog series is all about progressive sanctification. I hope that brings clarity to this discussion. Does that reflect your understanding?

#37  Posted by Gabriel Powell (GTY Admin)  |  Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 12:10 PM

Forgive me for this generality or stereotype, but what I’ve found in virtually every person I’ve interacted with who is enamored with science, is they spend so much time swimming deeply in the science that they can only wade into the Scripture. In other words, they focus on one relatively narrow aspect of the Bible and talk like they’ve exhausted what the Bible says about that, because science backs up their interpretation.

I say that to say this: I once again affirm that knowing our position with God in Christ, grasping with ever-increasing depth His love for us, and understanding the work He has accomplished for us is critical to overcoming sin and growing in Christlikeness. The gospel has the power to not only save but transform.

However what it sounds like you’re saying (and if not you, then others) is that there is no other motivation or reason or power for us to grow in Christ. In other words, it sounds like you’re affirming what one well known pastor said: the only way to grow up (spiritually) is to look back.

What is clear in the Bible is that there are a variety of motivations and energy sources for overcoming sin and growing in Christlikeness, and only one of them is “the power of our position with God in Christ.”

Hebrews 4:11 says, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” And the author goes on to talk about the penetrating and judging power of God’s Word. So judgment is a motivation in that passage.

Later in Hebrews 10:26 we read, “For if we go on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sin, but a fearful expectation of judgment.” This is another warning passage motivating obedience, even to point of saying, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (v. 31).

Another motivation frequently in Scripture is our future inheritance. We read this in 1 Peter 1:3-9 and 2 Peter 1:5-11 and other passages. Yet another motivation is to be examples to others (Titus 2:7; 1 Peter 3:1). Yet another is to put unbelievers to shame (1 Peter 3:16; Titus 2:8).

In other words, there are a variety of motivations throughout Scripture that spur us to put off sin, live righteously, and grow in Christlikeness. Our knowledge of God’s grace in the past, and our position in the present is certainly one of them (perhaps even the main one!), but it is not the only one.

#38  Posted by David N  |  Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 5:19 PM

Yes, it does. However, I think that the distinction between progressive sanctification and our positional sanctification is wherein lies the greatest opportunity for Satan to confuse and thwart. And without condition we can say that we are sanctified. It is precisely this area of seeming paradox that a greater understanding of our neurobiology helps immensely.

You shouldn't limit yourself from engagement with the scientific community simply because you have not mastered the Word. I have mastered neither.

Just a few more questions:

1. How does one distinguish between their own efforts and striving versus God's work in their life?

2. What does the word "strive" actually mean in the context of the Hebrews verse you cited? Could it mean a mental striving? As in taking every thought captive? We are told in the Psalms to cease striving, right?

3. How many times does the Word refer to our positionally conferred status versus any mandates to be sanctified? Or refer to the latter first mentioning our position?

4. How many time does the Word use verbiage like: eyes, vision, see, seeing, consider, mind, understanding, etc?

I strongly encourage you to engage with current, reputable science, which I am happy to direct you to. I submit your life and faith is much better today in no small part due to science. This forum notwithstanding!

This is not an understanding which undermines scripture but it will challenge certain constructs. That is a good thing. As I mentioned before, Jesus warned of leaven in His gospel. We shouldn't ever think we have the clearest understanding at the moment. I am sure John MacArthur himself would agree that we "see" through a glass darkly.

#39  Posted by Gabriel Powell (GTY Admin)  |  Friday, July 11, 2014 at 10:25 AM

"I have mastered neither." You said it, not me. ;-)

Grateful for your clarification. That'll help to narrow our discussion. In answer to your questions:

1. There isn't a clear answer to this. Christians are not like flex-fuel vehicles where you can flip a switch and be powered either be self-striving, or Spirit-powered striving. The key factors are motivation (doing it for God's glory, not to earn favor or for penance) and dependence (daily acknowledging your own weakness and need for His strength, as opposed to living as though you don't need anything from God).

2. The Greek word for "strive" has the semantic range of "hurry, hasten, expedite, take pains, make every effort, be conscientious." Striving is a mental attitude of fervent intention. It may be purely mental (training one's thought life), or it may result in action (self-discipline in exercise, for example). Second Timothy 2:15 says, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved." The same word is used in 2 Peter 3:14, "be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace." We must exert effort to be pure and holy in our minds, and we must exert effort to be pure and holy in our lives.

3. Every imperative in the New Testament is a mandate to be sanctified. Every time we are told to not sin in certain ways or to live righteously in certain ways, to be holy, to put off the old man, and put on the new man—all of that is a mandate to be or grow in sanctification. Often those imperatives are in the context of indicatives (our position in Christ), but the fact remains that we have hundreds of imperatives. If all that we needed to live righteously was an understanding of the indicatives, then there would be no need for imperatives.

4. Tons of times. The mind/heart (the same faculty in Scripture) is the control center of life. Out of the overflow of the heart/mind the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). All sin rises out of the heart/mind (Matthew 12:35-36). Therefore you cannot address sin without addressing the mind. A couple key passages are Colossians 1:9-10 and Ephesians 1:16-21).

David, just as you're apparently not arguing against progressive sanctification (which is the topic of this blog series), I'm not arguing against the critical importance of knowing and understanding the truth of our positional sanctification. What I've pointed out, however, is that there is more that motivates progressive sanctification than positional sanctification.

David, if you'd like to continue this discussion, please make it explicitly clear which statements in this blog or my comments you disagree with, and please address the specific biblical texts being referred to.

#40  Posted by David N  |  Saturday, July 12, 2014 at 10:49 AM


I disagree with the notion that there is a paradox and this wide chasm of disconnect between what man has defined as "positional" and "progressive" sanctification. These terms and thoughts and paradoxical machinations are the doing of man not God. Since you haven't bothered to at least give a cursory glance to the science that helps explain how we as humans operate as creates of *faith* (as God intended) then you will likely have a hard time understanding these distinctions as artificial.

God told Abraham that He (God) had made him (Abraham) the father of many nations. He gave him illustrative examples as well. Nothing about what God said to him was true at the time. Yet, his *belief* in what God declared was not only credited to him as righteousness (right standing with God), it was what eventually brought it to be in the physical world. Only when Abraham failed to *believe* what God had declared as truth did he behave in a way that was a departure from God's glory and will. Abraham's behavior was quite awful at times yet he is hailed as one to whom we should look as an example. Why? He believed what God said despite his sometimes contradictory feelings, circumstances and behaviors. The Word is full of examples like this too. And we are now recipients of a better covenant based on a better promise. The promise? God did what we could not and our belief in that changes how we behave. Faith in what God has said in His word is the *only* way in which we can please Him. If He says we are sanctified then we are and when we sacrifice our mortal minds and limited understanding on God's alter of truth then He is glorified and His power is free to work in us according to His good pleasure.

I think what makes most like you cringe and feel a need to contend for is the thought that what I am proposing equates to passivity. Quite the contrary. Bringing our thinking in line with God's word will be the most challenging task you ever embark on in your life. We have a real enemy whose main tactic is to lie to us about God and ourselves.

The Church spends much of its time striving for what God has already accomplished, both individually and corporately. How can Jesus can offer us His Sabbath rest everyday yet call us to walk in the good works prepared for us? An at rest, at peace, confident and secure body is what results in the good works. Then when we read what God says about us in His Word we can be confident that He will provide what we need: "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work." 2 Cor 9:8

Jesus did what He saw the Father doing. We are called to the same standard. It can only happen through faith in God's finished work in Christ and our faith in that. Jesus chastised some for their lack of faith. I don't want to be in that group ever!

I am sanctified. I believe it and am incredibly grateful. And it has made all the difference.

#41  Posted by Patty Duke  |  Saturday, July 12, 2014 at 8:22 PM


I sent another post that never got posted which maybe it got lost. But anyway, let me first say that I cannot imagine being in a small study group with you! The bunny trails! But I do have a question about this science you keep referring to as in " science that helps explain how we as humans operate as creates of *faith". Is this some kind of a science that separates believers from non-believers for its study? Because only believers have saving faith. Everyone knows that everyone operates every day with faith. We all have faith that the building will stay standing, we all have faith the airplane will land, etc, etc. But only believers are spiritually alive and have faith given by God for belief in Jesus Christ. So how does your science fit in to that?

And if you think you or anyone else is already as sactified (as holy) as they will ever be, if you think we are already like Jesus, then you are blind. The contemporary church may be known for many things, but holiness will not be its legacy. False teachers abounding, but certainly not holiness.

#43  Posted by Gabriel Powell (GTY Admin)  |  Monday, July 14, 2014 at 10:30 AM


I disagree with the notion that there is a paradox and this wide chasm of disconnect between what man has defined as "positional" and "progressive" sanctification.

If that's the case, can you please describe in your own words the reality that we are sanctified in one sense (in the eyes of God), but not in another (practically in our lives since we still sin)?

Since you haven't bothered to at least give a cursory glance to the science... then you will likely have a hard time understanding these distinctions as artificial.

It sounds like you're saying that unless we understanding what some laboratory in the 21st century has apparently discovered, we cannot understand what the Bible teaches about our spiritual condition. That's a level of intellectual snobbery that rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps that's not what you're saying?

Can you please refer me to the biblical text that says Abraham's faith is what caused the outworking of God's plan? I am not saying his faith was irrelevant, but I don't see anything in the biblical text that specifically grounds the fulfillment of God's promise on Abraham's faith.

Faith in what God has said in His word is the *only* way in which we can please Him.

Indeed, "without faith it is impossible to please him..." (Hebrews 11:6). However, Scripture also says, "For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins" (2 Peter 1:5-9).

As I've said before, David, it appears to me that you're so focused on one aspect of Scripture, that you're neglecting the rest. No one is saying faith is unimportant (though you're arguing as if someone is saying that). But you seem to be saying nothing else matters. I think the Holy Spirit writing through Peter addresses that plainly enough.

If He says we are sanctified then we are...

The question is not, "Are we sanctified?" The question is, "In what sense are we sanctified?" I've provided ample biblical texts that show there are different ways the word "sanctified" is used, and a plethora of ways Scripture refers to the idea without using the term. You have yet to address how those texts fit into your understanding.

I am sanctified.

True, and you're also not without sin (1 John 1:8). So what does it mean that you're sanctified and yet you still sin? The answer is not that you're not sanctified, but that you are sanctified in one sense, but not sanctified in another sense, which I explain in previous comments.

#44  Posted by David N  |  Monday, July 14, 2014 at 2:08 PM

"If that's the case, can you please describe in your own words the reality that we are sanctified in one sense (in the eyes of God), but not in another (practically in our lives since we still sin)?"

That is precisely what I have been doing this entire discussion. Do circumstances or our behavior change God's declared truth? If so then the ultimate, logical conclusion of that line of thinking is that God is dead or at the least powerless. It is a very dangerous line of thinking.

19 "For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth." (Jesus' words) John17:19

Did Jesus need to be sanctified? And it is clearly stated here (by Jesus) that truth is what sanctifies us. How do we engage that? Belief.

"That's a level of intellectual snobbery that rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps that's not what you're saying?"

Perhaps the Word will suffice. "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." Proverbs 23:7. I am pointing everyone here to examine some reputable science that informs this notion of a paradoxical relationship between what God's word declares about us (Believers) and the fact (not disputed by me) that we still sin. Your heckling of this and accusing me of snobbery or "new age" thought (by someone else) seems contrary to the sanctified behavior of love we are called to possess toward fellow Believers. Just some sage advice at this point. Don't draw a conclusion about information you don't know.

"Can you please refer me to the biblical text that says Abraham's faith is what caused the outworking of God's plan? I am not saying his faith was irrelevant, but I don't see anything in the biblical text that specifically grounds the fulfillment of God's promise on Abraham's faith."

Then what was it? Was it Abraham's flawless behavior? No! Was it his personal devotional plan? No written word of God then. Was it his Church? No, didn't exist then. Was it his hard work and diligent effort? No. It is clearly stated that Abraham's faith equated to righteousness or rightness or right behavior or execution of what God says is right. His faith was the evidence and substance of the things he could not yet see. Do you think Abraham was full of faith when he slept with Hagar or was he acting as one who did not believe what God had promised?

Let's look at an example of the antithesis to faith. The children of Israel did not believe that they could overcome those who had possession of the promised land. They did not believe God's promises. What happened? They did not enter into what God promised them. You can cite case after case of disbelief causing a disruption in God's desired outcome. So why is it even a question of whether or not it is our engagement with God in faith that is causal to His will in our lives? Just because you can't see it explicitly written that way in scripture?

#45  Posted by David N  |  Monday, July 14, 2014 at 2:37 PM

To some of the Israelites who did not enter the promised land there probably seemed to exist a "paradox" between what God's word/promise was and the reality of their lives.

As I said previously, if we use our circumstances, feelings or behaviors to determine whether or not something God says about us is true, then the logical conclusion is at best a powerless.

Please do not read into what I am advocating here that it will result in passivity or being absolved of the responsibility for bad behavior. In falling short of God's high standards (be holy as I am holy) no one is to blame except us. God never falls short on His end of the bargain. Bad behavior, however, is the ultimate symptom of disbelief whereas belief in the infallible and incredible truth produces the symptoms of obedience, love and the physical fulfillment of His stated truth.

#46  Posted by Gabriel Powell (GTY Admin)  |  Monday, July 14, 2014 at 3:11 PM

David, this discussion is going to close down quickly if you can't acknowledge the biblical texts and arguments we're trying to make. But let me briefly respond to your comment.

Do circumstances or our behavior change God's declared truth?
Absolutely not, but when our understanding of God's truth directly contradict reality we should question whether our understanding of God's truth is accurate. It may be (our view of reality may be in question), but it is a question we should ask. At this point, I don't think you're asking it, or even considering an alternate understanding you're being given.

Then what was it?
What brought about the fulfillment of God's promises was nothing other than the faithfulness of God. It was not based on Abraham's faith any more than Jesus' birth was the result of Israel believing the prophets. What God promises to do, He will do. Sometimes our action-producing faith may be the means by which God accomplishes His desired result, but God could choose to work apart from our faith if He so desired.

But really that is getting too far from the issue at hand. We are simul iusts et peccator—at the same time righteous and a sinner. On that the Bible is extremely clear. In other words, the Bible says are both sanctified and not sanctified; we are holy and yet not holy; we are righteous and yet not righteous. That is not a logical contradiction because of the different senses in which the words are used.

God's will for our lives is that we increasingly be conformed to the image of His Son. That transformation occurs in a plethora of ways, supported by a number of motivations. It all starts with the heart/mind, that is, with a proper understanding of the truth of God's character, His work, His standards, and His power provided for us. Right understanding then leads to right affections and right behavior (not always in that order).

#47  Posted by Cameron Buettel  |  Tuesday, July 15, 2014 at 9:56 AM

David, the scientific method requires interaction with all of the available data. Yet all I have seen from you in this thread is an absolute refusal to engage with the biblical data that Gabriel has graciously brought forth. That is how theology is done when one believes in the inerrancy of Scripture - theology (the queen of the sciences) must harmonize with the totality of Scripture.

We are not anti-intellectual or ignorant of science. But we are cynical concerning much of what masquerades as science. For example, there are people who foolishly feel the burden to try and harmonize evolutionary theory and big bang cosmology with the biblical account. But neither of them are truly scientific. Evolutionary theory, for example, is not even remotely scientific, completely contrary to Scripture, and does untold violence to the gospel. There is a such thing as legitimate empirical science but it involves a methodology that has not yet appeared in your comments.

#34  Posted by Ben Enders  |  Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 5:58 PM


I agree 100% about what the competition is over. Amen brother! That our behavior is determined by what we believe, well sometimes I’m sure, but all the time? What do I do with Romans 7?

I think a response to Gabriel’s question about sanctification is in order. If I’m not mistaken, that was the original topic here.

#42  Posted by Rudi Jensen  |  Monday, July 14, 2014 at 3:28 AM

#40 David N

"The promise? God did what we could not and our belief in that changes how we behave."

This is where the fruit inspection comes in.

"The Church spends much of its time striving for what God has already accomplished, both individually and corporately"

What God has already accomplished is for His elect. Those the Father has given to Me, as Jesus say in John 17.

They are few, not many. They will endure to the end, because the Holy Spirit, who began the work in them, will stay with them until death and resurrection.

Who are they? They are those who love and obey God. They have been partakers of God's own nature, the Bible tells us.

"I am sanctified. I believe it and am incredibly grateful. And it has made all the difference. "

This is what everybody believes – even the deceived and false teachers, so in itself, it say - nothing.

You will know them by their fruits, Jesus say.