5 Counterfeits of Sanctification

WatsonThomas Watson’s book, A Body of Divinity, is a wonderful exposition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It is among the best writing in the Puritan tradition, thorough, thoroughly Scriptural, heart-searching, practical, and pastoral. I heartily recommend it (and anything else written by Watson, for that matter).  Charles Spurgeon calls this volume Watson’s “principal work” (xi).

In his treatment of the subject of sanctification (Q.35 of the catechism), Watson lists 5 counterfeits of sanctification. These are essentially works of self-deception on the part of the unregenerate. In his words, These are “things which look like sanctification, but are not” (p.242). They are as follows:

1. Moral Virtue – Sometimes we can mistake a “fair deportment” (his words) or a generally moral lifestyle for the work of God’s grace in the sanctification of a believer.  Not having one’s life marked by scandal is a good thing, but it falls far short of sanctification. Many an unregenerate person can make such a claim, but surely this is no mark of the work of God’s saving grace in the heart and life.

2. Superstitious Devotion – He notes that this counterfeit version of sanctification “abounds” in the Roman Catholic church (which he refers to as “Popery”), but such superstitious practices abound among Protestants in our day as well. Watson goes so far as to say, “If to tell over a few beads [i.e. the Rosary], or bow to an image, or sprinkle themselves with holy water were sanctification, and all that is required of them that should be saved, then hell would be empty, none would come there” (p.243). Going through religious motions, however sincerely, is not substitute for sanctification.

3. Hypocrisy – This counterfeit of sanctification is (to use his words) “when men make a pretence [sic] of that holiness which they have not” (p.243). This is the worst kind of self-delusion, for in this counterfeit one robs or defrauds himself; “the most counterfeit saint deceives others while he lives, but deceives himself when he dies.” Such a phony holiness is a self-deception that will provide no true and lasting comfort to the soul at death’s door.

4. Restraining Grace – This is where “sin is curbed, but not cured” (p.244). In other words, it is when someone refrains from a particular sin or vice without actually hating that sin or vice. He is not speaking of sinless perfection here, but rather a changed heart, which where it once loved sin, now hates the very sins against which is struggles against in this life. This is what the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.87 means  when it defines “repentance unto life” as “a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience” (italics mine).

5. Common Grace – This last counterfeit of sanctification that Watson lists (and his list is by no means necessarily exhaustive) is where a sinner comes to some apprehension of the gospel message or conviction of sin that, in the end, still falls short of conversion. Perhaps such a person attends the public worship of the church for a time; maybe he even (at least temporarily) feels drawn to the message of Christ, but true repentance and faith in Christ are still sadly missing. This is the man or woman who keeps Christ at arm’s length, but never bows the knee as his or her Lord in this life.

It is clear that these things were not merely academic issues to Watson. This is the work of a careful and caring doctor of souls, an evangelist and pastor of the first order. Sanctification in general seems to be a topic that has fallen on tough times and deaf ears in many corners of the church today. Judging by the evident needfulness of Watson’s words here even back in his day (17th century England), maybe that has always been the case. May it be that God may continue to use the wise, biblical counsel from books this this one to awaken many a self-deceived sinner to truly repent and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.

I Believe in the Church

Chapel 2How important is the church after all these years?

If we were to answer that question by examining how high (or low) a priority that many professing believers place upon the church (i.e. membership, public worship on the Lord’s day, serving in some capacity, inviting their friends and neighbors to church, commitment to financially supporting the work of the church, etc.), one might be led to believe that the church these days is not really very important at all. Sadly, it is becoming more and more common in our day for professing believers to have little or no firm connection to a local church.

If, likewise, we were to answer that question based upon the relative size of a given church, its influence upon the surrounding city or region, and how highly it is thought of (if it is even thought of at all) by outsiders/non-members, the church might seem even less important. After all, even the largest churches are barely a blip on the proverbial radar screen to most outsiders. They may drive by a particular church’s building on their way through town; they may know its name; they may have even darkened the door a time or two on a given holiday; but beyond that? Nada. Certainly there are exceptions, but they are just that in most cases – exceptions.

Despite all of that, I still believe in the church. I say that not because I am a pastor, but simply because I am a Christian.

What if I were to tell you that the church is so important that it is actually one of the chief tenets of the Christian faith! In fact, we confess a belief in the Christian church every time we recite the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. One of the many things that the Apostles’ Creed says is, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints.” (The word “catholic” there means “universal,” not Roman Catholic.) Similarly, the Nicene Creed says, “And we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.”

In his book, The Good News That We Almost Forgot, Kevin DeYoung writes, “Perhaps we would be less likely to overlook the importance of the church if we paid more attention to the Apostles’ Creed.” Good point, and one that is often overlooked. Think about that for a moment – what are the creeds? They are basic statements of the essentials of the Christian faith – the non-negotiables, so to speak. Remove any one of the articles from the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, and what you are left with is something substantially less than the true Christian faith. So a belief in the church is an essential part of the Christian faith. It is non-negotiable – you cannot just take it or leave it.

Do you believe in the church? If you are a Christian, you should. In fact you could even go so far as to say that you must. (Think about that next time you recite the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed!)

The Importance of the Preface to the Ten Commandments

It is often said that “context is key” when it comes to properly understanding something. And that is certainly true when it comes to having a right understanding – indeed a truly Christian understanding – of the Ten Commandments.

Have you ever given any thought to the context in which the Ten Commandments were given? The “preface” (as it has come to be known) is what supplies us with that context. It is found in Exodus 20:2 (and Deuteronomy 5:6), where  God says,

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Notice that deliverance came before duty. In other words, God did not give the Israelites the Ten commandments (which are the summary of His moral law) and then tell them, “If you do all of this, then I will redeem you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Instead, He graciously redeemed them and rescued them from their slavery first! Living lives of holiness unto Him was to be their response to His grace!

The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches us this same thing regarding the Ten Commandments:

Q.44. What does the preface [Exodus 20:2] to the Ten Commandments teach us? A. The preface to the ten Commandments teaches us, that because God is the Lord, and our God, and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all His commandments.”

So why are we, as Christians, to obey God’s commandments? At least three (3) reasons:

3 Fingers

  1. Because He is the Lord. 
  2. Because in Christ He is now not just God in general but our God.
  3. Because in Christ He has redeemed us from our sins.

So we are to obey God’s commandments first because He is the Lord – He is in charge. He is the Creator and we are His creatures; and we owe Him obedience as such. Secondly, we are to obey Him because in Christ He is our God. Tell that to those who constantly seem to pit the idea of relationship against the existence of rules. Rules (commandments!) are in no way contrary to a right relationship with God. And lastly, we are to obey God’s commandments because He is our Redeemer in Jesus Christ.

Redemption does not free us from the obligation to obey God’s commandments, but rather from the curse for having broken God’s law. The Westminster Confession of Faith goes so far as to say that, Christ, in the gospel, does actually “much strengthen this obligation” (19.5). When was the last time that you heard a preacher tell you that the gospel actually gives you all the more reason to obey God’s commandments? (Perhaps Matthew 28:20 should have been a clue.)

There you have it. It’s really not all that complicated, is it? We do not obey in order to be saved; rather we are saved so that we might then obey God out of gratitude for the salvation that is ours in Christ by grace alone. Obedience is our response to God’s grace. And it has always been that way, even under Moses.

“My conscience is captive to the Word of God.”

Here is a great clip from the 2003 film, “Luther.”  This scene is Martin Luther on trial at the Diet of Worms.

May the Lord Jesus Christ grant a fresh outpouring of the spirit of the Reformation in our day, so that His church would be characterized by people whose consciences are captive to the Word of God!

Lawful and Unlawful Use of the Law (Newton)

Andy Schreiber:

Very helpful words on how the Christian is to view the law of God.

Originally posted on The Reformed Reader:

John Newton (d. 1807) wrote a helpful letter which is now called “On the Right Use of the Law.”  It is basically Newton’s theological commentary on 1 Timothy 1:8.  After discussing the law/gospel distinction, natural laws, and moral laws, he gives some ways the law is used lawfully and some ways in which it is used unlawfully.  Here they are in abbreviated form:

1) It is not a lawful use of the law to seek justification and acceptance with God by our obedience to it; because it is not appointed for this end, or capable of answering it in our circumstances.  The very attempt is a daring impeachment of the wisdom of God – for if righteousness could come by the law, then Christ has died in vain (Gal. 2:21; 3:21).  Therefore, such a hope is not only groundless, but sinful; and, when persisted in under the light of the…

View original 532 more words

The Difference Between Justification & Sanctification

WCFWhat is the difference between justification & sanctification?  Good question. The Westminster Larger Catechism (not surprisingly) supplies us with a very helpful answer:

Q.77. Wherein do justification and sanctification differ? A. Although sanctification is inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputes the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification His Spirit infuses grace, and enables the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one does equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.

So the first thing this tells us is that we must distinguish between the two, but never separate them. You cannot have one without the other (as they are “inseparably joined”), but they differ in significant ways. How, then, do they differ?

First, justification involves the imputation (or reckoning, accounting) of Christ’s righteousness, while sanctification involves the actual infusion of grace and the enabling to exercise it in daily life.  You may recall that the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification mistakenly teaches that justification involves the infusion (rather than the imputation) of Christ’s righteousness. But the biblical doctrine of justification is that in Christ all believers are declared righteous, rather than made righteous. This is what Paul is speaking of in Romans 4:3-5,

“For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness . . . .”

Abraham was not justified by works, but by believing God at His Word in the promise of the gospel. Justification is (to borrow the words of v.5) a matter of God ‘justifying the ungodly’ (or the “wicked” – NIV), not matter of God making the ungodly person godly. (That would be sanctification.)

The second difference noted above in the Larger Catechism is that in justification sin is forgiven, while in sanctification it is subdued. In the former, all believers in Christ are forever freed from the just penalty of their sins – the wrath of God. But in the latter, the  grace of God works in the lives of believers to subdue the power of sin over their lives. In other words, in justification we are viewed and accepted by God as sinless because we are in Christ; but in sanctification we begin to actually and objectively sin less than we did before coming to Christ by faith.

The third difference is a very important one, and that is that all believers are equally & perfectly justified, but sanctification can and does differ from one believer to the next in this life. There are no degrees of justification (i.e. you are either justified before God or you are not), but there most certainly are differing degrees of sanctification. Not only that, but while all believers are perfectly justified in this life, none of us are perfectly sanctified in this life. Not a one. In this life all believers are, by the grace of God, “growing up to perfection.”

So let us never separate justification and sanctification – they belong together. The one who has been once and for all time justified in Christ will also presently be in the process of being sanctified in this life. But let us also avoid the opposite mistake of confusing the two or mixing them up. To do that is to (at minimum) hinder our growth in grace, or even (at worst) to deny the gospel itself.

The Biblical Centrality of the Church

Stott (The Message of Ephesians)

How important is the church in the life of the believer in Christ?  How important is the church in the plan & purpose of God? Many professing believers in our day have a rather low view of the church – they either think poorly of the church, or they just don’t think much about her at all. Far too many no longer see the church as necessary, much less as a vital part of the Christian life.

But what does the Bible have to say about the church? Even a cursory examination of the word ekklesia (which is most commonly translated as “church”) in a Greek concordance is instructive. It occurs no less than 114 times in the New Testament.  In the epistles of Paul it occurs at least 58 times.  This, of course, should come as no surprise, as the vast majority of his epistles were written to churches (e.g. Romans, 1 Corinthians, etc.) or to pastors of churches (e.g. 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus), not just to individual Christians. In fact, even the book of Philemon was addressed not only to Philemon (v.1), Apphia, and Archippus (v.2), but also to “the church in your [i.e. Philemon’s] house” (v.2). So basically all of Paul’s epistles were in some way church-related. All of them.

But do we think of the church when we read or study the epistles of Paul? Or do we read those letters through the foggy lenses of our individualistic spectacles? Do we jump right to asking, “How does this passage of Scripture apply to me?” without ever bothering to ask how it applies to us (i.e. as the church)?

In commenting on Ephesians 3:1-13, John Stott writes,

The major lesson taught by this first half of Ephesians 3 is the biblical centrality of the church. Some people construct a Christianity which consists entirely of a personal relationship to Jesus Christ and has virtually nothing to do with the church. Others make a grudging concession to the need for church membership, but add that they have given up the ecclesiastical institution as hopeless. Now it is understandable, even inevitable, that we are critical of many of the church’s inherited structures and traditions. Every church in every place at every time is in need or reform and renewal. But we need to beware lest we despise the church of God, and are blind to his work in history. We may safely say that God has not abandoned his church, however displeased with it he may be. He is still building and refining it. And if God has not abandoned it, how can we? It has a central place in his plan. (The Message of Ephesians, p.126)

Even the very best churches (as Stott notes above) are “in need of reform and renewal.” But even so the church is still very much central to God’s plan – it is still “through the church” that “the manifold wisdom of God” is to be made known to the “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10, ESV). And as Paul says later in the very same chapter, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:21, emphasis mine). The glory of God is to be manifested in and through His church, and that is to be the case “throughout all generations.”

We have not, nor will we ever in this life, outgrow the church or our need for the church. And we should not expect to do so – it really does have a central place in God’s plan.