Monday, March 05, 2007

Is Sanctification a "Secondary Doctrine?"

Today's new-evangelicals regularly contribute to published materials on the doctrine of sanctification. It is a big deal with them, as it should be with anyone who claims the name of Christ. John MacArthur writes:

Scripture is the manual for all "soul work" and is so comprehensive in the diagnosis and treatment of every spiritual matter that, energized by the Holy Spirit in the believer, it leads to making one like Jesus Christ. This is the process of biblical sanctification.

His article slams psychological sanctification. John Piper, preaching about the role of the Holy Spirit in sanctification, says:

"Sanctification" is a very irrelevant word, but it is not an irrelevant reality.

D. James Kennedy, the popular evangelical teacher in Florida, writes:

[In this article we will study] the doctrine of sanctification. This is an exceedingly important doctrine because it reaches us right where we are.

More importantly Scripture says:

"For this is the will of God, even your sanctification." 1 Thessalonians 4:3
"And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth." John 17:19

OK, so evangelicals themselves think this doctrine is vital. They preach on sanctification all the time. More than that, Scripture teaches it. At least some form of the word "sanctify" is found dozens of times in the Bible. We are to be sanctified. Yet, how are we sanctified?

We know we are sanctified by the truth, which is the Words of God (John 17:6-8, 19-21). Sanctification is about being holy. Sometimes the Greek word translated "sanctification" is also translated "holiness." Holiness requires doing right, obeying Scripture. Sanctification is a work of the Spirit in our new nature. The enemy within believers is called "the flesh" (Rom. 7:25), so that we have a battle between the Spirit and the flesh within us (Gal. 5:17). We are sanctified when the Spirit gets His way instead of our flesh.

The truth sanctifies us. But we must cooperate with the truth. How do we do that? Romans 6 tells us in three parts. First we must know (Rom. 6:6, 9), second, reckon (Rom. 6:11), and then yield (Rom. 6:13, 16, 19). In order to know, reckon, and yield, we must deny influences from the world. Consider these commands:

Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Titus 2:12

Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 1 Peter 2:11

This self-denial of the influences upon our flesh is called mortification in Scripture. We must starve our flesh from those things that will encourage it to have its way in our life. Mortification is commanded in God's Word.

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth. Colossians 3:5

The Puritans were absolute fanatics about mortification. They wrote volumes about it. John Owen defines mortification in his classic volume Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers:

The intendment of the apostle in this prescription of the duty mentioned is, that the mortification of indwelling sin remaining in our mortal bodies, that it may not have life and power to bring forth the works or deeds of the flesh is the constant duty of believers.

Let's put this all together now. We are commanded to mortify. We mortify sin by stopping its influence. It has been compared to stopping a car. One aspect of stopping the car is to take our foot off the pedal so that gas ceases feeding the engine. We must prohibit the flow of gas to the engine (so to speak) if we are to keep from sin.

I contend that new-evangelicals preach sanctification, but they have made it impossible to be sanctified Scripturally because they have relegated mortification to a secondary doctrine in Scripture. They preach it as the Spirit's work, but then remove the Christian's clear personal responsibility in sanctification. They aggressively attack the denial of worldly and fleshly lusts, which is required for mortification. They do this in many ways. They argue certain activities, which blatantly feed the flesh, as "liberties." They label those who preach against these activities as "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men," only because Scripture does not, for instance, say: "thou shalt not mixed swim" or "hip-hop music is wrong." Like the Pharisees of old, they minimize certain Scriptural teachings. They misuse the text about the "weightier matters of the law" (Mt. 23:23). They leave more than an impression that Christians are free to disobey certain portions of the Bible, and that their faux view of unity is more important than being a stickler over these teachings.

Are these secondary truths in Scripture?

Abtain from fleshly lusts.
Deny worldly lusts.
Mortify your members.
Be not conformed to this world.

New-evangelicals become popular by offering all the benefits of salvation without the most unpopular commands of self-denial in Scripture. While separatists preach against fleshly and worldly lusts, new-evangelicals explain why they're not only permissible but they are a greater opportunity to experience a new found freedom in Christ. In so doing, they are guilty of "turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness" (Jude 4) and using "liberty for an occasion to the flesh" (Galatians 5:13). When you look around the United States and wonder what the real difference is between Christianity and the world, because you can hardly see it, know that a major factor is this attack on the doctrine of sanctification.


Bill Hardecker said...

Good post, thank you. Sometimes I just don't know what to think of neo-evangelicalism.

Chris Topher Myers said...

I think that sometimes, myself unfortunately is included, can forget just how loving God really can be. As far as what I believe is that sanctification is one of the higher examples of God's love. The fact that we can be seperated from the power of sin, and thus be able to go to Heaven. Whereas the unsaved cannot. That is another example of the many things that God does for us the undeserving. Sanctification equals love. For without either, we would be doomed to hell.