To dwell above with those we love,
That will indeed be glory;
But here below with some I know,
Well, that’s another story!
Why is it that our fellow-Christians (and we mean believers, not mere professors) will seem so much more lovable in glory than they do at present? (This is to leave aside the issue of our own less-than-glorious reputations in the eyes of others.)
The answer lies in this last in a series of five articles on sanctification. In heaven we will be perfectly, or ultimately, sanctified. “Here below,” however, while positionally perfect in Christ through past sanctification, our present performance (our progress or sometimes lack of it) shows how far we still have to go.
We have spent two and a half years of Journal articles on this subject because sanctification is so important and so crucial to our success in the Christian life.
Readers may remember that the first article, which was introductory, was by your editor, and the next three—the most difficult subjects theologically—were assigned to our director, Dr. Wilkin. Now it is my turn to close the series with a discussion of the future aspect of sanctification—where all will “indeed be glory.” At that time we will be able to reverse the clauses of the bumper-sticker theolog who wrote:
“CHRISTIANS AREN’T PERFECT—JUST FORGIVEN!”
“CHRISTIANS AREN’T JUST FORGIVEN—THEY’RE PERFECT!”
Happily, the time is actually coming when believers will be not only forgiven, but actually perfect!
Since many readers may be new to our Journal or may not have carefully digested (or even read!) all of the previous articles, I would like to quote a nice summary paragraph by the late Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer:
The Bible teaching in regard to sanctification, then, is (1) that all believers are positionally sanctified in Christ “once for all” at the moment they are saved. This sanctification is as perfect as He is perfect. (2) All believers are being sanctified by the power of God through the Word, and this sanctification is as perfect as the believer is perfect. So, also, (3) all believers will be sanctified and perfected in glory into the very image of the Son of God. The Bible, therefore, does not teach that any child of God is altogether sanctified experimentally in daily life before that final consummation of all things.2
It is noteworthy that both the first and third aspects of sanctification are perfect, since they are not at all dependent on our own faulty present performance.
A good three-point, alliterated set of words suitable for teaching or preaching about the three aspects of sanctification is:
1. Positional sanctification
2. Progressive sanctification
3. Perfected sanctification
About this fascinating future blessing—the perfected, or ultimate, sanctification—let us now examine the biblical witness, make some (hopefully) helpful observations, and draw some conclusions. I have selected several NT passages for examination.
II. Seeing Him and Being Like Him
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).
While we are presently children of God and positionally perfect in Christ, John here tells us that when we see Christ as He really is, we’ll be like Him. We’ll never be gods,3 but we will be Christlike—perfect in holiness.
III. Being Conformed to the Image of God’s Son
God the Father was so pleased with His well-beloved Son that He wants to have many sons and daughters who conform to His image:
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom 8:29).
What does Paul mean by “the image [eikon] of His Son”? Certainly he does not mean that we will all outwardly be clones of the physical appearance of Jesus of Nazareth, even in His glorified, post-resurrection state. It has to do with the moral and spiritual qualities of Christ towards which we should be striving in present sanctification. Our “image” (modern usage) will then exactly match our real state, unlike now, when we “put our best foot forward” and tend to disguise our faults.
IV. Being a Glorious, Blemish-Free Bride
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish (Eph 5:25-27).
Like the famous “kenosis” passage in Phil 2:5ff, as well as many other writings of Paul, sound doctrine is used to bolster sanctified living.4 The good news is that no matter how far short we members of Christ’s bride, the Church, fall in meeting NT ideals, ultimately we will be glorious, spotless, wrinkle-free, holy, and with no blemishes! This, of course, has to do with likeness to Christ, not so much physical beauty, although I am convinced that there will be that as well.
V. Possessing Needful Holiness
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14).
No matter how hard we pursue holiness at present, only the perfect holiness of the future will enable us to feel comfortable dwelling with a thrice-holy God. Church history, especially biography and autobiography, shows that it is the most devout, godly, and spiritual who are generally most aware of their own sinfulness. Christians who think they’re really quite advanced in holiness have yet to experience their real potential for sin, even as believers.
VI. Possessing the Perfection Needed to Enter
Christian music—or much of it—has been beautiful and inspiring. Some enemies of the Reformation complained that Luther corralled more people into his “heresy” through his hymns than through his preaching and teaching. When French Roman Catholics converted to Huguenots their neighbors would say, “They’ve gone to singing Psalms!”
Unfortunately, some of the most popular works contain at least a grain of poison in the form of false doctrine. Because words set to music tend to be remembered long after the sermon is forgotten, this is a real problem. Works salvation, the falling-away doctrine, and universalism are some of the heresies that crop up even in fairly sound hymnals.
A famous solo piece, quite beautiful and popular, is “The Holy City.” Sadly, this song includes the untrue lines, “. . . and all who would might enter it, and no one was denied.” False! As the following two passages clearly reveal, many will be denied entrance:
But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev 21:27).
But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie (Rev 22:15).
The contrast is between those who are inscribed in the Book of Life, and anything that is defiling or produces an abomination or a lie. This shows that all the saints will ultimately be totally without sin. Without sin, since they do enter in.
Revelation 22:15, the seventh from the last verse in the Bible, shows that all those inside the Holy City have been cleansed from sin, and it is gross sins that are mentioned. Many Christians committed some of these sins before salvation, and 1 Corinthians makes it clear that real Christians can commit carnal sins also, such as divisiveness, pride, drunkenness, and even the incest of chapter 5. Thus, serious faults can be true of believers still in the process of progressive sanctification, but none of these sins will appear when they receive final or ultimate sanctification.
VII. Being Presented at the Heavenly Court
Jude reveals that not only is God able to keep His people from “falling” (KJV), but even today, He can keep us from “stumbling” (Greek, NKJV, etc.). The ultimate in sanctification is being presented “faultless,” as to a monarch at court:
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen (Jude 24-25).5
Dame Agatha Christie’s cleverly constructed mystery stories have intrigued millions around the globe, including members of the royal family of her native England. In her Autobiography she wrote that the greatest thrill in her checkered career (which included dispensing medicines in two world wars, world travel, archaeological work in the Middle East with her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan), was being presented to Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace—and having lunch with her majesty.
For Americans perhaps the presentation of various “queens”—Cotton, Roses, and especially “Miss America”—to their “courts” is easier to appreciate.
On a more personal level, millions of brides remember the thrill of being presented to the congregation following the words, “I now pronounce you man and wife.”
And this last illustration is actually Pauline. The chaste virgin, the bride of Christ—including all of us who have been (positionally), are (progressively), and shall be (perfectly) sanctified—will one day be presented by the King of kings to His Heavenly Father.
Having examined future, ultimate sanctification, we have now come to the close of our series on the three main areas of sanctification. In conclusion, it would be hard to improve on Dr. Ryrie’s picture of all three. Everyone who has ever been a child can relate to this charming, down-to-earth story:
There is an excellent, though simple, illustration of these three phases of sanctification. It concerns the little girl who had just come out of the candy store having spent her allowance on a lollipop, when she spied her best girl friend coming down the street toward her. Being a properly brought up child she knew that unless she could think of something quickly she would be obliged to offer the lollipop to her little friend. Her dilemma between courtesy and hunger was solved by an action which quickly, certainly, and forever sanctified the lollipop for her own use alone. And that action was simply to lick it all over on both sides before her girl friend was alongside. By licking the lollipop she set it apart for herself; it was not now something the friend would want. This is like positional sanctification. The moment we receive the Lord as Saviour, God sets us apart for Himself, instantaneously, certainly and forever.
But that first lick did not mean much assimilation of the lollipop for our shrewd little girl. Nevertheless, she took care of that problem posthaste. She proceeded to keep on licking the candy and to make it practically what it already was positionally—her very own. This is progressive sanctification, and it is a process that continues throughout life. But finally there came that moment when the whole lollipop was completely in her mouth and stomach, when it was totally possessed by her. So it shall be with us when we go to be with Christ. We shall then be fully sanctified or fully set apart and possessed by Him. But it is that process of being made in practice what we are in position and what we shall be ultimately that is concerned with maturing Christian life, and it is something which is accomplished by various persons and means. It is oversimplification to say that God does it all, and it is a wrong inference to think that He does it apart from any means.6
Yes, we of the Free Grace persuasion do believe in sanctification. Contrary to common misrepresentation, we are not “antinomian”; we do not teach that believers can live in carnal or selfish lifestyles with impunity. Our past and future sanctification are all of God. As to our present, progressive sanctification, the Lord expects us to do our part as well, and to use all the aids to godliness that He has so graciously provided.
1I learned this somewhat-less-than-Shakespearean quatrain from my first lecturer in homiletics, the irrepressible South-African-born preacher and hymn writer, the late Alfred P. Gibbs.
2Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948), 6:285.
3Contra Mormonism. Compare also Satan’s lie to Eve: “Ye shall be as gods” (Gen 3:5, KJV).
4For example, humility in Phil 2:5ff; loving one’s wife here.
5Some advocates of Free Grace understand the presentation of Jude 24 differently. They feel that it refers to the presentation at the Judgment Seat of Christ of only those believers who proved themselves faithful in their service of Christ. “Faultless” (Gk: amomos) is thus understood in experiential terms. Compare Robert N. Wilkin, “He Is Able to Keep You from Stumbling! (Jude 24),” The GES News, January-February 1994, 2-3.
6Charles C. Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), 62.