white robe

What the Reformed doctrine of sanctification teaches

We rightly think of the Protestant Reformation as the recovery of the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. But the Reformation no less recovered the biblical doctrine of sanctification. It recognized that one may have clarity about justification only if one also has clarity about sanctification. In its confessions, the Reformed tradition has left us an especially rich testimony to the doctrine of sanctification. We may look at that testimony along seven lines.

First, sanctification is the gracious work of God. Sanctification is not the unaided work of a human being. It is the ongoing work of God in and through a human being. This work begins at effectual calling and regeneration, when God “creates” “a new heart” and “a new spirit” in a person (Westminster Confession of Faith 13.1). At this, the outset of the Christian life, God sets “the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces” into the heart, graces that are “stirred up, increased, and strengthened” for the rest of that person’s life (Westminster Larger Catechism 75). For these reasons, sanctification never merits anything from God. It is the “work of God’s free grace” (Westminster Shorter Catechism 35).

Second, sanctification begins with a change of lordship. Sanctification does not consist of God’s making cosmetic refinements to a person’s life. Sanctification begins, rather, with God’s transferring a person from the reign of sin to the reign of grace. In Adam, we are in bondage to sin (WCF 9.4). Dead in trespasses and sins, we have “wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation” (WCF 9.3). Neither can we “convert” ourselves or “prepare” ourselves for conversion (WCF 9.3). But in Christ, we are savingly, invincibly and irreversibly brought by God under the reign of grace (WCF 9.4; Heidelberg Catechism 43). We willingly and gladly submit our whole selves—body and soul—to Jesus Christ, our Lord (Ps. 110:3). For these reasons, the Apostle Paul exhorts believers again and again to live in a way that reflects the present lordship of Jesus Christ over the entirety of our lives (see, for example, Rom. 6:1–7:6). Read the full article by Guy Prentiss Waters.