The Confession of Faith Article 24: Sanctification and Good Works
Articles 21 through 26 of our Confession of Faith speak about Christ and the benefits which He has merited for His church. In His humiliation He merited these benefits and in His exaltation He applies them. These benefits can be divided into those given in time, which are calling, justification and sanctification, and those given after this life, which are resurrection, the last judgment and eternal life.
In the article which we are presently considering there is spoken about sanctification, which is a benefit in this life. It is the work of God's grace, whereby those whom He for Christ's sake adopts as His children, are also renewed by His Spirit to a people who find their greatest joy in His service and who desire to live according to His commandments. The word "sanctification" does not have an important place in the Bible, as we find it only five times in the New Testament. However, in the Old Testament, the words "to sanctify" are often used. The word sanctification is often described in God's Word as a walking in the paths of the Lord, a keeping of His institutions, the necessity to circumcise the heart, to deny ourselves, to take up the cross, to bear the fruit of conversion, etc.
We find the word sanctification only in the heading of the twenty-fourth article. That which in dogmatic terms is called sanctification is often referred to in the forms of unity as the regeneration, renewal, quickening, raising to new life, etc.
What we have written above about sanctification is not to minimize it, for God's Word says that without sanctification nobody will see God. It is often explained completely wrong and misapplied. You then hear – "It is only out of free grace for Christ's sake that we are saved, and no merits on our side have any value. Christ is given to sanctification also, and therefore we don't have to worry about it. It is all outside of man, as is also the whole work of salvation. Even the perseverance of man is in God's hand!" We may not deny this, but neither may we forget the responsibility of man for all his deeds. You can feel the great danger that there can be in such a doctrine when it is not rightly explained. The apostle has warned against those who taught a continuing a sin that grace might become greater. And on the other side he has warned against the danger of a loose life.
But there is also another danger, and that is when sanctification is too much emphasized so that we begin to seek life in our good works. Then in a good external life according to God's law, our works can become a part of salvation. This we must also warn against so that we do not deceive ourselves. Sometimes we hear objections when the doctrine of Rome is condemned or the false doctrines of other churches are spoken against, but that is our duty. The Lord Jesus warned against the false doctrine of the Pharisees and scribes, and the apostles also have not been silent about such things. The watchmen must warn against the dangers which there are. And this is also true with sanctification, with its dangers on two sides.
True sanctification does not flow out of the will of man, but it is a work of the Lord. As Christ is the justification of His church, so He is also given to sanctification and deliverance. He frees or delivers His children from the ruling power of sin over them and in them. In justification the guilt of sin is taken away; in sanctification the pollution of sin and the inner corruption is removed. Both benefits flow out of Christ.
The Lord calls His people to sanctification. This people have I formed to tell My praise; they have to become conformed to the image of His Son. This we find in Ezekiel 36:26-27: "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments and do them." Paul taught the Corinthians that there cannot be a sanctification without Christ, saying that he who is in Christ is a new creature.
You can now understand that sanctification is not only an external blameless life, a faithful church attendance, a confession, and a going to the Lord's Supper. The external keeping of God's commandment is good and it is our duty, but it is no foundation upon which to rest.
We must also remember that justification, of which we spoke before, is different from sanctification, but there is a close relationship, just as Rev. Hellenbroek explains it. When the question is asked, "Is there any difference between justification and sanctification?", the reply is, "Yes: (1) Justification is an act without, but sanctification within us. (2) Justification removes the guilt, and sanctification the pollution of sin. (3) The act of justification is complete, but sanctification, during this life, is not complete."
There have always been people who have tried to separate these two benefits. John Wesley viewed sanctification as a second change after justification. The Methodists explain it as a benefit given later. Some go so far as to say that a sinner who is regenerated and justified by the Lord, but is not sanctified, is still lost. They explain sanctification as a moment that a change comes in our lives, and not as something which must be seen as commencing from the moment of regeneration. You can understand that this is not according to the Scriptures, and therefore must be condemned.
I have not come to the explanation of this article itself, but hope to do this in our next article, D.V. But yet one remark about sanctification, which is a renewing of the whole man. Why is this a subject which is so much neglected in our midst? Why don't people like to hear about sanctification? The reason has in the first place an historical basis; we come out of the church of Rome, which makes a foundation of good works, which we reject. The second reason is that in justification man is passive, but in sanctification we are active under the leading of the Holy Spirit, Who is the Spirit of sanctification.
This article begins: "We believe that this true faith being wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God, and the operation of the Holy Ghost, doth regenerate and make him a new man, causing him to live a new life, and freeing him from the bondage of sin."
The word "regenerate" requires further explanation, as it can be defined in two ways – in a narrow and in a wider sense. In the narrow sense regeneration means the infusing of new life in the moment of the quickening of the sinner, when the Lord begins that good work. In the wider sense it means the labor of the new life, the fruits and the sanctification. It is spoken of in the narrow sense in the Five Articles of the Canons of Dort (chapter 3 & 4, article 12): "And this is the regeneration so highly celebrated in Scripture, and denominated a new creation: a resurrection from the dead, a making alive, which God works in us without our aid." In our present article it is not spoken of in this way, but rather in a wider sense, which is sanctification.
When it pleases the Lord to regenerate a person, then immediately the fruit of sanctification will become visible, that is, the desire to live holy before the Lord The vicious doctrine of the Christian Reformed Church speaks of a slumbering regeneration. Dr. Kuyper taught that it is possible for a person to have the seed of regeneration in him, yet remaining in the world for years, showing no difference from others, and then lather to come to conversion. Their well-known example of this is Saul, who they say was a regenerated persecutor of the church. This is impossible, because when the Lord begins, then it will be evident in the person. We read of this in 1John 5:1-2, "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth Him that begat loveth Him also that is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments." It is likewise expressed in the form for the Lord's Supper that all who live in sin have no part in the realm of Christ. When the Lord stopped Saul, it was then the moment that the Lord regenerated him, and the new life becomes visible immediately; before that moment he was dead in sin and trespasses. A tree is known by its fruit!
This does not mean that the person himself knows and believes that he or she is regenerated. No, it is the opposite; he is then upon his own account. Such a person fears that all his convictions, praying, sorrows about sin and missing the Lord, are only from fear and upbringing. The struggle can be severe, but the true tears are known by the Lord. In the beginning there is a hating of and fleeing from sin, which are the fruits of that new life. Living faith is known by living actions; when we are implanted into Christ by faith as a branch into the vine, then we have to be fruitful. As a city on a mountain cannot be hid, so it is likewise with the fruits of new life. This is out of love for the Lord and His service, as it is explained in this article. If we miss this faith, we cannot have the Lord in view, and it is only a slavish fear. True faith works in love, and does not make men careless and wicked. To the believer is given the Spirit of sanctification, to the mortification of the old man. That faith is active which excites man to the practice of those works which God has commanded in His Word.
This article also warns against the misuse of the doctrine of free grace. There are always those who speak of grace, but do not want to hear of sanctification. If a medicine which is prescribed by a physician is used in the wrong way, death can follow, even though the medicine is good. Likewise when the doctrine of free grace is misused to permit living in sin, the judgments will be greater. It shows that there is no love for the Lord and His commandments, but that we love ourselves; and this will lead to eternal damnation.
By grace we begin to ask for the will of God, as described in His Word and law, and this is out of love, which is poured in our heart. Then when good works are done, we will not ask for wages, as is so often heard. What are good works? They have three marks, and these will show that many "good works" are not good at all. Good works must be out of faith, must be according to the Law of God, and must be to the honor of God. In reading these, you will understand that man is able to do morally good works because they are in a horizontal relationship between men; but when we speak of the relationship between God and men, then it is different, because an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit.
By nature we don't care at all about the honor of God. Ursinus wrote that the honor of God is mostly love, reverence, obedience and gratitude for the benefits received. Under the administration of the Holy Ghost, Who is the Spirit of sanctification, God's people are driven to good works, as it is here expressed: "Therefore we do good works, but not to merit by them, (for what can we merit?) nay, we are beholden to God for the good works we do, and not He to us, since it is He that worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure." This means that we are in debt to the Lord, we are debtors to do good works, but God has no debt toward us.
The Lord works in us by His Spirit, and so we are enabled to do what He requires. This is no merit for men unto salvation, as it is here written: "When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do." In the keeping of His commandments the Lord will show His favor, as it is also expressed here, "In the meantime we do not deny that God rewards our good works, but it is through His grace that He crowns His gifts." In general we can say that a life against the Lord is not a blessed life even here in time, even though Asaph complained about the prosperity of the wicked. This is not the same as a blessed life! Remember that the Lord spoke of a cup of cold water given to His child. Moses also thought of the future. No, it is not in vain to serve the Lord.
Young people, I know that so much comes against you when you try to live separate. Time and again you are told that you should enjoy the pleasures of the world. But I say the opposite – Try, with the help of the Lord, to stay with what you have been taught. It seems that the world gives so much more than does the service of the Lord, but it is only imagination. It is a lie of Satan. It is not the true happiness which you will find there.
Some of our young people are drinking, others are addicted to drugs. O, I wish that it was not necessary to write this, but it seems to be the truth. If you are honest, what is the happiness which you have? It brings you more and more in the power of the devil, and he laughs while yours parents weep. Your brothers and sisters are perhaps deceived into going in the same paths, your health is undermined, and above all God's Name is dishonored. It is not only for the present moment, but it is possible if you are later married, that you will see the bitter consequences in children that are handicapped or retarded. The Lord visits sins, and we are guilty before Him. There are so many sins which might be mentioned!
Still we can be saved, which is God's work for Christ's sake. By faith a people is united with Him, Who takes care of His church for time and eternity, although they repeatedly sin against Him. Here in time sanctification is only in part; it will be perfect when the old man dies, which happens at our death. People of God, then it will be possible to glorify God in a perfect way.
Are there moments that we also long for this, that we may know that the Lord is our God? Our walk here will then already be to the glory of God, in beginning.