Mark Johnston – The ‘More and More’ of Holiness

Holiness has too often been embroiled in confusion and distortion within the Christian community and, sadly, ends up being neglected rather than cultivated within the church. This is especially true in times, like our own, when the gospel becomes more ‘me-focused’ than ‘God-focused’.

Holiness is the great goal of Christ’s saving mission. According to Paul, his purpose in redemption was ‘to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good’ (Tit 2.14). The author of Hebrews urges his readers to ‘pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord’ (He 12.14 [NRSV]. And Jesus himself states it even more bluntly with the words, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt 6.48).

Holiness matters. And it matters far more than we are willing to admit. We may be quite happy to engage in argument and debate over the meaning of the concept in Scripture, but make little effort to fight the inward battles involved in the pursuit of holiness in our daily lives.

This struck me recently while reading Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. Summing up the main thrust of his letter, he tells them,

Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord to do this more and more (1Th 4.1) [NIV – italics added].

He goes on from there to walk them through some of the glaring failures that were literally a blot on the landscape of the church’s witness in that town and surrounding area. Reminding them that ‘it is God’s will that you should be sanctified’ he goes on to catalogue the list of sexual sins (private as well as public) that were clearly a matter of common knowledge in their wider community. He then says, ‘For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life’ (4.7).

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John Owen – Sanctification is a Progressive Work

Sanctification described, with the nature of the work of the Holy Spirit in this; which is progressive — The way and means by which holiness is increased in believers, especially by faith and love, whose exercise is required in all duties of obedience; and also those graces whose exercise is occasional — The growth of holiness expressed in an allusion to that of plants, with an insensible progress — Renders grace in this to be greatly admired; and is discerned in the corresponding work of the Spirit in sanctification and supplication — Objections against the progressive nature of holiness are removed.

Having passed through the consideration of the general concerns of the work of sanctification, I will, in the next place, give a description of it, and then explain it more particularly in its principal parts. And I will do this only under this express caution: that I do not hope or design at the same time to represent the life, glory, and beauty of it, nor to comprise all things that eminently belong to it; I will only set up some way-marks that may guide us in our progress, or future inquiry into the nature and glory of it. And so I say that —

Sanctification is an immediate work of the Spirit of God on the souls of believers, purifying and cleansing their natures from the pollution and uncleanness of sin, renewing in them the image of God, and thereby enabling them, from a spiritual and habitual principle of grace, to yield obedience to God, according to the tenor and terms of the new covenant, by virtue of the life and death of Jesus Christ.

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Daniel Hyde – Continually Washed by the Gospel


Right after you were born, the blood and vernix on your body was washed off by a nurse or even your mom or dad. Have you taken a bath or shower since the day you were born? Of course you have. Our bodies continually become dirtied, requiring new cleansing. It is the same way with us spiritually. Even after we are born again by the Spirit of God (John 3:1–8), we continue to sin. We have to be washed for the first time by Jesus, but He also continues to wash us of our sins.

The Lord said to Moses, “You shall also make a basin of bronze, with its stand of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it, with which Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offering to the Lord, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die. It shall be a statute forever to them, even to him and to his offspring throughout their generations.” (Exodus 30:17-21)

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Keith Essex – Sanctification: The Biblically Identifiable Fruit



The apostle Peter exhorted his Christian audience, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet 1:14-16). Just as OT believers were called to reflect the holy God in their character and behavior (Lev 11:44; 19:2; 20:7), NT believers are called to the same standard. This holy life-style that is to characterize the Christian is defined by theologians as an aspect of “present
or progressive sanctification.” The need for the believer to grow in progressive sanctification is underscored by the exhortation in Heb 12:15, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.”

The seriousness with which Christians in the past responded to this appeal for progressive sanctification (i.e., holiness) is articulated by J. I. Packer:

There was a time when all Christians laid great emphasis on the reality of God’s call to holiness and spoke deep insights about His enabling of us for it. Evangelical Protestants, in particular, offered endless variations on the themes of what God’s holiness requires of us, what our holiness involves for us, by what means and through what disciplines the Holy Spirit sanctifies us, and the ways in which holiness increases our assurance and joy and usefulness to God.

Packer adds,

Formerly, then, holiness was highlighted throughout the Christian church. But how different it is today! To listen to our sermons and to read the books we write for each other and then to watch the zany, worldly, quarrelsome way we behave as Christian people, you would never imagine that once the highway of holiness was clearly marked out for Bible believers, so that ministers and people knew what it was and could speak of it with authority and confidence.

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William Plumer – What is the Difference between Justification and Sanctification?


The answer is that they do not differ in their importance. Both are essential to salvation. Without either we must perish. Indeed God has inseparably joined them together. Christ Jesus is always made sanctification to those, to whom he is made righteousness. Nor do they differ in their source, which is the fiee grace and infinite love of God. We are justified by faith, and our hearts are purified by faith. Faith is the instrument of justification. Faith is the root of sanctification. In justification sin is pardoned, in sanctification it is slain. In justification we obtain forgiveness and acceptance; in sanctification we attain the victory over corruption, and obtain rectitude of nature. Justification is an act of God complete at once and forever. Sanctification is a work of God begun in regeneration, conducted through life and completed at death. Justification is equal and perfect in all Christians; sanctification is not equal in all, nor perfect in any — until they lay aside the flesh. In justification God imputes to us the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification he infuses grace, and enables us to exercise it. Justification always precedes sanctification. Sanctification always comes after justification.

A late writer says, “Justification and sanctification DIFFER,
1st. in their causes. Justification comes by the righteousness of Christ; sanctification by the agency of the Holy Spirit.
2nd. In their effects. The effect of justification consists in our external restoration to the favor of God, and the bestowment on us of a covenant title to eternal life; that of sanctification, in the removal of our inbred corruption, and the renewal of the divine image in the soul.
3rd. In their locality. Justification is an act of God, done amid the solemnities of his court in Heaven; sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit, wrought on the dispositions of our inner man on earth.

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Tom Hawkes – Holiness is Our Goal


You shall be holy, for I am holy.

Recently Dr. Ed Welch, a man for whose ministry I have great respect and have benefited from immensely, wrote a blog post entitled, “” I wish to respectfully, and carefully, disagree. I wish to disagree, not so much with the sentiment of his article, to which I can say a hardy amen, but to the title and some of what I think are misunderstandings about holiness, which this article unfortunately propagates.

But first let me express my agreement with a core sentiment of his article. He invites his readers to consider holiness as “progressive nearness” to God. This is an excellent understanding of holiness. Holiness is rightly seen as a relational category and to the extent that Dr. Welch intends to clarify that truth, more power to him. Holiness is in large part a heart that turns to God and away from the world, the flesh and the devil. A mind that delights in the beauty of God. A soul that runs toward the Father’s love, not away from it.

Similarly, his caution against thinking of Christian faith as simply the to-do-lists of Scripture is abundantly correct and helpful. Christ did not call us to a mere external obedience to the Law. Indeed, the Law was never meant to be a list of external to-dos. Jesus made that clear when he declared in his summary that the Law was to be fulfilled by our love for God and neighbor, relational categories.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37-39 ESV)

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Tim Chester – How True Change Happens


How Are You Going to Change?

“Please forgive me and set me free.” I don’t know how many times I’ve prayed this prayer; it must be in the hundreds. “Father, here I am again, confessing the same sin to you again.” Every time I have to remind myself of God’s merciful character and gospel promises. I am forgiven. But I also really want to change.

Have you despaired of ever changing? Do you think you’re a lost cause? Maybe you think it’s different for you. Other people can change, but your history or temptations or problems make it different for you.

The glorious good news of Jesus is that you and I can change.

Part of the problem is we often try to change in the wrong way.

It seems our first instinct when we want to change is to do something. We think activity will change us. We want a list of do’s and don’ts. In Jesus’s day, people thought they could be pure through ceremonial washing. Today it can be spiritual disciplines or sets of laws. I’ve tried these approaches. I’ve written out little rituals to perform every morning. I’ve tried to regulate my behavior with lists. Many of these things are good in themselves, and we’ll discover the role they can play in helping us grow in holiness. But our rituals and disciplines can’t change us.

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Michael Boling – Conspiracies Revealed: Even the Best Kept Secrets Will Be Made Known


For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. (Luke 8:17)

I love a good conspiracy documentary, book, conversation, or movie. There is something about trying to uncover that secret government or worldwide plot to take over the world that is appealing to me. Be it the Illuminati, the Bilderberg Meetings, what takes place at those Bohemian Grove gatherings, or what exactly Area 51 is or isn’t all about makes for some great reading and television programming – at least in my humble opinion.

As I spent some idle time recently while on vacation watching episodes from The History Channel’s series “America’s Book of Secrets”, I was reminded of the words of Jesus in Luke 8:17. Regardless of what may at the time seem like a giant secret being kept from the unwashed masses, there is one day when everything will be made manifest. All those secrets people thought they had kept perfectly hidden from peering eyes will be made known and will come to light.

Now think about that for a moment. While most of us I would submit are not involved in any secret governmental conspiracies to take over the world, every one of us harbors areas of our lives we think can be kept from being discovered – those pet sins and things we hold dear that have not been given up to God. There was a man named Achan way back in the book of Joshua who thought he could hide some of the spoils of war from God; however, his sin was found out. In fact, his private sinful act became exposed to the entire people of Israel with disastrous consequences.

There very well may be a group or groups of people trying to maneuver world events in their favor. Quite frankly, I would not be surprised as there has always been individuals who have thought they could thwart the divine plans of almighty God. For a time, it may even seem like their plans are coming to fruition. Many times in the Psalms we read of the Psalmist asking God why the plans of the wicked seem to prosper. However, the Psalmist always recognized that God is fully in control and what may appear as successful posturing against God by the wicked is nothing more than chaff which in God’s perfect timing will be blown away, proving their plans to be nothing.

If we bring this home a bit to our personal lives, all those parts of our life we like to keep hid will one day be revealed under the microscope of God’s scrutiny. As believers, those sinful patterns are covered by the shed blood of Christ. With that said, we need to remind ourselves that nothing is hidden from the eyes of God. If there are areas of your life you are hiding from others, be mindful you are not fooling God one bit. It is high time we quit the conspiracy, thinking we can out maneuver God and is it past time to be giving those areas of our lives up to God. Dig deep into the Word of God and the Holy Spirit will root out those hidden areas of your life.

While I love a good conspiracy, there is nothing hidden from God. He will reveal and make manifest all those things everyone throughout history thought they had nailed shut. We all have areas that we like to keep quiet about and if that is you today (and it is), go to God in prayer. He already knows those parts of your life and He is looking forward to having a conversation with you about those areas because He loves you, He wants to rid you of those issues as He guides and molds you through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

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Tim Keller – 4 Lessons for the Bedeviling Sanctification Debate


The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters is not just a helpful historical reflection; it’s also a tract for the times.

The Marrow Controversy was a debate within the Church of Scotland in the early 18th century. The occasion, though not the main cause, was the reprint and subsequent division over Edward Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity. The root of the dispute was the perennial difficulty of properly relating works and grace, law and gospel, not merely in our systematic theology but in our preaching and pastoral ministry and, ultimately, within our own hearts. Sinclair does a good job of recounting the Marrow Controversy in an accessible and interesting way. However, his real aim is not merely to do that. Against the background and features of that older dispute, he wants to help us understand the character of this perpetual problem—one that bedevils the church today.

He does so in the most illuminating and compelling way I know of in recent evangelical literature.

One of the striking features of the Marrow Dispute is that supporters of the Marrow were accused of defending antinomianism, and at least some of its critics were, in turn, suspected of legalism—even though all parties had subscribed to what the Westminster Confession says about justification and works. The Confession’s presentation of the doctrine is remarkably precise and clear. It teaches that faith in Christ leads to justification on the basis of Christ’s “obedience and satisfaction” being imputed to us, not on the basis of anything wrought in us or done by us. Nevertheless, while good works are in no way the reason for our justification, they are absolutely necessary evidences that we have justifying faith. Nevertheless (again!) such “evangelical obedience”—good works out of “thankfulness and assurance” for our gracious salvation—never in any way become part of our standing as justified before God, a standing that cannot be lost, even when we fall through sin under “God’s fatherly displeasure.”

That is an extraordinarily nuanced exposition of the Protestant understanding of justification by faith alone through Christ alone. All involved in the Marrow Controversy had subscribed to a precisely worded theological statement. How then could charges and countercharges of antinomianism and legalism arise that would expose a fault line in the church and eventually lead to a split in the denomination? While such theological precision is crucial, evidently it doesn’t finally solve this ongoing problem of the role of the law and of obedience in the Christian life.

From the Marrow Controversy as a case in point, Sinclair draws several conclusions but expands and looks at each so that we can apply them to our own time.

Here are some of his theses and arguments that I found so very helpful, convicting, and wise.

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Guy Waters – What Are Justification and Sanctification?

Justification-and-Sanctification_620 The words justification and sanctification have largely fallen out of use in Western culture. Sadly, they are also fading from sight in the Christian church. One reason this decline is distressing is that the Bible uses the words justification and sanctification to express the saving work of Christ for sinners. That is to say, both terms lie at the heart of the biblical gospel. So, what does the Bible teach about justification and sanctification? How do they differ from one another? How do they help us understand better the believer’s relationship with Jesus Christ?

Justification is as simple as A-B-C-D. Justification is an act of God. It does not describe the way that God inwardly renews and changes a person. It is, rather, a legal declaration in which God pardons the sinner of all his sins and accepts and accounts the sinner as righteous in His sight. God declares the sinner righteous at the very moment that the sinner puts his trust in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21-26, 5:16; 2 Cor. 5:21).

What is the basis of this legal verdict? God justifies the sinner solely on the basis of the obedience and death of His Son, our representative, Jesus Christ. Christ’s perfect obedience and full satisfaction for sin are the only ground upon which God declares the sinner righteous (Rom. 5:18-19; Gal. 3:13; Eph. 1:7; Phil. 2:8). We are not justified by our own works; we are justified solely on the basis of Christ’s work on our behalf. This righteousness is imputed to the sinner. In other words, in justification, God puts the righteousness of His Son onto the sinner’s account. Just as my sins were transferred to, or laid upon, Christ at the cross, so also His righteousness is reckoned to me (2 Cor. 5:21).

By what means is the sinner justified? Sinners are justified through faith alone when they confess their trust in Christ. We are not justified because of any good that we have done, are doing, or will do. Faith is the only instrument of justification. Faith adds nothing to what Christ has done for us in justification. Faith merely receives the righteousness of Jesus Christ offered in the gospel (Rom. 4:4-5).

Finally, saving faith must demonstrate itself to be the genuine article by producing good works. It is possible to profess saving faith but not possess saving faith (James 2:14-25). What distinguishes true faith from a mere claim to faith is the presence of good works (Gal. 5:6). We are in no way justified by our good works. But no one may consider himself to be a justified person unless he sees in his life the fruit and evidence of justifying faith; that is, good works.

Both justification and sanctification are graces of the gospel; they always accompany one another; and they deal with the sinner’s sin. But they differ in some important ways. First, whereas justification addresses the guilt of our sin, sanctification addresses the dominion and corruption of sin in our lives. Justification is God’s declaring the sinner righteous; sanctification is God’s renewing and transforming our whole persons—our minds, wills, affections, and behaviors. United to Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection and indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, we are dead to the reign of sin and alive to righteousness (Rom. 6:1-23; 8:1-11). We therefore are obligated to put sin to death and to present our “members to God as instruments for righteousness” (6:13; see 8:13).

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