Sanctification

In theology, there is this thing called the “already-not yet.” We have already had our sinful nature given its mortal blow, but it has not yet kicked the bucket. We are already part of the new creation, but the new creation has not yet fully come. The kingdom has come, but it has not yet fully come. The kingdom has been inaugurated, but it has not yet been consummated. We are caught in the “in-between” times.

In Paul, this era was described as the mixture of the old age and the new age (and by using the term “new age,” I am not referring to New Age philosophy and religion, but simply to what the Bible calls “new creation.”). The Jews thought that the old age would come to a complete end with the coming of the Messiah, and the new age would start. It looked a bit like this: _______\_______, with the slash mark being the Messiah, and the first part being the old age, and the second part being the new age.

Paul modified this scheme of eschatology. He argues that the new creation dawned with the resurrection of Christ. However, the old age is still going on. There is an overlap between the two ages in Paul’s theology. This is absolutely central to his theology. Christ’s first coming marks the beginning of the new age; Christ’s second coming marks the end of the old age.

However, what that means for the church is that the church is caught up in this in-between time. There is a war on between the old age and the new age. This battle is reflected in the war that goes on in the person. Understanding this overall scheme of eschatology is essential for making sense of passages such as Romans 7. The person in Romans 7 is caught up in the already-not yet. The person is clearly a Christian, for otherwise he would never delight in the law in his inner nature. However, the sin nature still has a hold on him with regard to his sinful nature (not with regard to the whole person).

In Romans 7, the word “I” is used in three different senses: the “I” as a whole person, the “I” as the inner man, the new nature, the Christian, and the “I” as sinner. That is the only way to make sense of all the different senses in which “I” is used in Romans 7.

The point of all this is that sanctification is a war between these two ages. they are duking it out in the believer’s life. It is vitally important to realize that the struggle in the Christian’s life is a reflection (and part of) the larger war between the two ages. That is why sanctification is never complete in this life (against what the Wesleyans say), and yet it does progress (against what some defeatists might say).

Sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life that makes the person more holy. It is a life-long process that makes use of the means of grace (prayer, Scripture reading, the Sacraments, fellowship with other believers, discipleship: I am defining “means of grace” just a bit loosely here). The believer is by no means passive in this whole process. Otherwise, Paul’s injunctions to run the race, to mortify the flesh, and other phrases mean nothing. However, sanctification cannot be done in a believer’s own strength. It must be done in the Spirit. That is why Paul says “Walk by the Spirit” in Galatians 5.

3 Comments

  1. October 24, 2006 at 2:14 pm

    […] Assurance waxes and wanes, depending on whether the believer is making full and diligent use of the means of grace. Sin also attacks our assurance. But even in the midst of falling into temptation, we can be helped. If we struggle, then that very fact is evidence of grace. The unbeliever has no struggle with the sin principle in his life. There is no need. But in the Christian life, it is different. There is a peace there that starts the war between the sinful nature that we possess and the grace of God. These are at war with each other. It is part and parcel of the battle between the two ages, of which I spoke here. […]

  2. November 12, 2006 at 1:57 pm

    I read your comment and started reading through your posts and I really appreciate this post. Coming from a disspensational background, I definitley see how eschatology affects how one lives. And this post is excellent in showing that… Good posts!

  3. greenbaggins said,

    November 12, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    Thanks much for the comment.


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