Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pursuing Holiness 2

“Pursue holiness…without [holiness] no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14

In an earlier blog, we discovered that the above verse functions as a warning to believers not to give up the pursuit of holiness. The pursuit of holiness becomes an indicator of one’s spiritual life. If one gives up the pursuit of holiness he is revealing his lack of faith in Christ. But, the person who continues this pursuit in spite of the difficulty shows that he does have faith in Christ. However, still another question arises from this verse, that is, if I am going to pursue holiness, what is holiness?

The technical theological term for pursuing holiness and the process is sanctification. The Westminster divines address this question in question 36, “What is sanctification? Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”[1] This definition implies that sanctification is a process that takes place over one’s entire life and affects one’s whole life. It is “both a status and condition”[2] The believer's status before God is perfect righteousness because of Christ’s death. “However, this status does not mean that the believer is in a wholly sanctified condition.” Martin Luther expressed this truth with the Latin phrase simul justus et peccator (“at once righteous and a sinner”). Believers will remain in this condition until they reach heaven because “sanctification is never complete in this life…Yet, as Thomas Boston notes, the work of sanctification will progress in us because ‘of the continued application of the blood of Christ to the believer by the Spirit.’” Thomas Watson adds, “’If [sanctification] does not grow it is because it does not live.’”

The Puritans used the term universal to describe the complete change that sanctification effects. “Everything is to be sanctified. Holiness…affects our privacy with God, the confidentiality of our homes, the competitiveness of our work, the pleasures of social friendship, and our Lord’s Day worship. No time is exempt.” The change is not only universal, but it is also “inward” and “moral” as 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and Galatians 5:22-23 suggest.

Sanctification involves both “[dying] unto sin” or mortification and “living unto righteousness” or vivification. “Mortification… involves putting to death every form of sin…watching and praying against any sinful habits in such a way that, whenever a bad impulse arises, you immediately recognize what is happening and ask the Lord for strength to refuse it.”

“Vivification is being quickened from the heart to do God’s will” (See Heb 13:20, 21). In other words, one is seeking grace to live in obedience to God’s Law, which is received through the means of grace (the Word, prayer, and worship) both privately and corporately. Perfect righteousness or holiness is described in God’s Law. Therefore, one must perfectly follow the Law of God to be righteous or holy. However, we must remember that God’s Law does not make us righteous or sanctified. Only Christ through faith makes one righteous, and a believer behaves righteously because of being made righteous. Thus, one’s status affects his condition.

If we are going to pursue holiness, we must seek the grace from God and mortify every sin that creeps into our lives so that every area of our life is holy to the Lord. The Word of God, prayer, and worship are the ways God works to apply grace to the hearts of his people. To be holy, we must make use of these means of grace on a regular basis both privately and corporately.

[1] Westminster Shorter Catechism. Q.35 available @
[2] This blog is a summary of two chapters entitled Sanctification in Puritan Thought and Practice from Beeke, Joel R. Living for God’s Glory An Introduction to Calvinism (Reformation Trust 2008) all quotes unless otherwise noted are from Beeke. This excellent introduction to Calvinism is available @

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