Sanctification and the Judgment Hour
The heart of the unconverted sinner is dead in trespasses and sin. He is without God and without hope in the world and bound for eternal destruction. But thanks be to our merciful loving God and heavenly Father for His love for the lost and perishing sinners of this world!! God is in the business of saving the lost and the hopeless!! God is proclaiming the Gospel of His forgiveness to all the world!!
It is the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the attending Spirit of God calling sinners to repentance which enables us to repent and believe the Gospel. The Holy Spirit which is poured out while the Gospel is proclaimed gives the unconverted sinner the power to come to Christ to repent of his sins and to follow Christ.
Man is not free to choose when he will come to God. All men are judged according to their response to the proclamation of the gospel message uplifting of the Cross of Jesus Christ. As the Scripture says, "Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts." It is a fearful thing to resist the call of God to repentance in the Gospel.
The pleading of the Holy Spirit upon the hearts of unconverted, unbelieving sinners is called "prevenient grace or preceding grace ". The word "prevenient grace" means that God mercifully, tenderly calls the unbelieving sinner to come unto Jesus to be saved from God's just punishment for sin and forgiven of sin. This calling and pleading of the Holy Spirit "comes before" salvation unto eternal life. That is what "prevenient grace" means: God's call to repentance that comes "before" salvation. Many sinners resist this call of God to repentance and never come to Christ to be forgiven. Those who resist the Gospel will perish with the unbelieving world. They will have to answer for every sin that they ever committed while they lived on earth. The shame of their nakedness will appear and they will perish with all those who rejoice in iniquity and evil.
However, the Lord God Almighty is tender-hearted and merciful. The Lord justifies and forgives the repentant sinner only by faith in the imputed perfect life and atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ. To be justified means to be accounted absolutely sinless, accepted by God as His child, and forgiven of each and every sin we have ever committed!!! Jesus Christ is the only sinless Man who ever lived!! His righteousness is equal to the very righteousness of God Himself. Christ is the Righteous One, the Lord of Glory manifested in human flesh. His righteousness is the infinite righteousness of God!! When God declares a sinner forgiven, He reckons and declares him to be absolutely as sinless and righteous as Jesus Christ. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ.
Furthermore, those whom God justifies, He also fills with the Holy Spirit. All who receive the free gift of the forgiveness of their sins will also receive the free gift of the Holy Spirit. What does the Spirit of God do in the life of the forgiven believer? The Holy Spirit implants a desire to become as loving and kind and joyful as Jesus was when He went about serving others. This is what sanctification is all about— serving God and serving our fellow man in love.
In sanctification, God motivates us to good works through the power of the Spirit of God. Sanctification is a cooperative work in which the believer has an active part to play. The daily battle of making a living, raising our children, helping our neighbor, loving our enemies, and wrestling with inbred tendencies to evil are fought and resisted by submitting to the will of God as revealed in His Holy Word, the Bible.
The Spirit impresses the Law of God upon the heart and then we are to rise up to do that revealed will in the strength and enabling power of the Holy Spirit. It is in sanctification that human talent and abilities are bidden to be used by the believer to glorify our Redeemer and Savior. While no amount of human effort can win the free gift of forgiveness of sin, adoption into the family of God, and eternal life (Justification), the Lord calls us to use every talent and bring every ounce of our strength to bear in the great call to live lives worthy of our high calling (Sanctification).
The Christian knows, however that even after an entire lifetime of wrestling with evil tendencies from within, wrestling with temptation from without, and at the same time seeking to be a blessing to others, our sanctification still falls short of the righteousness of God's holy standard. The Holy Spirit always continues to bring the Christian to daily repentance, and the Christian always knows that only the imputed or reckoned righteousness of Christ can answer the Law's demands on the judgment day. Imparted righteousness in sanctification always bears the taint of imperfection in this life. No matter how sanctified we become through the work of God in us, we always know that we fall short and that we are children of God by grace and mercy alone through faith in the doing and dying of Christ for us on the cross.
There is a false teaching within the Christian church today. These false teachers erroneously teach that sanctification is only by faith and that the believer has no part to play in the work of overcoming sin in ones life. The theological term for this false of teaching of "sanctification by faith alone" is called "quietism". The usual illustration given by the proponents of this view is that the Christian's life is like driving a car across the country on an old bumpy road. They say that Jesus wants us to let Him sit in the driver's seat and do the steering for us, while we seat in the passenger seat and just go along for the ride. We allow Him to have complete control of our life by total "yielding" or "submission". This "yielding" usually takes the form of "watching for signs" to show us which decision to make, as for instance, daily choices of which house to buy, which car to choose, where we should shop, and even whom we should marry. The believer is told by these false teachers that Jesus is going to "tell" him exactly what to do every minute of the day, if he will only "yield" his will and "listen" to the "voice" or "watch" for the signs. Complete passivity is the watchword of these false teachers.
This erroneous teaching of sanctification by faith alone is not the "rest" which the Lord has promised us. We rest completely in justification in Jesus, knowing we have eternal life and acceptance with God. However, the decisions of life and the living of life, sanctification, is a battle and a march in which the believer has an active part to play. We are called to action in Christ!! Christ gives us the Comforter, but does not do the living for us!
The true Gospel inspires the church to good works — sanctification — but the restful hope of the New Testament is not on the daily life of the believer. From whence comes the light that allows the believer to hope on the final day? The light flows from the cross of Calvary. It is this light, justification and forgiveness of repentant sinners by faith in the doing and dying of Christ, which bids us go on when we sin and stumble. When we groan because of our shortcomings and unworthiness to bear the name of Christian, the light from Calvary bids us to keep our eyes on the prize before us and not loose heart. Jesus calls out, "Be of good cheer! Thy sins be forgiven thee! I am your perfection."
A better use of the illustration of the car would be to say that in sanctification Jesus is teaching us to drive the car. We must always have Him at our side as our Instructor and our Strength and His Word as our map as we drive the car. It must be emphasized that true religion does not destroy human will and activity. Those who teach that the will of an unbeliever is the seat of evil are correct, but the will has an important part to play in the Christian's warfare. A non-Christian's will is bound and held captive to Satan, but after the gospel call to justification through the merits of the sin pardoning Savior is responded to, a new principle is placed within the heart of the believing repentant sinner which wars against the old sinful nature in sanctification and cooperates with Christ's will to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in the life.
And so the Holy Spirit is the effective agent in the plan of salvation. He calls the sinner to repentance in "prevenient grace". Then if the sinner does not resist the call to repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he is forgiven or "justified", and then filled with the "indwelling Holy Spirit". This baptism and seal of the Holy Spirit begins to write the Law of God in his heart, empower him to begin to overcome sin, and give him the desire to become a partaker of the divine nature.
But the Holy Spirit also continually reminds the believer that he is never perfect, never without faults, and that he must always trust only in the unmerited mercy and forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, the Sinless One. Forgiveness is the only hope of the Christian on the final day. Salvation begins in faith and ends in faith— trust in the unmerited mercy of God through Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for our justification. Amen.