Counseling One Another

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Counseling One Another

Already, but Not Yet

One of our key objectives as Christians is to become what we already are. In other words, to strive, by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, to progressively line up our thoughts, attitudes, and behavior with our righteous position in Christ. Our positional holiness is what we already are. Our practical holiness is what we are becoming. We already are holy (positional sanctification) by virtue of our union with Christ, but not yet fully holy in lifestyle (progressive sanctification). For us to make genuine progress in becoming like Christ our Lord we must always keep these two truths in tension. We must remember that we are already holy before God, called “saints,” but not yet fully holy before ourselves, in our daily experience, as we so often think and behave quite un-saintly. With this in mind, our men’s small group found the following portion from Chapter 5: Closing the Gap in Christ Formed In You helpful and stimulating to our discussion early this morning.

Because we are united to Christ by faith, God has given us a new status and identity…God relates to us not as sinners, but as saints; not as slaved, but as sons. But learning to live true to our new identity is a process. There is a gap between our position and our practice. Spiritual formation is concerned with closing that gap.

Already Holy: Our Position – Scripture describes every believer in Jesus as already holy, or sanctified. Theologians often call this our definitive or positional sanctification. When the New Testament writers addressed believers as “saints,” this is the reality they had in mind. For example, in writing to the Corinthians, a church that in many ways was quite unsaintly, Paul addresses them as, “those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together” (1 Cor 1:2; cf. 1 Cor 6:11). Despite serious ongoing sin in that congregation, Paul saw their sanctification as something fully settled, an established and unchanging fact, accomplished in the past and effective for the present and the future. In Christ, we are already sanctified.

Pursuing Holiness: Our Progress – But of course, as the Corinthians amply demonstrated, and as Paul affirmed, it is possible for “saints” to commit serious sins. In fact, there exists in each of us a gap between definitive sanctification and the actual outworking of holiness in everyday life. Though we already saints—already holy—Scripture calls us to pursue holiness, to flesh it out in daily practice (e.g. see 2 Cor 7:1; Heb 12:14; 1 Peter 1:15-16). Since we have been set apart as God’s people in Christ and through the Spirit, we are now to live as his holy people. We are called to close the gap that separates who we are in position from who we are in practice. This is what we call progressive sanctification….We can be assured of actual progress in dealing with specific sinful attitudes and behaviors in our lives (which, let’s admit, we all still struggle with), only because in Christ we really are liberated from sin’s tyrannical rule. [98-99]

Until glorified—when we see the Lord Jesus face to face (1 Jn 3:2)—we live in the realm of already, but not yet.

More Posts on Progressive Sanctification

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Clarifying 3 Aspects of Salvation

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2 Comments

  1. Justification and definitive sanctification are both legal declarations that we are holy… what is the difference?

    • Great question, Dave! In fact, it came up in our men’s group this morning too. Clearly sanctification and justification are distinct, as 1 Cor 6:11 indicates. Sanctification is the setting apart of the sinner as God’s own possession (holy, distinct). This new identity is progressively worked out in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, making us holy in life. We are becoming holy like the One who now owns us. Justification is the legal declaration from God, the Judge of Heaven, that we are righteous (much more than ‘not guilty’). Justification effects our acceptance by God. Sanctification effects our new ownership by God.