At the moment, if you were to ask me for a theological label, I would say “theological mutt”. By that I mean that at the present time, I am a weird mix of committed Calvinism with a twinge of dispensational thinking. As my friend The Squirrel so aptly notes, “When [I’m] with our dispensational brethren, [I’m] in the minority as a Calvinist and when [I’m] with our Reformed brethren, we’re in the minority as dispensationalists. “
One thing I love about the Reformed side of my faith is its robust, practical doctrine of sanctification. I came out of a traditional Pentecostal background with strong Word-Faith tendencies. The Pentecostal side of things especially came to the fore with a belief called entire sanctification. To quote the statement of faith of my old church growing up:
Entire Sanctification is a definite act of God’s grace, subsequent to the New Birth, by which the believer’s heart is purified and made holy. It cannot be attained progressively by works, struggle or suppression, but is obtained by faith in the sanctifying blood of Jesus Christ. Holiness of life and purity of heart are central to Christian living. Luke 1:74,75; John 17:15-17; 1 Thessalonians 4:3,7,8; 5:22-24; Ephesians 5:25-27; Hebrews 2:11; 10:10,14; 13:11,12; Titus 2:11-14; 1 John 1:7; Hebrews 12:14, 1 Peter 1:14-16.
In other words, sanctification is not a process but an event that happens post-conversion in which (to quote another phrase from my upbringing) “the root of the Adamic nature” is taken out, allowing the believer to walk in holiness of life. You can only imagine the complete nightmare it made the Christian life on the one hand for the one who didn’t have this experience and the smug self-satisfaction that it engendered on the other hand for the one who claimed to possess it.
Then, I came to embrace the doctrines of grace in my late teens. The doctrine of justification – that God has declared me righteous in Christ, not on the basis of my own righteousness but Christ’s – became an immense comfort. I can still remember reading with joy the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s classic definition of this glorious doctrine:
Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.
Yet I still had some niggling questions. If this is true, what about sanctification? Is it an event like I heard and was encouraged to pursue as I grew up? Was it a process and if so, does it come to an end in this life or is it ongoing but never fully done? Where do my works factor into that grand equation?
Thankfully, in God’s providence, this zealous but incredibly ignorant teenager wasn’t alone. I had the privilege of being discipled by a retired Presbyterian minister who worked with me through the relevant Bible texts and pointed me to the vast riches of the Reformed tradition on this doctrine and so I came to embrace a view of sanctification that steered well clear of the “Let go and let God” theology I had heard growing up and the weird legalism I had also seen as folks tried hard to walk the straight and narrow in their own strength.
But alas, that was five years ago and since then, I’ve noticed a weird trend in evangelical, “gospel-centred” (read: reformed) circles. But I’ll save that for Part 2.
To be continued…