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Predestined for a Life of Holiness

holiness(This is the chapter 2 from an upcoming book being written called: “Growing and Changing in Christ: How All Christians Progress in Sanctification”)

Predestined for a Life of Holiness

by Pastor Matthew Black, 7/8/2015, 7:35am–

“It is easier to change the decree of God than to have a truly born again person not live in some measure of holiness and spiritual fruit.”

Those whom free grace chooses, free grace cleanses. We are not chosen because we are holy, but chosen to be holy: and being chosen, the purpose is no dead letter, but we are made to seek after holiness.”[1]

With these words Charles Haddon Spurgeon trumpeted the Scriptures’ promise of progressive sanctification for every believer.

What a joy that every believer is predestined for this promise of conformity to Christ – as Paul says: “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Though true believers have a daily battle against indwelling sin, an ongoing life of carnality is an impossibility for the Christian. Paul said that God would bring about a complete sanctification of believers including sanctifying our “whole spirit and soul and body.” and that all believers would “be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And then the Apostle certifies it with a divine promise: “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:23-24). It must be so since the Scriptures teach that all those whom God has elected for salvation are also foreordained by His unchangeable decree to produce the fruits of holiness.

We are “electaccording to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:1-2). We “are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Simply put, it is easier to change the decree of God than to have a truly born again person not live in some measure of holiness and spiritual fruit over the course of his life. All true saints are predestined to grow and change into the image of Jesus throughout their lives.

Accepting Jesus Without Holiness?

Yet much popular preaching today does not insist the inevitability of holiness based on God’s decree. It is quite common to say that someone was saved—they prayed a prayer or they confessed that they were saved, trusting in Christ’s work on the cross to save them; then after a while they fall away and go back to their former life. We are told that they have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, but one day they need to accept him as Lord. Some eventually die in their sins.

I have heard more than one minister at a funeral give assurance to a grieving family that their departed loved one was in heaven despite the deceased person’s heathen living because earlier on he had “accepted Christ as Savior.” I have heard preachers say that people like Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton were Christians notwithstanding their openly sinful lifestyle, simply because in their words they professed to know Christ. This is a misunderstanding of the work of God in salvation and what it results in. Christ asks the question, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). In other words salvation always results in some measure of obedience for the believer.

A profession of conversion is not enough. Regeneration of the heart must actually occur. Regeneration means simply a new birth, a new beginning, a new order or nature. God’s Spirit must take up residency in the human heart giving the person a new nature, a new way of thinking, a new perspective – indeed a whole new worldview. Calling anything that stops short of the new birth “regeneration” is dangerous because it gives a person false hope.

The Bible teaches that all who are justified are regenerated and are thereby predestined to be sanctified. The new heart under the influence of the indwelling Spirit of God guarantees some measure of holy living and spiritual fruit. It is a promise “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

Justification Inseparable from Sanctification

Archibald Alexander Hodge of Princeton Seminary showed how sanctification always proceeds from justification:

If there was ever one who attempted to receive Christ with justification and not with sanctification, he missed it, thank God! He was no more justified than he was sanctified.[2]

Certainly there are baby Christians, but even baby Christians are guaranteed to manifest some measure of holiness as weak and immature as it may be. There are different levels of holiness in the life. We are all growing and changing at different rates, but for the believer there is always a pattern of progressive spiritual growth in the life that begins the moment regeneration occurs. Christians can and do struggle with carnality in their life on the way to maturity. The point is there is a battle. There is a difference in attitude toward sin in the Christian.

A Christian longs to be holy. Why is that? God has ordained it to be so and secured their holiness by sealing their soul with the divine impression of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13-14). He has made sure that sanctification would occur through regeneration, which gives the person a new nature that longs for holiness. He made certain that holiness would occur by putting His Spirit inside of believers to “cause” them to walk in holiness and obedience (Eze. 36:27; cf. 11:19-20).

The Word of God’s presentation of progressive growth in Christ for every believer directly refutes the so-called “carnal Christian” teaching in numerous places which we will see in later chapters. Yet the most compelling and undeniable guarantee of holiness for every Christian is God’s decree that all Christians will be conformed to the image of Christ progressively in this life (Rom. 8:29). The Scriptures teach that all who God has foreordained for salvation are also foreordained by God’s unchangeable decree to produce the fruits of holiness. In other words, it is impossible for a person who has been called by God unto salvation to not have a measure of spiritual fruit in his life. Let us see this in the spectrum of New Testament passages.

The Teaching of Ephesians

Paul teaches in Ephesians that all Christians are foreordained for good works. God has decreed before the foundation of the world that all those the Father gives to the Son will walk in good works (Jn. 6:37-40). Paul agrees with the teaching of Jesus and links election and sanctification together: “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Eph. 1:4). No one can claim election and justification who does not practice a lifestyle that is “holy and without blame before Him in love.” The life must reflect a fundamental and radical change of nature. Again the apostle reiterates this principle when he says that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). As God’s workmanship (literally His “masterpiece”) we were created to bring God glory through good works. God created us anew so that we could testify to Christ’s transforming work in our lives. Shall those who do not have a transformed life have the right to bear the name Christian?

Each day the genuine Christian has the assurance that God has from eternity past ordained his righteous steps. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, And He delights in his way” (Psa. 37:23).

Sealed with the Impression of Holiness

God has predestined our holiness. If we are called into His family He will be sure that we bear the family likeness. Ephesians 4:30 tells us that all Christians “were sealed for the day of redemption.” God’s Holy Spirit has sealed us with His imprint of ownership. In other words, Christians have the impression of God’s likeness on their soul when they are regenerated. Regeneration is God giving to us the new nature. With that sealing of the Holy Spirit, every child of God is guaranteed to become more and more like Jesus Christ. As the Apostle said, this is a process that is ongoing “for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). This is the reason theologians have come to call this process progressive sanctification.

The Teaching of Romans

We see God’s predestination unto holiness for all genuine Christians again in Rom. 8:28-30. We are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. All who God “foreknew” and “called” and “justified” (i.e. all true Christians) are predestined to live in some measure of holiness and blamelessness, being “conformed to the image of his Son.” Who is Paul talking about? Again, it must be emphasized that Paul is speaking of all true Christians without exception. All who are predestined are called. All who are called are justified. All whom God justified, He is conforming to the image of His Son, and He will one day glorify them with a sinlessly perfect nature and body in glory. Paul is referring to the entire glorified church of God and only those in that Body.

If you are called, you are not simply called to be forgiven of your past sins, but you are transformed with a new nature and the power to forsake your present sins and follow Christ, thereby being conformed to His image. This call is an inward compulsion from the Holy Spirit who is now resident inside of you (1 Cor. 6:19). This is the purpose of God drawing a sinner to Himself—to conform and mold him into the image of Christ. As has already been stated, a Christian will fail along the way. He will be very aware of his daily failure, but he will cling to Christ on his journey to holiness. And day by day he will be more and more conformed to the image of Christ. This purpose of God cannot be defeated in any one of His chosen people. If some measure of a holy life does not follow salvation, then God’s purpose in saving that person is defeated, which is, of course, impossible. We are predestined to walk in good works and to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. If that can be taken away from this chain of redemption, then our whole salvation falls.

An Objection

Someone might say that demanding holiness makes works a necessary element of salvation. No evangelical Christian believes a person is saved by works. The argument is a straw man. It is easy to stand up and blow down instead of dealing with the real nature of genuine fruit-producing faith. Any child could quote Ephesians 2:8-9 and easily defeat this argument. As Ephesians 2:8-10 says, we are not saved by good works but for good works. As Charles Spurgeon said:

There is no one who can live in sin,—drinking, swearing, lying, and so on,—who can truly declare that he is one of the Lord’s chosen people…. From my very soul, I detest everything that in the least savours of the Antinomianism which leads people to prate about being secure in Christ while they are living in sin. We cannot be saved by or for our good works, neither can we be saved without good works. Christ never will save any of His people in thier sins; He saves His people from their sins. If a man is not desiring to live a holy life in the sight of God, with the help of the Holy Spirit, he is still “in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.”[3]

Our very repentance is a gift from God (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25). Harry Ironside (1876-1951), the one-time pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago said, “Theologians may wrangle over this, but the fact is, no man repents until the Holy Spirit produces repentance in his soul through the truth.”[4] Man repents, but he does so as a result of God’s work in his heart through the Word of God.

Even a believer’s faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8). We agree with systematic theologian Louis Berkhof: “Saving faith may be defined as a certain conviction, wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit, as to the truth of the gospel, and a hearty reliance on the promises of God in Christ.”[5] This is the work of God, not of man. “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16, ESV). Transformed living is the fruit of the work of God after regeneration has occured. “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Mt. 7:16). Our best works of righteousness apart from faith are nothing more than “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

As George Whitefield said, “Works? Works? A man get to heaven by works? I would as soon think of climbing to the moon on a rope of sand!”[6] Works have nothing to do with justification. We are justified by grace through childlike faith and not of works (Mt. 18:3; Eph. 2:8-9). Yet if we are God’s “workmanship” then He will bring good works to pass in our lives as a proof of the new nature (Eph. 2:10). God produces the desire for holiness in the Christian, so that salvation from beginning to end is all of God’s grace (Phil. 2:12-13). R.C. Sproul explains how the transformation is ongoing throughout the life of a Christian:

…the instant that true justifying faith is present in the life of the believer, the person begins to change. That change will be evidenced in a life that moves to obedience. Good works necessarily flow out of true faith. The works do not justify us. It is the righteousness of Christ that justifies us. But if the works do not follow, it is proof positive that we do not have genuine faith and are therefore still unjustified people.[7]

The Bible’s firm contention is that if a person does indeed experience the new birth (i.e. regeneration) he will inevitably change. Shall the holiest Being in the universe take up His habitation in a person’s heart, and that person not change in holiness?

God’s unalterable purpose for every one of His redeemed children is to conform them in this life to the magnificent image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29). God sends His Spirit into their hearts to “cause” it to happen (Eze. 36:27). This is the doctrine of progressive sanctification, or progressive holiness. All who are genuine Christians will most definitely become more and more like Christ. We either believe this doctrine or we do not. We ought to believe it since we find it everywhere in the Scriptures.

The Teaching of Hebrews and Philippians

Hebrews 12 and Philippians 1 are also clear about this. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus Christ is not only the “Author” of the Christian’s faith, but He is also the “Finisher.” As Paul tells us in Philippians 1:6, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Christ conquered death to make us holy like Himself. This pursuit of holiness is the fruit of the new heart.

Every child of God has been regenerated, given a new nature, passed from death to life, or as John so often says, “born again” (Jn. 3:3). It is true that the Christian is declared righteous in justification, but he is also born again, and in this regeneration the gracious gift of the new nature is predestined to produce holiness, “without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Let us not give comfort to any among us who is not producing some measure of the fruits of holiness in his life. If a person is born again, God’s fingerprints will be all over the thoughts, words, and actions of that person’s life. Good works always grow out of the good, regenerated heart (Mt. 7:17-18). A person’s repentance, faith, and good works are all gracious gifts from God.

The Teaching of 2 Corinthians

Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Why must the old sinful life go and the new holy life take its place?—Because we are Christ’s new creation. Just as God spoke the worlds into existence, and so there was light and life, so God has set us on a path of light and life through the new nature. The new heart (new nature) produces a new way of living. New and godly and God-pleasing fruit are coming out of the Christian’s life if he is born again—guaranteed by the eternal decree of God from before the foundation of the world.

The Teaching of Our Lord

As we have shown, it is unmistakably true that all who are called and justified in Jesus Christ will be conformed in some noticeable measure to His image (Rom. 8:29-30). If the nature is changed, the fruit of the life will change. The apostles received this teaching from the Lord: “every healthy tree bears good fruit” (Mt. 7:17). Regeneration always has verifiable evidence. “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” was our Lord’s promise (Mt. 7:20). Those who teach otherwise must either ignore or twist the Scriptures. Let us take heed to the words of William Tyndale:

Right faith is a gift wrought by the Holy Ghost in us, which changes us, turns us into a new creature with a new nature, and ‘births’ us anew in God making us the sons of God….Right faith kills the old Adam, and makes us all together new in our heart, mind, will, desire, and in all our affections and powers of the soul. It brings the Holy Ghost with it in us. Faith is a lively thing, mighty in working, valiant, and strong, ever doing, ever fruitful so that it is impossible that those who are endued with it should not work always towards good works without ceasing.[8]

What shall we say then? Every person who calls himself a saint should examine the fruit of his life to see if he is walking in the good works God has ordained for him. “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5). All they that are in Christ “are called, and chosen, and faithful” (Revelation 17:14). Say with the disciples, “Is it I?” (Mt. 26:22), and let the verdict be given by the indwelling Holy Spirit who witnesses within the spirit of every child of God that he is a child of God (Rom. 8:16). Be encouraged child of God that our faith is not about us hanging on to Christ, but Him hanging on to us.

[1] Charles Spurgeon. Exploring the Mind and Heart of the Prince of Preachers (Oswego, IL: Fox River Press, 2005), 228.

[2] Archibald Alexander Hodge. Popular Lectures on Theological Themes (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1887), 358-359.

[3] Charles Spurgeon. Autobiography, Volume 1 (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1899), 258.

[4] Harry Ironside. Except Ye Repent (New York: American Tract Society, 1937), 5.

[5] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, Eerdman’s Publishing Company: 1988), 503.

[6] Edward S. Ninde. George Whitefield: Prophet and Preacher (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2006), 207.

[7]R.C. Sproul. Pleasing God (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1994), 153.

[8] William Tyndale. New Testament, Preface to the Book of Rom. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996, reprint—originally published in 1534), 212-213.