I [Andrew] have been immersed in D.Min modules at Westminster Theological Seminary for the past three weeks, and have been even more absent from this blog than I am ordinarily! I am thankful to be done with my coursework for this year and am spending my last Friday afternoon here in Philadelphia enjoying this new gem by Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith. I thought I’d share a couple of paragraphs on the topic of sanctification from WCF 13.2-3:
Our struggle [against sin] emerges as all the more necessary because the remaining corruption in Christians may sometimes even get the upper hand – it ‘may much prevail’, at least ‘for a time’, as the pastors of the Westminster assembly remind us in the final paragraph of this chapter on sanctification. Our Lord claims us as his own; he plants his flag and announces his sovereignty over the whole of his church and over all that we are. But guerilla warfare continues and we still find Christians who are ‘captive to the law of sin’ (Rom. 7:23).
The good news is that Christians are regenerate people. We truly have been born again and are new creatures who have been given the Holy Spirit. ‘Through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ’ we gradually overcome our enemy. As we engage in the spiritual exercise of running to Jesus and running from sin, and as we soak ourselves in the Word of God, we grow in our fitness to combat sin.
It is not easy to describe this bifurcated existence of the Christian. A seasoned apostle managed to express this difficulty eloquently, but even the Westminster assembly was grasping for words when it wrote about corruption in every part of us, while in the same breath telling us about what is true of our entire being.
No doubt they were reflecting normal human speech, for we sometimes say that part of us wants to do what is right, and part of us wants to do what is wrong. In any case, we surely know what this third paragraph means when it says that ‘the regenerate part’ of us ultimately overcomes. This kind of phrasing is not denying that sanctification is throughout, in the whole man, when affirming that sin will no longer have dominion over us. The point is that we are not under law, but under grace (Rom 6:14). We are being assured that ‘everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world’ (1 John 5:4). These theologians from long ago are reminding their readers of the eternal truth that Christians will eventually ‘grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love’ (Eph. 4:15, 16).
To put it in more familiar words, sinners are also ‘saints’, and saints ‘grow in grace’. Scripture calls all Christians to desire this growth – growth ‘in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Pet. 3:18). All who are united to the living Lord will grow; it is not too much to say that we are being ‘transformed … from one degree of glory to another’. It may not always feel like that, but growth is what ‘comes from the Lord who is the Spirit’ (2 Cor. 3:18). That is why Paul calls us to ‘cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the body and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God’ (2 Cor. 7:1).
Christian brothers and sisters need to encourage one another to walk in the fear of God. And as we do so, let us be earnest in our dependence on the Word and the Spirit, for it is through humble dependence on God’s power that the strongholds of sin are brought down, and holiness is brought to completion.
Pgs. 183-84. [Note: British spelling is used throughout this Banner of Truth volume.]
You can see just how readable and approachable is this fine exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith!
R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)