While the work of Christ in the past guarantees our standing as children of God by God’s grace, the work of the Holy Spirit, who applies the work of Christ and indwells the believer, continues to aid us in the present. Sanctification is both present and progressive. All through our life as children of God, we will still battle the reality of living in a sinful world facing the temptations that the world offers to bodies that are still subject to earthly desires, so that even though we have been “set apart” as God’s children, we continue to behave in ways that are contrary to our new status of being children of God. At the same time, precisely because we are now children of God there is an inner conflict that is experienced by Christians when we sin. The war that rages inside of Christians is the battle between our old self and our new self and is described by the apostle Paul when he wrote to the Galatians, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal.5.17). He captures the reality and pain of that struggle for the Christian when writing to the Romans:
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom.7.24)!
The believer, now a child of God by grace, desires out of gratitude to God to reflect the likeness of Christ; however, the Christian still battles with the sin that is all around and all too often seduces us to forget the love of Christ that is the ground of our life of gratitude. However, even when we sin, we are not left alone, but God the Holy Spirit, who indwells the believer, produces a remembrance of what Christ has done to redeem us and makes us sorrowful for the sin; that sorrow produces repentance.
Historically the development of the doctrine of sanctification has concerned the clarification of several issues, the foremost in importance being the relationship of grace and sanctification. Because the early church was involved with other questions, little was written on this subject; this lack enabled practices to develop without solid biblical and theological reflection. There arose a confusion about the place of faith and good works, which led to the mistaken idea that sin committed before baptism was washed away, while sin committed after baptism demands some form of human penance to find forgiveness. Later medieval thinkers further confused the church by suggesting that in justification God infused a grace into the soul that enabled it to achieve its destiny. Thus Christ together with good works enabled individuals to be saved. The rediscovery by the Reformers of the grace of God saw the separation of the justification and sanctification, so justification was immediate, the work of God alone, while sanctification, while still being gracious because of the work of the Spirit, was also an ongoing work that required faith and obedience and the mortifying of the flesh.
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