Inaugural Lecture - Center for Classical Theology - REGISTER
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Holy LEGO: Sanctification in the Local Church

I recently received a LEGO set of the Millennium Falcon. I’ve pined over it for years and am thankful for it. But with all my excitement over this gift, what if I never opened the box? Even more, if I opened the box, what if I never assembled the pieces? It would be squandering a precious gift, full negligence of using what others gave to me for the purpose of using.

Sometimes the church makes this mistake concerning our new life in Christ. This gift of God’s renewing work to enable us to live the Christian life is sanctification. Westminster Shorter Catechism 35 says, “Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”[1] The catechism highlights sanctification as God’s work to show how he gives us this renewal as a free gift of his grace. God sovereignly works sanctification in us, resulting in our personal growth in godly character and increase of good deeds as “the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith.”[2] As Christians, we are thrilled in our hearts to know God’s work in our lives renews us to be more like Christ so that we can increasingly set aside sin and put on righteousness.

Given that this precious gift comes to us from our wonderful Savior, how do we take it out of the box? How do we assemble the pieces so our sanctification gets proper use? This essay reflects upon one of the Christian life’s truly most important questions: How does the doctrine of sanctification shape the life of the local church?

Assembling the Pieces: Connecting Doctrine and Life

As Credo rightly stresses, “Doctrine matters and theological ideas have consequences,” which is especially true concerning the doctrine of sanctification. Paul’s pastoral epistles sustain the theme that right teaching produces the fruit of deeper godliness.

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine,  nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Tim. 1:3–5)

Paul urged Timothy to charge everyone to be committed to the same doctrine with the “aim of our charge” being love growing out of a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith. In other words, Paul directly linked right teaching and its effects within Christian character. Paul also made clearer connections between the teaching of specific doctrines and God’s work of renewing our life unto new godliness. He instructed Titus:As Christians, we are thrilled in our hearts to know God’s work in our lives renews us to be more like Christ so that we can increasingly set aside sin and put on righteousness. Click To Tweet

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (Tit. 3:4–8)

Paul pointed to the doctrines of God’s sovereign work in regeneration and the freeness of justification by grace alone. The interesting connection is Paul’s appeal to these doctrines of grace-fueled salvation as his reason why “those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.” Paul then saw a link between the teaching of clear, sound theology and growth in godliness for the Christian life.

Many have often been confused about how the proclamation of free salvation in Christ can promote good works among God’s people. The assumption is that as we announce a message where God’s favor and grace are totally free, because of Christ and his work, believers will have no motivation to pursue holiness. Frankly, we do not need an understanding how the proclamation of good news in Jesus furthers our sanctification but need submission to the biblical mandate that the preaching of free grace in Christ will bring about the fruits of righteousness. We trust God’s Word that he will use the teaching of his truth to deepen us in our Christian life. So, sanctification relates to life in the local church firstly because the local church teaches us that truth is the means God uses to sanctify us.

*This is Part One of a Two-Part Essay. Read Part Two Tomorrow!

[1] James T. Dennison Jr. (ed.), Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, 4 vol. (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008–14), 4:358.

[2] Westminster Confession of Faith 16.2 in Dennison, Reformed Confessions, 4:251.

Harrison Perkins

Harrison Perkins (PhD, Queen’s University Belfast) is pastor at Oakland Hills Community Church (OPC), online faculty in church history at Westminster Theological Seminary, visiting lecturer in systematic theology at Edinburgh Theological Seminary, and the author of Catholicity and the Covenant of Works: James Ussher and the Reformed Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2020).

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