Holiness in God is that divine virtue whereby He is completely consecrated to Himself. For let us remember: God is the highest good. And as such He seeks and finds Himself. He reveals Himself in all the works of His hands as the Holy One. Sin does not have and cannot have any place in God; He is absolutely separated from sin. He is a light, and there is no darkness whatsoever in God. Over against sin He is a consuming fire. Holiness with God, therefore, as we have said, is principally His eternal, perfect Self-consecration. It follows from this that His people also must be holy. God called them as the Holy One. Their calling can never be anything else than the calling out of darkness into light. Their calling, therefore, is a calling to holiness. And just as holiness in God is principally His Self-consecration, or His consecration to. Self, so holiness in God’s people can never be anything else than consecration not to self, but to God. The people of God are called to be of His party, are called to stand in covenant communion with Him, are called to taste His friendship, and eternally to dwell with Him in His house. And this is impossible without sanctification. Without sanctification no one can ever see the Lord. Only the pure in heart are blessed: for they, and they only, can see God. In I John 1:5-7 we read: “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship, with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” Even as holiness in God is that virtue whereby His entire being and divine life is consecrated only to Himself, and whereby He seeks Himself, so sanctification is that act of God in us whereby we are delivered from the power of sin and corruption, so that with heart and soul, with mind and will and all our powers, we are consecrated to God, seek Him, and keep His commandments, to do them. And by this positive act of God’s grace we are also separated from sin and the world, and stand in antithetical relationship over against the powers of darkness.
Also the confessions speak of sanctification, although they often do not use the term, but rather speak of regeneration in the wider sense of the word, of conversion and good works. Thus, for instance, in the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 32, we read: “Since then we are delivered from our misery, merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works?” And the answer is as follows: “Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit, after his own image; that so we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he may be praised by us; also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith, by the fruits thereof; and that, by our godly conversation, others may be gained to Christ.” And Lord’s Day 33 speaks of the true conversion of man, of the mortification of the old and the quickening of the new man, and of good works. We quote:
“Q. Of how many parts doth the true conversion of man consist?
“A. Of two parts; of the mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man.
“Q. What is the mortification of the old man?
“A. It is a sincere sorrow of heart, that we have provoked God by our sins; and more and more to hate and flee from them.
“Q. What is the quickening of the new man?
“A. It is a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.
“Q. But what are good works?
“A. Only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory; and not such as are founded on our imaginations, or the institutions of men.”
Also the Netherland, or Belgic, Confession speaks of man’s sanctification and good works, as follows:
“We believe that this true faith being wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God, and the operation of the Holy Ghost, doth regenerate and make him a new man, causing him to live a new life, and freeing him from the bondage of sin. Therefore it is so far from being true, that this justifying faith makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that on the contrary without it they would never do anything out of love to God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation. Therefore it is impossible that this holy faith can be unfruitful in man: for we do not speak of a vain faith, but of such a faith, which is called in Scripture, a faith that worketh by love, which excites man to the practice of those works, which God has commanded in his Word. Which works, as they proceed from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable in the sight of God, forasmuch as they are all sanctified by his grace: howbeit they are of no account towards our justification. For it is by faith in Christ that we are justified, even before we do good works; otherwise they could not be good works, any more than the fruit of a tree can be good, before the tree itself is good. Therefore we do good works, but not to merit by them (for what can we merit?), nay, we are beholden to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he that worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Let us therefore attend to what is written: when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do. In the meantime, we do not deny that God rewards our good works, but it is through his grace that he crowns his gifts. Moreover, though we do good works, we do not found our salvation upon them; for we do no work but what is polluted by our flesh, and also punishable; and although we could perform such works, still the remembrance of one sin is sufficient to make God reject them. Thus then we would always be in doubt, tossed to and fro, without any certainty, and our poor consciences continually vexed, if they relied not on the merits of the suffering and death of our Savior” (Article XXIV). Also the Canons of Dordrecht speak of this sanctification, although they do not use the term. In Canons III, IV, Article 11, we read:
“But when God accomplishes his good pleasure in the elect, or works in them true conversion, he not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them, and powerfully illuminates their minds by his Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, pervades the inmost recesses of the man; he opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead, he quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, he renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions.”
And in Article 12 of the same chapter of the Canons we read:
“And this is the regeneration so highly celebrated in Scripture, and denominated a new creation: a resurrection from the dead, a making alive, which God works in us without our aid. But this is in no wise effected merely by the external preaching of the gospel, by moral suasion, or such a mode of operation, that after God has performed his part, it still remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not, to be converted or to continue unconverted; but it is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation, or the resurrection from the dead, as the Scripture inspired by the author of this work declares; so that all in whose heart God works in this marvelous manner, are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe.—Whereupon the will thus renewed, is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence, becomes itself active. Wherefore also, man is himself rightly said to believe and repent, by virtue of that grace received.”
Such is the language of Scripture.
And such is the language of our confessions.
Moreover, Scripture teaches emphatically that the child of God is sanctified in principle, that God also continues to sanctify him, and that he is called to strive after sanctification with all that is in him. For, as we said before, and as the Bible teaches rather emphatically, the believer is dead unto sin. And because of this, it is impossible for the Christian to live in sin. For thus we read in Romans 6:1, ff.: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.”
This does not mean that sin is dead in us. For the very opposite is true. But it does mean that a radical change was effected in believers, and that exactly in respect to their relation and attitude to sin. Formerly they lived in sin, loved sin, and agreed with sin; but now they are dead to sin, so that they no longer yield their members servants to uncleanness and iniquity unto iniquity, but yield their members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For they are buried with Christ by baptism into death, as we read a moment ago, that even as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, so also they should walk in newness of life. Moreover, according to Scripture, their old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed. And therefore they do not serve sin. Hence, they are made free from sin, and become servants of God, and have their fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. They are liberated from the law of sin and death by the law of the Spirit of life. Before their conversion and before their sanctification, they were indeed fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and extortioners. But now they are washed, sanctified, and justified in the time of the Lord Jesus by the Spirit of God. I Cor. 6:9-11. Christ died for them, in order that they should henceforth not live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again. And therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become, new. II Cor. 5:15, 17. And according to Gal. 5:24, they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. And according to Col. 3:9, 10, they have put off the old man with its works, and put on the new man, which is being renewed unto knowledge according to the image of Him that created him. Or, in other words, according to I John 3:9, they are born of God. And everyone that is born of God doth not commit sin. He cannot sin because he is born of God, and His seed remaineth in him.
It is, therefore, true, according to Scripture and the confessions, that the believer is sanctified in principle. He is liberated from the dominion of sin. But the Word of God also teaches us that believers are, and must be, continually sanctified by the Spirit of God. For we read in Phil. 2:12, 13: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Believers do not and cannot live and are not sanctified apart from Christ. They are branches of the true vine, Christ, and therefore do not and cannot live independently from Him, but only through Him and out of Him. They must abide in Him. For even as the branch cannot bear fruit, except it abide in the vine, so also believers cannot bear fruit unless they abide in Him; and without Him they can do absolutely nothing. Cf.John 15:4, 5. It is only because they are in the Spirit, and the Spirit of Christ dwells in them, that they can please God. Rom. 8:8-10. Only through the Spirit can they escape the lusts of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. And these two stand opposite over against each other. And they are led by the Spirit of God as God’s children. For that reason the apostle does not cease to give thanks and to pray for the church, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto her the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, that the eyes of their understanding may be enlightened and that they may know what is the hope of their calling, and what the riches of his inheritance in the saints. All this is taught in Ephesians 1:16-18. And in Ephesians 3:14-19 we read: “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” And the apostle is confident that He which has begun a good work in them will also perfect it unto the day of Christ. Phil. 1:6. The apostle glories in that he is crucified with Christ. For that he writes inGalatians 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
Scripture, however, also teaches that the people of God are in duty bound, or called, to strive after sanctification of life and to walk worthy of the calling wherewith they are called. For while it is God that worketh in them both to will and to do according to His good pleasure, they are nevertheless called to walk in obedience and to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. Thus they are admonished in the whole of Scripture. They are called to present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is their reasonable service. They must not be conformed unto this world, but transformed by the renewing of their mind, in order that they may prove what is that good and holy and acceptable will of God. Rom. 12:1, 2. They must not only spiritually be separated from the unbelievers and ungodly, but they must not put on another yoke with them. Righteousness has no fellowship with unrighteousness; light has no communion with darkness; Christ has no concord with Belial; and the believer has no part with the infidel. The people of God are the temple of the living God, and they have the promise that God will dwell in them. Therefore it is their calling to separate themselves and to go out from the midst of them and not to touch that which is unclean. Cf. II Cor. 6:14-17. They have great and very rich and glorious promises; and therefore it is their calling to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. II Cor. 7:1. InEphesians 4:20-24 we read: “But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created m righteousness and true holiness.” And what this all means, that is, what is meant in the practical sense of the word by putting off the old man and putting on the new man, the apostle describes in the verses that follow, namely, Ephesians 4:25, ff. They must put off lying, and speak every man truth with his neighbor. We must be angry, and sin not. We must never give place to the devil. If anyone ever stole, let him steal no more; but rather let him labor. No corrupt communication must proceed out of their mouth, but only that which is good and, what is edifying. We must not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, for by Him we are sealed unto the day of redemption. Bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil-speaking we must put away from ourselves, with all malice; and we must be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another. And the apostle even continues this in Chapter 5. They must be followers of God, and must walk in love, as Christ also hath loved them, and hath given Himself for them an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor. Fornication and all uncleanness and covetousness, filthiness, foolish talking, jesting—all this they must put off. And they must walk as children of light. For thus the apostle admonishes them, Eph. 5:8-11: “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth; Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”