The Christian is solemnly called upon to walk in the way of sanctification. Sanctification certainly is an earmark of the redeemed child of God. By the fruits shall the tree be known. It is, however, not our purpose to write on the subject of sanctification proper, but as is evident from the title the incentive of such a walk. In particular we will try to show that such a holy walk stands in direct relation with doctrine. Occasionally we hear, and some of us perhaps even bosom the thought that sanctification has very little to do with doctrine. To be sure, they say, we must have the truth of God’s Word and fight for it, but that really does not have anything to do with our walk of life. After all there are many Christians of denominations other than the Prot. Ref. whose sanctified life cannot be surpassed by many of us, and who certainly will enter the pearly gates. And isn’t it possible that a thorough-going Arminian or Pelagian fights sin and temptations and serves God? So we find pious people in many denominations even though they differ radically in respect to confession and doctrine. Does it then make any difference as to our walk whether we are Reformed or Arminian or whether we believe in predestination and the sovereignty of God, yes or no?
Our answer is that is not only makes some difference, a difference of degree, but in the final sense makes all the difference. Our life is affected tremendously by the doctrine we confess. The Holland language has it: zoo leer zoo leveh. The truth of this statement we will try to prove in this article.
To understand this we must know and keep in mind the essence of sanctification. What is a life in the way of sanctification? In a nut-shell it is a bit of heaven. The regenerated and justified child has been redeemed from the filth and dominion of sin, and been made conformable to the image of God’s Son. Through this gift of God’s Spirit he now can walk in the way of good works and live a holy life in principle. A life of sanctification means that we daily crucify our old nature, fight sin, and put on the new man. It implies that we live as God’s children in the midst of the world, its temptations, pleasures and treasures. The sanctified Christian manifests himself as of God’s party in church life, the home, school, work, friends and conversation. He consecrates his life unto God and in principle keeps not some but all of His commandments.
But sanctification means more, much more. There are many who apparently do these things and yet fail to really walk in the way of sanctification. The motive, nl—of love is lacking. The Christian must serve God and consecrate all unto him because he loves God.. And that is where so much of our apparent sanctified life falls by the wayside, being false. Why do we serve God? Why do we live as His children, revealing ourselves likewise in the various spheres of life? This question naturally touches the very heart of the matter of sanctification. Usually, and I unhesitantly add, most of the time for self, either because, we are so dreadfully afraid of hell and therefore want to go to heaven, or for other utilitaristic reasons. How we try to bring our Arminian and Pelagian self into the sphere of religion and the service of God! But if we cater such motives we certainly do not walk in the way of sanctification. This is not sanctification, regardless what we may do in the deed. Neither can the Arminian or Pelagian with his ideas truly walk in the way of sanctification. But true sanctification proceeds from the heart that loves God. Adam was called upon to love the Lord His God with all His heart and mind and soul and strength. Our Lord when on earth emphasized this very same thing. My heart must say: God I love you and therefore I want to serve you. Out of love for Him I hate sin and strive for the good, reveal my new life in all the spheres of life. . Such a life is a little bit of heaven, for unto eternity we will praise Him there simply because our hearts go out to Him. And in it the saints will have perfect joy.
Viewing our life in that light we must confess with the Heidelberg Catechism that our beginning of new obedience is yet very small. How much do we really do out of love for Him? But another question is: how is it possible for me to improve upon myself? That II must so live I know only too well, but what can I do about it? The question is not, take notice, how we can serve Him more in the outward deed. That question can be answered by revealing ourselves more as His children in all that we do. But what can activate me to do that out of love? How can I love Him more with my heart? Without a doubt such lies beyond the realm of my own power. Personally I can do nothing about it. Neither must we think that resolutions will help, nor that by so-called practical preaching we will receive an incentive to do so. Some think that if the ministers only preach enough of hell and condemnation, and hammers on the need of sanctification the effect will certainly be a holier walk of life. Fact is, and experience confirms it, that all this by itself does not help one bit. We cannot drive or compel people to love God.
There is only one thing that can motivate us to so serve Him out of love, nl—the Word of God. God Himself. And the Word only. Only the preaching of the pure and unadulterated Word can have the effect that His people love Him and therefore walk in His ways. To come still closer to home we can say that the preaching of sovereign predestination and the total depravity of man is the incentive of sanctifies 1 ion. The idea we also find expressed in the very arrangement of the Heidelberg Catechism, misery, redemption and gratitude. First through the law of God we are shown our misery. What a horrible picture we see. Man by nature is corrupt in sins and trespasses. He is not merely a sinner, but a dead sinner. Were he merely a sinner his condition would not be so grave. It is not so dangerous to be in deep water, if we can only swim. But man is dead, incapable of doing any good and inclined to all evil. And God is terribly displeased with his original as well as actual sins and will punish them in His just judgment temporally and eternally. That is mankind. Then the Catechism comes with Christ. Christ saves, redeeming our life from destruction and crowning our life with loving kindnesses and tender mercies. To that helpless, depraved sinner God manifests the riches of His grace, His boundless and unfathomable love, and mercy as high as the heavens are above the earth. He spared not His only begotten Son, and to express it in plain terms He gave all He had. So God manifests His love. But that redeemed child of God experiences more. Seeing many of his fellow men who have not tasted of that wondrous redemption but still in the midst of that horrible death he begins to wonder. He asks himself why this is given unto him and not to them? Why was I born in the covenant and not in a heathen land? Why did I have Christian parents? If he is honest with himself he will admit that it was due to nothing of himself. And the positive answer he also finds in God’s Word: sovereign elective grace. On the one hand he sees his depravity and on the other the sovereign love that has redeemed him.ff, , etc. The result is: God I owe Thee everything, O God I love Thee. I want to serve Thee simply because I love Thee. This idea we also find expressed in the 32nd Lord’s Day of the Catechism. The question is asked: 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 ? This the Arminianism in man asks. He wants to merit at least a little of his salvation by good works, a life of sanctification. But since we are saved merely by grace, through Christ, of what avail will they be? In his heart he says: it’s no use. But answers the Heidelberg so pithily, exactly because of that we must walk in the way of sanctification. Just because we do nothing of ourselves and all is of grace through Christ we must do good works. Theoretically and practically the result is that we love our God and have a delight in His commandments. The same idea we find in Psalms 78 and 105.
Does it then make any difference what we believe? Are sanctification and the life of the Christian affected by doctrine? As said in the beginning it not only makes some difference but really all the difference. Sanctified life out of love for God the Arminian as Arminian cannot live. Neither the Pelagian. They still have ability to do something of themselves, and believe in merits. Neither will we ever come to that love of God by maintaining that there is still some good left in the natural man and that God is still gracious to him in this life and not terribly displeased with his original as well as actual sins also in this temporal life. The incentive of sanctification is found only in the preaching that centers around the sovereign predestination of God and the total depravity of man. That Word God applies to the heart, and the result is and always shall be more of love to Him. Of all people the Protestant Reformed should live a life of sanctification, serve Him out of love in every sphere of life and forgive one another. Another effect is that we daily experience our home not to be found here below in the midst of sin and the old man. Neither do we expect or long for a so-called glorious kingdom of peace on this earth after the present war. He who loves God has strife with sin and all its implications. But we long for the heavenly country to be delivered once for all from all that hinders us to love Him in this life and to enjoy the perfect liberty of the children of God.