5 And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. 6 Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. 8 He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 9 Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:5-9 NKJV)The third definite work of grace, according to the Wesleyan Pentecostals, is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Both the Wesleyan holiness Pentecostals and the more Keswick or higher life Pentecostals like the Assemblies of God and the Four Square Pentecostals teach the doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as an empowerment for supernatural evangelism and witness. (Acts 1:8). Both teach that the baptism of the HS is initially evidenced by speaking in unknown tongues or languages. However, there is some ambiguity here because some teach that this is glossalalia and others recognize that on the day of Pentecost itself the gift of speaking in languages unknown to the speaker were in fact xenolalia or speaking in foreign languages known to the hearers but not to those doing the speaking. (Acts 2:1-8). Pentecostals in general acknowledge that the person who is empowered for service by the baptism of the Holy Spirit are given the initial outward sign of speaking in tongues. According to Pentecostal theology, this opens the way for the person to operate in all the spiritual gifts, though not necessarily so. (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-13).
In the Assemblies of God tradition, the last two works of grace, namely entire sanctification and empowerment for service through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, are collapsed or conflated into only one definite second work of grace. They reject the Wesleyan holiness Pentecostal view that entire sanctification precedes the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the initial physical evidence of speaking in tongues. The Assemblies of God emphasizes a more Baptistic view of sanctification as progressive due to the influence of a Baptist minister, William H. Durham, who received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Durham taught that new Christians are not carnal Christians because that would be impossible. Instead he believed that sanctification is a process that begins at conversion and continues throughout the Christian life. (See also: William Howard Durham).
The ambiguity arises, however, because the more Wesleyan side of the Assemblies of God emphasizes the sinless perfectionism aspect through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The real question here, however is whether or not sinless perfection is taught in the Bible. Some Arminians focus on the passage in 2 Corinthians 5:17.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV)This verse would seem to imply that the Pentecostals artificially insert two or three distinct works of grace into the text because at conversion the Christian has a new nature. But does this mean that the Christian is sinless? Obviously not because Paul lectures the Corinthian church about their lack of spiritual maturity and sanctification:
1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not carnal? (1 Corinthians 3:1-4 NKJV)Sanctification is spoken of as a process of growth in the Christian faith, in holiness of living, in the practices of one's life, in one's habitual activities, and so on. (2 Peter 3:18; John 17:17; Philippians 3:12-15).
But the key verse I wish to examine is 2 Corinthians 5:17. I am no longer a Pentecostal but since that was the tradition I started out with I want to interact with what I learned as an Arminian Pentecostal and contrast that with a more biblical and confessional understanding of what happens at the new birth and beyond.
One of the popular "ditties" of the Pentecostal movement in the 1980s was a song called, "I'm a Brand New Man." The lyrics go like this:
I'm a new creation
I'm a brand new man
Old things are passed away
I'm born again
More than a conqueror that's who I am
I'm a new creation
I'm a brand new man
But is this accurate? Are you really a different person from the person you grew up as? And what about children who are raised in the Christian church and have faith from an early age? Are they a different person, too? What does the verse mean anyway?
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Cor. 5:17 NKJV)
There are several things troubling about the lyrics of the song. First of all, the line about being "conquerors" is reflective of the Keswick holiness movement, which was a Reformed offshoot from the Wesleyan holiness doctrine of entire sanctification. The difference was that the Keswick or higher life movement (R. A. Torrey and others) emphasized both progressive sanctification and having the "victory" over sin while the Wesleyan holiness teaching said that new believers were basically carnal Christians until they reached a state of entire sanctification or sinless perfection where they did not sin anymore. But the problem with the Wesleyan view is that it lowers the bar of God's perfect moral law so that the Christian no longer needs to be absolutely sinless but merely a mature Christian. Of course, Christians have "faults" but these are not sins. Unfortunately, the Bible defines sin as any violation of God's moral law, not just the more serious sins. God does not lower his standards so men can appear more righteous than they really are. The Keswick or higher life movement is similar because it too lowers the bar of the moral law so that men can claim to have gotten the victory over the sinful nature so that one no longer "practices" sin. Of course, this is relatively true since Calvinism teaches that men can grow in sanctification and reach higher levels of obedience and sanctification. But we never get the victory over sin completely until glorification. The idea of both entire sanctification/sinless perfection and having complete victory over sin means that both of the holiness groups say you no longer need to struggle against sin. But for the Reformed sanctification and repentance are ongoing struggles against sin until the day of death, at which point the saint is glorified and is no longer a sinner in any respect whatsoever.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 Jn. 1:8-10 NKJV)
Since all are born with the guilt of original sin and inherit the corruption of the soul from their parents, it follows that even after the new birth there remains a corruption that causes even Christians to fall short of the mark. (Romans 3:10-12; Romans 3:20-23). So are Christians really "different" persons from the person they were before their conversion?
Dr. Gordon H. Clark answered that question in the negative. That's because Dr. Clark had a definition of person that says that persons are the logical propositions that they think. So if a person knows their Christian name given to them at birth, that would be a proposition that they know about themselves. If they know the names of their parents, siblings and extended family members, those too are propositions the person knows about himself or herself. The place of birth, where they went to school, their chronological age and other factors of the person's life history are all propositions known by the person about himself or herself. So the question is whether any of this information has changed? No. None of this has changed. In fact, even the converted sinner knows his past sins and he or she knows them more intimately than anyone else other than God himself. So the fact is they are not a different person. They are the same person with a new nature. The old nature is still there but it is being subdued by the Holy Spirit as He more and more sanctifies the elect believer over time and providentially so through the study of the Bible, church attendance, and participation in the sacrament of the Lord's supper.
The Westminster Confession of Faith put it this way:
CHAPTER XIII—Of SanctificationDr. Clark emphasizes the doctrine of progressive sanctification in his article on Romans 6, which absolutely rejects the idea that Christians are no longer under the moral law of God as a duty resulting from faith. Some Primitive Baptists or Reformed Baptists also call this "duty faith".
1. They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, (1 Cor. 6:11, Acts 20:32, Phil. 3:10, Rom. 6:5–6) by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them, (John 17:17, Eph. 5:26, 2 Thess. 2:13) the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, (Rom. 6:6,14) and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; (Gal. 5:24, Rom. 8:13) and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, (Col. 1:11, Eph. 3:16–19) to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. (2 Cor. 7:1, Heb. 12:14)
2. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; (1 Thess. 5:23) yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; (1 John 1:10, Rom. 7:18, 23, Phil. 3:12) whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. (Gal. 5:17, 1 Pet. 2:11)
3. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; (Rom. 7:23) yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; (Rom. 6:14, 1 John 5:4, Eph. 4:15–16) and so, the saints grow in grace, (2 Pet. 3:18, 2 Cor. 3:18) perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Cor. 7:1)
The Westminster Confession of Faith (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).
When, therefore, Paul says that where sin abounds, grace much more abounds, the very human, though completely mistaken, inference is drawn that we should continue in sin that grace may continue to abound. Because of this human tendency to invalid inference, Paul must defend his doctrine of justification against the charge that it ministers to immorality. Hence the apostle proceeds with the doctrine of sanctification.
Sanctification, therefore, is not some instantaneous crisis in our life which happens one year or years after our regeneration. Sanctification is just that process of becoming more and more like Christ which begins when we pass from death to life. Sanctification is nothing other than the Christian life itself with its tribulation, patience, experience, and hope. Accordingly, Paul exhorts us not to yield our members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, but to yield ourselves unto God. Our members, then, become instruments of righteousness.
When we consider the omnipotence of God, we may wonder why he does not accomplish the work of purification and sanctification in us instantaneously. God could, no doubt, make us perfect all at once, but, none the less, he takes time. Some people chafe under the burden of becoming righteous slowly; they look for some short-cut. If God justifies by faith, they ask, why does he not also sanctify by faith? And because of impatience, a few Christians try to satisfy themselves with a perfection which, though not perfect, is at least apparently attainable all at once.
The Scriptures, however, teach something different. We have seen that our members must be instruments of righteousness; in the verse following, (Rom. 6:16ff) we have the illustration of slavery and servitude, which obviously is not an instantaneous act, but a continuous condition of life. The point is stressed in other passages of Scripture. Phil. 2:12, 13 says, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling of course, God works in us; the point to be noted is that it is a work and not a single act. Or we may turn to Gal. 6:5, which says, every man shall bear his own burden. The Christian life, then, has burdens that take time to bear. Or again, in 1 Cor. 3:9, we are laborers together with God. Therefore we should not indulge ourselves in the hope of an easy, instantaneous sanctification, but rather run with patience the race that is set before us.
(Romans Six, by Dr. Gordon H. Clark. The Gordon H. Clark Foundation).
The regenerated Christian is not a different person. Rather he is the same person who has a new nature and who is progressively overcoming the habitual sins of his past life. God works providentially throughout the Christian's life to bring him or her into greater submission to God's written Word. Though sinless perfection is impossible, progress in sanctification is a very real command of God. (Romans 12:1-2).
In closing, it should be duly noted that I view Arminianism and the Pentecostal/Charismatic movment as damnable heresies. The Canons of Dort and other Reformed doctrinal standards make this very clear. It is difficult to understand how the semi-Arminian neo-Calvinists like Mike Horton and R. C. Sproul, Sr., just to name two, could be so out of touch with classical Calvinism and the Reformed confessional standards. Salvation is all of grace and justification is an eternal decree that is imputed to the elect through the means of faith. Justification is imputed by means of faith, not on the basis or ground of faith. Furthermore, justification always results in a process of sanctification and repentance that endures throughout the Christian life until the person is glorified and freed absolutely from the corruption of sin at the hour of his or her death. (Philippians 3:10-14).
What is sanctification?
Sanctification is a work of God’ s grace, whereby they whom God hath, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit (Eph. 1:4, 1 Cor. 6:11, 2 Thess. 2:13) applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, (Rom. 6:4–6) renewed in their whole man after the image of God; (Eph. 4:23–24) having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, (Acts 11:18, 1 John 3:9) and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, (Jude 20, Heb. 6:11–12, Eph. 3:16–19, Col. 1:10–11) as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life. (Rom. 6:4,6,14, Gal. 5:24)
The Westminster Larger Catechism: With Scripture Proofs. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).