Why Two Distinct Works of Grace?
Several years ago Billy Graham said, “The doctrine of sanctification is the most neglected doctrine in the Bible.” When Dr. Graham made that statement, I agreed that in the vast Christian world sanctification was greatly neglected.
However, at the time I was thanking the Lord that in the Wesleyan/Arminian church world the doctrine of sanctification was still our major theme. Tragically, since that day, I have concluded that in what we once called the holiness movement the message is greatly neglected.
Our holiness churches have become very generic. We are rapidly losing our distinctives, and thus our reason for existence.
One reason God sent His only Son into the world was for the purpose of restoring us to the image of God. In Hebrews 13:12 we read,
“Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.”
He begins the process of restoring us to His image when we are born again. John Wesley referred to this work of grace as initial sanctification. Initial sanctification is followed by entire sanctification. This is when we present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, and He cleanses our heart from its sinful disposition.
Entire sanctification is followed by progressive sanctification. This is a lifetime process of growing in grace. It is maturing in Christlikeness. The divine process of restoring us to the image of God will not be completed until we see Jesus face-to-face. In that moment we will be made like Him.
Sanctification is both a crisis and a process. To neglect either aspect is a great disservice to both the truth and the souls to whom we minister. If we only preach the crisis aspect of entire sanctification, our people will not be challenged to grow in grace and seek to be more Christlike. If one only teaches the process, people may never be cleansed from inherited depravity. Thus their spiritual growth will be stunted.
Frequently, I am asked, “Why two separate, distinct works of grace?” One primary reason is because we have two distinct sin problems that must be dealt with. In Psalm 51:5, David said,
“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
David is stating the fact that at the moment of conception the dreadful disease of sin was infecting his very humanity. Nearly all theologians would agree that we come into this world with our humanity depraved with sin. We call it inherited depravity.
When Adam sinned, he brought this curse of sin into the human race. We all have this sinful disposition within us when we are conceived. It is for this reason we all have a tendency to disobey God and live according to our will rather than God’s will. At a very early age we begin to commit willful acts of sin. No one has to teach us how to be selfish, deceitful and rebellious. It comes very naturally.
It is for this reason no one would deny that we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.
It is because of this twofold nature of sin that God has designed two works of grace. Since we have all committed willful acts of sin, we are guilty and need the Father’s forgiveness. If we will repent of our sins, they will be forgiven and will never be held against us. We call this act of grace regeneration or being born again. It is what Wesley referred to as initial sanctification.
At some point following this miraculous work of grace, one will become aware of a deep inner struggle. It is a struggle between our will and God’s will. It is because the disposition of sin that we inherited from Adam still lurks in the heart of every born-again believer. It is an anti-God disposition. We are not responsible for what we inherited from Adam. We cannot be forgiven for something for which we are not guilty.
When Christ went to the cross, shed His blood, and laid down His life for our salvation, it was for the purpose of dealing with our entire sin problem. When we are born again, we are forgiven for the willful acts of sin we have committed. The question remains, “In the work of Christ at Calvary, did He make provision for the disposition of sin we inherited from Adam?” According to Paul in I Thess. 5:23 the answer is “YES.”
“May God Himself the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.
May your whole spirit and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.”
If born-again believers will present themselves to God as a living sacrifice, He will cleanse their heart from its sinful disposition and fill them with the Holy Spirit. The prayer of a believer for sanctification is one of consecration and for cleansing. The solution for the pollution of inherited depravity is God’s sanctifying power.
It is the will of God that every believer should have a pure heart. This brings one to a place where he or she can really begin to progress in Christlikeness.
Entire sanctification is not just for a few saints. It is for every child of God. You can be entirely sanctified. You need to be entirely sanctified. It is a beautiful and liberating relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. We serve a holy God. It is His will that we should be holy. Never settle for anything less than a pure heart. It is because of two distinct sin problems that God has designed two distinct works of grace.
Rev. Tom Hermiz is General Superintendent of the Churches of Christ in Christian Union. This article, which originally appeared in The Evangelical Advocate, is reprinted by permission.
Rev. Tom Hermiz is General Superintendent of the Churches of Christ in Christian Union.