Dear Church Family,
This past Sunday, we continued our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) in questions 78-79. Here is a brief review.
WLC 78 Whence ariseth the imperfection of sanctification in believers?
A. The imperfection of sanctification in believers ariseth from the remnants of sin abiding in every part of them, and the perpetual lustings of the flesh against the spirit; whereby they are often foiled with temptations, and fall into many sins, are hindered in all their spiritual services, and their best works are imperfect and defiled in the sight of God.
We’ve had several questions regarding the several elements of salvation. Following union with Christ (WLC 69), we learned of justification (WLC 70-73) and adoption (WLC 74). Regarding sanctification, we’ve defined sanctification (WLC 76) and repentance unto life (WLC 76), and then the differences between justification and sanctification (WLC 77). We now come to discuss the reasons for the imperfection of sanctification in believers.
The three enemies of Christ and His people are the world, Satan, and our own sinful flesh (Ephesians 2:1-3; WLC 48). The imperfection of sanctification in believers is a result not of the attacks of the world or Satan. The imperfection of sanctification in believers arises from their own flesh (the remnants of sin abiding in every part of them). These remnants of sin are not limited to one part of the believer but abide in every part. That is to say, the remaining corruption of our sinful nature is not limited to one part of us – body or soul, reason or affections. “[S]anctification is throughout in the whole man, yet imperfect in this life; there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part: whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war; the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh” (WCF 13.2).
The Bible uses different names in referring to the “remnants of corruption” (WCF 13.2) or “remnants of sin” (WLC 78) that remains in believers. For instance, just in the book of Romans, we find that the remnant of sin that continues to abide in the believer is variously called: “old man” or “old self” (Romans 6:6), “sin which dwells in me” (Romans 7:17), “the flesh” (Romans 7:18), “the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:23), and “the body of this death” (Romans 7:24).
WLC 79 May not true believers, by reason of their imperfections, and the many temptations and sins they are overtaken with, fall away from the state of grace?
A. True believers, by reason of the unchangeable love of God, and his decree and covenant to give them perseverance, their inseparable union with Christ, his continual intercession for them, and the Spirit and seed of God abiding in them, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
When speaking about the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, some Christians summarize this doctrine in this way: “once saved, always saved.” This is a simple, pithy definition that can be helpful; however, it has led some people to think that the believer’s persevering in the faith is rooted in their having once made a decision to follow Christ. This idea that a believer’s perseverance is based in a “justification by decisionism” is not the true Biblical doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. In the Scriptures, it is not the believer who perseveres himself; God perseveres the believer: “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
Thus, here in WLC 79, we learn of five reasons for which true believers cannot fall away from the state of grace – five roots or bases of the perseverance of the saints: (1) the unchangeable love of God (Jeremiah 31:1-3); (2) God’s decree and covenant to give His people perseverance (Hebrews 13:20); (3) the believer’s inseparable union with Christ (Romans 8:35-39); (4) Christ’s continual intercession of believers (Hebrews 7:25-28); and (5) the Spirit and seed of God abiding in them (1 John 2:27; 3:9).
From Scripture and from our own experience, we recognize that believers continue to sin even after they are born again and made new creations (Galatians 6:15; 2 Corinthians 5:17). “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Believers are not able to obtain perfection or sinlessness until glory.
At the same time, we also find assurance in God’s Word that God perseveres His people. True believers can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace. Our inheritance of eternal life is imperishable, undefiled, and will not fade away for we are “protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). Indeed, our Lord Jesus has promised that He gives eternal life to His sheep. They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of His hand (John 10:27-28).
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch