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Sanctification is a process

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by Jason Smathers on September 28, 2009


Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV)

For the thief on the cross, sanctification happened pretty quickly. He trusted in Christ there on the cross and was made perfect that day. For the rest of us, this takes much longer. God starts his good work in us at the time we are saved and completes it at our death when we are made perfect in holiness (Hebrews 12:23).
While God is doing His work in us, as the Baptist Catechism puts it: we are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness (Romans 6:4,6; 8:1). No mere man since the fall is able in this life to perfectly to keep the commandments of God (Ecclesiastes 7:20; 1 John 1:8, 10; Galatians 5:17), but do daily break them in thought, word, or deed (Genesis 4:5, and 7:21; Romans 3:9-21; James 3:2-13).
A false doctrine called sinless perfection teaches that you can be entirely without sin. But what does God’s word say about this?
8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8,10)

In 1 John 1:8, the verb have is in the present tense. This means we currently have sin. God says it, it is true. John continues in verse 10 to remind us that if we deny that we have sinned, we are calling God a liar.
Some that believe the false doctrine of sinless perfection will use 1 John 3:9 as a proof text for their position, so let’s look at that verse:
No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:9 ESV)

Here, the word sin is infinitive present active tense which means the text means continual sin. Since I am not a Greek scholar, I will allow one to explain this to us. According to Kenneth Wuest:
The infinitive in the present tense in Greek always speaks of continuous, habitual action, never the mere fact of the action, since the aorist infinitive which refers to the fact of the action, may be used at will if the writer wishes to speak of the mere fact without reference to details. The translation therefore is, “He is not able to habitually sin.” The Greek text here holds no warrant for the erroneous teaching of sinless perfection.

Let us strive for holiness. Ask God to make you strong. Be holy because He is holy. Paul makes it clear in Romans 6:1-2 that we must not sin: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” However, we know that even as we strive for this, we will fail until God completes his work in us. When we stumble, we are commanded to confess our sins and repent, but all of our sins past, present and future are forgiven if we trust in Jesus.

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