“At the heart of the debate is whether or not all the promises of security (listed above) are conditional---that is, conditioned on the believer continuing in the faith. Colossians 1:23 is often used in connection with this: ‘IF YOU CONTINUE IN YOUR FAITH, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.’...First, THE ‘CONTINUING IN THE FAITH’ IS NOT FOR SALVATION (JUSTIFICATION), WHICH IS INSTANTANEOUS, BUT FOR SANCTIFICATION, which is a continual process until death” (Norman Geisler, “Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will,” Third Edition. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2010, page 323).
I realize that the title of this post may raise a few eyebrows...in some sense, the title may make some shrink back from reading what I have to say. Usually, when I write on subjects like the one above, I have a set agenda for doing so. I tell no lies---I always have an agenda when I write on something (even if that agenda is never made clear in the post itself). And that might make some uncomfortable with this post.
Well...for those of you who are fearless when it comes to theology and love the debates (as I do), thank you for not turning away. I will now proceed.
Today’s post will tackle Dr. Norman Geisler’s quote above from the newest edition of his “Chosen But Free.” For those who are looking for an inexpensive book, this is it. I only paid $16 for the book at LifeWay; buying the book reminded me of Udo Middleman’s “The Innocence of God,” which I also highly recommend. Middleman’s book is all about the troubles with Calvinism. That is a book that I will have to blog about sometime in the new year.
Geisler refers to Colossians 1:23 as “not for salvation...but sanctification...” This is a puzzling statement indeed. Let’s analyze Geisler’s remarks about salvation.
From first glance at his words, we see that sanctification has nothing to do with salvation. And this statement is terribly flawed; what about verses of Scripture such as 2 Thessalonians 2:13?
“But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because GOD from the beginning CHOSE YOU FOR SALVATION through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13, NKJV).
Salvation does not come apart from sanctification; rather, sanctification, like justification by faith, is a part of the salvation process. It is “for salvation”, “through sanctification...and belief”, that we enter eternal life. The goal of both justification and sanctification is salvation itself.
Next, what about Paul’s words at the end of his life? As he wrote one of his final letters to Timothy, he wrote about continuance in the faith:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I HAVE KEPT THE FAITH. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day...” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
In Paul’s final evaluation of his life in Christ, he mentions that he has “fought the good fight” and “kept the faith.” If continuance in the faith bears no importance at all, why would Paul write that “I” (referring to himself) “kept the faith”? It seems that keeping the faith and finishing the race go hand-in-hand in Paul’s theology. In Dr. Geisler’s attempt to be true to his own personal beliefs, he has overlooked Paul’s own words about his own life.
Sanctification cannot be separated from salvation itself. There are numerous verses of Scripture that argue against Dr. Geisler’s view. One such verse is Hebrews 12:14 which says “Pursue peace...and HOLINESS, WITHOUT WHICH NO ONE WILL SEE THE LORD” (Heb. 12:14). If one cannot see the Lord without the pursuit of holiness, then one cannot see the Lord without actively pursuing sanctification in the Christian life. This makes sense when one considers that issues such as the man sleeping with his stepmother (1 Corinthians 5) was an issue of sanctification that could rupture the man’s salvation. This is why Paul told the church, “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that HIS SPIRIT MAY BE SAVED IN THE DAY OF THE LORD JESUS” (1 Cor. 5:5). Paul’s biggest concern for the man was not his physical body, but his soul and its eternal destination. “The day of the Lord Jesus” tells us that Paul’s concern was eschatological in nature (the end judgment).
Another such passage that discusses holiness is 1 Thessalonians 4, where Paul discusses the importance of sanctification at length (vv. 1-8). In verse 3, Paul writes, “For this is the will of God, YOUR SANCTIFICATION.” God desires that we be sanctified, just as He desires that we be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). In verse 7, Paul tells the Thessalonians that “God did not call us to uncleanness, BUT IN HOLINESS.” God called us to live a life that is “sanctified,” or “set apart,” for His service...and this should be evident in our daily walk with the Lord.
In verse 8 of 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul writes, “Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, has also given us His Holy Spirit.” The issue of sanctification in 1 Thessalonians 4 is abstinence from sexual immorality (vv.3-4); however, the point emphasized is holiness--- that is, that holiness is crucial to life in Christ, that one cannot be saved without sanctification. And to reject sanctification is to reject the Spirit (since according to 2 Thess. 2:13 sanctification occurs by the Spirit). Ultimately, more than rejection of the Spirit is rejection of God the Father Himself. It is a “slap in the face” to God for someone to reject God’s work in his or her life. One cannot desire to be saved and yet still choose to live like the world. As Paul writes in Romans 6,
“Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so WE ALSO SHOULD WALK IN NEWNESS OF LIFE” (Rom. 6:4, NKJV).
The purpose of our symbolic burial and resurrection (via baptism) is so that, rising from the baptismal waters, we would commit ourselves to living out the profession we made when we went down into the water--- that we will no longer live our lives for ourselves, but for God and His glory alone.
The father of the Remonstrants, James Arminius, had the following to say about justification and sanctification:
“The spiritual benefits which believers enjoy in the present life, from their union with Christ through communion with his death and life, may be properly referred to that of Justification, and of Sanctification, AS IN THOSE TWO IS COMPREHENDED THE WHOLE PROMISE OF THE NEW COVENANT, in which God promises that He will pardon sins, and will write his laws in the hearts of believers, who have entered into covenant with him” (James Arminius, “Works” II: 406; references Jer. 31:31-34).
According to Arminius, both are a result of “union with Christ” (salvation), and both comprise the whole of the New Covenant made in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New.
Back to the question: is salvation just 1) justification? 2) sanctification? Or 3) both? The answer is “both.” 2 Thessalonians 2:13 provides both as processes leading to salvation. So the next time you see someone write something that separates sanctification from salvation or say something to that effect, please refer them to the Scriptures.