Progressive sanctification. It’s an idea that I’ve been wrestling with this week, especially in light of approaching Good Friday with its focus on the crucifixion of our Lord.
The link between progressive sanctification and His crucifixion might not be immediately obvious. Both involve death: the death of Christ through His voluntary submission to crucifixion (voluntary, because he could have summoned 12 legions of angels to interpose for Him –Matthew 26:53; as if He needed the Angels!), and our voluntary crucifixion (“putting to death”) of the deeds of the flesh (Romans 8:12, 13). Jesus’s crucifixion was necessary as an act of obedience to the will of God the Father. Ours, according to Paul in Romans 8:13 is obligatory – what we ought or should do if we want to live. All of that is pretty basic stuff.
What has impressed me over the last few days of my chewing on the idea of progressive sanctification, is the progressive part of the doctrine. Think back to Genesis and the oracle of God against the couple:
Genesis 2:17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.”
The Hebrew for “you will surely die” is more literally rendered, “dying you will die,” emphasizing the surety of both spiritual (immediate) physical (gradual) death. Death as a result of sin in Genesis 2:17 is sure and, at least physically, it is gradual. Death comes as a result of eating the fruit of the forbidden tree.
If we want to enjoy life we will put to death the deeds of the body (i.e. the sinful acts that separate us from God. To be apart from God is death; to be united to Christ in His death is life.
Physical death consumes me bit by bit, day by day. It is a process that begins at the moment of conception, and is a direct result of our having inherited a sin nature from our first parents.In Romans 8:13, Paul tells us that putting to death the deeds of the body is a day-to-day affair. Leon Morris comments:
Mortifying deeds means killing them off, getting rid of them altogether. But the tense is present, which indicates a continuing activity. It is not something that we can do once and for all and be done with. It is a daily duty.
The Pillar New Testament Commentary: the Epistle to the Romans, by Leon Morris, p. 312.
If we want to enjoy the fruit of the Spirit, then we need to put to death the deeds of the flesh, daily.
So, we have linked the following ideas: the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (forbidden, and taken with dire consequence) the fruit of the Spirit (available, and taken with wonderful effects – see Galatians 5); the process of death through disobedience (Genesis 2:17) and the process of life/growth through obedience (Romans 8:13).
I need to remain vigilant to continue to put to death the deeds of the flesh in the power of the Spirit in order to grow in the Spirit. It isn’t a once for all deal. I can’t decide on Monday that I’ll put to death, once and for all, the deeds of the flesh, and be done with it. I have to consider my spiritual condition on Tuesday morning to see if I need to sever another hydra’s head. That process is ongoing. We will only be relieved of our obligation to continually slay the deeds of the flesh when we are glorified and death is no more.