The Order of Salvation: Sanctification (Progressive or the More and More of the Ordo)

Sharon Sampson

In this series on the Ordo Salutis, we come to progressive sanctification, where we consider how God works in us and what he requires of us.

In justification and adoption God acts on our behalf. We see this in the answers to Questions 33 and 34 in the Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC), which note that justification and adoption, are an act of God’s free grace. Sinners are pardoned, accepted as righteous, and received as sons of God. God has acted, and we are the benefactors.

Concerning sanctification, the answer to WSC 35 states that sanctification is the work of God’s free grace. In this ongoing process, God works in us (Phil. 2:13).

At the same time, Paul speaks of our responsibility: “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:11-14).

We are called upon to change and to be eager about it! In our justification, the penalty of sin is removed. In our glorification, the presence of sin will be removed. Until we reach glory, sin is still present, but its power is removed. We are not hopeless nor helpless sinners! When the answer to WSC 35 also declares that we are “enabled more and more to die unto sin and to live unto righteousness,” we are reminded that the Lord enables us to grow and become more like Christ—not in our own strength, but with the Spirit’s help.

Our growth in grace doesn’t merit salvation, nor is it complete in this life, nor does it happen in a linear way, or at a consistent pace. Yet we must remember “that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6). Since we are no longer slaves, we are free to call upon the Lord in times of temptation, to confess our sin, to repent, etc. We are free to change and grow! Not as free as we will be when we are removed from the presence of sin, but perhaps a lot freer than we realize on a day-to-day basis.

In our sanctification, the Lord calls us to put off our old nature and to continually put on Christ. The bride is to prepare herself for her groom. What makes for a beautiful bride? When I got married in 1985, brides-to-be purchased wedding magazines, which helped a bride to be thoroughly prepared and beautiful.

Well, the Lord has given us a Bride’s Guide! His Word is our guide for living, in which we learn to put off the old and put on the new (Eph. 4:21-23), to do the good works which God has prepared (Eph. 2:10), and to be a bride prepared for the Bridegroom (Rev. 19:7). We are to be about the business of knowing, loving, and doing His will.

Yet sometimes, we fail to do the things we ought and do the things we shouldn’t. Believers may even become so distressed about their sin or failure to grow that they wonder if they are even saved. John Murray is helpful here when he notes: “There is a total difference between surviving sin and reigning sin, the regenerate in conflict with sin and the unregenerate complacent to sin. It is one thing for sin to live in us: it is another for us to live in sin” (Redemption Accomplished and Applied).

What does this mean for us? While we are not yet free from the presence of sin, we are still free! We are free from the power of sin in our lives. Rather than look upon our sin with discouragement, we should remember that in our union with Christ, we are truly free. We don’t ignore sin, but neither do we wallow in it. We press on, knowing that God’s will is our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3a), and He will complete his work in us (Phil. 1:6).

So, get out that wedding planner. The big day is coming!

Sharon L. Sampson holds an MTS with a biblical counseling concentration from the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh. She is a certified biblical counselor and is an active member of the Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. She is also active at the Biblical Counseling Institute at RPTS. She has been married to her wonderful husband, Mark, since 1985, and they have one married daughter.

Sharon Sampson