Trinitarian Sanctification: The Father

The focus of Christianity is the continual and eternal worship of the Triune God. Unfortunately, the importance of the Triune nature of God is often overlooked when dealing with theology such as sanctification. Over the next few posts will explore the importance of focusing on each member of the Godhead in relation to sanctification. Each member has an important role to play in the lives of believers as he moves them to a greater state of holiness and communion with himself. This Week we begin by looking at the Fahter’s Role in our sanctification.

The Architect

The Father has multiple roles in maturing a believer, one of the key roles he plays in our sanctification is as the architect.  A house cannot be made if there is not an architect working every angle and dimension; this is a job that begins before construction and continues to its completion much like how the Father lays out the plan and works it to completion. Bruce Ware pens this best in his work on the Trinity:

“The Father is the Grand Architect, the Wise Designer of all that has occurred in

the created order. From initial creation through ultimate consummation and

everything that happens in between, it is God the Father who is the Architect, the

Designer, the one who stands behind all that occurs as the one who plans and

implements what he has chosen to do.” [1]

This understanding of God’s role is key to the rest of the work of the Godhead. The Father is the one who designed the plan for creation before the foundations of the world. In both Romans and Peter it is seen that the Apostles are connecting the work of sanctification to the Father’s work of electing his people and setting the path that they will walk, focusing on the Son and being moved by the Spirit. Ephesians 1 notes that God is at work among his people, for “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ,”[2]

The Law Giver

Another important function of the work of the Father is as the Law Giver. He gives the law to Moses in the Exodus narrative which sets the foundation for how believers are meant to live. There has been much debate as to whether or not this law is still applicable to Christians living today and to what extent. For this discussion, the use of the Law is seen as the means of obeying the calling of God to “be Holy as I am Holy”[3] This giving of the Law and commands for their fulfillment is an important part of the Father’s work in sanctification and as architect of the work. The Law lays out the way a believer is to live and worship before God.

John Frame in his work on the Christian life does an extensive study on the use of the Law to mold believers into faithful followers. Each law has many facets revealing an important character of God and his demand for holiness. The Father, in establishing the Law, displays the measure by which faithfulness will be judged in sanctification, not salvation. Frame shows his readers that God gave the Law so that believers may know how to live on earth (not to find salvation)[4]. Sanctification here is the working out of a believer’s salvation not an effort to achieve it. This is an important distinction in any discussion about the use of the Law in Christian life. The Law allows believers to measure their lives against the Holiness of God. The Father’s giving of the law was an act of grace allowing his children to know the way they are to live before him. The giving of the law would allow His people to stand out among all people revealing Himself to the nations through His people. [5]

With the giving of the Law, as a measure by which believers are to follow, comes the discipline for not seeking after it. This is an important role of the Father in molding his children, similar to the way earthly fathers teach their children by correcting their failings. Therefore discipline for failing is not done out of vengeance, but rather gentle correction teaching them how they are to live.[6] Biblically this is tied to Deuteronomy 6 and the second giving of the Law. After giving the law Moses states that” As a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.” It is the Father’s role in sanctification to discipline those he loves guiding through correction with divine love. The purpose is that by disciplining his children they may see their errors and return to the holiness for which they were called. Discipline helps us to grow in Christlikeness.  Therefore, every instance of life’s failings and suffering can and will be used by the Father to bring his children into a greater sense of Holiness, conforming them to his will and truths.[7]

Another means of sanctification is through suffering. This is different from discipline that is a result of moral failings. Suffering can be seen as natural occurrences such as, sickness, natural disasters, or loss. In Scripture this type of sanctification is seen in the life of Job most clearly. Job has not sinned, but rather is being tested leading to a greater understanding of the nature of God.[8]  In John Piper’s work on suffering he reveals that God uses suffering to deepen the faith of believers by eliminating self-reliance. He points to Paul’s struggle in 2 Corinthians with a thorn in the flesh. While Paul does plead for it to be removed from him, he also knows that it is being used by the Father to produce a greater faith.[9] It is evident that the Father will use suffering and pain apart from discipline as a means to create deeper faith and reliance on himself for all of life’s challenges.

The Sender

The final two key features of the Father’s work are as the sender of His Son and the Spirit to the world. He sends the Son and the Spirit as agents to complete the work that He set in motion. Each of these members will be discussed, but it is the Fathers sending that must be evaluated first. Both the Son and Spirit are sent to the world revealing the imminent nature of the Godhead in sanctification. This sending of the two is connected directly to God as architect. It is clear from scripture that God’s purpose from eternity was to bring the Son to Earth, for providing salvation, and then the Spirit to secure it for eternity. [10] This connection is seen throughout the gospel of John and exemplified in 12:49 where Jesus states “The Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.” It is the Father at work in Christ’s ministry on earth. The Father sent the Son for a specific time and function to bring about salvation and with salvation the need to become holy laid out in the process of sanctification. This means the very work of Christ in bringing about salvation and the sanctification of believer is directly connected to the sending of the Father.[11]

Similar to the sending of the Son the sending of the Spirit is equally important to the work of the Father’s plan for His people. The Spirit is sent by the Father to make the work of sanctification real in the lives of believers. The rejection of the Spirits work in Thessalonians is directly connected to the work of Father in sending Him to the people. Paul solidifies this notion in Titus 3:5—7 when he states that “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,  so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” This reveals that it is the mission of the Father for the Spirit to work and bring about righteousness in his people[12]

In summation, the role of the Father in sanctification is as the architect of the whole doctrine. He is the one who elects believers for salvation and by proxy sanctification. The Father devised the system for sanctification by giving the Law to Moses and Israel in Exodus, then by sending his Son and His Spirit afterwards. The Father is also responsible for using the sufferings of this age, such as diseases and natural disaster to grow believers in faith. Finally, He disciplines His saints; pushing those who fall away to return to the family of God and to himself.

[1] Bruce Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationship, Roles, and Relevance (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005) 51.

[2] Scott Wilson, Trinity and Sanctification: A proposal for understanding the doctrine of sanctification according to a triune ordering. (Ph.D. diss., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2007), 76.

[3]Dietrich Bonheoffer. The Cost of Discipleship (New York, Touchstone, 1959), 278.

[4] John M. Frame. The Doctrine of the Christian Life (New Jersey, P&R Publishing 2008), 912.

[5] Stanley Gundry, Five Views on Sanctification (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1987), 88.

[6], Allan Coppedge, Portraits of God (Downers Grove Intervarsity, 2007), 281.

[7] Gundry, 68

[8] Mark Boda, A Severe Mercy: Sin and Its Remedy in the Old Testament (Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns, 2009), 393.

[9] John Piper and Justin Taylor. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Wheaton, Crossway. 2006), 92.

[10] Andreas Kostenberger, The Mission of Jesus & The disciples according to the Fourth Gospel (Grand Rapids. Eerdmans, 1998), 96.

[11] Wilson, 82

[12] David Peterson, Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness (Downers Grove, Intervarsity. 1995), 127

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The Glory of Our Adoption

Today Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President. Whether you’re rejoicing in triumph, wailing out in misery, or somewhere in between every new President brings with him certain things he thinks will benefit the nation. These benefits are largely agenda driven and often time only benefit a certain group of people. Did you know there are far greater benefits we can receive in this life AND in the life to come? I’ll speak of one today.

Last week we covered the doctrine of justification, now we can speak of the benefits of justification. These benefits are the doctrines of: adoption, union with Christ (mystical union), sanctification, and glorification. It speaks against us that we do not give as much energy to understanding and teaching these benefits of justification as much as we give toward understanding and teaching justification. John Frame says we don’t give adequate attention to these benefits because of our emphasis on the Reformation.[1] I disagree. Now I do agree when Frame says we do not give these benefits as much attention as we ought to. But I don’t think it’s because we’re too focused on the Reformation, it’s because too often we don’t apply the glorious doctrines that were recovered during the Reformation. When we apply the five great solas and the doctrine of justification by faith alone the destination we end up at is these benefits. So to truly and whole heartedly embrace the doctrines recovered in the Reformation will lead us to a deep and rich study and appreciation of these great benefits. So our attention now turns to them.

Adoption is described for us in the Westminster Shorter Catechism clearly and plainly. In answering the 34th question, “What is adoption?” the catechism responds with this for an answer: “Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges, of the sons of God.”

A number of places in Scripture speak to this reality. John 1:11-12 says, “He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God…” So all those who received Jesus or all those who believed in His name God made them His children.

Galatians 3:23-26 says, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” And one chapter later Paul expands on this in Galatians 4:4-7 saying, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” This is a Christmas time reality, that the Son of God came to earth at the fullness of the times. Born like us, so that we would become like Him, and once we believe in Him we receive adoption as sons, are given His Spirit, given to heart and new desire to cry out to God as Father, and gain an inheritance.

In Ephesians Paul brings the sovereignty of God into adoption when he says in 1:5, “In love He (God) predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” Lastly one of the highest moments in 1 John is when John exclaims in 3:1 saying, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

Think of like this.

In regeneration God awakens us, in justification God legally declares us to be righteous, and in adoption God brings us into His family. Adoption comes after these things because it is the result and the great benefit of all that has come before in the ordo salutis. Because of this we can say it is in truth an apex in the ordo salutis. But do not confuse these doctrines. Regeneration is all about birth, that though we were born sinners God gave us a new birth and made us alive. Justification is all about declaring us to be righteous when we’re not. Regeneration grants us new life and justification clothes us in an alien righteousness. The glory of the doctrine of adoption is that once we’ve been made alive by God and declared righteous by Him He then brings us into a family we were not naturally born into. So when, through faith, we receive and rest on Jesus Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel, God then receives us, brings us into the number of His children, and gives us all the rights, blessings, and privileges belonging to the sons of God.

A proper question would then be: what are the privileges of the sons of God? Or to ask it another way we say: what are the privileges of adoption? It can all be summed up in one phrase. Because of God’s work within us, we now relate to God as Father.

What does relating to God as Father mean for us?

We are Now Sons and Daughters of One Family

Perhaps some of you recall how Jesus begins the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9, “Our Father in heaven…” not “my Father in heaven…” There is now not only a new relating to God as Father, but a communal relating to Him as our Father. This means at the moment of conversion we were brought into a new and vast family. This new family is so integral to who we now are as Christians that it’s ties are closer than blood relations. Yes value your earthly mother and father, your brothers and sisters, love them deeply, and enjoy them richly. But recognize there is a greater bond between two believers than two unbelieving blood relatives. We may not have anything else in common in the whole world, but if we both believe in Jesus Christ, we have an entire eternity to get to know one another and praise God together over the reality that as His children we cannot be more loved by God in Christ than we are right now. We are His children. Even in His Fatherly discipline toward us is filled with His love and compassion toward us. It is an immense privilege to have been brought into such a vast and diverse family.

We are Now Led by His Spirit

Romans 8 is one of those places in the Bible that you need to know well. When I say ‘know it well’ I mean it should be one of those places that you continuously return to at moments of suffering, sin, weakness, despair, and even joy. Beginning with no condemnation and ending with no separation, the whole chapter is a catalogue of the benefits of being a child of God. Specifically 8:14-16 says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” Here Paul says we have received the Spirit of adoption, and as he does in Galatians 4 he says here again that this Spirit of adoption cries out within us “Abba! Father!” Than this Spirit gives us an internal testimony that we are children of God. Think about that. Before God saved me the only thing being confirmed within my soul was that I not only hadn’t done enough to earn grace from God but that I couldn’t do enough to earn God’s grace. Everything in my natural state pleads for my condemnation, yet now, by faith and by the internal testimony and leading of the Holy Spirit I know that I am a child of God. This gives every Christian great assurance.

We are Now Given an Inheritance

One verse later in Romans 8 Paul says this in v17, “…and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” Also 1 Peter 1:3-4 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…” Among wealthy communities you usually find two kinds of people: those who’ve worked hard for great wealth, and those who’ve been given great wealth. Those who’ve been given great wealth usually are not those who win the lottery but those who’ve received a large inheritance. As a child of God we too have an inheritance, but our inheritance is unlike a worldly wealth passed down from one generation to the next. Our inheritance is kept in heaven for us, it is imperishable (it will last forever), undefiled (pure), and it is unfading (it never runs out). I often tell my own son that everything I have is already his. How much greater is the reality that everything that is God’s is already ours? This promise of future inheritance leads to a present thankfulness. Paul speaks of this further when he mentions the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, calling Him a “down payment” and “deposit” of our future inheritance. Therefore, the spiritual vibrancy we taste now in this life is but a glimpse of what we shall one day enjoy!

We are Now Driven towards Sanctification

Recall earlier when I spoke of the exclamation in 1 John 3:1? Where John rejoices in the fact that we are children of God? Now see what the next two verses say. 1 John 3:2-3 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.” If we understand the doctrine of adoption it should move us toward sanctification. As God is pure, so too, all those adopted by God strive to be like Him, pure. Kevin DeYoung helpfully states it like this, “Those most passionate about the gospel of God’s free grace should also be the most passionate about the pursuit of holiness.” This holiness is simple: it is a family resemblance. God is holy, thus, His children must be as well.

We are Now Adopted – We Will be Adopted

You have heard me say it before, so now you’ll hear me say it again. All of our doctrine relates to all of our doctrine. We cannot isolate each individual doctrine thinking it will be a stand alone kind of object. They aren’t, theology doesn’t work like that. So, when speaking of the doctrine of adoption we began today by clarifying the difference between it and regeneration and justification. We’ll finish by speaking of how adoption relates to the doctrine of eschatology. It’s simple, brief, but very promising. At the moment of conversion, God brings us into His family and gave us the blessings and benefits of being His children. Now we are waiting for that moment when God will call us home, to our true family, to Him. So we are adopted, and we will be adopted. The adoption we’ve experienced in conversion is but a foretaste of the greater adoption to come.

[1] John Frame, Systematic Theology, page 980.

Does God Author, Cause, or Permit Sin? Is there a Difference?

In John Frame’s The Doctrine of God (2003) you’ll find a fantastic resource and overview of God’s relation to sin.  It is a puzzling topic but it is a good topic and a truth that is well worth the effort to dig into.  Here are the links for you.