You may have heard of the teaching by some today that sin has been eliminated from the believer’s life as a result of the redemptive work of Christ on the cross of Calvary. These hold that believers have no need to confess their sins (even when they do sin). To such, sanctification is merely a function of one’s ‘acceptance of his sinless status’ and “confession”. Confess “I am holy”, “I am the righteousness of God” and that settles it. “Name it, and claim it”, it is as simple as that, we are told. In the same vein, these false teachers teach that the believer has received a supernatural body, which is immune to sickness and disease – because sin has been eliminated from the body. But has it really? Is this the Biblical teaching on sanctification? Have believers indeed obtained sinless perfection? Is this something the Bible promises to us whilst here on earth? If doctrine determines our practice, then it behoves us to carefully examine this question in the light of the Scriptural teaching.
We turn our attention to the book of Romans, chapters 6-8. Paul there deals with the subject of sanctification in his usual forceful way. He addresses a question that is often asked when sanctification is taught properly – “shall we continue to sin, that Grace may abound?” Paul is too shocked that the teaching of sanctification is misconstrued by others as antinomianism. His response is a bewildered “God forbid!”
The Bible does not endorse sin in any shape or form. The New Testament abounds with warnings to flee from every appearance of sin; as well as admonitions to keep sin under and walk in step with the Spirit. The Bible is clear on the fact that sin has not been eliminated from the body. Apostle John in his epistle pointed this out when he said the proof that we are walking in fellowship with Jesus is the fact that His blood “cleanses us from all sin” – clearly an admission that believers do sin, and need to be cleansed daily by the blood of Christ. He continues, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1John 1:8-10). Interestingly, preachers of sinless perfection skip this chapter in their interpretation of the rest of this epistle by John.
Paul tackles this subject thoroughly. He starts off with the union with the Lord in Romans 6. By this union, the believer participates in the death and resurrection of Christ – his ‘old man’ is crucified and he resurrects a new man; a regenerate soul. What the preachers of the elimination of sin don’t realise is that, while the believer’s soul or spirit is regenerate, his body remains unchanged, awaiting redemption at the last day – what the Bible calls ”glorification” (Romans 8: 23; 28-30; 1Corinthians 15: 48-54; Philippians 3:21). This is the final stage of our salvation. Paul writes later on that “but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly, as we wait eagerly for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23).
In this body we groan, says Paul, because it is not yet redeemed. That is why we age, and that is why we die. Similarly, because the body has not been redeemed, it is prone to disease and deterioration. The Bible does not teach that believers have obtained a supernatural body like that of the resurrected Christ; no, this is a future event (cf Philipians 3: 20-21)– and that is why we live in hope. Paul continues, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (8:24-25). If believers have already been glorified, then why do they need to wait in hope for a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness (2Peter 3:13; Rev 21)? Both it and the spiritual, glorified body are things that the Bible promises us will happen in the age to come (see 2 Corinthians 5:1-2).
Clearly the New Testament and indeed the entire Scriptural teaching does not support the erroneous notion that the bodies of believers have been immortalised or glorified whilst here on earth.
We have already established the body has not yet been redeemed. This means, the believer battles constantly with the flesh longing to express its sinful desires and the new man or the regenerated spirit also longing to express the new life. A careful study of chapter 7:7-25 will reveal how Paul agonises about this. He points us to this conflicting nature, the regenerated self and the residuals of indwelling sin, what he refers to as “this body of sin”.
These two are constantly opposed to each other. Does the fact that a residual sin dwells in the body even after redemption mean that believers don’t do anything about it? Paul’s response, as noted before is a grave, “God forbid!” We are called to renew our minds with the truth of God’s word (Romans 12:1-2). The fact that sin dwells in the body, and constantly wars against the regenerated nature calls us to daily rely on the strength of the Holy Spirit to put to death the deeds of the flesh. It is also a sharp reminder that this fallen world is not our final destination. It calls us to hope for the world to come, and to endure the sufferings of this present time, in view of the eternal weight of glory that awaits us in heaven (8:18).
Though this body be destroyed by disease, and though it ages and dies, we eagerly await our eternal dwelling, a building not made with hands; prepared by God Himself, who in guarantee of this has given us His Spirit (Romans 8:11; 2Cor5:1-5).