22
Mar
12

Why no “sanctification” in God’s golden chain?

There has been a bit of discussion in recent days about Paul’s omission of the term “sanctification” in Romans 8:30. Some have suggested that the way one explains that omission is an indication of whether or not he is a New Calvinist. At the risk of being dubbed a “heretic” once again, I thought I might attempt an explanation of this verse that describes what has been called “the golden chain of redemption.” This chain stretches from eternity past to eternity future and explains the absolute certainty of the believer’s glorification.

The chain begins in eternity with God, the Father’s, predetermination to conform all his foreknown people [i.e., all those on whom he had set his love] to the image of his incarnate Son. Since God works all things according to counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11), since his counsel stands and he does all his pleasure, and if he purposed it, he will also perform it (see–Isa. 46:10-11), the believer’s purposed glorification is an absolute certainty.

In accordance with his eternal purpose, [Paul states in Romans 8:28 that we are the called ones according to his purpose. see also 2 Tim. 1:9], God effectually calls believers into the fellowship of his Son (1 Cor. 1:9). In other words, he calls us into union with Christ. It should be clear that “called” in this verse cannot refer to a mere invitation since every one who is thus called is also declared righteous in God’s sight. If “called” means no more than invited, then all who have every been invited by the gospel are also justified.

Now, what is the result of the believer’s union with Christ? It is that all Christ’s accomplishments and all his merits are imputed to the believer. Since, based on his perfect conformity to God’s Law and his death under the penalty of that Law, he has been declared righteous before the Law, all in him are also justified. The resurrection clearly declared that he had abundantly dealt with all the demands of the law on him as one who was born under the Law (Galatians 4:4). Additionally, since, at his resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand, he entered into his glory, we are now “glorified” in him.

This understanding of the verse involves us in another “already/not yet” category. It is clear we are not yet glorified in our experience. That will occur when we see him at his return, but in union with him, we are already glorified.

The question remains, Why does Paul omit sanctification from the chain? There may be several reasons. Perhaps it is because sanctification, though a work of God’s free grace, involves the believer’s obedience. Since that obedience is as yet imperfect [It will only be perfected when Jesus returns in glory] its inclusion in the chain would weaken it significantly. Though we are assured by God’s promises that we will ultimately be made completely holy, our current condition in sanctification would more than likely detract from the assurance the apostle is seeking to instill in believers.

A second reason for omitting sanctification from the chain may have been that Paul merely assumed, in keeping with his argument in Chapter 6, that the road from justification to glorification necessarily passes through sanctification. All whom Christ died to justify, also died in him and with him to the reigning power of sin. Sin will not have dominion over true believers. Glorification is really but the grand climax and culmination of what God has been doing in the work of sanctification. Of course, added to that work he will climax in believers will be the cosmic effects he will affect at the same time. Notice how the apostle connects the sanctifying work that is now occurring with the climax of that work at Christ’s return–” Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thess. 5:23-24).

A third reason for the omission is that the verse follows Paul’s argument from Rom. 5 to Rom. 8. That argument passes directly from justification to glorification. “Therefore, having been justified by faith. . . we rejoice in hope [confident assurance] of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1-2). Even though in chapter six he deals with the issue of sanctification indirectly in answering a supposed objection to his teaching, that doctrine is not a part of his main argument. That argument is interrupted by a lengthy parenthesis that begins at the first verse of chapter six, and continues all the way through chapter seven.

The believer’s ultimate experiential glorification does not depend on what is happening right now in his sanctification. If it did, his confidence would be up and down like a yo-yo. Instead, it depends on the accomplished work of Christ in justifying him freely by his grace.

The work of redemption from first to last is the work of our sovereign God. It is ordered in all things and sure.

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1 Response to “Why no “sanctification” in God’s golden chain?”


  1. March 22, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    I hadn’t made the connection between Romans 5 & 8, but was aware fo the first two explanations you gave. Now I have three possible reasons – all good.


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