Before embarking on the next portion of our study, the Pseudepigrapha of the Intertestamentary Period, we will take two issues to look at the relationship between eternal hope and sanctification.
From the Church’s conception to the present, Christ’s followers have agreed on what Scripture teaches regarding justification, while disagreeing on what constitutes a biblical view of sanctification. For example, His people unite in believing that God saved Old Testament saints because of the propitious death of Christ. However, how did God sanctify the Old Testament saint? Again, God’s people find general agreement regarding Romans 1-4 (devoted to the doctrine of justification), and have never been able to agree on Paul’s teaching in Romans 5-8 (devoted to the doctrine of sanctification).
In the next two issues, we shall look more closely at the relationship between sanctification and an eternal hope, for it seems to me that the imputed sanctification of believer is not only past, but also future.
The Task of Sanctification
When God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, He did not say that if they ate, they would know good from evil. God does not want man trying to decide, and even though he tries, he cannot make the determination. In God’s command concerning the tree we see that God tested Adam and Eve with an issue that separates that which is intrinsically evil (disobedience) from that which is intrinsically good (obedience); Adam and Eve failed the test, sought autonomy, and committed an intrinsically evil act.
You may not be able to connect the command to some aspect of God’s nature, but trying to maintain a distinction between intrinsic evil and a violation of God’s command is fallacious; you must assume one defines the other. If you endeavor to separate His commands from that which is intrinsic to His nature, you will succumb to the temptation of seeking to define good and evil (as noted in the illustration of divorce discussed later in this issue).
When God redeems a man through the propitious blood of Christ, he places before that man a choice: does he wish freedom, or would he, like the freed slave in the Old Testament, want his Master to bore a hole in his ear and make him a slave forever? In essence, God places before each individual the same choice given Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; you must decide that you would rather be His slave than have autonomy, irrespective of whether or not you believe that being completely autonomous is possible.
In saying this, I do not mean to suggest that in evangelism you are obligated to call attention to all of God’s commandments and tell the person he must become God’s slave, all before he receives Christ. Rather, when a person becomes a Christian, the Holy Spirit, in His time, will surface issues needing attention. At that point, the new believer confirms his conversion by yielding to God’s will.
If God calls something sin, then whatever it is, it violates His will, and therefore violates His nature; you cannot separate His will from His character. (This, of course, does not include God expressing His will to an individual, such as His commanding Hosea to marry a whore. We will address this more thoroughly later in this issue.) As you evaluate that which God calls sin, you must ask and answer at least three questions:
1 – Is the temptation to sin a test through which God insists that all people pass? Your biblical answer must be, “yes.”
2 – Should you consider the violation of God’s command a sin? Again, to be biblical, your answer must be “yes.”
3 – Is it sin because it violates His will, or because it violates His character (i.e., intrinsically evil)? You cannot be certain of your answer to this question; Scripture does not say.
At this point, you have two choices, equally valid: You can conclude that because God did not repeat certain commands present in one dispensation as He moved into another dispensation a distinction exists between God’s will and His character. (By way of example, God permitted divorce in the Old, but not the New Testament, and therefore divorce may violate His will, but not His character.) Alternatively, you can conclude that every command God has ever given reflects not only His will, but also His character. (For example, even though God proscribed eating shellfish in the Old, but not the New Testament, eating shellfish in this dispensation violates the essence of His character.)
Those believing the first choice rebut the second choice by noting that God solves the dilemma, in that, He records His will in each Testament, and that the believer is free to do whatever the Bible does not prohibit. Also, note that with conscience and reason you cannot affirm those commands found in one dispensation, but not the other. (For example, reason and conscience do not factor into people’s right to divorce.)
I suggest, however, that when you accept the premise that some commands reveal His will but not His character, you naturally use the template of reason and conscience on New Testament commands, and on that basis apply or ignore them. Those believers neglecting New Testament commands do so reasoning that they represent the culture of those times, and not our own culture.
If you disagree with my suggestion that God’s character and will cannot be separated, and choose to conclude that many sins violate God’s will but do not necessarily violate the essence of His nature, you must decide which sins fit which category. Properly categorizing biblical sins requires relying on conscience and reason. Scripture teaches that although conscience and reason are authoritative, they can never be absolute. Your making these determinations is dangerous; better to assume God’s will and His character are one.
You find a good illustration of this when looking at the Bible’s teaching on divorce. Note that divorce does not offend conscience and reason under many circumstances. Moses allowed what Jesus prohibited. Malachi, centuries after Moses, said, “I hate divorce.” If divorce does not violate the nature and character of God, why does He say that He hates it? If divorce violates the essence of God’s character, why did He permit it in the days of Moses?
Individual vs. General Commands
At this point, you may very well ask if this line of thinking applies to commands given to individuals. For example, in the Old Testament, God commanded Ezekiel to lie on his left side for over a year. In the New Testament, Jesus instructed His disciple to catch a fish, extract the coin from its mouth, and pay the tax.
As noted above, such commands do not reflect the essence of God, unless you wish to argue that the lesson derived from the command reflects his character, such as the need to pay tax to the government. Such commands do not reflect God’s nature, and He does not expect you to obey them. I cannot lead you to a specific Scriptural teaching to this effect, and I cannot prove that I am correct.
However, if you wish to be His obedient slave, I recommend that you obey all general commands in the New Testament and consider all Old Testament commands normative for that dispensation only. If you do not make a distinction between individual and general commands, you will conclude that just as God does not require that you lie on your side for over a year, so also He does not want you to obey those commandments in the New Testament not supported by conscience and reason.
Having laid the groundwork for the question of sanctification in the Old and New Testaments, we will more fully explore this issue in Eternal Hope, Part 23.
By way of application, if your conclusion that some commands are cultural flows from a reluctance to obey God’s will, you are obviously impeding the process of sanctification. When that happens, you forfeit your biblical right to consider yourself a Christian. You cannot detach surrender to His will from the process of sanctification.
Yours, for a life of obedience,
 Justification: God declaring a guilty person innocent
 Sanctification: That process whereby the believer becomes conformed to the image of Christ
 Cf. John 14:6
 Imputed sanctification: God declaring the believer holy, thus enabling the Holy Spirit to dwell in him
 Cf., e.g., 1John 2:3-4
 Cf. Hosea 1:2
 Cf. Matthew 19:3-9
 Cf. Malachi 2:13-16
 Cf. Ezekiel 4:4-5
 Cf. Matthew 17:24-27