Someone recently sent me some questions via email (email@example.com).
These are their questions and my answers:
“do You believe in progressive sanctification?”
This was my response:
There is a sense in which sanctification is both progressive and complete. The Bible says that believers are sanctified, but at the same time, we can say that we are being sanctified.
At conversion, a believer repents of their sins and becomes obedient to God in their heart. The consecration of their heart is complete. But as they grow in the Lord, they grow in knowledge, and therefore grow in character.
So they are entirely sanctified as far as their heart is concerned, but they are also being sanctified as far as their mind is concerned.
I talked more about this in my video on The Doctrine of Holiness:
What I absolutely do not believe in is the type of “progressive sanctification” that says “You can repent of your adultery this year and then next year maybe you can repent of your lying and stealing.” No, a true convert repents of all known sin at conversion and from there they grow in knowledge in regards to their obligations.
They wrote me back:
Thanks, looked at the video- sounds good so far-do you believe that one can stop sinning before they are born again?
This was my response:
Glad you checked out the video.
The expression “born again” is meant to signify a radical change of life or character. It is primarily a moral change, as the Apostle John said whosoever is born of God does not commit sin. Thus showing that the evidence of being born again is that you have turned from sinning and are living a new life.
Being born again is not, as the Calvinists believe, when a man’s constitution receives the ability to repent and believe. They believe that free will was lost by Adam’s original sin so that those born from him do not have the ability to repent and believe until their constitution is regenerated, then they can be converted. Thus they make a distinction between regeneration and conversion. In regeneration, they say, God alone is active and man is passive. In conversion, man is active.
This I do not believe. The Bible no where states that free will was lost through Adam’s original sin, but God repeatedly calls men to obedience and bemoans their sinning after Adam’s sin. God speaks to men as if they had the ability to choose obedience over sin, and this was before Calvary and before Pentecost. God telling Cain that he could rule over sin, or telling Israel to choose life over death, are examples of how God continued to address men as if they have the power to obey. That Nineveh believed God and repented of their sins is also an example of how men had the ability to obey God after Adam’s original sin, yet before the gospel, before Calvary, before Pentecost, etc. This ability men retained from Adam’s creation, so all men are without excuse for not living up to the light that they have.
(The Ninevites must have been born again in both views, for if man cannot repent until he is born again the fact that they repented must mean that they were first born again, or in my view if being born again is repenting then the Ninevites were born again when they repented. That is, their life was changed and they lived a new life in submission and obedience to God. And “in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him”)
Furthermore, the Bible makes no distinction between regeneration and conversion. If there was a distinction, so that you choose to repent and believe (conversion) only after you receive the ability to do so (regeneration), then that would mean that you can be regenerate even while you are impenitent and unbelieving.
No, being “born again” is when a person repents of their sins and trusts in the gospel. If a person stops sinning, then they are born again. If they have stopped sinning, then that means that they are no longer serving sin and the devil but are now serving God and living righteously. To be born again is nothing more than having your life changed by grace through faith.
The question, “can a person stop sinning before they are born again” seems to assume the Calvinistic idea that a person’s constitution needs to be changed before they have the ability to obey God, whereas I am saying that all men have free will by virtue of their creation, so all sin is avoidable and inexcusable and justly punishable, and if a person has stopped sinning then that means that they are born again, as the born again experience is a moral change of character, not a change of constitution.
When the Holy Spirit brings a person to the point that they repent (change their mind about sinning) and believe (trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins) then they are born again since their character has been changed. This is a change brought about by grace and free will. This experience could have happened sooner, as men can submit to the influences of God whenever they choose to.
If men did not have the ability to avoid their sins, how could they be justly punished for their sins? And if they couldn’t be justly punished, why would they need a Savior? But since sinners are in need of a Savior, they must deserve punishment, and if they deserve punishment then the must have been able to avoid their sin. As the Bible says, God never allows us to be tempted above what we are able to bear and with the temptation He always provides a way of escape. God does this because He doesn’t want us to sin, but if He didn’t do this then it would stand to reason that He evidently wants us to sin.
There were external or particular sins that I had stopped before I was born again, like some drug abuse, etc. A person can stop stealing, for example, and not be born again. But to be born again is a radical change of the heart, when a person repents of all their sinning and submits and yields to God. A person is not truly born again until that happens. Moral character is of the heart, not mere external actions, and so the heart must change and that occurs by God’s grace, or His divine influence upon our heart. He influences us, we yield, thus we are born again.
I would rather ask the question, “Is a person born again if they haven’t stopped sinning?” To that I would answer no, to be born again is to stop sinning. The proof that a person is born again is that their life has been changed and apart from this change of life, they are not born again. By this we know that we know Him, John said, if we keep His commandments. But he that says he knows Him but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
A person who is born again may sin in the future, as they always have a free choice to obey temptation or not, but the habitual lifestyle of a believer is that of holiness. Sin, if it occurs at all, should be the exception and not the rule. If a believer sins, they should repent and ask for forgiveness lest they perish.