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Complete Sanctification

Complete Sanctification
Prof.Herman Hanko, Emeritus PRC Seminary

“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13)
A reader asks, “We are taught in the Heidelberg Catechism that we as believers have ‘only a small beginning’ of the new obedience. If this is so and continues throughout our lives, why does Paul speak of us reaching the ‘measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’ in Ephesians 4:13?”

Before I answer the question, I urge our readers, if it is at all possible, to attend the British Reformed Fellowship Family Conference to be held this summer (26 July - 2 August) in Scotland ( It will be on the subject of sanctification and many such questions as the above will be answered.

The quote from the Heidelberg Catechism reads:

Q. 113. What doth the tenth commandment require of us?
A. That even the smallest inclination or thought contrary to any of God’s commandments never rise in our hearts; but that at all times we hate all sin with our whole heart, and delight in all righteousness.
Q. 114. But can those who are converted to God perfectly keep these commandments?
A. No; but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience; yet so, that with a sincere resolution they begin to live not only according to some, but all the commandments of God.

It is interesting to note that, although the Catechism is discussing the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” the answer says nothing about covetousness, but rather concentrates on the incompleteness of sanctification in this life.

There is, however, good reason for this. The tenth commandment is the only one of all the commandments that specifically speaks of the inner requirements of the law. The other commandments, at first reading, address themselves to our outward conformity to Jehovah’s will. The tenth commandment tells us that outward conformity to the law of God is not enough; we must be without sin in our hearts and minds and souls. This is an extremely important truth, forgotten or ignored by those who speak so glibly about an entirely sanctified life and who are satisfied with only external observance of the law, whereas Jesus tells us that love is the keeping of the whole law.

The fact of the matter is that in this life we do not attain the perfection we shall have in heaven in the life to come. And Paul is speaking of that final perfection in Ephesians 4:13. Only in heaven will we possess the full unity of the faith, the knowledge of the Son of God, the perfect man, the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.

We have only a small beginning of the new obedience. In another place, discussing our justification, the Catechism gives as a reason why our good works cannot be the ground of our justification: “Our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin” (A. 62). It is the towering arrogance of proud man who boasts of his good works as the ground of justification—as does Rome and as do those who teach the views of the Federal Vision.

Our hearts are regenerated. By regeneration, we are born again. The new man is created by the work of the Spirit of Christ. To help us understand this, we could call the heart of man the entire nature of man (body and soul) in microcosm, something like an oak tree is, in its entirety, in an acorn. Our natures, including our bodies and our souls (minds and wills), remain depraved, totally so. But our regenerated hearts exert great and powerful influences, through the work of the Holy Spirit, on our entire natures. We know God with our minds (while we also know sin); we desire to serve the Lord according to His holy law (although we also desire sin); we pray, sing Psalms, confess Christ’s name, submit to God’s will, etc. (although very imperfectly).

This is the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit (Gal. 5:17), the struggle that Paul describes so eloquently in Romans 7:13-25.

Yet we must remember:
1) We are justified, that is, we are completely without sin in the mind and heart of God on the basis of Christ’s perfect work.
2) Though the struggle within us is long and bitter, we are always victorious over sin when we confess our sins, find forgiveness and walk in a new and holy life.
3) We do keep God’s law. We keep it so well that we can even command God to examine us, knowing He will find righteousness there. Read Psalm 139:23, although we pray at the same time, the prayer of verse 24. Read Psalm 26. In fact, this truth is almost a major theme in the Psalms. The Psalmist repeatedly pleads his righteousness as a reason why God should bless him. He is not boasting like the Pharisee; he is conscious of Christ’s righteousness imputed to him. But he is also confessing how he has walked and does walk according to God’s will by the Holy Spirit’s saving power.
4) Every moment, we come nearer the full sanctification that is ours when we come to glory. Our sanctification is like the painting of a picture. Gradually it nears its completing and perfection. Each brush stroke brings it closer. The artist may be using inferior paints and poor brushes; he may be working on a dirty canvas. But he overcomes by his great skill every obstacle until the painting is so good that it hangs in a special place in the Louvre.

The Triune God is the skilled artist who, we are told by Scripture, will complete the good work He has begun in us.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 14
  • Issue: 22
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001


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