...to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints...
Those people who are called Christians these days, the New Testament repeatedly refers to as saints or holy ones.1 The original Greek word basically means the separated ones. We are separated from our old sinful life—separated by our Triune God himself—separated to God’s worship and service and godly living.
Like as with all sinners of fallen mankind, we were on the broad road leading to distruction, being children of wrath (Matthew 7:13; Romans 3:23, 6:23; Ephesians 2:3).
Then we were saved by our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. God the Father delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son. He has reconciled us to himself by including us in Christ who died for our sins (Matthew 1:21; Romans 5; Colossians 1:12,13). And by the Holy Spirit he has given us a new heart and has sanctified us, calling us to be saints, setting us apart for a new life (John 5:5-8; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Peter 1:2).
The fifth of the five points of Calvinism has to do with the perseverance of the saints.2
Arminians argue that Christians can ultimately fail and fall out of the Christian life, thereby losing their salvation. Calvinists reject this, arguing that the only true Christians are those who persevere in the Christian life.
They persevere because they are preserved3—they are tightly held onto by the Triune God himself, who continues to work in their lives after regenerating and converting them. Thus they grow as Christians, and are preserved as Christians, being eternally secure in their salvation.
While the Bible speaks of Christians as being the “saints,” the holy or sanctified ones, it also speaks of the Christian life as being one of growth. Christians grow in their personal Christianity, increasingly setting aside their old sinful lifestyle and increasingly evidencing that they are true Christians.
This process is often often called sanctification. This happens in all true Christians, even though they may sometimes fall into grievous sin, because they will turn back to God and grow again as Christians.
This growth is caused by the ongoing work of God the Holy Spirit within us. The Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification cultivates in us, as older Christian writers expressed it, a “manner of life” that is turned from sin and devoted to God.
The sanctified life is:
A righteous life, meaning right in God’s sight (Psalms 1:6; Luke 1:6; James 5:16)
A godly life, meaning devoted to God (Psalms 4:3; 2 Timothy 3:12; Titus 2:12)
A life obedient to God’s moral law (Exodus 24:7; 1 Sam. 15:22; Matthew 8:24-27; 22:37-39; 1 John 3:21-24)
A life pleasing to God, or in which God takes delight (Numbers 14:8; 1 Chron 29:17; Psalms 69:30-31; Proverbs 11:20; Colossians 1:10; 1 John 3:22) and
A morally pure life (Psalms 34:12-14 and 119:1,9; Matthew 5:8; Ephesians 5:3-7; 1 Timothy 1:5; James 1:27; 3:17)
The Christian is to live a holy (i.e. sanctified), God-pleasing life. And we will increasingly do so, by the enabling of the Holy Spirit.
Not to increase and maintain such a lifestyle is to live as though we were were still dead in our sins. To live like that is contrary to the Christian life. That is not the life that is “as becometh saints” (Ephesians 5:3).
These teachings have to do with the essence of Christian living.
Our “Old Man” Was Crucified with Christ
The apostle Paul teaches this over and over again in his epistles. He lays it out in detail in his epistle to the Romans
Paul sometimes calls the former nature of Christians, which totally controlled them before they were saved, their “old man”.4 He teaches us that the Christian’s old man was “crucified” with Christ when they were converted (Romans 6:6; Galatians 2:20; compare Colossians 3:3,9).
So that we do not fail to grasp what Paul means here, let us remember that he also teaches that the fallen nature of human beings is a spiritually “dead” state—meaning cut off from communion with God, and unwilling and unable to worship and obey God.5
That was the state that we Christians were previously in before we were born again: we were “dead in sins”—but now we have been “quickened” or made spiritually alive by God (Ephesians 2:1-5).
Therefore, we could say that when we were born again our former spiritually-dead state itself died! It has been crucified with Christ, and this took effect in our life when we were regenerated.
By “died” here is meant that our old man was separated from our persons (our “I”) so that, although our old man still remains within us, it no longer controls us as it once did.
The old man, which was like some tyrant with absolute power over us, has been slain.
What a change has occurred in us, signified by Paul’s change of one word! We were “dead in sins” (Ephesians 2:1,5) but we are now made “dead to sin” (Romans 6:1).
These are not empty words—these are truths that true Christians experience.
The apostolic doctrine is this:
for the Christian, the old man—our fallen, spiritually-dead nature—is dead but still present within our souls, so long as we live in this earth.
Being “crucified with Christ”, our old nature has neither the right nor the power to control us as its slave, as it did control us before we were converted (Romans 6:6; compare John 8:34,36).
And as we grow in the Christian life, we progressively learn that we are freed from sin (Romans 6:7,18-23) and that we no longer have to obey the tyrannical lusts of our old man (Romans 6:12).
But it is not totally gone from the Christian until he or she goes to heaven. A life-long battle continues (see Romans 7:14-25) until we see the Lord (1 John 3:2).
But it is a battle that Christ has already won at Calvary, in his crucifixion.
That is why true Christians are saved, and that is why they persevere in that state of salvation, to everlasting life.
We should not take Paul’s analogy of an “old man” and a “new man” as teaching that the Christian has two human persons living within his soul.
Before our conversion, we—our persons—were totally depraved. “We were dead in sins.” But now we have been born again.
This regenerated state is our new man (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). We are new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are no longer dominated by our old man because our old man, our sinful flesh, was crucified with Christ in his crucifixion.
However, to our shame we sometimes choose to yield again to our old man’s lusts (its sinful cravings), and so we sin (Romans 6:13,16). Our crucified old nature and regenerated new nature war within our one soul, with the old nature being defeated while our new nature perseveres (see Galatians 5:16-26).
Notice Paul’s words in Romans 6: if we are true converts to the Lord Jesus Christ then:
We “are dead to sin” (v.2);
We “were baptized into [Christ’s] death” (v.3);
We “are buried with him by baptism into death” (v.4);
our “old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth…”
We “…should not serve sin” (v.6).
In consequence of Christ having been crucified for us, God, the supreme Judge, reckons us to be crucified with him. And there is more: in consequence of this reckoning by God, God therefore sent the Holy Spirit to set us free from our fallen nature—a liberation that Paul describes as a crucifying of our old nature.
That liberation took effect at our regeneration.
Seeing that our old man with its lusts remains in us, we sometimes find it hard to believe that it is dead and so no longer controls us!
But we need to understand that it is dead in order that we might reckon it to be so, and therefore no longer think we must obey its lusts (see Romans 6:11).
To be continued.
- This translates the greek word ἅγιος (hagios) (e.g. Romans 1:7; 8:27; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 14:33; 2 Corinthians 13:13; Ephesians 1:1,15,18; 2:19; 1 Peter 2:5,9). This is the word saint most often used to identify the Lord’s people throughout the Epistles and Book of Rev, whereas the word disciples is much more often used for the student-followers of Christ in the Gospels and Acts. However, the label Christians was evidently given to us by the Greeks and is used only 3 times in the Bible (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16).↩
- Perseverance of the Saints is the name given to the fifth of the five points (tenets) of Calvinism:
1. Total Depravity
2. Unconditional Election
3. Limited Atonement
4. Irresistible Grace
5. Perseverance of the Saints↩
- The fifth point of Calvinism is sometimes mis-remembered as the preservation of the saints. While it is also true that true Christians are preserved by God so that they never lose their salvation (because God never loses them; e.g. see John 10:27-29), the historic Calvinistic emphasis is on their perseverance in the Christian life (or walk) as saints.↩
- Paul also uses the following equivalent terms for the “old man”: “carnal,” “carnal mind,” “carnally minded,” “the flesh,” “body of death” and “body of sin”.↩
- See Chapter 2 at the section, The Spiritually Dead Soul) and Chapter 7 at the section, Devoted Slaves.↩