While working on a sermon covering Philippians 2:12-13, I found question 38 of the Baptist Catechism quite helpful.

A Brief Word About Catechisms

First, catechisms were and are used regularly throughout church history. While to many the term catechism brings up the picture of the Catholic or Anglican church, protestant groups such as the presbyterians and reformed baptistic congregationalists have regularly used catechisms to disciple and educate believers. Typically, catechisms utilize the question and answer format. For example, question 38 of the Baptist Catechism has,

“Q. 38: What is sanctification?

A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”

Question 38 of the Baptist Catechism

Second, catechisms offer a broad treatment of deep, biblical subjects. Entire books have been written on the topic of sanctification. Journals and scholarly articles increase the understanding and expand the debate on this doctrine. However, the Catechism summarizes the Scriptures’ teaching on sanctification with thirty-four words. In other words, it offers the bones of the doctrine, not a comprehensive treatment.

Third, and finally, catechisms are tools for aiding believers in understanding doctrines of the Bible. They are not the Bible, nor were they ever meant to replace the Bible. They are only effective and helpful as they rely on the Bible and its God-given authority. The moment catechisms loom over the Bible in an effort to wrest authority from God or His Word is the moment the catechisms are to be thrown into the fire. With that said, the Baptist Catechism does not seek to do this.

Baptist Catechism and Sanctification

I used question 38 as an example above, and I will offer it here again.

“Q. 38: What is sanctification?

A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”

Question 38 of the Baptist Catechism

There are three parts to the answer that helped me in summarizing the complex doctrine of sanctification.

Sanctification is the Work of God

First, let us note that the Catechism places the work of sanctification in God’s court. We read, “Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace.” The Catechism cites 2 Thessalonians 2:13 which reads, “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first-fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” (ESV) In this passage, the Spirit is the means by which the “brothers beloved” were sanctified.

Sanctification has a goal: Godliness

The second part that helps us understand what sanctification is refers to the goal. We read in the Catechism, “whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God.” That is our goal: godliness. In sanctification we are made after the image of God. I found this phrase interesting in light of a brief comparison of Genesis 1:26, 5:3, and James 3:9.

Genesis 1:26Genesis 5:3James 3:9
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”“When Adam had lived 13 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.”“With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.”
Man’s image prior to the fall centers on God’s image.Man’s image after the fall centers on man’s fallen image.Man’s image after the fall retains vestiges of God’s image.
All Scripture references are from the English Standard Version

Prior to the fall, man was created in the image of God. After the fall, man begat man in his own image, though this image retains aspects of the image of God. What ties this together with the doctrine of sanctification is the goal of sanctification: godliness. We see this presented in Romans 8:28-29, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Did you catch the reference to the image? Through sanctification (and two other key doctrines), believers are made into the image of his Son. That is the goal of sanctification.

Sanctification is a Progressive Work

The last part of sanctification upon which the Baptist Catechism touches is the progressiveness of it. We read, “Sanctification is the work of God…whereby we…are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”

The progressive nature of sanctification is demonstrated by the Baptist Catechisms wording, “more and more.” That is, there will be a progression sanctification. Let me remind you that the Catechism is succinct; it is not meant to be an elaborate work of theology.

If we consulted the London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 13, “On Sanctification,” we would read in paragraph 2, “This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man, yet imperfect in this life there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war; the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.”

There is no doubt, on comparing the Confession and the Catechism, with accompanying Scripture, that the work of sanctification is a lifelong work.

Concluding Thoughts

There is much that could be written (and probably should) at this point. There are many applications that we could discern and utilize for our daily lives in the faith. However, that will have to wait until another day. For now, let the Baptist Catechism help us understand this wonderfully deep and delightfully sweet doctrine of sanctification.

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