Sanctification & Abolition: Immediate or Incremental?

Many have contended against abolitionists that we cannot demand total and immediate abolition of abortion. The appeal is made to the Christian and their sanctification (to be set apart or to be made holy). The question is asked “Is not our sanctification as believers incremental?” The argument is as follows:

The believer’s life is an incremental not immediate ascent to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, so than it does not follow that we should expect and seek an immediate abolition of the sin of abortion.

This is indeed an important thought that every Christian must ponder on. Is my sanctification incremental, or is it immediate and how does this affect the way I go about addressing the murder of my preborn neighbor? I think we could argue that the Scriptures teach us that the answer is yes to both. Our sanctification is already, but not yet.

Sanctification is Immediate

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” (Ephesians 1:3-4 ESV)

If you are in Christ, you are already sanctified. In one sense, those who are in Christ have been set apart to be holy before creation. In eternity past God the Father chose a people. He promised God the Son these people for his own possession if the Son would give his life as a ransom for them. God the Spirit was given the task of applying this work of the Son to his people, regenerating them and sealing them with this promise of sanctification. In this way our sanctification, or being set apart and made holy, is immediate. Our Lord did not simply offer our holiness as an option and sit back to see if we would accomplish it. Rather, our God took the necessary steps to ensure our sanctification by choosing us, redeeming us, and regenerating us. This leads to the second way in which our sanctification is immediate.

“We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”(Hebrews 10:10 ESV)

The atonement and resurrection of our Lord Jesus accomplished something. Our Lord was crucified and experienced the wrath of God not only to offer us salvation (and by that our sanctification) but to actually accomplish it. On the cross Jesus receives our sins and the due penalty for those sins, the wrath of Almighty God. Our unrighteousness is transferred to God the Son, and through God the Holy Spirit the Son’s righteousness is transferred to those who believe. Christ was an abolitionist. By his life, death, resurrection, and ascension Christ abolished sin and death for his people. Again, God does not simply sit on the sidelines and hope that we would make ourselves holy (we can’t). Rather, God enters human history to actually abolish sin and death and thus set us apart and make us holy (Rom 6:6).

This is the amazing news that inspired abolitionist John Newton to pen the famous words

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see”

If you are in Christ, this promise is for you, you are made completely holy by the work of Christ. Again, God not only tried to abolish your sin and the penalty due for it, but he actually accomplished it, thus setting you apart. God no longer considers you unholy but holy.

Christian, your sanctification is immediate and the abolition of the legal slaughter of God’s image bearers should be immediate.

Sanctification is Incremental

As those who have been chosen before the creation of the world, our sanctification has been both purchased and applied to us through the atonement of Christ and regeneration of the Spirit. We are already sanctified, set apart, and are referred to as saints or “holy ones” (Col 1:2, 3:12). In another sense however, we are not yet completely holy and perfect in this life. This is completely obvious to most of us. Christians still sin. The work of the Spirit to conform us to Christ’s perfect image is not yet in full completion and will not be until the day of Christ (Phil 1:6, 1 Thes 5:23). So in a way, our being set apart and made holy is an incremental process. We make steps and progression towards holiness until the day when we are glorified and made perfect to be with our Lord. But this progression is not compromise.

The Spirit tells us through the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:13 to “put to death the deeds of the body” and this can come only “by the Spirit”. This is some serious language that is used elsewhere (Col 3:5, Rom 6:13, 1 Cor 6:18, Eph 5:3) and cannot be taken lightly. According to God’s word, sanctification does not look like a compromise by which we make a deal with our sin, eating just a little piece of the cake instead of the whole pie. Instead, this very serious language is used by the Spirit to tell us that we shall not “continue in sin that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1). Sin is the breaking of God’s law, the very God who has redeemed us from the curse of our sin. Sin is to be despised and put to death, not just disliked and slowly sloughed away.

While we must recognize the fact that we won’t be perfect until Christ’s return, and that sanctification is a daily striving towards righteousness; we do not recognize sin as a simply distasteful problem that we just try to ignore like an annoying sibling. We are not told to kill our sin tomorrow, compromising and make exceptions to killing it today. Sin must be mortified today, by the Spirit (Rom 8:13, Gal 3:3), and in doing so we are conformed to the image of Christ.

Sadly, and in ways beyond my understanding, some will use the not yet and the gradual aspects of our sanctification to try and prove that the abolitionist is wrong to demand immediate abolition. They fight for the type of sanctification that says “ I’m making progress towards holiness because I now only rob banks using a knife versus using a hand gun”. They compromise with sin instead of putting their sin to death. Laws that allow ‘doctors’ to kill a child using chemicals and drugs, as long as they are in a “safe” facility and don’t rip the limbs of the poor child are just as guilty. This is called compromise, not putting your sin to death. This is called lukewarm Christianity, and is in direct contradiction to the faith they claim to hold and the God they claim to love.

As we can see from Scripture, the fact that we are not yet perfect is not a doctrine that gives us an excuse to comprise with and embrace neither our own or our cultures sin. Rather, this is a truth that should encourage us to pursue the Holy Spirit, preach the Gospel to both our neighbors and ourselves, and embrace holiness.

Abolition

So what does this tells us about how we should respond to abortion?

First, all abortion is sin. Abortion is the murder and sacrifice of children to the god of self. We as Christians are called to be holy, just as our heavenly Father is holy (Mat 5:48). We are not merely called to hope for complete abolition and settle in the meantime for laws that still allow for the murder of Gods image bearers. We are not called to merely pray for complete abolition while we idly (and quietly) stand by while our neighbor is led to the slaughter. All Christians, everywhere are called to love their neighbors (Mark 12:31) not only with a moral opinion, but by putting their hands to plow to strive for complete abolition; hoping, praying, and working to see our neighbors live.

We do not deny the fact that complete abolition, much like complete sanctification, takes time. We aren’t fools, we know that total abolition, like our sanctification, takes work and may take years to accomplish. But as with any other sin, we will not compromise. We will not allow the enemy to fool us into making exceptions with the sin of abortion or any other sin. Rather, we seek to be like our Lord. We will pray, put our hands to the plow, love our neighbor, and put to death the sin of abortion. Because our King commands it, and he is worthy to be obeyed.

*Note, this is by no means an exhaustive coverage of this topic. There are many men who are much more godly and wise than I who have done extensive work on the nature of sanctification. Although I believe the above to be biblical and true I am open for conversation and correction by Scripture where I may be in error.

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