Why Are We Not Perfectly Sanctified at Conversion?
Why are believers in this world left to struggle with indwelling and remaining sin? Certainly, God has the power to make us perfect and sinless from the moment of our conversion. The Holy Spirit could so work within us that we are totally liberated from the remains of sin the moment we are born again. He’s going to do that when we are glorified at the end, so why not now? If God has the power to make us perfectly holy the moment we are regenerated, why doesn’t He do it? Why are we left to struggle with remaining sin until our dying day?
Without pretending to be exhaustive, let me suggest some answers to this question.
- Of course, first, we must say that this is God’s will. Therefore, even when we may struggle with understanding why, we must trust that it’s for our good and for His glory.
- God has left us to this ongoing conflict with remaining sin to promote our humility. In the words of Thomas Brooks, it is “partly to keep them humble and low in their own eyes.”
- It teaches us how dependent upon God we are.
- In order to make Christ more precious to us.
- To make us more patient and compassionate toward others. Arthur Pink writes, “It should promote a spirit of forbearance to our fellows: we ought not to expect less failure in them than we find in ourselves.”
- To make heaven more precious to us and to help us to keep our affections on things above. Again, quoting Thomas Brooks, “that they may distinguish between a state of grace and a state of glory, and that heaven may be more sweet to them in the close.”
- To further display in us, and through us, God’s grace, power, and perfections. Charles Spurgeon said,
Just as God permitted Job to be tempted of the devil, that all the world might see how God can enable a man by patience to triumph, so he keeps us here to let the devil and all men know what his grace can do for his people, and also to let angels, and principalities and powers in the heavenly places behold what saints God can make out of guilty sinners. He takes those who had gone far away in sin, and brings them nigh by the blood of Jesus. He fashions the rough, knotty timber that did not seem as if it ever could be shaped and uses it in the building of his temple. He makes wonders of grace out of sinful men and women, such marvels of mercy that the angels will stand and gaze at them throughout eternity, as they say, ‘How could God make such…beings as these out of sinful material?’ All this will be ‘to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved’ (Ephesians 1:6).
- Our warfare with remaining sin is God’s school by which He is perfecting our faith and preparing us for the world to come. Think of how it was with the children Israel after God delivered them from Egypt. He didn’t bring them into the Promised Land immediately. They must wander in the wilderness for many years and face many trials and temptations, and the land itself must be conquered after much fighting. So, it is with the Christian. God said through Moses in Deuteronomy 8:2-3:
And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. So he humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.
So, you see, the Christian’s life in this world is his wilderness wandering. This is the period of the trying and the strengthening of our faith, the period in which we are being trained to no longer be children but to grow up into spiritual maturity and wisdom. And this is the period in which, by each of our unique experiences in this world, we are each being prepared and fitted for our special place in the glory of the world to come.While we grieve over our remaining sin and we must never give over the fight against it, we must not conclude that we are not Christians because of it. Click To Tweet
In light of these things, dear Christian, while we grieve over our remaining sin and we must never give over the fight against it, we must not conclude that we are not Christians because of it. Though the Christian in union with Christ is justified and being sanctified, we are not yet glorified. Though sin no longer condemns us to Hell or dominates our lives unchecked, it continues to vex our souls and grieve our hearts, and we know what it is to cry with the Apostle Paul, “O wretched man that I am.” Therefore, the whole life of a Christian is a life of repentance. Not only are faith in Christ and repentance from sin the beginning of the Christian life, but faith and repentance are the two legs by which we walk all the way to Heaven. But in the world to come, praise God, there will be no more need for repentance, no more tears for having grieved our Savior and failed to love Him as we ought because there will be no more sin. We will love and serve our Savior together with His people with unsinning hearts for all eternity. This is a large part of what will make heaven, heaven for the child of God.
Jeffery Smith is a pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Coconut Creek, Florida. He is a professor for the Reformed Baptist Seminary and serves on the governing board. He is the author of The Rich Man and Lazarus: Plain Truth About Life and Death and Preaching for Conversions. He is married to Kelly, and together they have six children and two grandchildren.