Calvinism, The Holy Spirit, Sanctification, And The Bible

By Guthrie D. Dean

Calvinists teach total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, the perseverance of the saints, and other allied errors. These points can be found in such works as The New Hampshire Confession of Faith and The Philadelphia Confession of Faith. I would like to take note of what they teach regarding the sanctification of the Christian by means of the Holy Spirit. After affirming that the sinner is effectually called, regenerated and sanctified, they continue, “This sanctification is (1 Thess. 5:23) throughout the whole man, yet imperfect (Rom. 7:18, 23) in this life; there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a (Gal. 5:17; 1 Pet. 2:1 I) continual, and irreconcilable war; the flesh lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. 3. In which war, although the remaining corruption for a time may much (Rom. 7:23) prevail, yet, through the continual supply of strength, from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the (Rom. 6:14) regenerate part doth overcome. . .”(1)

We all agree with the verses used in the foregoing, and there is a great deal of truth stated in the entire chapter. But we want to especially call attention to the seemingly innocent statement (Number 3) again: “In which war, although the remaining corruption for a time may much prevail, yet, through the continual supply of strength, from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome.” “The regenerate part” (the spirit of man) “doth overcome.” They don’t say, “might,” “may,” “maybe,” or “perhaps will.” There are other errors taught in this quotation, but the one which states that the sanctifying Spirit sees to it that the “regenerate part doth overcome” teaches irresistible grace, unconditional sanctification, and the impossibility of apostasy. The overcoming, they teach, is done through the continual supply of strength from the Holy Spirit, who continues to sanctify the saint through no effort of his own. They teach a direct operation of the Holy Spirit on the alien sinner to save him; and a direct operation (apart from his obedience) to keep the Christian saved. The Bible teaches no such thing.

While it is true that the Christian’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19); and that they are the holy temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16-17); and the abiding place of God through the presence of His Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:20-22); and that the Spirit dwells in us (Rom. 8:9-11); yet this is on the basis of our faithfulness. Jude 19 speaks of some who are sensual “having not the Spirit.” Hebrews 6:4-6 warns of some who “were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God” and fell away. Christians are told not to do despite to the Spirit of grace, not to lie to the Holy Spirit, not to quench, and not to grieve the Spirit. Yet these Calvinist confessions of faith indicate that the Holy Spirit will see to it that the Christian will continue to be sanctified by the Spirit and will overcome anyway. This is a grievous error. We are to endure, to overcome, to continue steadfastly, to watch and pray, to be faithful. There is a race to be run, a work to be done, and a war to be won. By the aid and sanctification of the Holy Spirit within us, by the guidance of the word of God, by the help of the Lord, and through the encouragement of fellow-saints, we can overcome. But to say that the Bible offers some kind of continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit, leaving the impression that there are no strings attached, is to deceive the hearts of the simple. We might be able to list fifty things the Holy Spirit does within us; but none are done without our faithfulness. The Philadelphia Confession of Faith does go ahead to say that the saint is to live a heavenly life, “in evangelical obedience to all the commands which Christ, as head and king in his word hath prescribed to them.” But this, to them, is after the fact; having nothing to do with the sanctification or salvation of the soul.

Though one is sanctified or set apart, at the moment of conversion, so far as mere state or relation is concerned, sanctification of the Holy Spirit, in one point of view, is unquestionably a progressive work. When Alexander Campbell denied a direct operation of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of sinners but contended for the personal indwelling of the Spirit to aid the Christian in living the sanctified life in conjunction with the word of God, some brethren accused him of being inconsistent. Yet he was not inconsistent, for two different subjects are under consideration. He gave this reply to his objectors, which I feel most appropriate for our time: “Some, indeed, ask, `Do Christians need more aid to gain eternal life than sinners do to become Christians? Is not the work of conversion a more difficult work than the work of sanctification?’ Hence, they contend more for the work of the Spirit in conversion, than for the work of the Spirit in sanctification. This, indeed, is a mistaken view of the matter, if we reason either from analogy or from divine testimony. Is it not more easy to plant than to cultivate the corn, the vine, the olive? Is it not more easy to enlist in the army, than to be a good soldier, and fight the battles of the Lord; to start in the race, than to reach the goal; to enter the ship, than cross the ocean; to be naturalized, than to become a good citizen; to enter into the matrimonial compact, than to be an exemplary husband; to enter into life, than to retain and sustain it for threescore years and ten? And while the commands `believe,’ `repent,’ and `be baptized,’ are never accompanied with any intimation of peculiar difficulty; the commands to the use of the means of spiritual health and life; to form the Christian character; to attain the resurrection of the just; to lay hold on eternal life; to make our calling and election sure, etc., are accompanied with such exhortations, admonitions, cautions, as to make it a difficult and critical affair, requiring all the aids of the Spirit of our God, to all the means of grace and untiring assiduity and perseverance on our part; for it seems, `the called’ who enter the stadium are many, while `the chosen’ and approved `are few,’ and many, says Jesus, `shall seek to enter into the heavenly city, and shall not be able,’ `Let us labor, therefore, to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.'”(2)

“This requires aid. Hence, assistance is to be prayed for; and it is promised. Now as the Spirit of God, under the administration of Christ, is the author of all holiness in us he is called the `Holy Spirit,’ `the Spirit of holiness’ . . . .The Holy Spirit is, then, the author of all our holiness; and in the struggle after victory over sin and temptation, `it helps our infirmities,’ and comforts us by seasonably bringing to our remembrance the promises of Christ, and `strengthens us with all might, in the new or inner man.’ And thus `God works in us to will and to do of his own benevolence,’ `while we are working out our own salvation with fear and trembling.’ Christians are, therefore, clearly and unequivocally temples of the Holy Spirit; and they are quickened, animated, encouraged, and sanctified by the power and influence of the Spirit of God, working in them through the truth. God `gives his Holy Spirit to them who ask him,’ according to his revealed will; and without this gift no one could be saved or ultimately triumph over all opposition. He knows but little of the deceitfulness of sin, or of the combating of temptation, who thinks himself competent to wrestle against the allied forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil . . . . To those, then, who believe, repent, and obey the gospel, he actually communicates of his Good Spirit . . . . He works in us, and by us, and for us, all that is needful to our present, spiritual, and eternal salvation.”(3)

The Bible teaches that the Spirit sanctifies, indwells, and aids the Christian in overcoming the flesh; but not passively on the part of the saint (as taught by Calvinists), but through active obedience on the part of the saint. Romans 8:13 says, “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” Moses E. Lard comments: “Still the will is to be your will, the effort your effort, and the result your deed. To you the whole is to seem to be your own unaided act. You will hence approve or blame whenever you succeed or fail, just as though wholly unassisted. Nevertheless the Holy Spirit will aid you. But this aid will all be tendered back out of sight. It will not be pushed out so as to come under the eye of consciousness. You will hence never be able to take any sensible notice of it. You will be conscious of the effort, and you can know the result. But you are told merely, that you are aided. Hence the fact that you are so is matter of belief, not of knowledge.”(4) Calvinists make man a robot; the Bible tells him to walk after the Spirit. Calvinists teach that the flesh is not responsible for its deeds. But the Bible teaches, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23). The very presence and indwelling of the Spirit of God within us makes us holy. We are sanctified unto the Master’s use, and the Spirit’s indwelling. He can use and dwell in those who keep themselves in the love of God (Jude 21).


1. The Philadelphia Confession Of Faith, Chapter X111, Sanctification.

2. The Christian System, by Alexander Campbell, 1835, pp. 48-49.

3. Ibid., pp. 49-50.

4. Paul’s Letter To Romans, by Moses E. Lard (1875), p. 263.

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 6, pp. 163-164
March 17, 1983