The Westminster Divines, the Reformers, the Puritans, and Scripture call for active combat against remaining sins, not merely a passive acceptance that such sins will eventually go away. Paul knew this well, and instructed the church at Ephesus to equip themselves with “the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11, 13).
Last year, the PCA approved a report on human sexuality that rightly spoke to the hope and victory of believers over sexual sins (AIC, 7 AND 10). However, when overtures were written to extend this to ordained officers of the church (along with calls for holiness in several other areas of life like finance, alcohol, etc) charges of “Wesleyan Perfectionism” rang loudly from certain quarters of the church.
We’ve been here before. Several years ago we struggled with the antinomian preaching of Tullian Tchividjian. I thought we had survived his aberrant teachings on the relationship between justification and sanctification, but I see it is sprouting up again within the PCA. It appears we may have an allergy to biblical commands to pursue holiness.
Is it wrong for Reformed believers to trust that the Spirit’s work will be effective? 1 John 5:4-5 indicates that we should indeed expect Spirit-wrought victory in our lives,
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
The Greek word for “overcome,” used three times in these two verses, is the verbal form of the noun “victory” used in verse 4. It is associated with athletes winning a contest or an army winning a great battle. Within the larger context of this passage, John has taught that those who believe Jesus is the Christ have been born of God (v. 1). Further, if we love God, we will obey his commandments (2-3). The one who professes faith in Jesus Christ has victory over the world.
The “world” in 1 John is a collective word that encompasses all desires, ambitions, dangers, and temptations contrary to God’s revealed will. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it, “Perhaps the best way of defining what the New Testament means by ‘the world’ is that it is everything that is opposed to God and His Spirit” (Life in Christ, 588). It is not simply avoiding things that are worldly, like the old fundamentalist aversions to movie theaters and dance halls. “For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16). John’s message couldn’t be clearer: Christians can have victory over the world (i.e. sin) through faith in Jesus Christ.
Commenting on 1 John 5:4-5, John Calvin wrote,
Having such a force to contend with, we have an immense war to carry on, and we should have been already conquered before coming to the contest, and we should be conquered a hundred times daily, had not God promised to us the victory. But God encourages us to fight by promising us the victory.