Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 6 — on Salvation] part 2

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement, a section at a time, in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.

Sanctification: We believe that, while Christians are made holy (sanctified, set apart) in a definitive and positional sense at conversion, it still remains for them to grow in holiness (often called progressive sanctification). This spiritual growth is a joint work between God and man whereby believers become more conformed to the image of Christ. This takes place as the Holy Spirit uses His Word and His church to enable Christians to grow in knowing Christ, in loving God and loving others, and in obeying His Word — putting off sinful ways and replacing them with biblical ones. This work of grace is not a passive, monergistic work of contemplation [1], but requires believers to utilize, by faith, the normal means of grace such as Bible study, prayer, and fellowship and discipleship in the context of the local church. This process of spiritual growth, which is distinct from justification [2], is God’s expectation for every believer. This growth, however, is not necessarily manifested uniformly in every believer, and while Christians will experience real progress in growing more like Christ, this work will never be perfected in this life.

(Psalm 34:14; Acts 26:17–18; Romans 6:1–14; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 4:17–5:2; Philippians 2:12–13; Colossians 1:13; 3:1–17; 2 Peter 3:18)

Eternal Security: We believe that all who are saved are kept secure by God. Because of God’s great love and grace, because of the very nature of the gift of eternal life, because of the nature and immutability of the gospel promise, and because of the regenerating, abiding, and sealing presence of the Holy Spirit within all who are saved, all true believers, once saved by grace, shall be forever kept saved by grace.

(1 Samuel 28:19; John 5:24; 6:39–40, 47; 10:28–29; Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13–14; 2:8–9; 4:30; Philippians 1:6; Titus 3:5–6; 1 Peter 1:5; Jude 24)

Assurance: We believe it is the privilege of all who are saved through faith in Christ to have assurance of their salvation. This assurance is not founded upon any fancied discovery of their own worthiness or fitness, or an examination of external evidence in their own life, but wholly upon the finished work of Christ on the cross, and a confidence in the promise and testimony of God in His written Word [3] (which at the same time clearly forbids the use of Christian liberty as an occasion for the flesh), exciting within His children filial love, gratitude, and obedience.

(Luke 10:20; John 5:24; 6:37–40; Romans 4:4–5; 2 Corinthians 5:1, 6–8; Galatians 5:13; 2 Timothy 1:12; Hebrews 10:22; 1 John 5:12–13; Jude 4)


1: Many popular teachers have begun to view progressive sanctification as a monergistic, contemplative process in which we simply meditate on the gospel, thereby becoming more holy by virtue of our “preaching the gospel to ourselves.” While this “gospel sanctification” has become wildly popular in evangelicalism, it does not seem to be in line with the clear teaching of Scripture (link).

2: (an absolutely imperative distinction to understand and maintain — get this book to learn how this affects our understanding of difficult Scripture passages)

3: Both Calvin and Luther taught that assurance of salvation is of the very essence of faith. A central tenet of Reformation teaching was that the personal certainty of one’s eternal destiny is tied up with what it means to believe the Gospel (i.e. the gospel promise itself is that if we trust in Christ alone for salvation, then He guarantees that our eternal destiny is secure). Martin Luther wrote that saving faith is “the sort of faith that does not look at its own works nor at its own strength and worthiness, noting what sort of quality or new created or infused virtue it may be… But faith goes out of itself, clings to Christ, and embraces Him as its own possession.” And from whence does that certainty come? According to Luther, it comes from relying on the promise of God’s mercy in the gospel, and not from any sense of internal change. He says, “For certainty does not come to me from any kind of reflection on myself and on my state. On the contrary it comes solely through hearing the Word, solely because and in so far as I cling to the Word of God and its promise.”

People often give “tests” by which a believer may know whether he is genuinely saved. These tests are almost always based on some observable change that one might see in his life as a result of regeneration. But John Calvin himself gravely warned against any attempts to find assurance by an observation of one’s works. He says that from one’s works, “conscience feels more fear and consternation than assurance.” In other words, any attempt to base assurance on works is doomed to failure because as you examine your life, you will always begin to see your own inadequacy. Assurance can come finally only from a confidence in the sufficient work of Christ on the cross.

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