Michael Horton on sanctification and perseverance


“Some who believe that Christians are eternally secure give their doctrine the slogan ‘once saved, always saved,’ but that slogan is very misleading. The slogan suggests that once persons make a decision for Christ, they can then go off and do their own thing, fully confident that no matter what they do or how they live, they are ‘safe and secure from all alarm.’ That simply is not biblical.

The new birth, to be sure, is an event. In other words, at some point in your life, the Holy Spirit moves and creates new life in your soul. But salvation is more than that. Justification, too, is a one-time declaration, but salvation also involves a process of, over time, becoming righteous, which is called sanctification.

Sanctification is the Christian life, the daily pursuit of God and the transformation of the heart, mind, and will. Our priorities and our view of life are drastically altered, revolutionized, and reversed. We did not cooperate in our justification. But we must cooperate with God in our sanctification.

Some Christians have the idea that they must sit back and let the Spirit do everything. But…the process toward maturity in Christ is not based on a passive view of life. Another way of saying sanctification is ‘taking the bull by the horns.’ We do not wait for the Holy Spirit to perform some supernatural number on our lives: he already has done this for us! We actively pursue holiness and Christ-centeredness in our lives, recognizing that the same One who commands us to work, persevere, and obey gives us the supernatural ability to do so. Just do it! You do the work; but recognize that, if the work is done, God has done it in and through you.

So then, when we speak of ‘once saved, always saved,’ we are not taking into account the full scope of salvation. We have been saved (justified), we are being saved (sanctified), and we will one day be saved (glorified). You cannot claim to have been ‘saved’ (justified) unless you are being sanctified. Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord.

Jesus made it plain throughout his ministry that one could not become his disciple (and, therefore, could not receive eternal life) unless that person was willing to ‘take up his cross daily’ and follow Jesus. The New Testament emphasizes denying yourself, dying to sin, and deferring to others.

These terms identify a concept that is not in vogue today. When even many church leaders are telling people to ‘believe in yourself’ and are preaching a gospel that is more concerned with fulfilling our desires than God’s, we have difficulty falling unreservedly into the arms of the Savior in whom we find our only confidence. But of course, we cannot ever tailor-make the gospel to fit our self-serving expectations.

Romans 8:30 makes clear the chain of salvation, a chain whose links cannot be broken: ‘And those he predestined, those he also called; those he called, he also justified; he justified, he also glorified.’ Can one be predestined, called, justified, and lost? This verse teaches us that when God starts something, God finishes it. Did you grant yourself salvation? Did you gain it yourself in the first instance? No, salvation was a gift. Remember, God justifies and condemns: ‘Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? (Rom: 8:33-34). . . Since God initially gives us the grace to believe in him and to turn from self, why would he not give us the grace to keep on trusting in him?. . .

We have the responsibility to ‘go onto maturity'(Heb. 6:1). So we are responsible to persevere, but not for our perseverance. We are responsible to be saved, but not for our salvation.

To lose our salvation, we would have to return to a condition of spiritual death. Of what sort of regeneration would the Holy Spirit be the author if those whom he has resurrected and given eternal life are capable of dying spiritually again? ‘Well, can’t you commit spiritual suicide?’ one might ask. Not if we take seriously the claim of 1 Peter 1:23: ‘For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable’.”

Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace, p. 206-208, 210

Michael Horton on infant baptism


“Let me summarize what I regard as the most compelling arguments for infant baptism:

  1. God has brought us into a covenant of grace, and although not all members of this covenant will persevere (i.e., they are not elect and have not been regenerated), they enjoy special privileges of belonging to the covenant people. This was true of Israel, and the New Testament simply applies this to the New Testament church as well (Deut. 4:20; 28:9; Isa.10:22; Hosea 2:23; Rom. 9:24-28; Gal. 6:16; Heb. 4:1-11; 6:4-12; 1 Peter 2:9-10).
  2. Even though bringing someone under the protection of God’s covenantal faithfulness does not guarantee that that person possesses true, persevering faith (Heb. 4:1-11), that does not mean it is unimportant as to whether children of believers are given the seal of the covenant.
  3. Children were included in the covenant of grace in the Old Testament through the sacrament of circumcision, and in the new covenant (called the ‘better covenant’), God has not changed in his good intentions toward our children (Acts 2:39). Circumcision has been replaced by baptism (Col. 2:11). Therefore our children must receive God’s sign and seal of covenant ownership.
  4. The children of unbelievers are unholy, but the children of believers are set apart unto God. This is a distinction not only of the Old Testament (see the Passover, Exod. 12:42-51; also the distinction between the ‘house of the wicked’ and the ‘house of the righteous,’ especially in the psalms) but is continued in the New, where a believer’s children are regarded as holy (1 Cor. 10:2). How are they marked or distinguished from unbelievers, then? By the sign and seal of the covenant.
  5. Household baptisms are common in the New Testament reports of such events. Surely at least some of them included infants. If so, this would have been perfectly consistent with the Jewish understanding of the Abrahamic covenant (above #4).
  6. There is an unbroken record in church history support the practice of infant baptism, beginning with the earliest generations. There would surely have been a major controversy if the immediate successors of the apostles departed from apostolic practice on such a vital point. However, no such record exists.
  7. If baptism were a testimony of the believer’s faithfulness to the covenant, it would not be capable of being applied to those who have no faithfulness to offer. However, baptism is the work of God, not of human beings. It is not chiefly a sign of the believer’s commitment to call out a people for himself. Because salvation is by grace alone, God acts in salvation prior to any choice or action (Rom. 9:12-16). Infant baptism is an extraordinary divine testimony to his prevenient grace. Consequently, it obligates those who are baptized to remain faithful to the covenant but does not make their faithfulness a prerequisite of their inclusion.
  8. The reason there are so many examples in the New Testament of baptism only upon profession of faith is that the first generation is in view. As with Abraham’s circumcision, an adult trust in God’s promise and is justified—and only afterward is baptized. But also like Abraham, we present our household to receive the sign and seal. No orthodox Christian body would accept the practice of baptizing adults without a profession of faith.

So we already come to the New Testament expecting God to work with families across generations. New Testament believers, after all, belong to the covenant of grace that God made with Abraham: ‘For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith’ (Rom. 4:13 NKJV). Paul elaborated: ‘And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty year later (than the covenant with Abraham), cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect…And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise’ (Gal. 3:17, 29 NKJV).

Many people reject infant baptism because they do not believe that it is clearly commanded in the New Testament. However, this is to ignore the first half of the movie! It is to miss the point that we are children of Abraham in the same covenant of grace. It would seem, therefore, that one should believe in applying the sign and seal of the covenant to our children unless there is an obvious New Testament passage forbidding it. The only thing that has changed from Old Testament promise to New Testament fulfillment is the external sign and its extension, on the basis of prophetic fulfillment (Joel 2:28; Gal. 3:28), to females.

When we do arrive at the New Testament, we not only discover that there are no passages announcing that the children are excluded from the covenant, but we find the contrary. Adult converts are to ‘be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,’ thereby receiving ‘the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ But the very next sentence reads ‘For the promise is to you and to your children’ (Acts 2:38-39 NKJV). After ‘the Lord opened [Lydia’s] heart to heed the things spoken by Paul,’ ‘she and her household were baptized’ (Acts 16:14-15 NKJV). Later in the same chapter, the Philippian jailer embraces the gospel. ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ he asks Paul and Silas. They answer, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household. …And immediately he and all his family were baptized’ (vv. 30-31, 33 NKJV). Here is the pattern of Abraham and Isaac: The first generation of believers embraces the covenant of adulthood, after trusting the promise, while the following generations are presented for the initiation rite in their infancy.

Given the continuity of the covenant of grace in both testaments, we are not surprised to learn that when the head of the household became a believer, the children were given the mark of divine ownership. Notice how far Paul takes this in his counsel to a Christian wife of an unbelieving spouse: ‘For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the wife is sanctified by the husband’ otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy’ (1 Cor. 7:14 NKJV). When recognized in the light of the earlier scenes (viz., the avenging angel’s ‘passing over’ the homes of the Israelites in Egypt wherever the blood appeared on the doorpost), this fits perfectly. Paul is saying that the presence of even one believing parent is ‘blood on the doorpost.’ If believers are incorporated into Christ and his visible body along with their children, then they ought to receive God’s sign and seal.”

– Michael Horton, A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship, p.106-108

Michael Horton on justification and sanctification


“According to an assertion of the great Roman Catholic historian of philosophy, Etienne Gilson, ‘For the first time, with the Reformation, there appeared this conception of a grace that saves a man without changing him, of a justice that redeems corrupted nature without restoring it, of a Christ who pardons the sinner for self-inflicted wounds but does not heal them.’ A surprising number of Protestants – including evangelicals – seem to share Gilson’s misunderstanding.

While Rome simply assimilated justification to sanctification, the Reformation position affirmed both as distinct yet inseparable gifts, G.C. Berkouwer replies to those who deny Luther’s interest in God’s gracious renovation of believers: ‘To anyone who has had a whiff of Luther’s writings this conception is incredible. Even a scanty imitation is enough to be convinced that justification for Luther meant much more than an external event with no importance for the inner man.’

Like the relation of the doctrine of substitution in relation to other aspects of the atonement, forensic justification not only allows room for other benefits of Christ; it is their source and security.

The reformers saw ‘Christ for us’ and ‘Christ in us’ –the alien righteousness imputed and the sanctifying righteousness imparted–as not only compatible but as necessarily and inextricably related. Those who are justified through faith are new creatures and begin then and there to love God and their neighbor, yielding the fruit of good works. Reformed churches agree with the Lutheran confession that if sin has free sway over one’s life, ‘the Holy Spirit and faith are not present.’ However, it is not simply that justification and sanctification always go together in the application of redemption, as if they were parallel tracts; justification is the only reason that there can be any sanctification of sinful believers. And both are granted in our union with Christ. The real question, then, is whether justification is the source of new obedience or its result. In fact, presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, according to Paul, is “our reasonable [logiken] worship” in the light of ‘God’s mercies’ that have been explored to that point (Rom. 12:1). It is the Good News that yields good works. Salvation is not the prize for our obedience but the source. In the light of God mercies in Christ, offering themselves as living sacrifices actually makes sense.

I have mentioned before that Scripture integrates drama, doctrine, doxology, and discipleship in ways that we easily overlook. Christian faith and practice arise first of all out of a dramatic narrative: the unfolding plot of redemption from Genesis to Revelation. This story gives rise to doctrines: specific conclusions that God himself reveals as to the meaning and implications of this divine drama. The doctrines provoke us to faith, wonder, and praise. Our sails filled with the gust of grace, we sail out of the harbor into the wide open spaces of the world, loving and serving our neighbors in thanksgiving and joy. Without the biblical drama, the doctrine is abstract; without the doctrine, the doxology is much ado about nothing; without the doxology (shaped by the drama and the doctrine), discipleship is just another makeover: a few more fig leaves to conceal our nakedness.”

– Michael Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World, p. 155-156

Michael Horton on faith’s justifying power


“Nor is faith’s justifying power located in any inherent quality or virtue of faith itself.  Faith is only the instrument rather than the basis for justification: it simply lays hold of Christ and his merits.  Hence, the common Reformation formulation of justification:per fidem propter Christum (through faith because of or on the basis of Christ).  Strictly speaking, one is not justified by faith but by Christ’s righteousness which is received through faith.  Therefore, faith is always extrospective: looking outside of itself.  Faith does not arise within the self, but comes to us from the outside, through the preaching of the gospel (Rom 10:17).  This means that in the act of justification faith is itself completely passive, receiving a gift, not offering one.  The faith that justifies is immediately active in love, honoring God and serving neighbor, but this active love is faith’s fruit, not the act of justifying faith itself.  Given our native instincts, we can always turn gospel back into law – in this case, by making faith into faithfulness, the act of receiving into an act of working.”

– Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, p. 583