Does the dispensational believer hold a unique view of sanctification that differs from those we have examined thus far? Not particularly. For those not familiar with Dispensational theology, it is an interpretive system that separates the interaction of God and His creation into various economies or ‘ages’. In each of the ages, God placed man under a specific trust, the periods delineated by major crisis events. The system maintains that there is a thread of unity that weaves through the Scriptures and proclaims the glory of God. These theologians arrive at this system by a consistently literal interpretation of the Bible.
As with any theological discussion, we must remember that within any group there are a variety of view, and within Dispensationalists it is no different. Many hold a view of Sanctification that is consistently Reformed in its definition. It is seen in two parts, a positional change occurring at the moment of justification and continuing progressively through the life of the believer by the Grace of God. Unique to the Dispensational view is an idea often credited to theologian Lewis Perry Chafer in which the believer’s sanctification is viewed through the filter of their two natures. The progressive sanctification occurs as the believer yields to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. This progressive action is separated from the initial justification, requiring a separate act of faith for its initiation.
This view of humankind and its two natures has its roots in Augustinian thought. Used in discussing sanctification, it is presumed to explain why the Christian continues to sin after their justification by God. Moreover, if this powerful influence remains in humankind, how much sanctification can be reasonably be assumed? The old nature, referred to as the ‘flesh’ is not eradicated by the new birth; it exists side-by-side with new nature that is desirous of holiness. As Charles Ryrie succinctly describes,
The moment one accepts Jesus Christ as his personal Savior he becomes a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). The life of God within him begets a new nature which remains with him along with the old as long as he lives. Understanding the presence, position and relationship of the old and new within the life of a believer is essential to experiencing a wholesome and balanced spiritual life. [Balancing the Christian Life, Ryrie]
He argues against the use of nature to visualize two men living side by side as this give opportunity to assign blame for one’s sinful behavior to ‘the little man’ that lives inside of the new creation. Ryrie instead recommends that the word nature be replaced by capacity. In doing so, we see that despite our new birth, we retain the capacity for sin. The goal of sanctification then is to reduce this capacity by a commensurate increase in one’s capacity for righteousness. The regeneration and new birth leads us to another important concept in understanding Dispensation sanctification and that is the filling of the Holy Spirit. Regeneration coincides with the baptism in the Holy Spirit for the Dispensationalist and it is not seen as a subsequent crisis event. The filling of the Holy Spirit is altogether a separate matter.
In this perspective, all Christians are regenerated, baptized, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit but not all Christians are filled with the Spirit. This vital concept is the explanation for the wide difference in the spiritual power and experience exhibited by the members of the Church. The Dispensationalist states that the infilling of the Spirit, the power for all ministry and the source of sanctification of the believer is a work of God subsequent to the regeneration. It occurs repeatedly throughout the life of the Saint and is the source of fruitfulness. Pointing to Eph 5:18,
Do not get drunk on wind, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
leads back to the twin capacities suffered by man. Just as wine changes ones capacity to act, the infilling of the Spirit changes one’s capacity and enables him or her to fulfill the will of God. Putting the verse to the grammatical test, it is well known that the verb “be filled” is in the present tense, giving it the meaning to “keep on being filled.” This filling is not automatic however. The believer must be fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit in order to receive these fresh infusions, making progress in sanctification conditional and sometimes halting. (Here the Dispensationalist departs from their generally Calvinistic view to realize that human will affects plays a role in this process of the Sovereign God. They would not go so far as to commend Arminian theology but rather, they refer to this a more moderate Calvinism.)
Dispensational sanctification views the process as a twofold occurrence in the life of the Christian. It is at once positional, placing the sinful human being into a righteous relationship with God and progressive, changing the new creature over the span of their life. There is no perfection in this life with that event only occurring when the believer moves into the next life in the presence of the Lord. Uniquely Dispensational is the view that one must act a second time in faith to initiate this progressive pattern of change.