The nature of the salvific enterprise garners much needed attention to the respective capacities of the duplex gratia, as Calvin called it, in the ordo salutis.  This duplex gratia, that is justification and sanctification, is amply delineated within Paul’s overall treatment of the gospel in the epistle to the Romans.  The role of sanctification by the Spirit exposited in Romans is where this paper will remain focused.  Paul writes that “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Rom. 8:11).  Thus it is the Spirit indwelling the believer that renders a change in the individual granting a forensic justification by God and implementing a progressive sanctification towards holy living.

Paul identifies this relationship between the indwelling Spirit and Christian obedience beginning with the Spirit as the catalyst for sanctification in 8:6 and employing three analogies to further unpack this concept: baptism into death (6:1-14), slavery unto death (6:15-23), and death in marriage (7:1-3).


Although the role of justification will not be investigated at length, it is necessary to briefly flesh out what the term means, as J.I. Packer writes, “[Justification] is the heart of the gospel.”[1]  Paul says that we, “all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).  But, later, he says, “do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires” (6:12).  If Paul implies the possibility of continual sin after the believer’s justification, then the term cannot be referencing an individual that has achieved total righteousness but, rather, an individual declared righteous by forensic fiat.

Wayne Grudem writes, “Justification is an instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight.”[2]  This justification is the first step of the duplex gratia but, as some scholars suggest, is not first in chronological order.  Rather, the events of justification and sanctification are simultaneous for the individual.[3]  Whether this notion of simultaneity is true or not, justification is necessary in order for sanctification’s progressive work to be useful at all; that is, sanctification alone does not grant entrance into Heaven since the new covenant is a covenant of grace and not by works.  “For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law” (Gal. 3:21).


Sanctification means, “To make holy,”[4] and our first Pauline utilization of the term is found in Rom. 8:29; that is, those who are sanctified are, “conformed to the image of [God’s] Son…”  The second utilization is in Rom. 15:16 where Paul says that the Holy Spirit is the One who sanctifies.  Therefore, sanctification, as given in Romans, is a process whereby an individual becomes conformed to the image of Christ by the Holy Spirit living within them.

Since the individual is not the catalyst for spiritual change (8:6), the Spirit must contend with the “old self” (6:6) that is in consonance with Adamic rebellion and initiate a radical process of death and rebirth that mirrors Christ’s own journey.  The Spirit does this by setting us free from the Mosaic law which, as was alluded to earlier, was only suited to point out shortcomings but never to make us righteous (8:2; 3:20).

Each of the three analogies that will be discussed should be viewed as an outworking of the dichotomy of death through Adam and life through Christ in 5:12-20.  Notice the line that can be drawn from the “one man” who brought death in 5:12, 17 and the “old self” who must be crucified in 6:6.  These verses showcase the relationship between Adam and the sinful flesh.  Also, the slaves to death reference in 6:16 and the death to the law in 7:4 look back to the life/death motif in 5:12-20 as well.

First Analogy: Baptism Into Death

The first analogy to which Paul likens the process by which the Spirit sanctifies the individual is baptism into Christ’s death.  “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (6:4).  This particular imagery serves Paul’s purposes in that he is employing such an evocative metaphor to convey a drastic change between two states: the human state in relationship to sin (which leads to death) and the human state in relationship with Christ (which leads to life).

The imagery of death is probably used for two reasons.  First, our death (in v. 4), as well as Christ’s, brings us to a “point of contact,”[5] in which, according to Grudem, “we cooperate with God in ways that are appropriate to our status as God’s creatures.”[6]  But this point of contact can only be initiated, as was mentioned earlier, by the Holy Spirit in order to elicit an ongoing cooperation with God.

Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy flesh out this idea when they distinguish two subcategories of sanctification; which are, “on the one hand, definitive, and on the other, progressive.”[7]  In other words definitive sanctification begins at the point of the Spirit’s indwelling while progressive sanctification is the ongoing expression of this unique relationship.  This is how we can read Paul both exhorting the believer to refrain from sins on a continual basis (v. 12) while, at the same time, the author of Hebrews can assert that, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10, NASB).

“Sanctification” or “Justification” in v. 7

Some scholars suggest that, while sanctification is in view in Rom. 6:1-7, Paul likely is referencing the notion of justification in v. 7.  This may be and, while the NIV and other translations renders δεδικαίωται as, “set free,” the Greek seems to indicate the alternative, “has been justified.”[8]  J.V. Fesko writes, “[The] reference to the work of the Spirit does not require that one immediately invoke the transformative aspect of our union with Christ.  The Spirit is involved not only in the transformative but also in the forensic elements of our union with Christ.”[9]

If the context supports the view that δεδικαίωται should be rendered “justified” then v. 7 would certainly be an example of the simultaneous justification and sanctification of duplex gratia at play in Paul’s argument (which is Fesko’s view).[10]  However, the NIV’s rendering of δεδικαίωται as “set free” seems to fit better in light of the overall point of Paul’s analogy here; that is, something rather non-forensic is taking place in the death of the believer.  Paul says that, “our old self was crucified with Him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (v. 6), in order that we may, “live a new life” (v. 4).  To posit a forensic and non-transformative event in death in v. 7 seems to be like saying that the transformative event of death’s liberation out of sin is simply a forensic declaration by God.

But this seems out of place in Paul’s overall argument, that is, death is a transformative event.  And, as Wayne Grudem writes, “[Justification] in itself does not change our internal nature or character at all.”[11]  Therefore, the suggestion that δεδικαίωται should be rendered “justified” seems to ignore the full force of Paul’s words here.  Also, it should be noted that to suggest that the duplex gratia itself may not be in view in v. 7 in no way refutes the notion itself.  Rather, it only goes so far as to suggest that Paul might not be referring to it in this particular passage.

Second Analogy: Slavery Resulting in Death

Having established the first image of death and burial with Christ as a sanctifying event, Paul shifts back into diatribe format to deal with a perceived misunderstanding of his argument in 3:28; that is, “Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?  By no means” (6:16)!  Here, Paul wants to unpack the notion of progressive sanctification and utilizes “an example from everyday life” (v. 19) in order to drive home the point.

Anthony A. Hoekema writes, “In sanctification the pollution of sin is in the process of being removed (though it will not be totally removed until the life to come).”[12]  So, while the definitive sanctifying event of 6:4 unites us with Christ, this unification is purposeful in that it frees us from being “slaves to sin” (6:16) so that we can “live a new life” (v. 4).  And this is Paul’s point in utilizing the slave-to-righteousness imagery.  Whereas the unregenerate individual is a slave to sin, which leads to death, the definitive sanctification of the believer by the Spirit allows for a shift in service to obedience unto God, which leads to life.

This is not to confuse the nature of progressive sanctification with definitive sanctification, for someone might argue, from the crux of Paul’s argument in vv. 16 and 22, that obedience itself is what garners eternal life.  But Paul is very clear that the law (or works) cannot bring life (7:10), therefore our progressive sanctification is not the mechanism of salvation, as it were, but simply a fruit of our salvation.  Hoekema sums this up rather succinctly when he says that, “we are saved not by works but for works.”[13]

Progressive Sanctification as Cooperation

Following this line of thought, a quick point must be made in order to clarify in whom, specifically, the functionality of progressive sanctification lies.  The shift in masters that Paul refers to in vv. 16 and 22 is not due to some kind of radical transformation in the believer’s spiritual being per se, “rather, [God] enables us to use the gifts He [already] gave us in the right way instead of in sinful ways.”[14]  In order to make the assertion for this notion of radical change, one must logically conclude that God is the One doing, so to speak, our progressive sanctification for us.  But this conclusion can only be drawn by ignoring many areas of Scripture that place the responsibility of progressive sanctification on our shoulders (see Rom. 6:12-13; 8:12-13; 12:1-15:7).

Therefore, in light of this personal responsibility a better view to adopt would be the kind of cooperative relationship as mentioned earlier by Grudem that does not take away from the Spirit’s primary work in our sanctification, as Phil. 2:13 attests, but identifies that work as the catalyst for our own efforts in conforming to the image of God’s Son.[15]  In other words, both God and the individual have worked to effect progressive sanctification.  These roles are not equal, as God does the primary work and the individual does a secondary work, nor do the respective sanctifications, “work in the same way.”[16]  Rather, the individual is merely performing his new function with respect to his creaturely status.

And this notion of cooperation in and with the Spirit can be viewed in Paul’s analogy of shrugging off the master of sin in order to become the slave of obedience unto God.  He writes that, “though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance” (Rom. 6:17).  We can see Grudem’s argument standing, as it were, in the midst of Paul’s own teaching here.

Third Analogy: Death in Marriage

Moving out of the first two analogies, Paul has presented an important issue that he will now address in his third analogy: death in marriage.  This issue can be stated in the form of a question: Why must the believer die to the law if it is “holy” (7:12)?[17]  First Paul must show that the Law cannot grant eternal salvation, which he amply does in Gal. 3:1-22.  And his arguments there inform our understanding of his statement in Rom. 3:21 that the Law stands apart from the righteousness of God.

So, if the Law is holy, how does it stand apart from righteousness?  Paul explains that no one can completely fulfill the Law (Gal. 3:10), therefore, it only serves to bring awareness to one’s inadequacies and eventual spiritual death (Rom. 7:10-13).  Since this is the case, one must find a way to come out from under the Law (by the Lord’s sanctifying work); and that is the death imagery Paul uses in Rom. 7:4.  He writes, “the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives… But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit…” (7:1-6)  So the same idea is being put forth here as in the last two analogies, that is, “a change of state in relationship to sin is as dramatic as a change from life to death.”[18]

With the recurring death motif in mind Paul now likens Christian sanctification to a woman who is freed from the law once her husband dies.  Likewise, the fact that, “you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another” (v. 4), is the point Paul is making here.  This analogy is not free of controversy (as will be discussed in a moment) but does further Paul’s purposes of setting apart or sanctifying the believer to good works in Christ.

Douglas J. Moo argues that that the previous analogy of slavery to sin and Paul’s current analogy of death, in marriage, to the Mosaic Law are interrelated; that, “it is better to view chapters 6 and 7 as somewhat parallel arguments about the believer’s relationship to two of the key powers of the old regime: sin and the Mosaic Law.”[19]  So, while a shift in slave masters is necessary to emerge out from under sin’s grasp in 6:16-22, death is the only method that the Mosaic Law itself allows for individuals to be released from its authority.  And Paul employs another death analogy (this time in marriage relationship to the law) in order to complete this motif.

Potential Problems with the Marriage Analogy

As was mentioned earlier, Paul shifts the correspondent roles in his analogy in a confusing way; that is the husband/Law that dies in v. 2 does not correspond with the Christian/woman who must die in v. 4.  While L.T. Johnson thinks that Paul has gotten lost in his own analogy,[20] others view Paul in control here and attempt a variety of solutions to this issue.

John Calvin writes, “But that [Paul] might not offend the Jews by the asperity of his expressions, had he said that the law was dead, he adopted a digression and said, that we are dead to the law…”[21]  That may well be true, the problem is that Calvin seems to paint Paul as someone who is more politically correct than he appears throughout Scripture.  Also, Paul is very clear that the Law only brings wrath (4:15) and those who practice the Mosaic Law bring a curse upon themselves (Gal. 3:10-13); which, it seems, is offensive enough.  Therefore, Paul does not seem to be concerned with being offensive but, wherever he strives to be careful in arguing for the fulfillment of the Law, he is simply giving clarification not tiptoeing around controversy.

Martin Luther, in his attempt to offer a solution, writes, “[Paul] means to show that there are two men (in the believer), the old and the new, corresponding to Adam and Christ.”[22]  However, there is no indication that Paul sees two men inside the husband or the Christian in Rom. 7:2-6.  To indicate otherwise, it seems, would be stretching the analogy beyond its intent.

Rather, what appears to be going on here is threefold, as Joyce Little writes:

First, Paul is concerned with demonstrating that the law played a necessary role prior to the coming of Christ (hence the validity of the law governing the first marriage).  Second, Paul wishes to use vv. 2-3 as an analogy demonstrating that death can change one’s relationship to the law.  Third, Paul wishes to use the analogy structurally as a means by which to develop his view that our death to the law takes place for a specific purpose, in order that we might ‘serve in the new life of the Spirit.[23]

In other words, the main purpose of this analogy is to reinforce the death motif running through 6:2-11 as well as vv. 16-23.  All Paul wants to convey is that death brings freedom and that this freedom leads to new relationship in Christ.[24]


The nature of sanctification is one that trades on a two-fold distinction; that is, at the point of regeneration, there is a definitive sanctification whereby the Christian individual is both forensically declared justified and transformed.  This justification, while allowing us to have a right relationship with the Lord, cannot, in itself, instill the impetus to perform righteous acts.  Rather, the transformative event of sanctification by the Spirit must take place as well in order to free us from the bondage of sin.  Once the Spirit establishes transformation, the process of progressive sanctification can begin in the believer as he continues to conform to the image of Christ (8:29).

This paper has attempted to navigate through the concept of sanctification by looking at Paul’s analogies of baptism into death (6:1-14), slavery unto death (6:15-23), and death in marriage (7:1-3) which are helpful to gain insight into the definitive and progressive instances of such a venture.  The Christian seeking a working knowledge of sanctification should begin with Paul in these passages as they are essential to the concept’s meaning and implications.

[1] J.I. Packer, “Justification,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 643.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 723.

[3] Don B. Garlington, Faith, Obedience, and Perseverance: Aspects of Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Tubingen: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1994), 158.

[4] R.E.O. White, “Sanctification,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 1051.

[5] Douglas J. Moo, The NIV Application Commentary: Romans (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 195.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 753.

[7] Gregory A. Boyd & Paul R. Eddy, Across the Spectrum, 2nd edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 168.

[8] “Romans 6:7,” Online Parallel Bible, under “Vincent’s Word Studies,”

[9] J.V. Fesko, “Sanctification and Union with Christ: A Reformed Perspective,” Evangelical Quarterly, Vol. 82, No. 3 (2010): 212.

[10] Ibid, 213.

[11] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 724.

[12] Anthony A. Hoekema, “The Reformed Perspective,” Five Views on Sanctification, edited by Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 61-62.

[13] Ibid, 62.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 753.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Joyce A. Little, “Paul’s Use of Analogy: A Structural Analysis of Romans 7:1-6,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 1 (January 1984): 83.

[18] Douglas J. Moo, The NIV Application Commentary: Romans (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 196.

[19] Ibid, 218.

[20] Luke Timothy Johnson, Reading Romans: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Macon: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2001), 114.

[21] John Calvin, Calvin’s Bible Commentaries: Romans, translated by John King (Charleston: Forgotten Books, 2007), 181.

[22] Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, translated by J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1954), 109.

[23] Joyce A. Little, “Paul’s Use of Analogy: A Structural Analysis of Romans 7:1-6,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 1 (January 1984): 90.

[24] Douglas J. Moo, The NIV Application Commentary: Romans (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 219.

Speaker, Educator, President of A Clear Lens, Inc. and host of A Clear Lens Podcast. B.Sc., M.Ed. Lives in Las Vegas with his wife, two sons, and dogs.