Is it not true that he that is dead is freed from sin? Hasn’t the believer truly died with Christ? Accordingly, as dead and raised in union with Christ, isn’t the believer freed from sin and, therefore, no longer under its bondage and dominion? Isn’t it true that the believer has been crucified with Christ and it is no longer the believer who lives but Christ who lives in and through the believer? Isn’t the very imperative not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies premised upon the incongruity of what the contrary contemplates, sin having reign over the believer’s body? Doesn’t the incongruity presuppose the reality of resurrected life in union with Christ? Sure, sin indwells every believer, but the truth of the matter is the believer is no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit; so it is as the Westminster Divines rightly wrote, “…the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord.” Indwelling sin is not enslaving sin, for the Christian is a slave to Christ.
Falling into the error of perfectionism is hardly a danger in Reformed circles, but what is at risk is building a doctrine of sanctification upon personal experience, observation and Christian testimony. I fear that sentimental fundamentalism along with moralism has made its way into Reformed churches. “Being saved” is understood primarily in terms of justification, which is all that God does; and we must do the rest. After being justified, the believer must respond by living a moral life in gratitude for God’s saving work in Christ, or so it is often told without remainder. To whip up devotion to God and his ways by exciting gratitude for Christ’s atoning work on the cross, (even pity for the Savior in Romanist and many Fundamentalist circles), is often what is preached as the impetus for living the Christian life. Obligation to obey because of the Savior's sin bearing, life giving death upon the cross is all we have to move us. The very fact that every believer is a new creation in Christ and as such actually desires to run in the ways of the Lord is not a reality that is preached - if it is not also denied, at least implicitly. Devotion ends up becoming a work of the flesh, a dead moralism as it were. It even can become that which ultimately must cause one to differ from another, as there is little expectation that the Spirit will cause every believer both to will and to do of God’s good pleasure as he so determines. God actually inclining the wills of his subjects so that they desire to participate in his foreordination of good works in the orbit of family, work, community and church is no longer in view. Sadly, it's exchanged for man, in the flesh, determining the good works that God has somehow mysteriously foreordained man to walk in through obligation, not sovereign transformation. In the end, it is we who determine our sanctification, and lip-service is given to biblical Calvinism as it relates to the divine initiative and subduing grace.
When sheep are taught over and over again that they are slaves to sin and under its bondage, as little children they lose the joy of salvation and begin to believe there is no hope other than through the arm of the flesh. Moralism and legalism begin to set in, and eventually the weary are tempted to give up. This is not good news. The self-effort and "good works" that once plagued the new convert, having been a source of robbing him of the joy, wonder, awe and sheer profundity of his justification through faith alone, becomes an hindrance to enjoying and participating in God’s saving work in sanctification. Justification and sanctification have been rent asunder as God is portrayed as being operative in the former, leaving the latter a matter of self-effort alone - a kind of saved by grace, kept by works - a despairing thought indeed. Have I gone too far? Well, note well that if God does not take the divine initiative of causing the believer both to will and do of his good pleasure and, also, fulfill his promise of completing a work of grace until the day of Jesus Christ, then the Christian is as alone in his sanctification as he possibly can be. What must be grasped is that anything short of pure Reformed theology in this regard is not the teaching of biblical sanctification. The message of grace should be so abundant - appear so one sided, that onlookers will mistake the truth for license to sin! "Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?"