Friday, February 21, 2014

We Feebly Obey, Christ Powerfully Sanctifies...

When the doctrine of justification is under consideration there are few who would argue against the notion that a perfect righteousness before the law of God is required. And that perfection is graciously given in Christ and received through faith. Yet the requirement of perfection before the law seems to get a bit blurry when the topic of sanctification comes up. The idea put forth by some is that our obedience to the law contributes to our sanctification, only not in a meritorious way. That's a distinction that leaves me scratching my head.

If we contribute to our sanctification, do we not then contribute in part to our salvation? Now I don't disagree that as justified sinners we are called to obedience and good works. Obedience to Christ isn't optional for the believer. But does our obedience add to or contribute to our sanctification? And can our good works really contribute to our sanctification if there is nothing meritorious about them? Logically, if our works have no merit before the law then they have no perfect righteousness before the law and therefore contribute nothing to our sanctification. We feebly obey. Christ powerfully sanctifies.

Concerning our obedience to the law, Calvin writes:
In the precepts of the law, God is seen as the rewarder only of perfect righteousness, (a righteousness of which all are destitute) and, on the other hand, as the stern avenger of wickedness. But in Christ his countenance beams forth full of grace and gentleness towards poor unworthy sinners...
For those who trust in Christ's perfect payment and satisfaction for their salvation...
It [the law] does not now perform toward us the part of a hard taskmaster, who will not be satisfied without full payment; but, in the perfection to which it exhorts us, points out the goal at which, during the whole course of our lives, it is not less our interest than our duty to aim. It is well if we thus press onward. Our whole life is a race, and after we have finished our course, the Lord will enable us to reach that goal to which, at present, we can only aspire in wish. (Institutes, Book I)
Looking to another of Calvin's writings, he quotes the apostle Paul:
“If righteousness is by the law, faith is nullified, and the promise abolished.” (Romans 4:14.) 
Calvin explains:
For he means, that not an individual among mankind will be found in whom the promise of salvation may be accomplished, if it involves the condition of innocence; and that faith, if it is propped up by works, will instantly fall. This is true; because, so long as we look at what we are in ourselves, we must tremble in the sight of God, so far from having a firm and unshaken confidence of eternal life. I speak of the regenerate; for how far from righteousness is that newness of life which is begun here below
It is not to be denied, however, that the two things, Justification and Sanctification, are constantly conjoined and cohere; but from this it is erroneously inferred that they are one and the same. For example: — The light of the sun, though never unaccompanied with heat, is not to be considered heat. Where is the man so undiscerning as not to distinguish the one from the other? We acknowledge, then, that as soon as any one is justified, renewal also necessarily follows: and there is no dispute as to whether or not Christ sanctifies all whom he justifies. It were to rend the gospel, and divide Christ himself, to attempt to separate the righteousness which we obtain by faith from repentance.
The whole dispute is as to The Cause of Justification. The Fathers of Trent pretend that it is twofold, as if we were justified partly by forgiveness of sins and partly by spiritual regeneration; or, to express their view in other words, as if our righteousness were composed partly of imputation, partly of quality. I maintain that it is one, and simple, and is wholly included in the gratuitous acceptance of God. I besides hold that it is without us, because we are righteous in Christ only. Let them produce evidence from Scripture, if they have any, to convince us of their doctrine. I, while I have the whole Scripture supporting me, will now be satisfied with this one reason, viz., that when mention is made of the righteousness of works, the law and the gospel place it in the perfect obedience of the law; and as that nowhere appears, they leave us no alternative but to flee to Christ alone, that we may be regarded as righteous in him, not being so in ourselves. (Acts of the Council of Trent with the Antidote) 
[emphasis added]


  1. Many "reformed" folks today argue from the fact that Christ obtained salvation “bestowed on conditions”, that we too must obtain “sanctification” in the same way, bestowed on conditions. Instead of talking about the merits of Christ, they speak of Christ’s living by faith, which they equate with obeying the law. For them the idea of our living by faith comes to mean our obeying the law.

    Redemptive-history is often used to make this "now we can" point. From the fact that Christ “was not left to His own abilities but was enabled by the Spirit” it is confused that Christians are enabled by the Spirit to cooperate with God in sanctification.

    Because they are not Romanists who subscribe to Trent, these "Reformed" folks tend to put the emphasis on sanctification instead of justification, but then warn us of a final judgment based on works, in which saints are acquitted based not merely (sola) on the book of the life, but also based on all the other books (their deeds)

    Thus the NT Wrights of the world warn us—don’t be so Christocentric, because the work of the Spirit in us is Christ’s work also for our final justification.

    An emphasis on Christ our sanctification and sanctification by the blood should not be confused with the antinomians who deny the agency of the Christian. These antinomians say that Christ believes in us for us, or obeys in us for us. You will find that kind of language in the “exchanged life” view.

    Packer: “With regard to sanctification, there have been mystical antinomians who have affirmed that the indwelling Christ is the personal subject who obeys the law in our identity once we invoke his help in obedience situations, and there have been pneumatic antinomians who have affirmed that the Holy Spirit within us directly prompts us to discern and do the will of God, without our needing to look to the law to either prescribe or monitor our performance.

    Packer is certainly right to criticize the “hyper-grace” movement which either denies or is ignorant of Christ’s satisfaction of the law for the elect. But in a day when those who teach penal satisfaction by Christ’s death for the elect alone are known as “scholastics” living in the past, we need to say that not all ideas denounced as “Lutheran” are antinomian.

    Mike Horton—”The fear of punishment and hope for rewards as a motivation for Christian holiness is a disastrous pattern of thinking.”

  2. Calvin, 3/11/4—But the most satisfactory passage on this subject is that in which he declares the sum of the Gospel message to be reconciliation to God, who is pleased, through Christ, to receive us into favor by not imputing our sins, (2 Cor. 5: 18-21.)

    Let my readers carefully weigh the whole context. For Paul shortly after adding, by way of explanation, in order to designate the mode of RECONCILIATION, that Christ who knew no sin was made sin for us, undoubtedly understands by reconciliation nothing else than justification. Nor, indeed, could it be said, as he elsewhere does, that we are made righteous “by the obedience” of Christ, (Rom. 5: 19,) were it not that we are deemed righteous in the sight of God in him and not in ourselves.

    Osiander holds in regard to the mode of receiving Christ,that by the ministry of the external word the internal word is received; that he may thus lead us away from the priesthood of Christ, and his office of Mediator, to his eternal divinity.

    It would be incongruous to say that that which existed naturally from eternity was made ours. But granting that God was made unto us righteousness, what are we to make of Paul’s interposed statement, that he was so made by God? This certainly is peculiar to the office of mediator, for although he contains in himself the divine nature, yet he receives his own proper title, that he may be distinguished from the Father and the Spirit.

    Jehovah, when made of the seed of David, was indeed to be the righteousness of believers, but in what sense Isaiah declares, “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many,” (Isaiah 53: 11.) Let us observe that it is the Father who speaks. He attributes the office of justifying to the Son, and adds the reason, – because he is “righteous.” Christ justified us by his obedience to the Father; and, accordingly that he does not perform this for us in respect of his divine nature, but according to the nature of the dispensation laid upon him.

  3. I not only agree, I like the cut of your jib... As a former sailor I just wanted to get a sailing allusion into this thread. Thanks, Mark.

  4. Harold Senkbeil, “In its most blatant form heresy claims that we must place our own good works into the balance to give us a favorable standing before God. Its subtle form seems more attractive. God does all the work in justification, but we finish the work in our sanctification.

    “We may be declared right by God’s judicial decree through faith alone, but then it is up to us to perform the works of love and obedience that true holiness requires. This error makes justification merely the first stage of sanctification. God get us on the path of
    holiness and then we continue. God starts and we finish…” (Justified; Modern Reformation Essays on the Doctrine of Justification, p 96)

  5. "... whereas Christ saith plainly When ye have done all that are commanded to you, say, We are unprofitable servants." (The Thirty-Nine Articles - XIV)