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]