Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sanctification: By God's Grace and Our Works?

I don't mean to quibble (or maybe I do...) but distinctions are important. Dane C. Ortlund, in his review of Barbara Duguid's book Extravagant Grace, concludes that "Duguid refutes the idea that sanctification is partly up to us; rather, it is 100% up to God (pp. 139–40)." And then he writes, "But it seems to me that it is better to say sanctification is 100% up to God and also 100% up to us in light of the way the Bible speaks of sanctification (1 Cor 15:10; Phil 2:12–13; Col 1:29). As Jonathan Edwards said, in sanctification “God does all, and we do all.”" - a formulation I find less than helpful as concerns sanctification. I think I get the point he's making - believers shouldn't take their Christ-secured salvation for granted and they are indeed called to real obedience to God's moral law. But I don't think we should define sanctification that way and I don't think the Westminster Standards do.
WSC Q. 35. What is sanctification? A. Sanctification is the work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.
How much more are we enabled? 100%?  We still sin. Does that mean we're not doing our 100%? What does it mean to not be doing our 100%? If I drop the ball on my 100% (only  50% or 75%), does that put in jeopardy my sanctification? In other words, is God's 100% not enough when it comes to sanctification? Or put another way, is sanctification-wrought partly my works of law-obedience?
WCF 13.2. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.
3. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
How about simply that we are called to continual and thankful obedience and it is God who sanctifies? As Paul writes, "But if it is by grace, it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace."

As to the three Scripture passages that Dane Ortlund references, are they really referring to sanctification? I don't know... Should references to laboring, obedience, effort, etc. automatically be read in the context of "our 100%" in the so-called God/believer equation of sanctification? Maybe those particular verses are just talking about Paul's tireless efforts for the sake of the gospel, Paul admonishing the Philippians to not look down on each other - to take seriously their calling to love the brethren, and again Paul speaking of his laboring hard for the gospel and yet not boasting in his own work but God's. 

This seems to be where a particular sanctification template determines how certain verses are interpreted (e.g. Rom. 2:13 as referring to believers' final justification). 


  1. Thank you for yet another helpful post. Keep it up!

  2. You're welcome, Brad. Thanks for stopping in!

  3. Horton: “It is inappropriate to import the monergism-synergism antithesis (typically belonging to the debate over the new birth and justification) into sanctification. It is better simply to say that we are working out that salvation that has Christ has already won for us and given to us by his Spirit through the gospel. Though in sanctification (unlike justification) faith is active in good works, the gospel is always the ground ...of our sanctification as well as our justification.

    We need to define “sanctification” and make a distinction between our traditional use of the word and the Bible use of the word. The Bible has different senses of “sanctification”, both by the Spirit (II Thess 2:13) and “set apart and perfected by the blood” (Hebrews 10). David Petersen’s book Possessed by God is a good place to start to think about this.

    In our common language, when we say ‘sanctification”, we tend not to be talking about Christ’s death or about the Spirit causing us to hear the gospel. We also tend to think of the new birth as creating in us a new disposition which causes us to gradually get better.

    The gospel demands a faith that repents from the old life of trusting ourselves (even with grace and help) to satisfy the law. To hear the gospel is to turn from the sin of trusting ourselves (by God's grace changing us) to ever become acceptable to God It is Christ’s death which not only justifies us but also sanctifies us.

    We believe and we repent, and the Holy Spirit causes us to do both, but these things that the Spirit works in us are not our righteousness. The Holy Spirit’s work in us is not the source of either our justification nor our sanctification. While we are still sinners, we are already sanctified.

  4. As I've been following various discussions on the topic of sanctification over the past couple of years, I am personally finding it helpful to think of sanctification as definitive sanctification (recently read a review by Trevin Wax of David Petersons book Possessed by God which deals with this topic - and in a comment there was a link to an article by John Murray on Definitive Sanctification.) I know others use the term progressive sanctification - which I think is different than definitive sanctification. I personally think that is why people are talking past each other at times - one person is thinking progressive and another has definitive in view. It seems like when the scriptures are using the word sanctification that it is has definitive in view. Although the scriptures do refer to our engagement - but I'm not sure that sanctification is the correct term.

  5. Galatians 2:19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I now LIVE TO God. Galatians is not only about justification but also about how we live the Christian life.

    Like the Galatian false teachers, those who say “sanctification” is by works and our cooperation are not saying that sin causes people to lose their justification. They are not denying imputation. They are simply saying that there’s MORE to the Christian life than justification.

    They are merely saying that you need to be sanctified also, and unlike justification, they say, sanctification IS by works. Since both justification and sanctification are the results of “union” with Christ, they remind us, we need also a “righteousness of Christ” which is now found in us. This is why Gaffin tells us about the "not yet aspect of justification"

    For Gaffin, you can’t be justified all at once, because you need to be sanctified to be justified, not that sanctification is the basis for justification, but “union with Christ” means that you have both, and for both you need time.

  6. Nobody comes along and says that justification is not by grace. They just say that our “sanctification” is caused by our cooperation They also say (or leave it implied) that Jesus died for everybody but that it doesn’t work unless the Spirit causes you to add works to your faith.

    But if Jesus died for everybody, then it is that death PLUS you being changed so that you both believe and work, and if the difference of the new covenant is “sanctification”, then the promise is not about Christ alone or His death alone.

    If “sanctification” is not about the one offering of the one body of Christ in death for the elect, then “sanctification” gets changed to being about your being changed (so that grace is not cheap and Jesus is King).

    The message of His justifying death plus your “sanctification” by message is really at the end a message about you.

    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, p96

  7. But John Murray in his booklet on The Covenant of Grace reminds us that THE covenant of grace will continue even if we ourselves don't cooperate by meeting its conditions.

    john Murray— “The conditions in view are not really conditions of bestowal. They are simply the reciprocal responses of faith, love and obedience, apart from which the enjoyment of the covenant blessing and of the covenant relation is inconceivable….viewed in this light that the breaking of the covenant takes on an entirely different complexion. It is not the failure to meet the terms of a pact nor failure to respond to the offer of favorable terms of contractual agreement. It is unfaithfulness to a relation constituted and to grace dispensed. By breaking the covenant what is broken is not the condition of bestowal but the condition of consummated fruition.”

    John Murray—“The necessity of keeping the covenant is bound up with the particularism of this covenant. The covenant does not yield its blessing to all indiscriminately. The discrimination which this covenant exemplifies accentuates the sovereignty of God in the bestowal of its grace and the fulfillment of its promises. This particularization is correlative with the spirituality of the grace bestowed and the relation constituted and it is also consonant with the exactitude of its demands."

    John Murray—A covenant which yields its blessing indiscriminately is not one that can be kept or broken. We see again, therefore, that the intensification which particularism illustrates serves to accentuate the KEEPING which is necessary to the fruition of the covenant grace.”.

  8. What Petersen says about "positional sanctification" in Possessed by God should not be confused with what John Murray wrote about a "definitive breach with sin". Murray rejected the forensic reading of Romans 6, but Petersen defends the "justified from sin" interpretation.

    David Scaer: “Other Protestant denominations see sanctification, the working of the Holy Spirit in Christian lives, in synergistic terms, another Greek derivative, which means that a thing has two or more causes. Believers are required to play a part in developing their personal holiness by living lives disciplined by the Law and by special ethical regulations set down by the church. Christians can and must cooperate with God’s grace to increase the level of personal sanctification. Cooperation, a Latin derivative, is a synonym of synergism, and also means two or more things or persons working together.

    Scaer: “These confessions think that God alone justifies, but that sanctification is a combined divine-human activity, which even though God begins, each believer is obligated to complete. In this system, the Gospel, which alone creates faith, is replaced by the Law which instructs in moral requirements and warns against immorality. Justification by grace is seen as a past event and the present focus is on man cooperating with God to reach a complete sanctification.

    Scaer: “Lutherans recognize that Christians as sinners are never immune to the Law’s moral demands and its threats against sin, but in the strictest sense these warnings do not belong to Christian sanctification, the life believers live in Christ and in which Christ lives in them.