There has been a quite a vigorous debate in Reformed denominations over the last number of years regarding the nature of sanctification and the role of our own efforts in that process. Some have insisted that sanctification is really only about coming to grips with our justification. Others have given the impression that if we preach sermons about Christian obedience (what some call “do” sermons) then we are merely preaching moralism and not preaching Christ.
However, I think many of these trends miss the radical call of discipleship that Christ so plainly offers. For this reason, I was grateful to Mark Dever who recently gave the Harold O.J. Brown Lectures here at RTS Charlotte on the subject of Christian discipleship. In his first lecture, he put his finger right on the problem:
Too many people have been confused, thinking that the grace of God is best relied upon by our own inactivity and passivity. They think that imperative verbs are there only to show us what we can’t do and what Christ has done for us. Well if you preach a sermon like that every Sunday you are serving your people very poorly, and you’re not at all accurately representing what the Bible says. It’s a subtle but deadly error to discipleship.
Those who make the mistake that Dever describes think that they are bolstering and uplifting the grace of God. However, they forget the fact that God’s grace does more than break the guilt of sin, it also breaks the power of sin. Thus, God’s grace is honored not only by Christ’s obedience, but it also honored by our obedience.
You can listen to all of his lectures here.
Tim Reichmuth says
This idea that sanctification does not require us to “do” anything seems to be the opposite error from the Wesleyan /Methodist/Holiness idea that sanctification is kept by our works. However, to believe that we are called to be holy as He is holy and to be pure as Jesus is pure and somehow believe there is not any effort on our part seems to miss not only the points in these scriptures but also those that call for us to put things off and to put others on. This type of preaching isn’t moralism but calling the Church to be what Christ has already made them. Maybe we should remember to include Ephesians 2:10 in our understanding of sanctification process and then we will seek out and yes “do” the works He has prepared beforehand for us.
Jude 4 says saving grace is perverted and Christ is denied when grace is made out to be a license for sin. Those who corrupt grace and deny Christ in Jude are devoid of the Spirit (Jd 19) and condemned (Jd 5-7,13,15). Titus 2:11-14 says that grace – that is, the Spirit by grace, teaches us to turn from sin and the world. Sanctification is by grace – rightly the Westminster Standards – and that means God by his grace works in us through our faith to give us a heart that wants to put sins to death (Rom 6 cf. Phil 2:12-13). Note how pervasive ‘self-control’ is throughout Titus 2 which deals with our new life in Christ being a testimony of God’s saving grace.