Last week I was privileged to participate in a panel discussion at T4G with my fellow RTS professors Chad Van Dixhoorn, Derek Thomas, and Scott Swain. The panel was chaired by RTS’s chancellor, Ligon Duncan.
The topic was the relationship between justification and sanctification and how that relationship is played out (in good and bad ways) in the modern reformed and evangelical church. In particular, the focus was on how many churches (and pastors) today offer what could be called a “justification only” model of ministry. In an effort to protect and preserve the gospel of grace (a worthy goal), some churches significantly limit (if not cease entirely) any discussion of holiness, ethics, or morals.
I was especially grateful for this topic because it has been a concern of mine for years. I have offered several prior posts on it here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
There were a lot of helpful points made in the discussion, but let me highlight a few principles that emerged:
1. Christ is glorified not only in our justification. He is also glorified in our sanctification. Thus, sermons on sanctification can also be “Christ-centered.”
2. Our holiness is not an obstacle to the gospel of grace, but the purpose of it. We are created for good works.
3. There is not just a single motivation for our obedience (such as looking back to our justification). There are multiple motivations that the Bible offers, including gratefulness, the joy and blessing offered in obedience, the promise of rewards, and the threat of discipline.
4. It is not illegitimate to have sermons/messages that are largely focused on the ethics of the Christian life. Examples of this abound throughout Scripture, such as the Sermon on the Mount, the book of James, and the book of Proverbs. The indicative is the foundation for the imperative, not contrary to it.
5. The book of 1 John provides a wonderful balance between justification and sanctification by offering two seemingly contradictory declarations: (a) If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves ( 1 Jn 1:8); and (b) No one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him (1 Jn 3:6). But, these are not contradictory. The former is the foundation for justification, the latter the foundation for sanctification.
6. Balanced Christ-centered preaching means we can (and should) preach Christ in all his offices, prophet, priest and king. If we preach Christ as king, for example, we might naturally call our congregations to follow, submit, and obey his commands. Thus, “Christ-centered” preaching does not mean only preaching Christ in his priestly office.
In addition to these principles, several books on holiness/sanctification (and the relationship to justification) were mentioned that are worth checking out:
- Holiness, by J.C. Ryle
- The Mortification of Sin, by John Owen
- Antinomianism, by Mark Jones
- The Christian in Complete Armour, by William Gurnall
- Redemption Accomplished and Applied, by John Murray
- The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, by Walter Marshall
Herman Witsius addressed his own contemporary grace movement with these words:
“If we so assert the free grace of God, that no pretext be given to the licentiousness of the flesh; so extol free justification, that nothing be derogated from sanctification; so inculcate the one righteousness of Christ, which only can stand before the Divine tribunal, that neither the utility nor the reward, which scripture assigns it, be denied to our piety; in fine, so preach the saving grace of the gospel, that the most holy law may still have its place and its use”
There is an “if” at the beginning of the quotation which never has it’s contra expressed. There should be a section after the word use which begins “then … ” or “it follows that …” or something similar.
Duplex gratia Dei – Calvin said we partake of a double grace – the grace of justification whereby we are pardoned and imputed with Christ’s obedience AND the grace of sanctification wherein the Spirit, through the course of our pilgrimage and by our faith in Christ, grows our union with Christ so that we die to self and live to God. Rom 6 answers this for us.
re: #5, The denial of sin in ch. 1 is hypothetically applied to “us”. The sin in 1 Jn 3 is the living in sin by a person who is not born of God. I don’t think there is any seeming contradiction whatsoever and don’t see how the self-deception of ch. 1 would be the foundation for justification.
re: #4, I don’t think James is any more “ethical” (practical?) than Ephesians or 1 Peter. I would not single out any book as addressing our life in Christ anymore than any other book. Each book simply has its own main message and author who goes about using the OT as a member of the new covenant in his own way.
Kim Batteau says
I applaud the attention for sanctification. We in the Reformed tradition (including Luther’s central place in it) affirm both justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ as Savior, and sanctification of believers by the power of the Holy Spirit. However, I have the feeling that Tim Keller’s emphasis on grace (especially in justification) may be the target here. That would be unfruitful, and not do justice to his emphasis on justification AND sanctification as the Gospel. He does focus on ¨moralism¨ as an enemy of the Gospel, and that is certainly justified. I think Luther is still very helpful to us in this area, and his small catechism an excellent antidote to both moralism and antinomianism: http://bookofconcord.org/smallcatechism.php
Luther says in summary about the Ten Commandments here: ¨God threatens to punish all that transgress these commandments. Therefore we should dread His wrath and not act contrary to these commandments. But He promises grace and every blessing to all that keep these commandments. Therefore we should also love and trust in Him, and gladly do [zealously and diligently order our whole life] according to His commandments.¨
John M. Frame says
Wonderful summary, Mike. Thanks so much. I hope it emerges as the de facto Reformed position, and we can go on to debate something else.
Michael Kruger says
Thanks, John. Indeed, I would love for the reformed church to move on to a new topic!
Thanks for your summary, Dr. Kruger. I largely agree.
I’ve been aided in this debate by William B. Evans top-notch scholarly work “Imputation and Impartation: Union with Christ in American Reformed Theology”. Evans claims that the Reformed tradition has tended to oscillate between legalism and antinomianism, and he, not surprisingly, gives Calvin and his exposition of union with Christ as integral going forward on this issue.
Evans put into historical perspective all the biblical-theological and pastoral perspectives articulated by Sinclair Ferguson and Richard Gaffin.
Is there a recording of this? To paraphrase the great theologian Sting: “I want my M-P-3….”
Thanks for posting the summary, Dr. Kruger. Is the panel discussion available to listen to online? I may be missing something, but it’s not available under any category on T4G’s website under 2014. Thanks!