Sanctification Is Part of the Gospel

Justification is often overemphasized as the core of the gospel at the expense of the other things, which then become mere ‘subordinate clauses’ to this one ‘main clause’. We see this trend everywhere, because people imagine that every other saying is an assault on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, another gospel, a heretical apostasy.

But as surely as final justification and future glory are part of the gospel, and real components of our total redemption, so sanctification is surely a part of gospel grace. Why, then, do we actually endue it often – through what we say about it – with trappings of law and not of gospel?

The ‘gratitude’ explanation of sanctification is inadequate: it makes our subsequent works seem to be merely our own response to grace, not a thing itself one of God’s gracious gifts – let no one think our works as children of God are in the least our own work of which we can boast. But Christ himself is come to set us free, and sanctification is as much a part of that liberation as it is a response to the grace of atonement.

As long as people deny that sanctification is included in the gospel as more than a ‘result’, we will hear preachers in the Church knowing that sanctification is necessary in some way but not knowing really what to do with it. Of course, a large part of preaching will be about our sanctification. The result is that we will have preachers who, whenever they preach on something other than the atonement, are preaching law but not gospel.

Now, is that a problem with the Bible’s number of words on sanctification, or is it a problem with our conception of the gospel?


6 responses to “Sanctification Is Part of the Gospel

  1. No, you are right we should go back to a Roman Catholic view of sanctification and justification… Reformed is not enough.


    • I’m saying that, paradoxically, when sanctification is relegated to a point outside what we refer to as gospel, preaching on it tends even more to become legalistic.

      I do know the reference you’re making to Doug Wilson’s book, though I haven’t read it. But I really don’t think I’m bolstering a Romanist view here: I believe both come from saving union with Christ. I just don’t think justification is the cause of sanctification in the sense of any of Aristotle’s four causes.


  2. Right… Sanctification then stems from what, union? If gratitude is not enough, then we resort to preaching this union and both benefits coming to us simultaneously?

    That does not cut it… God’s nearness to us in union is not good enough. It is a bad thing that God is near. Sanctification is stifled when we look to union outside of the priority of justification.

    If you are not abandoning the confessional Protestant view of justification, then there are no sinners that are sanctified who have not been once and finally justified when they first believed. It is always in the context of justification.

    The nearness of God in union does not answer the dilemma of a legal fiction but rather tends to make it even more of one.

    Tell me, when you sin daily by breaking the ten commandments in word, thought, and deed, is it a comfort to you that God is near? I do not know about you, but this is when I hate His nearness. This is the instance where Luther said he hated God. No, we need to hear again and again of the Only faithful Son, the True Israel, the True Adam who has actively obeyed the law on all points and taken upon Himself the wrath of the Triune God.

    We need to hear that justification is by faith alone on account of the imputed righteousness alone of Christ, not on account of union with Him. (This is the righteousness from God that was Luther’s breakthrough.) This is the only way God’s nearness and holiness do not obliterate a conscience made aware of sin by the Law.


    • I agree that the initial experience is of justification before sanctification. This does not, however, imply that one is the direct cause of the other: saying so would be the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc.

      If we believe in God working monergistically, we believe his saving work precedes any justification: some Reformed Christians will speak of regeneration before justification. If so, is there a problem with union with Christ? By being considered part of Christ, we then are justified, aren’t we? For to be in union with Christ is to be grafted into Christ.

      By union with Christ I mean this, not mere nearness. With nearness and no union, who may abide the day of his coming, and who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire and fullers’ soap. But we’re found in Christ and not in the first Adam. For YHWH does not change; therefore are we not consumed.

      The idea of imputation rests securely upon the idea of union with Christ, not with a mere legal fiction of artificial exchange. Christ, after all, in the end has been vindicated, not condemned.


  3. I would agree in monergistic regeneration being prior to faith and justification in the ordo salutis, but all of these ‘logical’ categories are collapsed in a ‘Gaffinian’ understanding of union. For in this formulation there is union and many prongs of benefits coming out, nothing with logical priority.

    No, we may receive justification in the context of union, but it is never because of union or on account of it. This is filial/Papal doctrine if we think we are justified because of union/adoption by the Spirit: this is pure Rome.

    We are justified only because of an alien righteousness. For the Reformers, they did not focus on union, but rather it was seen in the ordo salutis classically defined.

    Union is to lead to justification. If there is no justification our union and nearness are nothing. Our legal union is prior to our mystical union, namely in the historia salutis which is the basis and ground of the mystical/ordo union. The forensic is the priority, not only in the historia salutis but in the ordo as well.

    Federal Visionists and like proponents think we can get around imputation and the legal, once-for-all-ness of justification by displacing it. If gratitude is not based upon this forensic, then relational, then transformative ideal, then we, with Rome, are back to confusing justification and sanctification. (Not to say Gaffin does this, but FVers do, as do New Perspective on Paul advocates.)


    • I’ve never heard this before about Rome’s emphasis being on union: what I have heard is a lot of the term infused righteousness. Of course this righteousness is imputed, by who Christ is, by the will of the Father, to us who are found in him. What did you think of Doug Wilson’s post on this several months ago?

      As for the rest, I’m really not familiar with Richard Gaffin at all, and FV hasn’t really been on my radar until relatively recently. Before, the reason I knew the name Doug Wilson was the Logos School and classical Christian education and all that jazz.


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