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?