Many “Calvinists” pay lip-service to “imputation”, but they brag about being “real relational” with Christ the “person” and think that’s more important than any dull “algorithm” about imputation. They are glad that they themselves are “relevant” when it comes to their “sanctification”. To them, the “Lordship of Christ” means “sanctification” by works, so they think they have an “opportunity” to succeed or fail (and thus to be rewarded or punished).
So that you will not think I doing a caricature of “Lordship preaching”, let me quote:
SBW: “When the preponderance of my thoughts about my daily life with God are only seen from the perspective of Christ’s substitution and my unworthiness to merit his favor, not only do I miss the joy and motivation of knowing my deeds today can actually please God, but I can be left with a distant, abstract, academic view of my relationship with him.”
Mark responds: Like the Galatian false teachers, the sanctification by works teacher does not deny justification by imputation. But he does minimize justification as only one “perspective”. We live in a day when there are no more antitheses. You can say one thing, say another thing that contradicts the first thing, and then put them together as different “perspectives”.
Notice the emphasis on “my thoughts”. No longer is the question about what “sanctification” means. Nor is the writer making biblical distinctions between sanctification by Christ’s blood and sanctification by Christ’s Spirit. Instead, he wants us to think about what we are thinking. In his pietistic disregard for that which is “academic” (“distant” he writes), he wants to get to what is “actual”. Of course he doesn’t say that justification isn’t actual but he wants us to be thinking less about that and more about what’s not virtual but “real”.
Again, I am not caricaturing. I quote SBW: “I can begin to assume that it is only the perfect Christ that “God sees” (as though it were all some visual reality and not a relational reality). It is as if I am now, at least theoretically, absent from the relationship and if not absent, in some way made so irrelevant that my thoughts and actions can neither please him or grieve him in any real way.”
Mark responds: At the end of the day of course, it doesn’t matter what we want. The salvation by works teacher wants to be relevant, at least in his own “sanctification”. And of course, the thrill of victory is never so sweet unless there was a possibility of the agony of defeat. So the teacher wants to be present in his relationship with God in such a way that his “sanctification” depends on him, even though he will of course give his god the credit for his not being like those who thought they were justified but were not because they were not “sanctified”.
As I say, it doesn’t matter if I myself don’t want to be relevant in that way. It doesn’t matter if I want “free grace” all the way down, even into my “sanctification”. Isn’t the “grace” that helps us to do what we need to do to be sanctified also grace? Why insist on “free grace”? Just because I happen to want “without a cause in me” grace, that doesn’t prove that such grace is biblical when it comes to “sanctification”.
Let me continue to quote from SBW: “Scripture tells us that his redeemed children not only have a very real opportunity to actually please him, but we also have an abiding opportunity to truly displease him. We are told that when Christians, who have been declared holy in justification, choose to engage in unholy behavior as they sin in their walk of sanctification, that they “grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30).
Mark: If I respond by asking which Christian is not sinning in their walk, doesn’t that prove that I am antinomian? Unless this preacher is making some kind of distinction between sins that we choose to sin, and sins that we sin but don’t choose, it seems to me that we all grieve the Holy Spirit by our sin. So the “opportunity to fail” is not the difference in question here. (Even though we could dispute about the potential to fail being a good thing or not!)
The question in play here is what happens when we fail. What theory of “sanctification” is more likely to make us fail less? If I fail in my “sanctification” and that makes me scared of the second coming of Christ (rewards and punishments you know), will that make me work more so that I won’t fail so much? Thus the idea of the “beauty of gospel threats”.
But notice that our salvation by works teacher is not perfectionist. He’s not promising that he will work, but only telling us that the Bible says that you will get more “sanctification” IF you do work. And also he’s suggesting that people like me, who keep looking at the perfect obedience of Christ (the “visual reality”) will not be so keen to look at (and do something about) our own lack of obedience. We will be content (and even “relaxed”) to confess that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, and then go on sinning.
So he’s not saying (out loud, at least) that he won’t go on sinning. He’s merely warning that an “unbalanced” focus only on imputation and justification will get in the way of sanctification by works. People who look at everything through the perfect record of Jesus most likely will go on sinning. And he is warning us about that, and not making a claim that his own working keeps him from sinning
I quote SBW: “When Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to pursue holiness in 1 Corinthians 10, he compares them to the Israelites following their exodus from Egypt. He goes to great lengths to say that they,like the Corinthians,were graciously chosen by God as his people through the merits of another, specifically the Christ “who followed them”. BUT the instructive warning of the passage is, that in spite of the fact that by grace they were considered God’s chosen people, “with most of them God was not pleased” (v.5). Their complaining and intemperance stirred God’s displeasure toward them to the point that he responded by ending their lives”.
Mark responds: Notice again what the teacher is not saying. Like the Galatian false teachers, he’s not saying that sin causes people to lose their justification. He’s not at all denying the imputation “equation”. He’s simply saying that there’s MORE to the Christian life than justification. You can be sanctified also, and unlike justification, that IS by works.
The Galatians parallel is real. Both parties in the dispute are open to the idea that some in the other party are lost, never justified, not even Christians. The “you can be sanctified also (by works)” party is saying sanctification is the evidence of justification. You are not justified by circumcision, but sanctification is by circumcision, and if you won’t get sanctified, then that means you were never justified, because both are the results of “real” union with Jesus “the person”.
Paul is the other person in the Galatians controversy. He also thinks some in the other party may not be Christians. If you get yourself circumcised to get a blessing, it doesn’t matter if it’s for justification or sanctification, “Christ will be of no profit to you.”. Don’t do it. I warn you. Don’t attempt to be sanctified by works.
Galatians 2:21 If justification is by grace but sanctification is by works, then Christ died in vain for sanctification? No, that’s not what Paul writes. If any part of salvation is by works, then Christ died to NO purpose.
Paul doesn’t seem to be a balanced “perspectives” kind of guy. He doesn’t say: we agree to disagree about how sanctification works. He doesn’t say: well, some of us are just more “gospel awake” than others who tend to be a bit “legalistic”. Paul insists: if the extra stuff (sanctification, rewards, punishments) depends on law, then Christ died in vain.
I quote SBW: “When I recognize and affirm that in my walk of sanctification, I can in one act please God and in another displease him, my daily relationship is moved away from any category of abstraction or theory, and I come to sense the biblical reality of truly relating to God on a daily basis.”
Mark responds: Again, we have the pietistic covert antithesis. Justification: abstract theory. Working to get sanctified: reality of truly relating.
Notice the big buts used by SBW: “Our actions cannot earn or keep a place in God’s family, BUT as the graciously adopted members of God’s family, we are not dealing with an equation, or a software algorithm, we are dealing with and relating to a Person. We want our children to know they are accepted by their parents and have a secure place in our family. BUT that does not mean that their behavior doesn’t bring very real pleasure or displeasure to their mom and dad. An accepted and settled place in the family is not the same thing as whether they will bring joy or pain to our hearts today.”
Mark responds: I don’t mind saying the obvious thing. Indeed, I rejoice to repeat this. IMPUTATION BRINGS ME JOY. I GET EXCITED ABOUT IMPUTATION. IMPUTATION PUTS JOY IN MY HEART. I hope those of you who read me (often, or once in a while) know this. I am not engaging in an academic exercise of reading books and speculating about the order of salvation, or the procedure of imputation.
Not only does it give me pleasure to think of all the blessings of salvation coming to the justified elect because of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. It is God’s pleasure to give His elect in Christ all the blessings by means of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ. God not only loves this means of blessing, but God is displeased with any attempts to gain extra blessings (sanctification) by means of works.
If we claim that sanctification by works is not in competition with justification by Christ, we are idolaters, who love the works of our hands more than Christ. We are idolaters who say that what Christ has done is not enough to get us everything, but we can get “more” if we work for it.
I do not know a single person who claims that it is enough to only know doctrines ABOUT Christ. Every person I know who professes to be a Christian says that we must “believe in” the person identified by the doctrines. We all agree that doctrine is not sufficient.
But preachers who dismiss as “academic” and “abstract” the doctrine of justification and imputation presume to give us a doctrine about a difference between “equations” and “relational reality” that will not bear biblical scrutiny.
It’s a cheap rhetorical trick. If he says FIRST that he has the “relational reality” and “truly relates”, then you don’t get to say that what he has is just as abstract an equation. Works=sanctification.
The good news is not simply who Christ is but also what Christ’s finished activity did which obtained a righteousness for His elect. This righteousness is not simply Himself. Christ always was Himself. Christ always was righteous. Christ came to do something, and He got it done. Christ died because of the sins of the elect, even their sins after they are justified.
Any perspective that finds “relational reality” in the person of Christ and leaves behind imputation by grace when it comes to sanctification is a religion that flatters humans in their ignorance of the gospel. It does not demand that the sinner know and submit to the true gospel. It makes imputation a mere “perspective”, and an abstract “algorithm” at that.
Multiple perspectives do not demand that sinners repent of all the false gospel. They allow sinners to think that they can still be saved by works. Because sanctification is most definitely a part of salvation, and if you teach sanctification by works, you still give man a chance to be saved by works.
Instead of pointing our consciences to the righteousness obtained by Christ which satisfies God’s law, the “relational reality to the person” doctrine POINTS US AWAY FROM IMPUTED RIGHTEOUSNESS. We are told to stop emphasizing the past activity of Christ so that we can “know the person” now in the present.
Nobody comes along and says that justification is not by grace. But they do say that our “sanctification” is caused by our cooperation. Like the Galatian false teachers, they make the gospel the death of Christ PLUS you being changed so that you BOTH believe and work.
The message of His justifying death plus your “sanctification by works” by message is really at the end a message about you. Instead of a gospel which is about Jesus and not about you, this false gospel of “sanctification by works” does not want you to be “absent from the relationship”. This false gospel puts you back into the equation.
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)
I very much denounce any part of “dispensationalism” which says that there is a “second chance” to be saved by sight after the second coming. That is a real heresy. John Macarthur seems to hold on to that worst part of “dispensationalism”. But he also has jettisoned the valid concern of “dispensationalism” to not mix law and grace.
This mixing of the old and the new, of law and grace, is often done in opposition to “dispensationalism”. Dan Fuller in The Unity of the Bible (1992, Zondervan,181): “In commenting on Genesis 2:17 -do not eat from that tree–Calvin said, `These words are so far from establishing faith that they do nothing but shake it.’
Dan Fuller: “I argue, however, that there is much reason for regarding these words as well suited to strengthen Adam and Eve’s faith.In Calvin’s thinking, the promise made in Genesis 2:17 could never encourage faith, for its conditionality could encourage only meritorious works. ”
Let me make sure you know who is saying what, Phil! In the paragraph before, I was quoting Dan Fuller. Now, in this paragraph, I will quote John Calvin (who Fuller is quoting): “FAITH SEEKS LIFE THAT IS NOT FOUND IN COMMANDMENTS.”
Dan Fuller responds to Calvin and rejects it: “I have yet to find anywhere in Scripture a gospel promise that is unconditional.”
Now, Phil pay attention! Daniel Fuller quotes Jonathan Edwards: “We are really saved by perseverance…the perseverance which belongs to faith is one thing that is really a fundamental ground of the congruity that faith gives to salvation…For, though a sinner is justified in his first act of faith, yet even then, in that act of justification, God has respect to perseverance as being implied in the first act.”
for my friend Phil Margush, soon to die and leave his barns behind