Do You Want to be More “Relevant” in Your Sanctification?

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.”

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12 Comments on “Do You Want to be More “Relevant” in Your Sanctification?”

  1. David Bishop Says:

    Good points, Mark. Knowing about the doctrines of Christ is something we can say is true even of Satan. Assenting to them however, is something only the justified can do. To suggest though, as SBW does, that there is a love for God that transcends assent to truth statements about Him, is absurd. It’s absurd because God is Spirit. How exactly does a flesh creature love a spirit beyond assenting to truth statements about that spirit? Furthermore, how does one love the Spirit who has ordained every choice one will make? Is it possible to love God in a way He has not ordained? If God has ordained some other method by which to love Him apart from assent to truth statements about Him, then why isn’t Christ still walking this earth, revealing Himself to His people by way of tangible introduction?


    Certain anti-antinomian proposals about “union” and definitive sanctification “have us infused with sanctity in exact logical parallel with our justification. By doing this, they think to forestall the criticism that we marginalize sanctity. This is a serious mistake. The moralists will never be satisfied. This move is like trying to pay off a loan shark with a quarter. No, he wants the whole thing with interest. We’re justified on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Full stop. Sanctity flows from that. That’s the Reformed faith. Let the moralists scream. I could care less.”
    Scott Clark

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Calvin —“For the question is, not how we may be righteous, but how, though unworthy and unrighteous, we may be regarded as righteous. If consciences would obtain any assurance of this, they must give no place to the law.”

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Mike Horton, from his anti”Macarthur book, Christ the Lord, Baker 1992. p112

    there is only one life that can please God, and that is Christ’s. And
    because his life is accepted and we are in him, hidden as it were, we are pleasing to God and are filled with the Spirit because every
    believer possesses everything of Christ’s.

    What kind of father shares himself and his possessions with only a few favorites and withholds his best from others? Perhaps some would answer, “It’s not a matter of the generosity of the father, but of the children’s willingness to receive.” Union with Christ is not the
    result of human decision, striving, seeking, yielding, or surrendering, but of Christ’s.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    telling somebody who needs to get lots of stuff done to relax is like telling somebody cold to be warm

    The old soundbite says–Do not aim for happiness directly. Happiness is byproduct of doing the right thing. And then we are told that “work is good and money is only a byproduct”. Sure, shit is a byproduct of eating, but I do not eat to shit. But that does not mean that we have a duty to make work our vocation. We are allowed to work to get the money. Because not all work is fun or good. And we are allowed to work only for the money. And to work to eat. And to eat in order to eat. Death is byproduct of sin, but that does not change the fact that both sin and death are our enemies. Even for the justified elect, both sin and death are still not our friends.

    play—it’s an end in itself, not an instrumental means

  6. markmcculley Says:

    George Hunsinger–Edwards often writes of “something” really in believers that justifies them ….Edwards crosses the fine line laid down by the Reformation. He moves from affirming that faith is not without works to the very different insistence that works, as the external expression of faith, play a role in justification. “A man is not justified by faith only,” Edwards states, “but also by works; i.e., he is not justified only by faith as a principle in the heart, or in its first and more immanent acts, but also by the effective acts of it in life, which are the expressions of the life of faith” (p. 236). Works are not excluded from justification, ultimately because justification has a double ground: not only in Christ, but through Christ also in us

    Click to access dispositional-soteriology-george-hunsinger.pdf

    Richard Gaffin, p102, By Faith Not by Sight,–“This expression obedience of faith is best taken as intentionally multivalent…In other words, faith itself is an obedience, as well as other acts of obedience

    Gerald R. McDermott, “Jonathan Edwards on Justification: Closer to Luther or Aquinas?,” Reformation & Revival 14, no. 1 (2005): 11,—“Jonathan Edwards’s supreme devotion to Petrus van Mastricht, the late-seventeenth-century Dutch Reformed theologian who was steeped in Suarez, was not without effect. Edwards agreed with Thomas Aquinas -more than with many of his evangelical followers and that faith is inherently related to Christian living,and that justification changes the regenerate soul.”, p 132

    “Edwards would have agreed with the New Perspective that, for Paul, faith and works are not mutually exclusive, and justification has an eschatological (not yet) dimension. Edwards understood justification as dependent, in one sense, on sanctification (or “perseverance,” as he put it). He also spoke of a two-fold justification.” p 134

    McDermott: “for Edwards,God has decided that at the moment when a person trusts in Christ, that person becomes so really united with Christ’s person, that imputation is not merely legal but based on God’s perception of a new real fact, which is the new moral character of the person called Christ who now includes (by real union) what used to be the sinner.”

    Edwards seems to agree with Osiander (and the early Luther) that the righteousness of Christ which justifies us is not legal foundationally but instead the presence of Christ indwelling our faith.

    The tradition of Jonathan Edwards tends to identify regeneration as the “real union” and also to identify this “application” with the atonement itself. What they mean by definite atonement is that the “real union” makes the atonement definite. Thus they make the Holy Spirit’s work to be the real difference instead of Christ’s death.

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Gaffin—Horton finds problematic… the notion that regeneration produces a habitual change and involves the infusion of new habits . This Horton sees as a lingering residue of the medieval ontology that eventually made the Reformation necessary. (Chapter 10 ,”Covenantal Ontology and Effectual Calling”)

    Gaffin—HOWEVER, calling as such brings into view a divine activity without yet saying anything about its results or how it is effective. Regeneration brings into view not only a specific divine activity but the specific result of that activity; the state of being regenerate. Having been called effectively involves having been regenerated, but the two are not identical. The exercise of the Spirit’s energies in calling produces an enduring change… marked anthropologically by a new and lasting disposition inherent in them, what Scripture calls a new “heart.” That is, at the core of my being, I am no longer against God and disposed to rebel against his will but, now and forever, for him and disposed in the deepest recesses of whom I am to delight in doing his will.

    Gaffin–“The Holy Spirit’s work in the justified ungodly does not MERELY consist of an ongoing countering activity within those otherwise only disposed to be thoroughly resistant and recalcitrant. The definitive change MAINTAINED in believers by the Spirit provides a stable basis WITHIN THEM for renewing and maturing them according to their inner selves (2 Cor. 4:16). The Reformed use of “habitual” to describe this irreversible change, seems appropriate and useful. ”

  8. markmcculley Says:

    you are EITHER “apart from” sins OR not, you are EITHER without holiness OR not
    Hebrews 12: 14 Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness—WITHOUT holiness no one will see the Lord.
    Hebrews 4: 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet WITHOUT sin.
    Hebrews 12: 8 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time WITHOUT sin unto salvation.
    Hebrews 7: 18 So the previous command is annulled because it was weak and unprofitable 19 (for the law perfected nothing), but a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. 20 None of this happened WITHOUT an oath. For others became priests WITHOUT an oath, 21 but Jesus BECAME a priest with an oath made by the One who said to Him:
    The Lord has sworn,
    and He will not change His mind,
    You are a priest forever.

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Arminians say that undeserved is injustice not grace

    The unmerited part comes from God’s mercy and need not be repeated in grace. In Tit 1:4, the benediction from Paul is “Grace, Mercy and Peace”. (which matches well with 2Tim1:7 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control).

    James 4:6… God resists the proud, but gives [grace] to the humble.
    Unmerited favor does not make sense here. If it is unmerited favor, then the proud should have it too. In fact, the proud is more unmerited to receive it.

    John 1:14 Jesus was full of grace. ? Is Jesus so bad that he needs to be full of unmerited blessing?

    Heb 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace(God’s presence), that we may obtain mercy( unmerited favor), and find grace(God’s power) to help in time of need.

    distinction between mercy and grace

    Hyper-Grace–The important journey of growth is ignored in the Ultra-Grace people. They think they are already complete in Christ and therefore entitled to all the blessings, usually means wealth and health for oneself. They are entitled to God’s favours and need not work for anything. In fact, work is seen as work of the flesh.

    They believe more in the revelation by the Spirit instead of spending time doing real extensive Bible study. Hard work is not compatible to God’s favors. Failure is not allowed in the world of “Blessings and Favors” and hence it is to be hidden if such misfortune does happen.

    The concept of discipline and training does not fre well in this view Adversity is to be avoided rather than faced up and accepted as part of growing up. Growing is not a concept acceptable in a world where we have arrived. Sin is taken lightly since all sins, past, present and future are already forgiven. This ‘ultra grace’ as license to sin

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Williams Evans– Number Ten: You define the “gospel” primarily in terms of freedom from the condemnation of sin (justification) rather than freedom from both the condemnation and the power of sin (justification and sanctification).
    Number Nine: You are much more much more concerned about legalism than antinomianism.
    Number Eight: You view sanctification as a more or less optional add-on to justification (or maybe as an evidence of justification, though you are concerned that even that concession to necessity might be potentially legalistic) rather than as grace parallel to justification that comes with our union with Christ and that is essential to the walk of faith and the path of salvation.
    Number Seven: You sense a tension between the Christ pro nobis (Christ for us) and the Christ in nobis (Christ in us).

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